With not long to go until the next election, we look at the 23 things you absolutely need to know...
1. Who’s who
British politics has traditionally been a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives, but not anymore. Parties that once would have been considered fringe groups, like UKIP and the Green Party, are rapidly rising in popularity. So if you don’t know David Cameron from James Cameron and you still couldn’t pick Nick Clegg out of a line up, it’s time to learn who’s who...
2. This is David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party
He’s also the current Prime Minister.
3. This is Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party
4. This is Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats (he's the one on the left)
He’s also the current Deputy Prime Minister.
5. This is Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)
This image will haunt our dreams.
6. This is Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party
We couldn’t find a picture of her looking stupid. Sorry.
7. What the main parties’ policies are – and how they affect you
Being well informed is the first step towards making an informed choice (and impressing that hot politics student you’ve had your eye on). Here’s what the big five parties have to say to students:
8. The Conservatives want to give students more money
Well, sort of. In the Autumn Statement, the Tories announced they’d be offering £10,000 loans to postgraduate students from 2016, and grants of the same value to students embarking on a master’s degree in 2015.
9. Labour want to reduce student debt
Ed Miliband’s party are taking a different tack – instead of offering students more loans they’ll eventually have to pay back, Labour have pledged to cut student debt by capping tuition fees at £6,000 a year. That could reduce the total amount of debt a student attending a university charging full fees would incur – from £27,000 to £18,000.
10. The Green Party want to scrap tuition fees
The Greens are offering the best deal for fiscally conscious students – they’ve promised to scrap tuition fees altogether, making higher education free for all.
11. UKIP also want to scrap tuition fees…but only if you’re smart enough (and studying the right subject)
Nigel Farage and co will make higher education free if you vote for them at the next election, but you have to pass an intelligence test and be studying science, technology or maths to be eligible. They plan to raise the money for this by scrapping the target first set by Labour of getting 50% of school-leavers into higher education and raising fees for EU students in line with the higher fees paid by other international students.
12. All about… tactical voting
Tactical voting – it’s not necessarily encouraged, but everyone does it. You see, voting isn’t always as simple as just voting for who you want to win, but also voting for a party you don’t want to win in the hopes that they’ll stop a party you really don’t want to win from winning. Imagine this scenario: you’re a staunch supporter of the Liberal Democrats (well, someone’s got to be), your sitting MP is a Conservative, and their biggest competition in the constituency is from Labour, with the Lib Dems far down the list. In that situation, a Lib Dem supporter might vote Labour, not because they want Labour to win, but because they really don’t want the Tories to win, and Labour are in with a chance of getting enough votes to overthrow the incumbent Conservative, but the Liberal Democrats aren’t. That’s just one example of tactical voting; it’s a good idea to read up on opinion polls/voter statistics in your constituency before you decide how to vote – sometimes it’s a ‘lesser of two evils’ type situation.
13. Vote swapping is totally a thing
Another option is vote swapping. So if you want to vote Green but they’re not standing a candidate in your area, you can ‘ swap’ your vote with someone in an area like Brighton, where support for the party is strong. You don’t physically trade ballots, but rather they agree to use their vote to support the Green candidate in their constituency on your behalf, and you vote for whoever is standing in your area that they want to give their vote to.
14. The Green Party want to put the Queen in a council house
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, has recently said that if elected, she will abolish the monarchy and relocate the Royal Family to a council house. Admit it – if nothing else it would be hilarious.
15. If you vote Labour, you might get a free owl
Sure, the Labour press team later claimed this tweet was the result of their account being ‘hacked’, but we think they were just embarrassed that their star policy was leaked early.
16. David Cameron has pledged to spend public money waging a war of vengeance against seagulls
A lesser mentioned item of the recent budget was this – the coalition is devoting £250,000 to the study of seagulls and how to tackle the ‘menace’ they cause, possibly motivated by the fact that Cameron says one once stole the ham from his sandwich. So if you too hate sea birds, you should consider voting Conservative in May.
17. The difference between a majority, minority and coalition government
It’s not as straightforward as whoever gets the most votes wins. It pays to know what kind of government you could end up with if enough people do or don’t get out to vote...
18. A majority government:
Just because a party wins the most seats, it doesn’t mean they win the election as there’s actually a minimum threshold required – around 326 seats. If any one party meets this threshold at the election, they’ll become the ruling party, but current polls indicate that’s fairly unlikely to happen. If no party wins an outright majority after an election, we get what’s known as a hung parliament.
19. A minority government:
If a party wins the most seats but hasn’t reached the threshold for a ruling majority, they can go one of two ways – form a coalition or attempt to go it alone in a minority government. In a minority government, any bill put before parliament will require cross party support in order to pass as the government itself won’t have enough members to push it through by itself. It’s very easy in this circumstance for opposition parties to block all legislation by the new government, or initiate a vote of no confidence against them. For this reason, minority governments are not a popular option.
20. A coalition government:
The far more common result of a hung parliament is what we have now: a coalition. In a coalition, two or more parties agree to join together to form a working majority with the combined power to pass laws in parliament, etc. Traditionally, the party in power before the election is awarded the first chance to form a coalition, although if they can’t, or don’t want to do so, the prime minister will resign, leaving the party with the most seats to make the call. That’s what happened at the last election in 2010; although there was early talk of a Labour/Lib Dem coalition, Gordon Brown eventually stepped aside in recognition of the fact that the Conservative party had won the most seats, leaving them to form a government with the Liberal Democrats. This time round, Labour are predicted to win the most seats, but with the Liberal Democrats predicted to lose seats, they’d need to recruit members of the Green Party and SNP in order to form a majority (unless they decided to form a coalition with the Tories or UKIP, which is highly unlikely).
21. Scotland is super important in this election
Scottish voters, now’s your time to shine. With the election set to be an incredibly close race every vote counts, but that counts double for voters in Scotland. Why? Because Labour have a slim majority in the opinion polls, and the Labour party have historically drawn their strongest support from Scotland. The number of Scottish voters who turn out for Labour could make the difference between a hung parliament and a Labour majority. People are also talking about Scotland at the moment because of the recent surge in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP). Not only is this taking support away from Labour, but if the SNP win enough seats in Scotland, it means that in the event of Labour attempting to from a coalition government, they’ll be looking to convince the SNP to join up. So either way, the result of the next election is kind of on you, Scotland. No pressure then.
22. You need to be registered to vote
The deadline to register to vote was the 20th April. If you’re not registered, you won’t be able to vote on May 7th.
23. If none of the main parties appeal, you can always vote for Cheryl
Okay, so she may have left it a bit too late to join the race this year, but Cheryl has recently said she’s considered forming her own party. Cheryl for PM? Anything’s possible!
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