Friday, July 12, 2024

Key issues at stake in the UK Election 2024

Tourists pass by the entrance to Downing Street, ahead of the UK general elections on July 4, in London, Britain, July 3, 2024. — REUTERS
Tourists pass by the entrance to Downing Street, ahead of the UK general elections on July 4, in London, Britain, July 3, 2024. — REUTERS

LONDON: Here are some key issues at stake in the UK general election on Thursday:

Will jaded voters turn out? 

The main opposition Labour party is widely predicted to win and has been determined not to take any risks, making for a lacklustre election campaign.

For the past two years, polling has suggested that Labour is 20 points ahead of the Conservatives, and no amount of campaigning has managed to shift the dial.

But if that indicates a desire for change after 14 years of Tory government, there does not appear to be much enthusiasm for Labour’s plans.

Indeed, Labour has repeatedly warned that it does not have a “magic wand” to change the country overnight.

The apathy extends to both leaders, with 72% having an unfavourable opinion of Tory leader Rishi Sunak and 51% of Labour’s Keir Starmer, according to a YouGov poll this month.

That has prompted questions about whether voters will turn out in large numbers spurred on by the promise of change or remain at home jaded by years of chaos and no great love for party leaders.

Labour figures have made no secret of their concerns surrounding voter apathy, with dozens of seats closely contested and up for grabs.

Turnout (67.3% in 2019) will provide an indicator of voters’ distrust of their political class, and a challenge for the next government.

Lucky number eight for Farage? 

An unexpected addition to the campaign, Nigel Farage — the Brexit figurehead who has now become the spokesperson of hard-right, anti-immigration views — entered the race as the leader of Reform UK.

Despite a surge in the polls, the UK’s first-past-the-post system makes outright victory for the 60-year-old former European parliamentarian and his party unlikely.

If he succeeds at his eighth attempt to get a seat in parliament as the MP for Clacton-on-Sea in east England, Farage — a Donald Trump ally — will have even more visibility.

If he fails, his startup Reform UK party, currently polling around 19%, would still play a decisive role in the race between the Tories and Labour in several constituencies.

Tory wipeout? 

Several polls suggest the party of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson will win fewer seats than the 141 it secured in 1906, in what would be the worst result since its creation in 1834.

Speculation has already started about who would succeed Rishi Sunak to lead the fragmented party.

It remains to be seen how many big names will save their seats and what direction the party, which was centrist under David Cameron (2010-2015) and then drifted to the right, can take.

In the event of Reform’s success, some Tories would not object to an alliance.

Weakened Scottish nationalists? 

Nothing seems to be going right for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has dominated the devolved nation’s politics for the last 15 years.

The surprise resignation of charismatic first minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2023 destabilised the party. Her successor Humza Yousaf only lasted a year.

The left-wing party is still the target of a probe into its finances in which Sturgeon’s husband was implicated and does not have a viable strategy to deliver independence, a fight that was revived by Brexit but blocked by London.

First Minister John Swinney insists that winning in a majority of Scotland’s 59 UK parliamentary constituencies would be a green light for him to launch fresh negotiations on another referendum with the new government in London.

The SNP currently holds 43 seats. But Labour looks set to use its national momentum to reassert its dominance in Scotland. July 4 promises to be the first electoral test for the pro-independent movement’s difficulties.

Return of the Lib Dems? 

Ed Davey has run an offbeat campaign, gliding down a waterslide, falling off a paddleboard, roasting marshmallows, building sandcastles, bungee jumping and even Zumba dancing.

His stunts and policies alike have set out to carve a niche for his Liberal Democrat party while Sunak and Starmer duel, Farage returns and Labour moves back to the centre ground.

The Lib Dems’ rise to around 12% in polls and their strong presence in southern England could win them up to 67 seats, according to one YouGov poll, up from 11 in 2019.

Such a victory would be comparable to the party’s breakthrough in 2010, when it governed with the Conservatives, and would give strength to its pro-European and climate-centred policies.

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