Barring a change in the law, the next general election in the United Kingdom must be held some time before June 30, 2006. This election will be for seats in the House of Commons and will therefore also decide which party forms the government. The governing Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, will be looking to secure a third consecutive term in office and to retain its large majority. The Conservative Party will be seeking to regain seats captured by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the 1997 election and to replace Labour in government, whilst the Liberal Democrats themselves will hope to make further gains from both sides and to become the Official Opposition.
a pre-election husting at the Oxford
West and Abingdon
Under the Constitution of the United Kingdom, dates for general elections are not fixed, and can be called by the government at short notice. Although a general election is not required to be held until 2006, it has been widely speculated that there will be a general election some time in 2005.
It is usual practice for Prime Ministers to 'go to the country [for a renewed mandate]' (call a general election) some time after the fourth anniversary of the previous election. If the election is held before June 2005, the government will be returning to the poll slightly under four years into the parliamentary term, but the 2001 election was delayed by one month to take account of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. Governments with safe majorities in the House of Commons can call elections early when seeking a mandate for a change in policy. A government might also call an election sooner than is conventional if it feared that holding the election later would adversely affect its chances of winning, or if it wished capitalise on the weakness of the opposition.
Most reports suggest that the general election will be called for May 5, as this is the date set for local elections for county councils in England and local councils in Northern Ireland. The latter had originally been scheduled to take place on May 18, but were brought forward by Northern Ireland Office ministers, adding to the speculation surrounding May 5. This date was given on November 24, 2004 by the British newspaper The Sun. The political editor of The Sun, Trevor Kavanagh, is seen by many as "Mr. Blair's voice in Fleet Street", having correctly predicted the date of the 2001 general election for June 7, 2001 (which was also the same date as local elections in England and Northern Ireland).
Despite media speculation, it is almost certain that the date of the general election will not be confirmed until after March 2005, when Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown presents his final Budget of the 2001–2005 Parliament. Media speculation should be taken for what it is: speculation. Even where the media accurately reports current government thinking, that thinking or the relevant circumstances may change. Previous reports in the media had claimed that the government was planning to call a general election in October 2004. Rumours of an early poll help the government by forcing the opposition parties to start their campaigns early or reveal their policies.
The Northern Ireland Electoral Commission who are told by the UK Government when to hold elections (due to the troubles in the province) have been told to move the local elections (also due in 2005) to May 5th 2005 (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/4191453.stm) thus suggesting May 5th 2005 as the date of the next general election in the UK
Even though the election has not been called, the incumbent party already displays campaign posters. This one is seen in Brighton
in mid-January, 2005
Seats in Scotland
Legislation was passed by the UK Parliament in September 2004, which will come into effect upon the dissolution of the current UK Parliament, to break the linkage between UK Parliament constituencies and Scottish Parliament constituencies; therefore this election will mark a reduction of the number of constituencies for the UK Parliament. Scotland is currently over-represented in the Westminster Parliament on a per capita basis, and its MPs will be cut from 72 to 59.
BBC News - Scottish MP cull begins (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4093765.stm)
Following this "cull", Labour will start out with 46 MP's, to the Liberal Democrats 9 MP's and the SNP's 4 MP's. Despite winning Galloway and Upper Nithsdale at the last general election, the decision to merge Dumfries and Galloway has robbed the Conservatives of their only seat in Scotland, thus rendering Scotland a Conservative free zone.
The election in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the election looks likely to be dominated by a battle between the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party to be the province's largest party in Parliament. Although the former won more MPs at the last General Election, defections have since reversed the position. Other elections in the province have shown both a shift in votes towards the DUP but also a collapse of support for the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland which is likely to be more marked in a first past the post election and thus which may work in the UUP's favour.
In the Nationalist community, the election battle between Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party looks set to dominate. Other elections have shown a clear shift in support from the SDLP to Sinn Féin and if this is duplicated then some constituencies will change hands between the two, reducing the number of MPs who vote in Westminster. This is because Members of Parliament cannot formally take their seats until they swear allegiance to the Queen (which Sinn Féin members refuse to do).
Composition of the House of Commons
The House of Commons following the 2005 general election will contain 646 MPs (down from the current 659 due to the boundary changes mentioned above). This means that the results of the last election must be adjusted before they can be used as a guide to the parties' performance. The calculations (based on the 13 Scottish seats that will disappear; also ignoring defections and by-elections) suggest that the old House of Commons would be comprised thus:
Thus, the Labour Party's overall majority is 160. In most parliamentary votes, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) tends to side with the Labour Party (thus boosting their majority by 6), and when you add in the non-presence of the Sinn Féin members, Labour's majority is (in theory) as high as 170. But in most practical terms, Labour's majority is seen as 160.
The following are a list of possible outcomes based on a national uniform swing to the Conservative Party of:
- < 6.5 %: Labour majority
- 6.5% - 8%: Hung parliament (Labour minority government)
- 8% - 9.5%: Hung parliament (Conservative minority government)
- > 9.5%: Conservative majority
In order for either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to form a government (gain more than 50% of the seats avaliable in the house of commons) they need to take votes from Labour - even a 100% swing from one party to the other would result in Labour holding 323 seats, to the other party's 300 (1 short of a Labour majority).
To show what a challenge they face to form the next govermnent, the Liberal Democrats need to achieve a 17.8% uniform swing from Labour, assuming the Conservative vote remains static. Another interesting point is that based on a national uniform swing from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats, for every seat gained by the Liberal Democrats from Labour, Labour loses 4 seats to the Conservatives (again assuming the Conservative vote remains static).
For the Conservatives to get a clear working majority over all other parties (estimates place this figure at 40), the Conservatives need to gain 179 seats from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. The total number of seats to be gained from each party is : Labour 138 Liberal Democrats 36 Plaid Cymru 1 SNP 3.
1 Cheadle 2 Dorset South 3 Braintree 4 Weston-Super-Mare 5 Norfolk North 6 Monmouth 7 Dorset Mid and North Poole 8 Lancaster and Wyre 9 Guildford 10 Kettering 11 Somerton and Frome 12 Northampton South 13 Brecon and Radnorshire 14 Dumfries and Galloway 15 Devon West and Torridge 16 Hereford 17 Welwyn Hatfield 18 Shipley 19 Clwyd West 20 Bexleyheath and Crayford 21 Ludlow 22 Milton Keynes North East 23 Hornchurch 24 Selby 25 Hammersmith and Fulham 26 Thanet South 27 Forest of Dean 28 Wellingborough 29 Newbury 30 Romsey 31 Teignbridge 32 Ilford North 33 Rugby and Kenilworth 34 Gillingham 35 Harwich 36 Angus 37 Enfield North 38 Devon North 39 Eastleigh 40 Calder Valley 41 Redditch 42 Peterborough 43 Shrewsbury and Atcham 44 Southport 45 Dartford 46 Scarborough and Whitby 47 Hove 48 Moray 49 Preseli Pembrokeshire 50 Bristol West 51 Gloucester 52 Putney 53 Hemel Hempstead 54 Yeovil 55 Ribble South 56 Finchley and Golders Green 57 Wolverhampton South West 58 The Wrekin 59 Croydon Central 60 Perth and Perthshire North 61 Elmet 62 Wimbledon 63 Stroud 64 Keighley 65 Sittingbourne and Sheppey 66 High Peak 67 Argyll and Bute 68 Stourbridge 69 Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 70 Brigg and Goole 71 Falmouth and Camborne 72 Medway 73 Colne Valley 74 Wirral West 75 Richmond Park 76 St Albans 77 Cornwall South East 78 Vale of Glamorgan 79 Wansdyke 80 Burton 81 Hastings and Rye 82 Pendle 83 Sutton and Cheam 84 Bradford West 85 Chatham and Aylesford 86 Warwick and Leamington 87 Gravesham 88 Carshalton and Wallington 89 Great Yarmouth 90 Stafford 91 Tamworth 92 Dover 93 Watford 94 Broxtowe 95 Corby 96 Morecambe and Lunesdale 97 Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 98 Leeds North West 99 Birmingham, Edgbaston 100 Pudsey 101 Ynys Môn 102 Brighton, Kemptown 103 Cheltenham 104 Rossendale and Darwen 105 Wirral South 106 Colchester 107 Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine 108 Gedling 109 Reading East 110 Norwich North 111 Harlow 112 Worcester 113 Ochil and Perthshire South 114 Batley and Spen 115 Harrow West 116 Enfield, Southgate 117 Cleethorpes 118 Bolton West 119 Blackpool North and Fleetwood 120 Staffordshire Moorlands 121 Battersea 122 Portsmouth North 123 Torbay 124 Cardiff North 125 Erewash 126 Copeland 127 Loughborough 128 Bury North 129 Derbyshire South 130 Bedford 131 Halifax 132 Twickenham 133 City of Chester 134 Milton Keynes South West 135 Portsmouth South 136 Derby North 137 Truro and St Austell 138 Amber Valley 139 Warrington South 140 Winchester 141 Carlisle 142 Edinburgh South 143 Swindon South 144 Crawley 145 Edinburgh West 146 Nuneaton 147 Chorley 148 Dudley North 149 Northavon 150 Edinburgh South West 151 Vale of Clwyd 152 Oxford West and Abingdon 153 Leeds North East 154 Conwy 155 Leicestershire North West 156 Waveney 157 Hendon 158 Cornwall North 159 Dunbartonshire East 160 Halesowen and Rowley Regis 161 Dudley South 162 Ceredigion 163 East Renfrewshire 164 Gordon 165 Basildon 166 Northampton North 167 Swindon North 168 Plymouth, Sutton 169 Wakefield 170 Stirling 171 Tynemouth 172 Gower 173 Aberdeen South 174 Birmingham, Hall Green 175 Stevenage 176 Dewsbury 177 St Ives 178 Sherwood 179 Stockton South
- BBC article predicting an election in Spring 2005 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3545611.stm)
- BBC article again attempting to predict the date of the election (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/3936267.stm)
- Electoral Calculus: If there were a General Election tomorrow, what would happen? (http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/)
- Example timetable for a COMBINED UK Parliamentary and county council election: Thursday 5th May 2005
- SourceWatch's article on the 2005 UK general election (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=British_General_Election_2005) - with a focus on the strategists and public relations experts involved in the campaigns of the various parties.