UK Faces Critical Election: The Impact on Rule of Law, Key Party Policies, and Socio-Economic Landscape Features
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UK Faces Critical Election: The Impact on Rule of Law, Key Party Policies, and Socio-Economic Landscape

On the 22nd May, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak called an election for the 4th July. Standing outside Number 10 Downing Street, under a deluge of rain, he said the Conservative party would “fight for every vote” as they sought a fifth term in office. Over the past few weeks, the UK has seen all of the major parties launch their manifestos, setting out their roadmap for the next Parliament, as well as engaging in televised debates and rally voters up and down the country. But why was an election called now, what are the main points of contention and how will this election impact the rule of law in the UK?

Why was the election called and how does it work?

The UK operates a “first past the post” electoral system. There are currently 650 constituencies in the UK, with each constituency being represented by a Member of Parliament (MP). On election day, voters attend their local polling station and vote for their preferred candidate for their particular constituency. Once all the votes are in, the ballots are counted to determine which candidate has the most votes in each area. The winner becomes the MP for that constituency and takes a seat in the House of Commons. The political party with the most MPs makes a majority and is invited by the King to form a government. If there is no clear majority, this creates a hung parliament and options include forming a minority or coalition government or holding another election.

General elections in the UK must be held at least every five years, but the specific timing is decided by the Prime Minister, who then asks the King to dissolve Parliament. The last general election was held in December 2019, when Boris Johnson’s Conservative party won a fourth term in office. The deadline for an election was fast approaching but most commentators thought that Sunak would call an election in October/November. However, he decided to call it July, causing some consternation within his own party and many wondering why he chose to bring forward the date, especially when the Conservative party have been falling well-behind the Labour party in polls. While the Prime Minister’s motivations for calling the election early are still unclear, in his speech, he pointed to “two major milestones” in regard to the economy: reducing inflation and the economy growing faster than other G7 countries. Some argued that he called it early because the situation for the Conservatives was unlikely to improve in the next few months and that favourability with the public was likely to diminish.

What are the main points of contention between the parties?

Following the election announcement, Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour opposition party, said that it was “time for change” away from “Tory chaos”. Labour has held a significant lead over the Conservatives in the polls for the past few months, with many predicting a landslide victory for the party. Other parties include the Liberal Democrats, the Green party, the Reform Party and the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru.

With the cost of living and the economy being some of the top concerns of British people, this will be a major source of debate. Labour have proposed £7.4 billion in tax rises, including VAT on private school fees as well as broader windfall tax on oil and gas companies. They say this will fund £4.8 billion in new spending for more teachers, nurses and green investment and be “pro-business and pro-worker.” The Conservatives have pledged to cut 17 billion in taxes, by reducing national insurance rates, while also aiming to reduce borrowing and debt. The Liberal Democrats plan to improve relations with the EU and raise £27 billion through taxes such as capital gains and windfall taxes on fossil fuels. Whereas the Greens support a wealth tax and Plaid Cymru focussing on achieving a fairer allocation of central government funds for Wales.

Health and the National Health Service (NHS) is second on the list of concerns for the British electorate. The Conservatives have committed to recruiting 92,000 more nurses and 28,000 more doctors, whereas labour have said it will cut waiting times by adding 40,000 more appointments every week. The Liberal Democrats have said they will increase the number of community doctors and for cancer patients to begin treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral, with the Greens saying they want to increase the budget for the NHS by a huge £8 billion in the first year.

Immigration & asylum is also another major area of debate. Sunak’s Rwanda plan has been beset by problems since the outset and lead to multiple legal challenges. The Prime Minister has now said that no flights to Rwanda would take off until after the election, if he is re-elected. Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda plan if it gets re-elected and redirect £75 million from it to form a new Border and Security Command, to tackle people smuggling. The Liberal Democrats say they would scrap the Rwanda scheme and provide safe and legal routes for asylum seekers. The Reform Party (previously the Brexit party), overtook the Conservatives in a recent poll. Headed by Nigel Farage, who will be making his eighth attempt to become an MP, the right-wing party is focussed on reducing immigration. They have proposed a tax on businesses employing overseas workers (exempting health and social care sectors).

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has also become an issue in this election, due to its perceived role in the stalling of the Rwanda scheme. The Conservative manifesto says:

We will run a relentless, continual process of permanently removing illegal migrants to Rwanda with a regular rhythm of flights every month, starting this July, until the boats are stopped. If we are forced to choose between our security and the jurisdiction of a foreign court, including the ECtHR, we will always choose our security. (Page 36)

The Reform party have also said that they would want the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which is overseen by the ECtHR. Labour have said that “Britain will unequivocally remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.” The Liberal Democrats have also said they would be committed to “upholding the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and resisting any attempts to withdraw from it.”

With all this said, the upcoming UK election promises to be a defining moment in British politics. The timing of this election, amidst a turbulent socio-economic landscape, has intensified political discourse. With critical issues such as the economy, healthcare, and immigration at the forefront, voters face crucial choices that will shape the country’s future. The UK political landscape is set to change vastly after 14 years of continual governance.

The Conservative Party, under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s leadership, is battling to secure a fifth term, emphasising economic stability and stringent immigration policies. In contrast, Labour, led by Sir Keir Starmer, is riding a wave of public discontent with promises of tax reforms, enhanced public services, and a compassionate approach to asylum seekers, but with a lot to do, it seems promise and concrete plans are scarce. Other parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, offer alternative visions focused on EU relations, sustainable development, and bolstered public health investments. But with many disillusioned with the UK politically, democratic change, and the needs to exercise the democratic right to vote, whichever box that cross goes in, the fundamental question is whether the electorate is ready for a change after more than a decade of Conservative rule or whether they will opt for continuity amidst global uncertainties. Whatever the outcome, the election will undeniably set the stage for significant policy shifts and potentially alter the UK’s stance on key international and domestic issues. The result will not only influence the immediate political landscape but also resonate through the UK’s socio-economic fabric for years to come.

For more on the UK Elections, JURIST has provided a number of explainer videos on the UK elections, which can be viewed on our Instagram.