2019 United Kingdom general election
The 2019 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday, December 12, 2019. It selected each of the 650 members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament. It was the United Kingdom's first general election since June 2017, and was announced on October 31, 2019, after the passage of the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019. The election would determine whether Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson remained in office as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or was replaced by another figure, most likely Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party.
The election resulted in a decisive victory for the Conservatives, who won a substantial majority in the House of Commons; by contrast, the Labour Party suffered one of its worst defeats in nearly a century, with many districts in traditional political heartlands being won by the Conservatives. Following the election, Corbyn announced he would be stepping down as Labour leader in the near future.
Although a general election was by law scheduled for May 2022, the ongoing controversy within the British government over the attempt to implement the Brexit agreement had led many observers to predict an early "snap" or unscheduled election even before Theresa May's resignation as Prime Minister in June 2019. After May resigned and was replaced by Boris Johnson, Johnson attempted to obtain support for an agreement on the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, but failed, with many "Europhiles" in Parliament demanding a second referendum on Brexit or otherwise ignoring or nullifying the result of the vote. As the Conservatives enjoyed only a very narrow majority in Parliament, Johnson soon sought to call a snap election in hopes it would return a much larger majority that he could rely on to pass a Brexit agreement. His first three attempts failed, as Parliament refused to pass the necessary legislation. Finally, on the fourth attempt, the Early Parliamentary General Action Act 2019 was passed through the House of Commons on October 29; it was passed by the House of Lords the following day and received the necessary Royal Assent on the 31st, with December 12 set as the election date.
Parliament was dissolved on November 6, and nominations for office were opened in each constituency, closing on November 14. The deadline for registering to vote in the election was Tuesday, November 26.
The United Kingdom is divided into 650 electoral constituencies, each of which elects one member of Parliament (of the House of Commons specifically). 533 of these are in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales, and 18 in Northern Ireland. As in the United States, elections are conducted on a "first-past-the-post" system, meaning that the candidate receiving the highest number of votes will win automatically.
Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. on December 12, and closed at 10:00 p.m. the same day, with results being announced on Friday, December 13.
Although candidates for office do not have to belong to a registered political party, the vast majority of candidates are usually members of one such party. None of the contending parties ran candidates in all 650 districts, but the three most recognized national parties—Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrats—actively campaigned in all but a handful of districts. These parties were expected to win an overwhelming majority of seats between them; however, a number of seats were forecast to go to several parties with a regional or nationalistic identity. These include the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru (a Welsh pro-independence party), and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. In addition, the Green Party fielded candidates in most English and Welsh constituencies, while the Brexit Party under Nigel Farage, which supported Johnson's proposed Brexit agreement, actively ran only in districts lost by the Conservatives in the 2017 election.
Approximately 74 current members of Parliament did not run for re-election in 2019. In addition, several candidates backed out of the race for various reasons, with two Labour candidates doing so because of anti-Semitic remarks.
Although multiple parties actively contested the election, it was essentially seen as a contest between the Conservatives under Boris Johnson and the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, who between them received most of the media coverage. This led British newspaper The Independent to describe the election as "presidential," referencing the U.S.'s two-party system, to the detriment of the Liberal Democrats and other smaller parties.
While the state of the British economy, health care, and the environment have all been significant campaign issues, most attention has been given to the parties' stances on Brexit. Johnson and most Conservatives campaigned on a platform of adopting the withdrawal plan crafted earlier in the year, while Labour, though not openly anti-Brexit, supported a second referendum on whether or not to leave the EU (which might overturn the results of the first vote). The Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party all expressed opposition to Brexit and preferred a second referendum, while the Brexit Party and the DUP supported the Conservative position, with reservations—the DUP wanted a renegotiation of the plan, while the Brexit Party preferred an immediate severing of ties with the EU. If neither Labour nor the Conservatives won a majority of the seats and reach out to the smaller parties to form a working government, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP indicated a greater willingness to work with the former than the latter, while the Brexit Party would be almost certain to back Johnson.
Several televised debates between the leading candidates were broadcast in the election, notably a head-to-head debate between Johnson and Corbyn on November 19, broadcast on ITV; a broader one on BBC on the 22nd, which also featured SNP head Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson; a seven-party debate, again on ITV, on December 1, with junior party members standing in for Johnson and Corbyn; and an additional debate on December 6.
Several candidates in both the Labour and Conservative Parties were forced to step down over certain controversial remarks they had made in the past, especially via social media.
The main controversy in the election campaign concerned allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party (which represents many heavily Islamic constituencies), including Jeremy Corbyn and others in the upper leadership. Well before the election, Corbyn had already faced criticism for his endorsement of several Muslim and/or pro-Palestinian spokesmen who had denied the Holocaust or repeated the medieval "blood libel" charge against Jews.
In November 2019, a number of British intellectuals condemned Corbyn in an open letter to The Guardian, calling on voters in his constituency of Islington North to remove him (though they did not denounce the Labour Party in general). A number of sympathetic public figures (many of them Jewish) responded to this with an open letter expressing support for Corbyn and defending him against these charges.
On November 25, Ephraim Mirvis, Britain's chief rabbi, made a public statement to The Times, openly criticizing the Labour Party's position on anti-Semitism, which he called a "poison" that had "taken root" in the organization, and calling claims that the party was cracking down on it a "mendacious fiction." This statement was supported by others, with Dame Louise Ellman, a former party MP, telling the BBC in October, "I cannot ask people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister while we have a Labour Party that is institutionally anti-Semitic."
The day after Mirvis' statement, Corbyn was interviewed by Andrew Neil of BBC One about his position on anti-Semitism. This was generally considered to have had a negative impact on Corbyn's public image, as he repeatedly appeared reluctant to condemn certain attacks on Jews, for which he was widely condemned by the media. In the wake of this interview and the criticism stemming from it, Corbyn pulled out of a planned Sky News debate on the 28th, which was then canceled.
As of December 1, nearly every major opinion poll of British voters was indicating a sizable margin of victory for the Conservatives. A YouGov poll on November 19, following the ITV debate, indicated a 51-49 percent lead for Johnson between himself and Corbyn alone. The recent polls have averaged 43% support for the Conservatives versus 30% for Labour and 15% for Liberal Democrats, all other parties polling at 5% or less. This projected between 345 and 365 seats for Conservatives, 201-211 for Labour, and 18-25 for Liberal Democrats, with the SNP taking most of the remaining seats. The Telegraph predicted the Conservatives would win the election with a 68-seat majority. Other polls suggested a narrower outcome, with the Conservatives winning a majority of 20-30 seats.
The first results from individual districts began to be reported around midnight on Friday, December 13, and were mostly complete by about 6:00 a.m. local time (though a few constituencies did not release results until later in the day). An exit poll released at 10:00 p.m. had revealed an expected 86-seat majority for the Conservatives, predicting the party would finish with around 368 seats as compared with 200 or possibly fewer for Labour.
The final vote count closely matched this exit poll. With results announced in all 650 districts, the Conservative Party won 365 seats, a gain of 66, while Labour won 203, a loss of 42. The SNP increased from 35 to 48 seats, the Liberal Democrats fell from 21 to 11, the DUP dropped from 10 to 8, Sinn Féin (which does not accept seats in Parliament) and Plaid Cymru were unchanged at seven and four respectively, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Alliance Party entered Parliament with two and one seats respectively, and the Green Party was unchanged with one seat.
The election marked one of the best outcomes for the Conservative Party since the 1987 general election, when it won 376 seats. By contrast, it was the worst result for Labour since the 1935 general election, when the party received 154 seats. The Conservatives' share of the overall vote did not increase significantly from the 2017 election (rising marginally from 42.4 to 43.6 percent); however, the Labour vote dropped dramatically, from 40 to 32.2 percent. The effects of this were most visible in northern England and the Midlands, traditionally a core region of Labour strength, with many industrial working-class communities. However, the Conservatives won many of these constituencies, including some that had not voted for them in decades. The district of Blyth Valley in northeastern England, for example, elected a non-Labour candidate to office for the first time since 1950. This was widely attributed to the growing difference between the party and the voters over Brexit—these regions had strongly supported leaving the EU, as opposed to Labour leadership.
Next to the Conservatives, the SNP also emerged as a clear winner from the election, winning 48 out of 59 districts in Scotland. The most notable result was in East Dunbartonshire, where an SNP candidate narrowly defeated Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats.
The wide margin of Conservative victory in the election had a significant effect on perceptions of Boris Johnson's leadership. Though previously there had been numerous doubts expressed about Johnson's abilities as a political strategist, commentators praised his stance on Brexit and his direct appeal to working-class voters, comparing him to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as a spokesman for the Conservative platform.
By contrast, members of the Labour Party expressed dismay over the extent of their defeat, with many blaming Corbyn and others in the party leadership for adopting an anti-Brexit position. Labour Party Chairman Ian Lavery, speaking to the BBC, stated that voters had felt betrayed by the party due to "the fact that we went for a second referendum." While delivering remarks at his constituency of Islington North (where he won reelection to Parliament), Corbyn announced that while he would continue as party leader for the immediate future, he would step down from that post before the next election. Liberal Democrats leader Swinson, meanwhile, immediately resigned from her position after losing her own reelection bid.
Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP expressed enthusiasm over the results of the election, describing it as a decisive repudiation of Brexit on the part of Scotland, and demanded a second referendum for independence from the United Kingdom, a demand quickly rejected by the government.
In his remarks Friday morning, Johnson thanked voters for the "trust you have placed in us," called for national unity in the wake of the election, and pledged to complete the process of making a deal on Brexit with the EU, vowing that the United Kingdom would be out of the Union by January 31, "no ifs, no buts, no maybes."
The British pound rose almost three percent in Friday trading, reflecting renewed business confidence in the continuation of Conservative government.
- ↑ Rayner, Gordon. "Brexit latest news: UK will have a Dec 12 election as MPs act to end Parliamentary 'stasis'", The Telegraph, October 29, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Barton, Tom. "General election 2019: More than 3.1m register to vote ahead of midnight deadline", BBC, November 26, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Maguire, Patrick. "What Nigel Farage’s withdrawal from Tory seats does and doesn’t mean", New Statesman, November 11, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Morris, Nigel. "General election 2019: social media comments are proving fatal for candidates' hopes - and raising questions about parties' vetting", iNews, November 8, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Katz, Gregory, Pan Pylas. "Labour’s Corbyn struggles to contain anti-Semitism charge", apnews.com, November 26, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ "Louise Ellman: MP quits Labour over anti-Semitism concerns", BBC, October 17, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Deacon, Michael. "Andrew Neil interviewed Jeremy Corbyn on anti-Semitism... and utterly dismantled him", The Telegraph, November 26, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ YouGov snap poll finds viewers split on who won ITV general election debate. YouGov (November 19, 2019). Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Rayner, Gordon. "Tories on course to win 68-seat majority as poll predicts party will get 359 seats compared to 211 for Labour", The Telegraph, November 27, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Election Maps UK Twitter. Twitter (November 28, 2019). Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ "Election Result: Conservatives win historic majority", The Telegraph, December 13, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Tomlinson, Chris. "UK Election: Conservatives Take Seat Held By Labour For Nearly 70 Years", Briebart, December 12, 2019. Retrieved on December 24, 2019.
- ↑ Shaw, Adam (December 13, 2019). Boris Johnson vows to resolve Brexit by Jan 31st, European markets hit record high after Conservative sweep. Fox News. Retrieved December 13, 2019.