We’ve been having a fair few questions about the upcoming General Election recently, so I’ve put down some of the most common here for your information:
What is a General Election?
Quite simply, a UK General Election is the chance you have to elect your constituency’s Member of Parliament. These MPs, as they are known, sit in the Palace of Westminster to debate and vote on legislation. There are currently 650 constituencies in the UK, so 650 MPs form the House of Commons. Most (but certainly not all) MPs belong to a political party. The political party with the most MPs elected following the election is called on first by the Queen to form a Government. Having a majority (over 326 MPs) is helpful when forming a Government, but not a requirement. There have been minority Governments in the past century, and even coalitions (political parties working together) in recent memory.
If you have registered before the deadline, you will be able to cast your vote in your constituency for the candidate you believe to be best suited to represent you. There is a variety of electoral systems active in different parts of the UK, but the system used for General Elections is First-Past-the-Post. This means you have a single vote for one of the local constituency candidates. The candidate with the most votes becomes your MP.
When Can I Vote?
Thursday 8th June is polling day. According to the Electoral Commission (the people who ensure UK elections are run fairly), 21% of voters didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election because they didn’t have time. You have between 7am and 10pm to cast your vote, so make sure you allocate a portion of your day to pop by. It only takes a few minutes at most to participate in our democratic process.
Where Can I Vote?
If you have registered to vote in time to be on the electoral register for this General Election then you will likely receive a polling card from your local authority informing you of your polling station. Polling stations are set up exclusively for polling day and are staffed by volunteers. They can be in village halls, churches, schools, and generally anywhere that has enough space to fit several tables. For example, I live on Romsey Road and my polling station is at the West Downs Business School.
If you are unsure where your polling station is, I’ve found this website to be quite useful: https://wheredoivote.co.uk/. If you have any queries you should call your local authority during working hours to confirm you are able to vote in this election and where your polling station is.
How Do I Vote?
I wasn’t originally going to include a section on this, but I have received several queries from first time voters around this issue. Once you have ensured you are able to vote in this election and have reached your polling station, you enter and present your name and address to the volunteer staff. They will tick your name off a list and you will be given a ballot paper (listing all the candidates and their respective political allegiances) to be filled out privately in the polling station. You need to put a single ‘X’ in the box next to the candidate of your choice and put this in a ballot box. Votes can be rendered invalid if you decide to deface your ballot.
It will save time if you bring your polling card with you when you vote, but YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO DO SO. Strange as it may seem, you do not need to bring a form of ID with you in order to cast your vote in this election. In Northern Ireland you need to bring the correct form of photo ID, but not in the rest of the UK. This may change for subsequent elections.
DO NOT – and yes, this is incredibly serious – TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE THE POLLING STATION. Recently a famous artist, Banksy, got in trouble for asking voters to take photos of their ballot papers. Make sure you pay attention to the volunteer staff. Selfies and the like can wait until you are outside the polling station.
Lastly on this longer portion, you will likely see people sitting outside the polling station wearing colourful rosettes. They are there to ask you for your unique polling card number to ensure their party does not knock on your door later in the day to encourage you to vote. You do not have to speak to these party representatives, but it might save you and them a bit bother later if you do.
Who Do I Vote For?
That is up to you. Each party and candidate stand for different approaches in how the country should be run. Often, your local candidate will be of a similar mind to their party, but this is not always the case. Make sure you look thoroughly through each party’s manifesto (outlining their views) and get in contact with each of your local candidates to find out how they will represent you. I would encourage you to speak to all of them, no matter how much animosity you could feel before speaking to them.
I will not have been the first to say that voting ‘tactically’ – as it is commonly known – is not always the wisest choice. Your views may be different, but in a personal capacity I must advise you vote for whom you want to get in to power, rather than who you want to get out; no matter the party or area. Parties, and especially the elected representative, pay close attention to the number of votes cast for their competitors and will adjust their policies accordingly. Though online quizzes can help you to decide, I would still strongly recommend checking out your local candidates of each party and getting in touch with them above some silly internet spreadsheet.
Supporters of every party will claim aspects of the media are biased towards them. This is in some ways true – newspapers, online blogs, widely shared social media articles and the like all have an angle and want to influence your vote. Always see who has written the article you are checking out and compare it with their recent publications to be aware of their bias. Information is important, but remember to get it from several very different sources to see all sides. As a last example, while the Financial Times have endorsed the Conservatives, the Daily Mirror and Independent are often more pro-Labour, and the Economist is backing the Liberals. It varies.
Vote. It is one of the easiest acts of democratic engagement you could perform. For a General Election it could be up to five years before another is called, so it is important you register your political feelings. Choosing who to vote for can be tricky, but remember there is a wealth of information available to you to help you decide.
I was reminded just before uploading this article that you should always respect others with different political views. Don’t take to social media to spit at someone you may view as your political enemy; respect them and engage in enlightened debate – often, they will be voting based on a different set of issues they see as important to them. There is a diversity of views to be found at Winchester and we should always encourage and support this.
Finally, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me on Harry.Sampson@winchester.ac.uk. I am unfortunately away from my computer on polling day itself, but our wonderful VPs (Samuel.Chivers@winchester.ac.uk and Jordan.Rudge@winchester.ac.uk) will be able to answer any queries.