Why Canadians should pay close attention to the UK election campaign

There will be a general election here in Canada in 2015, most likely in the fall. There is incessant speculation that the election may occur sooner than that, but as per our not-so-fixed election date, we will go to the polls in October.

Before Canadians vote, there will be a general election in the UK, on May 7. And Canadians should be paying very close attention to the campaign and vote. Here are a few reasons why.

1. There will be debates. Probably.

While leaders’ debates are old hat in Canada, the 2010 UK general election saw the first ever televised leaders’ debates. This time around, there are three debates scheduled. The first two (April 1 and 16) will feature seven party leaders. The third, on April 30th, will be a head-to-head match up between David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative Party and current PM, and Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party.

One slight hiccup, however. David Cameron has not fully agreed to participate. At first, he refused to participate because the Green Party had been excluded. A new proposal was put forward that would not only include the Greens, but also the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru (PC).  These last two additions are interesting as they stand candidates only in Scotland and Wales, respectively. Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, will participate in the debate for the SNP, along with Leanne Wood, leader of PC in the Welsh Assembly. This may strike some Canadians as quite odd. It is sort of similar to when the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, which stands candidates only in Quebec, was included in the national debates, but not quite, because the BQ was a federal party. While it was aligned with the provincial Parti Quebecois, they were (and are) separate parties. The situation with the SNP and PC would be closer to, for example, the provincial Saskatchewan Party deciding to run candidates federally, and having the Premier of Saskatchewan take part in the federal leaders debate.

But as stated above, PM David Cameron hasn’t definitely said yes, despite the Greens now being included. This is partly due to the fact that many Conservatives feel the 2010 debates cost him a majority government. He is now holding out because the Northern Ireland parties aren’t included. He also wants them to take place earlier, to get them “out of the way” before April.

2. The likely outcome will be a hung parliament

Polling is ubiquitous in the UK, with new polls coming out weekly outside of an election campaign, and pretty much daily during the campaign. Polls have consistently shown the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, to be running neck and neck. One day Labour will be slightly ahead, the next the Conservatives. Sometimes they are tied. Sometimes, both major parties are below 30% support. What this means is that it is extremely unlikely any party will win a majority of seats.

Unlike the 2010 general election, however, this hung parliament is looking to be a messy one. There are 650 seats in the UK House of Commons, which means a party (or a coalition) needs 326 seats to form a majority. Of course, 326 would be an extremely weak majority, so ideally, you want more seats than that. In 2010, the Conservatives weren’t far off the mark on their own – winning 307 seats. They formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, who had 57 seats, for a comfortable majority with 364 seats. This election may well see both Labour and the Conservatives below 300 seats. The Liberal Democrats are expected to lose a significant number of seats (maybe about half), and are expected to be replaced by the Scottish National Party (SNP) as the third largest party in the House. However, the SNP won’t form a coalition with the Tories, and Labour and the SNP may not have enough seats together to form a majority. They would also need the Liberal Democrats (at least). And then there is the issue of including the SNP in national government  — a party promoting Scottish independence.

3. It will likely take several days before we know who will form the government

Unlike here in Canada, where the media will announce who will form the government — even if it’s a hung parliament — often before the polls have closed across the country, in the UK, they won’t do that, unless one party pulls off a miracle and wins a majority of the seats on its own. In 2010, it took five days before a government emerged, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. If the results are as messy as polls seem to indicate they will be, everyone expects it will take longer this time around for a government to emerge. Canadians should follow this process closely as it will be an excellent demonstration of how our political system is supposed to work. It would be really nice if our political parties paid close attention to this too.

How to follow what is going on in the UK

There are a number of really great websites dedicated to all things election-related. Here are a few of them.

May 2015 General Election Guide: May2015 is an election site produced by the New Statesman. It includes articles, interviews, an interactive platform to track the latest polls look ahead to different scenarios, and make your own predictions. 2015 UK Parliamentary Election Forecast: a very simple site with updated daily seat predictions.

Some UK media sites have launched special Election sections: BBC New Politics Live Campaign Countdown, the Telegraph General Election 2015. Those that haven’t still carry lots of election-related articles and opinion pieces.

Social Media: If you don’t want the hassle of having to look for the best articles on the UK election, follow this blog’s Twitter account instead. I have been, and will continue to tweet links to articles, opinion pieces, and retweet the same from others.


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