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UK Election: Main Contenders and Issues at Stake

British voters are heading to the polls on Thursday to cast their votes in the first parliamentary elections in the UK in almost five years, reported the Associated Press (AP).

In May, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for a snap election several months earlier than expected, at a time when his Conservative Party is widely expected to lose to the main opposition party, the left-of-center Labour Party.

How Election Works

The UK is divided into 650 constituencies. Voters elect all the 650 members of the House of Commons. Candidates run as members of political parties or as independents. The candidate who gets the most votes in that constituency is elected as a member of parliament (MP).

The party with the highest number of MPs forms a government if it secures majority in the Commons, with at least 326 seats. The party’s leader becomes prime minister. Around 46.5 million British people are eligible to vote.

Several key parties are running in the general elections, including the Labour party, the Conservative party, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National party, Green party, Reform UK, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party.

Conservative Party

The party has been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers. The current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is the party’s leader. He came to power in October 2022, after Lizz Truss’ short-lived tenure, which ended in an economic turmoil.

UK Election: Main Contenders and Issues at Stake
Rishi Sunak

Sunak is Britain’s first leader of color and the first Hindu to hold premiership. The former hedge fund manager at Goldman Sachs claims he is the man who ended chaos, but critics say he lacks political judgement and is out of touch with ordinary voters.

The Conservative Party, also known as the Tories, is promising to deliver a strong economy and cut taxes by 17bn pounds per year. It also pledges to raise public health spending above inflation and boost defense spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030. The Party also promises to cut immigration to the UK and deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Labour Party

The party’s leader, Keir Starmer, is close to becoming Britain’s next leader. The 61-year-old lawyer and former chief prosecutor for England and Wales has worked to ease internal divisions and drive his party away from the overtly socialist policies of former leader Jermey Corbin. Under his leadership, the Labour Party’s popularity has soared in the UK.

UK Election: Main Contenders and Issues at Stake
Keir Starmer

The party vows to encourage investments and forge a 10-year infrastructure strategy. It will impose a windfall tax on big oil and gas companies and use this money to establish a state-owned clean power company. Moreover, the party promises to tax private schools to pay for new teachers in state schools. It will also cut public health long waiting times.

Liberal Democrats

The party is led by Ed Davey. He was the government’s energy and climate change secretary under a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition from 2012 to 2015. The Liberal Democrats promise to improve the UK’s overstretched health and social care systems.

Ed Davey

Furthermore, they plan to invest in renewable energy and home insulation, lower the voting age to 16, and rejoin the European Union’s single market.

Reform UK

The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, is known to be the British politics disruptor. He has caused trouble to the Conservatives since he announced he’s running in the election. His anti-migrant rhetoric and Eurosceptic views have divided opinion inside the UK.

UK Election: Main Contenders and Issues at Stake
Nigel Farage

As a populist and a proponent of Brexit, Farage promises to curb migration and focus on “British values.” He pledges to leave the European Convention on Human Rights to be able to deport asylum seekers without being subject to rights courts. He also promises to remove “net zero” goals in order to reduce the costs of energy bills.

Scottish National Party (SNP)

The party’s current leader, John Swinney, has tried to bring stability to the SNP, after the turmoil it experienced as a result of the abrupt resignation of Scotland’s long-serving First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Swinney has become the party’s third leader in just over a year.

UK Election: Main Contenders and Issues at Stake
John Swinney

In case the party secured majority in Scotland, it will seek to open Scottish independence negotiations with the UK government. Swinney also wants to rejoin the EU and the European single market. The SNP’s leader has also called for enhancing public health funding, ditching the UK’s Scotland-based nuclear deterrent, and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Green Party

Led by Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay, the Green Party promises to phase out nuclear power and achieve net zero by 2040. It pledges 24bn pounds a year to insulate homes.

Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay

The Greens plan to invest 40bn pounds a year in the green economy, to be generated from a carbon tax, a new wealth tax on the rich, and an income tax increase for millions of high earners.

Critical Issues

British voters are casting their ballots with an array of big issues on their mind. On top of these issues comes the economy. The UK has suffered high inflation and slow economic growth, making most people feel poorer. Moreover, Britain’s National Health Service has struggled with long waiting lists for all healthcare services.

Additionally, the UK has seen an influx of asylum seekers and economic migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats, sparking strong criticism. With regards to environment, Sunak has backtracked on his commitments. He postponed the deadline for ending the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger vehicles and approved new oil drilling in the North Sea.

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