A beginner’s guide to General Elections
Part 2: Deciding who to vote for
On 8 June 2017, there will be a General Election in the UK. If you’ve never voted before, or you have questions about it, these posts are for you.
Yesterday, we covered why we’re having a general election, and what you’ll actually be voting for.
Now let’s take a look at how you can make up your mind on who to vote for.
What will happen in the next few weeks?
If you’re a cynical type, you’d say that the next few weeks are all about candidates trying to win voters over to their side. Seen more optimistically, it’s an ideal time for you to find out more about your options and what your local candidates represent.
- You may get a knock on your door or leaflets through your letterbox, as candidates step up their campaigns to get elected. If there are certain issues that matter to you, this is your chance to talk to your candidate or their campaigners and find out their views.
- In many areas there will also be hustings, that is, meetings where candidates debate and answer questions from the voters. Anyone is welcome to attend these. Look out for notices on local news pages, in the paper or on candidates’ websites.
- You might see party political broadcasts on the TV. In the UK, parties aren’t allowed to pay for TV advertising, because it would give an immediate advantage to those who spent the most money: instead each party is given a free five-minute slot to put forward their messages.
- There are currently no restrictions on social media, though, so you may well see ads popping up on your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds.
- The deadline for candidates to say they’re standing is May 11, so the final list will be confirmed after that date.
How should I decide how to vote?
There are lots of simple ways to check what your local candidates stand for and how far they agree with your own opinions. Remember you can see who’s up for election in your own area on WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk.
Not every party puts up a candidate in every constituency, so it may not be as simple as thinking ‘I support party x and I’ll vote for them’. And anyway, it’s always worth digging a little deeper.
- Every candidate will have a website where they set out their own beliefs and promises; many are also on Twitter and/or Facebook, and you should feel free to send them direct questions.
- Or attend local hustings, as mentioned above, to see your candidates speak in person.
- If a previous MP for your area is standing for re-election, you can check their past voting record and the speeches they’ve made on TheyWorkForYou.com. Do you agree with the choices they’ve made?
- Read the leaflets that come through your door, rather than chucking them straight into the recycling bin, or shredding them for your pet rabbit’s bedding (you can still do that once you’ve read them).
- As mentioned yesterday, a vote for a local candidate is also a vote for that candidate’s party to have more influence in Parliament (and therefore over the laws we’re all governed by). Check the main manifestos on the official party websites to make sure you agree with them. MPs are often pressured (you may have heard this described as “whipped”) to vote according to ‘party lines’, so the points in the manifestos may override your candidate’s own beliefs.
- Every Vote Counts also provides easy-read versions of the manifestos for anyone who needs them, including people with learning difficulties.
- ‘Voter Advice Applications’ are quizzes that help you find out which party best fits your own views. Here are a couple — and we’re sure more will be coming online once people have had time to build them after the surprise election announcement:
WhoShouldYouVoteFor (run by mySociety’s own team member, Paul)
VoteForPolicies (not ready yet, but you can sign up to be alerted when it is)
- Those applications only look at party politics and national issues, though, so be sure to think about local issues too.
- Follow the links from your candidates’ pages on WhoCanIVoteFor.co.uk to find their websites and social media feeds
- Check your previous MP’s record on TheyWorkForYou.com
- Read the manifestos on the main party websites, or on EveryVoteCounts: these include the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party
- Try a Voter Advice Application
What is tactical voting?
Tactical voting means voting for someone who might not be your first choice but who has a better chance of defeating someone you definitely don’t want representing you.
In an ideal world, we’d all vote according to our beliefs, but in the UK’s ‘first past the post’ system, tactical voting may be worth considering.
Another possibility is vote swapping (also known as vote pairing), in which you match up with someone in another constituency where your preferred party has a better chance of getting in. It relies on a shared promise that you’ll vote their way and they’ll vote yours.
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So now it’s time to go away and do a little digging around to find out as much as you can about the candidates on offer in your constituency. In our next post we’ll finish off your transformation into an electoral expert by talking through the actual process of making a vote.