7 Jun 2017

A Rough Guide to the 2017 General Election

The Boys Are Back in Town

Political commentary in the run up to a general election tends to focus on the polls, candidates and policies. With polls opening imminently I thought it would be useful to take a step back and look at what will actually happen tomorrow – not the outcomes, but the rules, conventions and traditions and what we should we be looking out for.

Media outlets will stop reporting on election campaigns tonight, at 12.30am, until 10pm tomorrow evening when polls close. This is not to say that you won’t see pictures of candidates attending polling stations – you will, but that should be the extent of it.

Polls open at 7am when we, the public, can attend polling stations across the country to vote for a candidate to be our representative in Parliament – or if no candidate is worthy of our vote, to spoil our ballot.

Campaigners will be out throughout the day attempting to mobilise voters in seats across the country. Election turnout could be key – with older voters more likely to vote Conservative and more likely to turn up, and younger voters more likely to vote Labour but less likely to turn up. In the 2015 general election voter turnout was 66.1%, up from 65.1% in 2010. However, in 2010 just 43% of 18 – 24 year olds voted compared with 77% of 55-64 year olds and 78% of over 65s.

The first key moment will be at 10pm when the exit poll is released. The exit poll is a survey of 200,000 people across 100 carefully selected constituencies as they leave polling stations. In comparison with the pre-election polls, the exit poll tends to be very accurate. The results of the past four general elections were all correctly predicted by the exit polls - in 2010 it was pretty much spot on and in 2015 it understated the Tory majority – but still predicted one.  

The first result is expected at around 10.45, when Sunderland’s habitual race to announce the first result commences – Houghton & Sunderland South currently holds the prestigious honour. All the news outlets will be reporting as the results come in. The BBC election coverage will be fronted by David Dimbleby. This will be his tenth and last coverage of a general election. The BBC’s coverage may well be overshadowed by ITV, who have secured ex-chancellor come newspaper editor George Osborne and ex-shadow chancellor come dancer Ed Balls, for their coverage of the election results.

By the early hours of Friday morning we should know the make-up of Parliament – though not necessarily Government. Where one party commands a majority in Parliament Cabinet appointments will take place in the days to follow.

As it stands there are 650 parliamentary seats, corresponding to the 650 constituencies and the country will elect 650 MPs - one for each. The Conservatives need to return 326 MPs for Teresa May to retain a majority in Parliament – at the last election the country elected 331 Conservative MPs.

The election result is expected to show a return to the polarised, two-party, politics of the past – a result of the collapse of UKIP and the overestimated return of the Liberal Democrats. Having said this, the SNP in Scotland are expected to win a substantial number of seats – around 50, and it is worth noting that 18 of the 650 constituencies are in Northern Ireland, where the battle will be between the DUP, SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein, who famously do not take up their seats in Parliament.

The first-past-the-post electoral system, where the candidate with the most votes in each constituency is elected to Parliament, means that the party with the most number of votes will not necessarily be the largest party in the Parliament. Indeed, it is likely that the difference in actual votes received by the two major parties will not be as stark as the difference in the number of seats won by the two major parties. However, having vowed to stick to facts, and not speculation, I will end here, with just one request - that you take part.

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