2019 United Kingdom general election
The 2019 United Kingdom general election was held on Thursday 12December 2019. The Conservative Party, having failed to obtain a majority in the 2017 general election, had faced prolonged parliamentary deadlock over Brexit while it governed in minority with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, a situation which had forced the resignation of the previous Prime Minister Theresa May. As a result, Boris Johnson called for an early election to take place in December; legislation to achieve this was eventually approved.
In July 2019, after May's resignation, Johnson was elected as Conservative leader and appointed as Prime Minister. Johnson could not induce Parliament to approve a revised withdrawal agreement by the end of October, and chose to call for a snap election. The House of Commons supported the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 by 438–20, setting the election date for 12 December. Johnson wanted to obtain an overall majority in the election in order to accomplish his main goal of taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union by the end of January 2020. Opinion polls up to polling day showed a firm lead for the Conservatives against Labour throughout the campaign.
The election resulted in the Conservatives receiving a landslide Commons majority of 80 seats, the party's largest Commons majority since 1987. The Conservatives made a net gain of 48 seats and won 43.6% of the popular vote — the highest percentage by any party since 1979. In England, the Conservative Party won 345 out of 533 seats and 47.2% of the vote - the highest percentage by any party in England since 1970. Many Conservative gains were made in long-held Labour Leave-voting seats dubbed the 'red wall'. The Labour Party won 202 seats, their lowest number and proportion of seats since 1935. Its sole gain in the election was the formerly Conservative London constituency of Putney. The Scottish National Party made a net gain of 13 seats and won 3.9% of the UK vote, resulting in 48 out of 59 seats won in Scotland. The Liberal Democrats improved their vote share to 11.6% but won only 11 seats, a net loss of one since the last election.
For the third consecutive election, four different parties won the most seats in the four constituent countries that make up the UK: the Conservatives won a majority in England; the SNP won a majority in Scotland; Labour won a majority in Wales; and the DUP won a relative majority of seats in Northern Ireland. There, the SDLP and The Alliance regained parliamentary representation as the DUP lost seats.
The result of the election saw the Conservatives strengthening their position on Brexit, with Johnson securing a mandate to ensure the UK's departure from the European Union on 31 January 2020, thereby ending hopes of the Remain side of overturning the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Labour's defeat led to Jeremy Corbyn announcing his intention to resign, triggering a leadership election. For Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, the loss of her constituency's seat compelled her to resign, also triggering a leadership election. The party's leader in Wales, Jane Dodds, was also unseated. For the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, her party's success led to renewed calls for a second independence referendum, to which the Conservative Party had expressed its opposition before the election. In Northern Ireland, nationalist MPs outnumbered unionist ones for the first time.
BackgroundIn July 2016, Theresa May became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, having taken over from David Cameron. Her party the Conservative and Unionist Party had governed the UK since the 2010 UK general election, initially in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and after the 2015 UK general election, alone with a small majority. In the 2017 UK general election, May lost her majority but was able to resume office as a result of a confidence and supply agreement with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. In the face of opposition from the DUP and Conservative back-benchers, the second May ministry was unable to pass its Brexit withdrawal agreement by 29 March 2019, so some political commentators considered that an early United Kingdom general election was likely. The opposition Labour Party called for a January 2019 vote of confidence in the May ministry, but the motion failed. May resigned after her party's poor performance in the 2019 European Parliament election, during the first extension granted by the European Union for negotiations on the withdrawal agreement. Boris Johnson won the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election and became Prime Minister on 23 July 2019. Along with attempting to revise the withdrawal agreement arranged by his predecessor's negotiations, Johnson made three attempts to hold a snap election under the process defined in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which requires a two-thirds supermajority in order for an election to take place.
All three attempts to call an election failed to gain support: Parliament insisted that Johnson "take a no-deal Brexit off the table first" and secure a negotiated Withdrawal Agreement, expressed in particular by its enactment against his will of the European Union Act 2019. After failing to pass a revised deal before the first extension's deadline of 31 October 2019, Johnson agreed to a second extension on negotiations with the EU and finally secured a revised Withdrawal Agreement. Parliament agreed to an election through a motion proposed by the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party on 28 October. The Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 was passed in the Commons by 438 votes to 20; an attempt to pass an amendment by opposition parties for the election to be held on 9 December failed by 315 votes to 295. The House of Lords followed suit on 30 October, with Royal Assent made the day after for the ratification of the EPGEA.
Date of the electionThe deadline for candidate nominations was 14 November 2019, with political campaigning for four weeks until polling day on 12 December. On the day of the election, polling stations across the country were open from 7 am, and closed at 10 pm. The date chosen for the 2019 general election made it the first to be held in December since 1923.
Voting eligibilityIndividuals eligible to vote had to be registered to vote by midnight on 26 November. To be eligible to vote, individuals had to be aged 18 or over; residing as a Commonwealth citizen at an address in the United Kingdom, or a British citizen overseas who registered to vote in the last 15 years; and not legally excluded or disqualified from voting. Anyone who qualified as an anonymous elector had until midnight on 6 December to register. Irish citizens living in the UK aged 18 and over were also allowed to vote.
Contesting political parties and candidatesMost candidates are representatives of a political party, which must be registered with the Electoral Commission's Register of Political Parties. Candidates who do not belong to a registered party can use an "independent" label, or no label at all. Across the United Kingdom, there were 3,415 candidates representing 68 political parties, including 206 independent candidates.
As outlined above, the Conservative Party has governed in coalition or on its own since 2010, and has been led by Boris Johnson since July 2019. Jeremy Corbyn has been Labour Party leader since 2015 and was the first Labour leader since Tony Blair to contest consecutive general elections, as well as the first since Neil Kinnock to contest a second general election after losing the first. One other party, the Liberal Democrats, contested seats across Great Britain. They were led by Tim Farron at the 2017 election, before he was replaced by Vince Cable. Cable was succeeded by Jo Swinson in July 2019. The Brexit Party contested somewhat under half the seats. It was founded in early 2019 by Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, and won the most votes at the May 2019 European Parliament elections. The Brexit Party has largely replaced UKIP in British politics, with UKIP losing almost all its support. UKIP stood in 42 seats in Great Britain and two seats in Northern Ireland.
The Green Party of England and Wales has been led by Jonathan Bartley and Siân Berry since 2018, with its counterpart the Scottish Green Party standing in Scottish seats. The two parties stood in a total of 495 seats. The third-largest party in seats won at the 2017 election was the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon since 2014, which stands only in Scotland but holds the majority of seats there. Similarly, Plaid Cymru, led by Adam Price, stands only in Wales where it holds 4 of 40 seats.
Northern IrelandWhile a number of UK parties organise in Northern Ireland and others field candidates for election, the main Northern Ireland parties are different from those in the rest of the UK.
Some parties in Northern Ireland operate on an all-Ireland basis, including Sinn Féin and Aontú, who are abstentionist parties and do not take up any Commons seats to which they are elected. The only independent elected to Parliament in 2017, Sylvia Hermon, represented North Down but did not stand in 2019.
In the 2019 election, there were a total of 102 candidates in Northern Ireland. The election result was particularly notable in Northern Ireland as the first Westminster election in which the number of Nationalists elected exceeded the number of Unionists.
Electoral pacts and unilateral decisionsIn England and Wales, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Green Party of England and Wales – parties sharing an anti-Brexit position – arranged a "Unite to Remain" pact. Labour declined to be involved. This agreement meant that in 60 constituencies only one of these parties, the one considered to have the best chance of winning, stood. This pact aimed to maximise the total number of anti-Brexit MPs returned under the first-past-the-post system by avoiding the spoiler effect.
In addition, the Liberal Democrats did not run against Dominic Grieve, Gavin Shuker, and Anna Soubry.
The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage had suggested the Brexit and Conservative parties could form an electoral pact to maximise the seats taken by Brexit-supporting MPs, but this was rejected by Johnson. On 11 November, Farage announced that his party would not stand in any of the 317 seats won by the Conservatives at the last election. This was welcomed by the Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly, and he insisted there had been no contact between them and the Brexit Party over the plan. Newsnight reported that conversations between members of the Brexit Party and the Conservative, pro-Brexit research support group European Research Group led to this decision. The Brexit Party reportedly requested that Johnson publicly state he would not extend the Brexit transition period beyond the planned end of December 2020 date and that he wished for a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU. Johnson did make a statement covering these two issues, something which Farage referenced as key when announcing he was standing down some candidates. Both the Brexit Party and the Conservatives denied any deal was done between the two.
The Green Party also did not stand in two Conservative-held seats, Chingford and Woodford Green and Calder Valley, in favour of Labour. The Green Party had also unsuccessfully attempted to form a progressive alliance with the Labour Party prior to Unite to Remain. The Women's Equality Party stood aside in three seats in favour of the Liberal Democrats, after the Lib Dems adopted some of their policies.
The DUP did not contest Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the UUP did not contest Belfast North so as not to split the unionist vote. Other parties stood down in selected seats so as not to split the anti-Brexit vote. The nationalist and anti-Brexit parties the SDLP and Sinn Féin agreed a pact whereby the SDLP did not stand in Belfast North, while Sinn Féin did not stand in Belfast South ; neither party stood in Belfast East or North Down and advised their supporters to vote Alliance in those two constituencies. The Green Party in Northern Ireland did not stand in any of the four Belfast constituencies, backing the SDLP in Belfast South, Sinn Féin in Belfast North and West, and Alliance in Belfast East and North Down; the party only stood in the safe seats of East Antrim, Strangford and West Tyrone. Alliance did not stand down in any seats, describing the plans as "sectarian".
Marginal seatsAt the 2017 election, more than one in eight seats was won by a margin of 5% or less of votes, while almost one in four was won by 10% or less. These seats were seen as crucial in deciding the election.
2017–19 MPs standing under a different political affiliationThe 2017-19 Parliament was defined by a significant amount of political instability, and consequently; a large number of defections and switching between parties. This was due to issues such as disquiet over anti-semitism in the Labour Party, and divisions over Brexit in the Conservative Party. Eighteen MPs elected in 2017 contested the election for a different party or as an independent candidate; five stood for a different seat. All of these candidates failed to be re-elected.
Withdrawn or disowned candidatesThe following candidates withdrew from campaigning or had support from their party withdrawn after the close of nominations, and so they remained on the ballot paper in their constituency. Hanvey was elected; the others were not.
The Conservative Party and Labour Party have been the two biggest political parties, and have supplied every Prime Minister since 1922. The Conservative Party have governed since the 2010 election, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats from 2010 to 2015. At the 2015 general election the Conservative Party committed to offering a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union and won a majority in that election. A referendum was held in June 2016, and the Leave campaign won by 51.9% to 48.1%. The UK initiated the withdrawal process in March 2017, and Prime Minister Theresa May triggered a snap general election in 2017, in order to demonstrate support for her planned negotiation of Brexit. The Conservative Party lost seats— they won a plurality of MPs, but not a majority. As a result, they formed a minority government, with the Democratic Unionist Party as their confidence and supply partner. Neither May nor her successor Boris Johnson was able to secure parliamentary support either for a deal on the terms of the UK's exit from the EU, or for exiting the EU without an agreed deal. Johnson later succeeded in bringing his Withdrawal Agreement to a second reading in Parliament, following another extension until January 2020.
During the lifespan of the 2017 parliament, twenty MPs quit their parties, most due to disputes with their party leaderships; some formed new parties and alliances. In February 2019, eight Labour and three Conservative MPs resigned from their parties to sit together as The Independent Group. Having undergone a split and two name changes, at dissolution this group numbered five MPs who sat as the registered party The Independent Group for Change under the leadership of Anna Soubry. Two MPs sat in a group called The Independents, one MP created the Birkenhead Social Justice Party, while a further 20 MPs who began as Labour or Conservative ended the Parliament as unaffiliated independents. Seven MPs, from both the Conservatives and Labour, joined the Liberal Democrats during the parliament, in combination with a by-election gain. The Lib Dems ultimately raised their number from 12 at the election to 20 at dissolution.
One reason for the defections from the Labour Party was the ongoing allegations of antisemitism and allegations that Jeremy Corbyn and the party leadership had not done enough to tackle the problem. Labour entered the election campaign undergoing investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Jewish Labour Movement declared it would not generally campaign for Labour. The Conservative Party was also criticised for not doing enough to tackle the alleged Islamophobia in the party.
The Conservatives ended the previous parliamentary period with fewer seats than they had started with because of defections and also the expulsion of a number of MPs for going against the party line by voting to prevent a no-deal Brexit. Of the 21 expelled, 10 were subsequently reinstated, while others continued as independents.
BrexitThe major parties had a wide variety of stances on Brexit. The Conservative Party supported leaving under the terms of the withdrawal agreement as negotiated by Johnson, and this agreement formed a central part of the Conservative campaign. The Brexit Party was in favour of a no-deal Brexit, with its leader Nigel Farage calling for Johnson to drop the deal.
The Labour Party proposed a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement and would then put this forward as an option in a referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU. The Labour Party's campaigning stance in that referendum would be decided at a special conference. In a Question Time special featuring four party leaders, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would stay neutral in the referendum campaign.
The Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, The Independent Group for Change, and the Green Party of England and Wales were all opposed to Brexit, and proposed that a further referendum be held with the option—for which they would campaign—to remain in the EU. The Liberal Democrats originally pledged that if they formed a majority government, they would revoke the Article 50 notification immediately and cancel Brexit. Part-way through the campaign, the Liberal Democrats dropped the policy of revoking Article 50 after the party realised it was not going to win a majority in the election.
The Democratic Unionist Party was in favour of a withdrawal agreement in principle, but it opposed the deals negotiated by both May and Johnson, believing that they create too great a divide between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance all favoured remaining in the EU. The UUP did not see a second referendum as a necessary route to achieving this goal.
The environmentThe Labour Party promised what they described as a green industrial revolution. This included support for renewable energies and a promise to plant 2 billion trees by 2040. The party also promised to transition to electrify the UK's bus fleet by 2030.
The Lib Dems also promised to put the environment at the heart of their agenda with a promise to plant 60 million trees a year. They also promised to significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2030 and hit zero carbon emissions by 2045. By 2030 they planned to generate 80% of the country's energy needs from renewable energies such as solar power and wind and retrofit 26 million homes with insulation by 2030. They also promised to build more environmentally friendly homes and to establish a new Department for the Climate Crisis.
The Conservatives pledged net zero emissions by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution. They also pledged to plant 30 million trees.
The Conservatives were judged the worst of the main parties on climate change by Friends of the Earth with a manifesto which mentioned it only ten times.
Tax and spending commitmentsIn September 2019, the Conservative government performed a spending review, where they announced plans to increase public spending by £13.8 billion/year, and reaffirmed plans to spend another £33.9 billion/year on the National Health Service by 2023. Chancellor Sajid Javid said the government had turned the page on 10 years of austerity. During the election the parties produced manifestos that outlined spending in addition to those already planned.
The Conservative manifesto was described as having "little in the way of changes to tax" by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The decision to keep the rate of corporation tax at 19%, and not reduce it to 17% as planned, is expected to raise £6 billion/year. The plan to increase the national insurance threshold for employees and self-employed to £9,500 will cost £2 billion/year. They also committed to not raise rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT. There are increased spending commitments of £3 billion current spending and £8 billion investment spending. This would overall lead to the UK's debt as a percentage of GDP remaining stable.
The Labour manifesto planned to raise an extra £78 billion/year from taxes over the course of the parliament, with sources including:
- £24bn – raising the headline rate of corporation tax to 26%
- £6.3bn – tax multinationals' global profits according to UK share of global employment/assets/sales, not UK profits
- £4.0bn – abolish patent box & R&D tax credit for large companies
- £4.3bn – cutting unspecified corporation tax reliefs
- £9bn – financial transactions tax
- £14bn – dividends and capital gains
- £6bn – anti-avoidance
- £5bn – increases in income tax rates above £80,000/year
- £5bn – other
The Liberal Democrat manifesto plans to raise an extra £36 billion/year from taxes over the course of the parliament, with sources including:
- £10bn – raising corporation tax to 20%
- £7bn – 1% point rise in all rates of income tax
- £5bn – abolish CGT allowance
- £5bn – air passenger duty on frequent flyers
- £6bn – anti-avoidance
- £3bn – other
Institute for Fiscal Studies analysisThe Institute of Fiscal Studies, an influential research body, released on 28 November its in-depth analysis of the manifestos of the three main national political parties. The analysis both provides a summary of the financial promises made by each party, and an inspection of the accuracy of claims around government income and expenditure. The IFS reported that neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party had published a "properly credible prospectus".
Its analysis of the Conservative manifesto concluded there was "essentially nothing new in the manifesto", that there was "little in the way of changes to tax, spending, welfare or anything else", and that they had already promised increased spending for health and education whilst in government. The Labour manifesto was described as introducing "enormous economic and social change", and increasing the role of the state to be bigger than anything in the last 40 years. The IFS highlighted a raft of changes in including free childcare, university, personal care and prescriptions, as well nationalisations, labour market regulations, increases in the minimum wage, and enforcing "effective ownership of 10% of large companies from current owners to a combination of employees and government". Labour's vision, the IFS said, "is of a state not so dissimilar to those seen in many other successful Western European economies" and presumed that the manifesto should be seen as "a long-term prospectus for change rather than a realistic deliverable plan for a five-year parliament". They said the Liberal Democrat manifesto is not as radical as the Labour manifesto but was a "decisive move away from the policies of the past decade".
The Conservative manifesto was criticised for a commitment not to raise rates of income tax, NICs or VAT as this put a significant constraint on reactions to events that might affect government finances. One such event could be the "die in a ditch" promise to terminate the Brexit transition period by the end of 2020, which risked harming the economy. The IFS also stated that it is "highly likely" spending under a Conservative government would be higher than in that party's manifesto, partly due to a number of uncosted commitments. Outside of commitments to the NHS, the proposals would leave public service spending 14% lower in 2023–2024 than it was in 2010–2011, which the IFS described as "no more austerity perhaps, but an awful lot of it baked in".
The IFS stated it had "serious doubt" that tax rises proposed would raise the amount Labour suggested, and said that they would need to introduce more broad based tax increases. They assess that the public sector does not have the capacity to increase investment spending as Labour would want. The IFS assesses the claim that tax rises will only hit the top 5% of earners, as "certainly progressive", but "clearly not true", with those under that threshold impacted by changes to the marriage allowance, taxes on dividends or capital gains, and lower wages/higher prices that might be passed on from corporation tax changes. Some of Labour's proposals are described as "huge and complex undertakings", where significant care is required in implementation. The IFS is particularly critical of the policy to compensate the so-called "WASPI women", announced after the manifesto, which is a £58bn promise to women who are "relatively well off on average" and will result in public finances going off target. They said that Labour's manifesto would not increase UK public spending as a share of national income above Germany. They found that Labour's plan to spend and invest would boost economic growth, but the impact of tax rises, government regulation, nationalisations and the inclusive ownership fund could reduce growth, meaning the overall impact of Labour's plan on growth is uncertain.
The IFS described the Liberal Democrats' plans as a "radical" tax and spend package, and said that the proposals would require lower borrowing than Conservative or Labour plans. The report said they were the only party whose proposals would put debt "on a decisively downward path", praising their plan to put 1p on income tax to go to the NHS as "simple, progressive and would raise a secure level of revenue". The IFS also said plans to "virtually quintuple" current spending levels on universal free childcare amounted to "creating a whole new leg of the universal welfare state".
The IFS said that the SNP's manifesto was not costed. Their proposals on spending increases and tax cuts would mean the UK government would have to borrow to cover day-to-day spending. They conclude that the SNP's plans for Scottish independence would likely require increased austerity.
Other issuesThe Conservative Party proposed increasing spending on the NHS, although not as much of an increase as Labour and Liberal Democrat proposals. They also proposed increased funding for childcare and on the environment. They proposed more funding for care services and to work with other parties on reforming how care is delivered. They wish to maintain the "triple lock" on pensions. They proposed investing in local infrastructure, including building a new rail line between Leeds and Manchester.
Labour proposed significantly increasing government spending to 45% of national output, which would be high compared to most of UK history, but is comparable with other European countries. This was to pay for an increased NHS budget; stopping state pension age rises; introducing a National Care Service providing free personal care; move to a net-zero carbon economy by the 2030s; nationalising key industries; scrapping universal credit; free bus travel for under-25s; building 100,000 council houses per year; and other proposals. Within this, the Labour Party proposed to take rail-operating companies, energy supply networks, Royal Mail, sewerage infrastructure, and England's private water companies back into public ownership. Labour proposed nationalising part of BT and to provide free broadband to everyone, along with free education for six years during each person's adult life. Over a decade, Labour planned to reduce the average full-time weekly working hours to 32, with resulting productivity increases facilitating no loss of pay.
The Liberal Democrats' main priority was opposing Brexit. Other policies included increased spending on the NHS; free childcare for two-to-four-year-olds; recruiting 20,000 more teachers; generating 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030; freezing train fares; and legalising cannabis.
The Brexit Party was also focused on Brexit. It opposed privatising the NHS. It sought to reduce immigration, cutting net migration to 50,000 per year; cutting VAT on domestic fuel; banning the exporting of waste; free broadband in deprived regions; scrapping the BBC licence fee; and abolishing inheritance tax, interest on student loans, and HS2. It also wanted to move to a US-style supreme court.
The policies of the SNP included a second referendum on Scottish independence next year as well as one on Brexit, removing Trident, and devolution across issues such as employment law, drug policy, and migration.
The Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Labour all support a ban on fracking, whilst the Conservatives propose approving fracking on a case-by-case basis.
Party positions in the event of a hung ParliamentThe Conservatives and Labour both insisted they were on course for outright majorities, but smaller parties were quizzed about what they would do in the event of a hung Parliament. The Liberal Democrats said they would not actively support Johnson or Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, but that they could, if an alternative could not be achieved, abstain on votes allowing a minority government to form if there was support for a second referendum on Brexit. The SNP ruled out either supporting the Conservatives or a coalition with Labour, but spoke about a looser form of support, such as a confidence and supply arrangement with the latter, if they supported a second referendum on Scottish independence.
The DUP previously supported the Conservative government, but withdrew that support given their opposition to Johnson's proposed Brexit deal. They said they would never support Corbyn as Prime Minister, but could work with Labour if led by someone else. Labour's position on a Hung parliament was that it would do no deals with any other party, citing Corbyn to say 'We are out here to win it' Although sources say it was prepared to adopt key policies proposed by the SNP and Lib Dems to woo them into supporting a minority government. The UUP has also said they would never support Corbyn as Prime Minister, with their leader Steve Aiken saying he "can't really see" any situation in which they would support a Conservative government either. Their focus would be on remaining in the EU.
Tactical votingUnder the first-past-the-post electoral system, voter turn-out has a crucial impact on the final election outcome, so major political parties disproportionately focus on opinion poll trends and these constituencies. In the early stages of the campaign, there was considerable discussion of tactical voting and whether parties would stand in all seats or not. There were various [|electoral pacts and unilateral decisions]. The Brexit Party chose not to stand against sitting Conservative candidates, but stood in most other constituencies. The Brexit Party alleged that pressure was put on its candidates by the Conservatives to withdraw, including the offer of peerages, which would be illegal. This was denied by the Conservative Party. Under the banner of Unite to Remain, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of England and Wales agreed an electoral pact in some seats, but some commentators criticised the Liberal Democrats for not standing down in some Labour seats.
A number of tactical voting websites were set up in an attempt to help voters choose the candidate in their constituency who would be best placed to beat the Conservative one. The websites did not always give the same advice, which Michael Savage, political editor of centre-left The Guardian newspaper, said had the potential to confuse voters. One of the websites — GetVoting.or], set up by Best for Britain—was accused of giving bogus advice in Labour/Conservative marginal seats. The website, which had links to the Liberal Democrat party, was criticised for advising pro-remain voters to back the Liberal Democrats when doing so risked pulling voters away from Labour candidates and enabling the Conservative candidate to gain most votes. However, they changed their controversial recommendation in Kensington to Labour, lining up with Tactical Vote in this seat, who were the only anti-Brexit tactical voting site with no party affiliations, while Gina Miller's Remain United and People's Vote kept their recommendation for the Liberal Democrats. This caused a lot of negative press for tactical voting as it was reported that the sites did not match one another's advice. Further into the election period, tactical voting websites that relied on MRP changed their recommendations on other seats because of new data.
In the final weekend before voting, The Guardian cited a poll suggesting that the Conservative party held a 15% lead over Labour, while on the same day, the Conservative-backing Daily Telegraph emphasised a poll indicating only an 8% lead. Senior opposition politicians from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP launched a late-stage appeal to anti-Conservative voters to consider switching allegiance in the general election, amid signs that tactical voting in a relatively small number of marginal seats could deprive Johnson of a majority in parliament.
Tactical voting appears to have contributed to parties opposed to Brexit winning four seats in the 2019 election which they might not otherwise have done. However, it would have taken 78% of people voting tactically to prevent a Conservative majority completely, and would not have been possible to deliver a Labour majority.
Canvassing and leafletingPredictions of an overall Conservative majority were based on their targeting of primarily Labour-held, Brexit-backing seats in the Midlands and the north of England. At the start of the election period, Labour-supporting organisation Momentum held what was described as "the largest mobilising call in UK history", involving more than 2,000 canvassers. The organisation challenged Labour supporters to devote a week or more to campaigning full-time. Momentum also developed an app called My Campaign Map that updated members where they could be more effective, particularly in canvassing in marginal constituencies. Over one weekend during the campaign period, 700 Labour supporters campaigned in Iain Duncan Smith's constituency, Chingford and Woodford Green, which is regarded as a marginal, with a majority of 2,438 votes at the last election.
The Liberal Democrats likewise were considered possible winners of a number of Conservative-held southern English constituencies; with a large swing that could even topple Dominic Raab in Esher and Walton. At the beginning of the 2019 campaign, they had been accused of attempting to mislead voters by using selective polling data and use of a quotation attributed to The Guardian newspaper rather than to their leader, Jo Swinson. They were also accused of making campaign leaflets look like newspapers, although this practice has been used by all major British political parties for many years, including by Labour and the Conservatives during this election.
The Liberal Democrats won a court case stopping the SNP from distributing a "potentially defamatory" leaflet in Swinson's constituency over false claims about funding she had received.
Online campaigningThe use of social media advertising is seen as particularly useful to political parties as they can target people by gender, age, and location. Labour is reported to have the most interactions, with The Times describing Labour's "aggressive, anti-establishment messages" as "beating clever Tory memes". In the first week of November, Labour is reported to have four of the five most "liked" tweets by political parties, many of the top interactions of Facebook posts, as well as being "dominant" on Instagram, where younger voters are particularly active. Bloomberg reported that between 6 and 21 November, the views on Twitter/Facebook were 18.7m/31.0m for Labour, 10m/15.5m for the Conservatives, 2.9m/2.0m for the Brexit Party, and 0.4m/1.4m for the Liberal Democrats.
Brexit was the most tweeted topic for the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. Labour focused on health, the environment, and business, mentioning Brexit in less than 5 percent of its tweets. Devolution was the topic most tweeted about by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and the environment was the top issue for the Green Party on Twitter. The Conservatives were unique in their focus on taxation, and the Brexit Party on defence.
Prior to the campaign, the Conservatives contracted New Zealand marketing agency Topham Guerin, which has been credited with helping Australia's Liberal–National Coalition unexpectedly win the 2019 Australian federal election. Their social media approach is described as purposefully posting badly-designed social media material, which becomes viral and so is seen by a wider audience. Some of the Conservative social media activity created headlines challenging whether it was deceptive. This included editing a clip of Keir Starmer to appear he was unable to answer a question about Labour's Brexit policy. In response to criticism over the doctored Starmer footage, Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly said the clip of Starmer was satire and "obviously edited".
Veracity of statements by political partiesDuring the 19 November debate between Johnson and Corbyn hosted by ITV, the press office of the Conservative Campaign Headquarters re-branded their Twitter account as 'factcheckUK', which critics suggest could be mistaken for that of an independent fact-checking body, and published posts supporting the Conservative's position. In defence, Conservative chairman Cleverly stated that "The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained CCHQPress, so it's clear the nature of the site", and as "calling out when the Labour Party put what they know to be complete fabrications in the public domain". In response to the re-branding on Twitter, the Electoral Commission, which does not have a role in regulating election campaign content, called on all campaigners to act "responsibly", fact-checking body Full Fact criticised this behaviour as "inappropriate and misleading", and Twitter stated that it would take "decisive corrective action" if there were "further attempts to mislead people".
First Draft News released an analysis of Facebook ads posted by political parties between 1 and 4 December. The analysis reports 88% of the 6,749 posts the Conservatives made had been "challenged" by fact checker Full Fact. 5,000 of these ads related to a "40 new hospitals" claim, of which Full Fact concluded only six had been costed, with the others only currently receiving money for planning. 4,000 featured inaccurate claims about the cost of Labour's spending plans to the tax payer. 500 related to a "50,000 more nurses" pledge, consisting of 31,500 new nurses, and convincing 18,500 nurses already in post to remain. 16.5% of Liberal Democrats posts were highlighted, which related to claims they are the only party to beat Labour, the Conservatives or the SNP ‘in seats like yours’. None of the posts made by Labour in the period were challenged, although posts made on 10 December claiming a "Labour government would save households thousands in bills" and the Conservative Party had "cut £8bn from social care" since 2010, were flagged as misleading. According to the BBC, Labour supporters had been more likely to share unpaid-for electioneering posts, some of which included misleading claims.
Television debatesaired a head-to-head election debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on 19 November, hosted by Julie Etchingham. ITV Cymru Wales aired a debate featuring representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Brexit Party on 17 November, hosted by Adrian Masters. Johnson cancelled his ITV interview with Etchingham, scheduled for 6 December, whilst the other major party leaders agreed to be interviewed.
On the BBC, broadcaster Andrew Neil was due to separately interview party leaders in The Andrew Neil Interviews, and BBC Northern Ireland journalist Mark Carruthers to separately interview the five main Northern Irish political leaders. The leaders of the SNP, Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party were all interviewed by Neil and the leader of the Conservative Party was not, leading Neil to release a challenge to Johnson to be interviewed. The Conservatives dismissed Neil's challenge. BBC Scotland, BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Northern Ireland also hosted a variety of regional debates.
Channel 4 cancelled a debate scheduled for 24 November after Johnson would not agree to a head-to-head with Corbyn. A few days later, the network hosted a leaders' debate focused on the climate. Johnson and Farage did not attend and were replaced on stage by ice sculptures with their party names written on them. The Conservatives alleged this was part of a pattern of bias at the channel, complained to Ofcom that Channel 4 had breached due impartiality rules as a result of their refusal to allow Michael Gove to appear as a substitute, and suggested that they might review the channel's broadcasting licence. Ofcom rejected the Conservatives' complaint. The Conservatives and the Brexit Party did not send a representative to Channel 4's "Everything but Brexit" on 8 December. Conservative ministers were briefed not to appear on Channel 4 News.
Sky News was due to hold a three-way election debate on 28 November, inviting Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson. Swinson confirmed she would attend the debate, but it was later cancelled after agreements could not be made with Corbyn or Johnson.
Campaign eventsBefore candidate nominations closed, several planned candidates for Labour and for the Conservatives withdrew, principally because of past social media activity. At least three Labour candidates and one Conservative candidate stood down, with two of the Labour candidates doing so following allegedly anti-Semitic remarks. Two other Conservative candidates were suspended from the Conservative Party over antisemitic social media posts, but retained their candidacy for the party. The Liberal Democrats removed one of its candidates over antisemitic social media posts, and defended two others.
Several former Labour MPs critical of Corbyn endorsed the Conservatives. Meanwhile, several former Conservative MPs, including former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine, endorsed the Liberal Democrats and/or independent candidates. A week before election day, former Conservative prime minister John Major warned the public against enabling a majority Conservative government, to avoid what he saw as the damage a Johnson-led government could do to the country through Brexit. Major encouraged voters to vote tactically and to back former Conservative candidates instead of those put forward by the Conservative Party.
Floods hit parts of England from 7 to 18 November. Johnson was criticised for what some saw as his late response to the flooding after he said they were not a national emergency.
The Conservatives banned Daily Mirror reporters from Johnson's campaign bus.
On 27 November, Labour announced it had obtained leaked government documents; they said these showed that, despite denials, the Conservatives were in trade negotiations with the US over the NHS. The Conservatives said Labour was peddling "conspiracy theories".
A terrorist stabbing attack occurred in London on 29 November; owing to this, the political parties suspended campaigning in London for a time.
The 2019 NATO summit was held in Watford on 3–4 December 2019. It was attended by 29 heads of state and heads of government, including Donald Trump.
On 6 December, Labour announced it had obtained leaked government documents which they said showed that Johnson had misled the public about the Conservatives' Brexit deal with the EU, specifically regarding customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which Johnson had said would not exist.
Russian interferenceOn 16 July 2020, the UK Government confirmed Russian agents had interfered in the election with "almost certainty." The full scope of Russian interference in UK politics has not yet been made public, due to Boris Johnson's Conservative government delaying the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report on the subject.
Religious groups' opinions on the partiesEthnic Minority and Religious leaders and organisations made statements about the general election, with some people within the religious groups being keen to express that no one person or organisation represents the views of all the members of the faith. Leaders of the Church of England stated people had a "democratic duty to vote", that they should "leave their echo chambers", and "issues need to be debated respectfully, and without resorting to personal abuse".
Alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party was persistently covered in the media in the lead up to the election. In his leader's interview with Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Neil dedicated the first third of the 30-minute programme entirely for discussion of Labour's relationship with the Jewish community. This was partly prompted by Ephraim Mirvis, the UK's chief rabbi, who represents Orthodox Judaism, accusing Corbyn of allowing a "poison sanctioned from the top" to take root in Labour, and saying that British Jews were gripped by anxiety about the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. The largest Jewish Labour group, the Jewish Labour Movement, have said they will not be actively campaigning locally for Labour unless there were exceptional circumstances. Jewish Voice for Labour, a pro-Corbyn group formed in 2017, released a statement accusing Rabbi Mirvis of making unfounded allegations against Corbyn, saying that he personally supports the Conservative Party. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, endorsed Rabbi Mirvis's intervention.
The Muslim Council of Britain spokesman stated Islamophobia "is particularly acute in the Conservative Party" and that Conservatives treat it "with denial, dismissal and deceit". In addition they released a 72-page document, outlining what they assess are the key issues from a British Muslim perspective. All 26 constituencies with a Muslim population above 20% voted for a Labour candidate in 2017. The MCB specifically criticises those who "seek to stigmatise and undermine Muslims"; for example, by inferring that Pakistanis "vote en bloc as directed by Imams". The Sunday Mirror had also claimed that many of the candidates campaigning for the Brexit Party were Islamophobic.
The Times of India reported that supporters of Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party were actively campaigning for the Tories in 48 marginal seats, and the Today programme reported that it had seen WhatsApp messages sent to Hindus across the country urging them to vote Conservative. Some British Indians spoke out against what they saw as the BJP's meddling in the UK election. The Hindu Council UK has been strongly critical of Labour, going as far as to say that Labour is "anti-Hindu" and objected to the party's condemnation of the Indian government's actions in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The perceived "parachuting" of a Labour candidate into Leicester East, a constituency with one of the highest Indian populations in the UK, caused anger to be felt amongst the local British Indian community, as no candidates of Indian descent were interviewed. The party selected only one candidate of Indian descent to contest one of the party's 39 safest seats.
EndorsementsNewspapers, organisations and individuals had endorsed parties or individual candidates for the election.
Party representationAccording to Loughborough University's Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, media coverage of the first week of the campaign was dominated by the Conservatives and Labour, with the leaders of both parties being the most represented campaigners. Due to this, the election coverage has been characterised as increasingly 'presidential' as smaller parties have been marginalised.
In television coverage, Boris Johnson had a particularly high-profile. Labour and the Conservative Party received about a third of TV coverage each.
In newspapers, Labour received two-fifths of the coverage and the Conservatives 35%. Spokespeople from both parties were quoted near equally, with Conservative sources being the most prominent in both press and TV coverage in terms of frequency of appearance. Sajid Javid and John McDonnell featured prominently during the first week because the economy was a top story for the media. McDonnell had more coverage than Javid on both TV and in print.
A large proportion of the newspaper coverage of Labour was negative. Researches from the CRCC commented that this indicated the press was partisan and were "pulling out all the stops against Labour". James Hanning, writing in the British Journalism Review, said that, when reporting and commenting on Boris Johnson, Conservative supporting newspapers made little mention of "a track record that would have sunk any other politician". In the Loughborough analysis, during the first week of the campaign, for example, the Conservatives had a positive press coverage score of +29.7, making them the only party to receive a positive overall presentation in the press. Labour, meanwhile, had a negative score of -70, followed by the Brexit Party on -19.7 and the Liberal Democrats on -10. Over the whole campaign, press hostility towards Labour had doubled compared with during the 2017 election, and negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.
The Liberal Democrats were the party with the most TV coverage in the first week after Labour and the Conservatives, with an eighth of all reporting. In newspapers they received less coverage than the Brexit Party, whose leader Nigel Farage received nearly as much coverage as Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Most of this coverage regarded the Brexit Party's proposed electoral pact with the Conservatives. The Brexit Party and the SNP were fourth and fifth in terms of TV coverage, respectively.
Dominant issuesAs during the 2017 election, the electoral process was the most covered media topic for this election. Brexit was the most prominent policy issue on both TV and in the press, followed by the economy and health. However, there was little focused analysis on what the implementation of Brexit policies might mean, in contrast the analysis of other manifesto commitments on the economy, for example. How Brexit might effect the union between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland received some prominence on TV but little coverage in the press. According to the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture, "Standards/scandals" received as much coverage overall as health.
Gender balanceOf the 20 most prominent spokespeople in media coverage of the first week of the election period, five were women, with SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in seventh place, the most featured. Women featured in 23.9% of coverage and men in 76.1%. Men spoke three times as much as women in TV coverage, and five times as much in newspaper coverage.
Members of Parliament not standing for re-election74 MPs who held seats at the end of the Parliament did not stand for re-election.
Opinion pollingThe chart below depicts the results of opinion polls, mostly only of voters in Great Britain, conducted from the 2017 United Kingdom general election until the present. The line plotted is the average of the last 15 polls and the larger circles at the end represent the actual results of the election. The graph shows that following Johnson's election in July, the Conservatives established a clear lead over Labour and simultaneously, support for the Brexit Party declined from its peak in summer 2019. The Spreadex columns below cover bets on the number of seats each party will win with the midpoint between asking and selling price.
Predictions three weeks before the voteThe first-past-the-post system used in UK general elections means that the number of seats won is not directly related to vote share. Thus, several approaches are used to convert polling data and other information into seat predictions. The table below lists some of the predictions.
Predictions two weeks before the vote
Predictions one week before the votePrediction based upon polls:
Prediction based upon betting odds :
Exit pollAn exit poll conducted by Ipsos MORI for the BBC, ITV and Sky News, was published at the end of voting at 10 pm, predicting the number of seats for each party.
ResultsThe Conservative Party won a landslide victory securing 365 seats out of 650, giving them an overall majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. They gained seats in several Labour Party strongholds in Northern England that were held by the party for decades, which had formed the 'red wall'. The constituency of Bishop Auckland elected a Conservative MP for the first time in its 134-year history. In the worst result for the party in 84 years, Labour won 202 seats, a loss of 60 compared to the previous election. This marked a fourth consecutive general election defeat. The Liberal Democrats won 11 seats, down 1, despite significantly increasing their share of the popular vote. Leader Jo Swinson lost her seat to Amy Callaghan of the SNP by 150 votes, and was disqualified from continuing as Liberal Democrat leader; with a leadership election due in August 2020.
While the Conservatives gained support in England and Wales, they lost support in Scotland in the face of a major SNP advance. The Conservatives won in England, advancing by 1.7% and gaining 48 seats to win 345 out of 533, while Labour fell back by 8% and lost 47 seats to win just 180. Labour won in Wales, though it lost 8% of its 2017 vote share and six seats, retaining 22 out of 40, while the Conservatives advanced by 2.5% and gained six seats, winning 14 in total. The SNP won by a landslide in Scotland, advancing by 8.1% and gaining 13 seats to win 48 out of 59, gaining several seats from the Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives lost 3.5% of their 2017 vote share and half their seats, and Labour was reduced to one Scottish seat. This was the same Scottish seat from the 2015-17 Parliament that returned the country's sole Labour MP, Ian Murray. Among the Labour MPs who lost their seats in Scotland was: Lesley Laird, deputy leader of Scottish Labour and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.
The SNP's leader Nicola Sturgeon described the result as a clear mandate to hold a new referendum for Scottish independence.
In Northern Ireland, nationalist political parties won more seats than unionist ones for the first time. The DUP's leader in Westminster, Nigel Dodds, lost his seat in Belfast North.
SummaryA summarised results of the parties that won seats at the election is as follows:
Marginal seatsThis table shows all seats where the winning candidate won a majority of less than 1,000 votes:
Open seats changing hands
AnalysisThe results have been attributed to leave supporting areas backing the Conservatives, the Conservatives broadening their appeal to working-class voters, and the Conservatives making gains in the Midlands and the North of England. Most notable was the 'red wall' turning blue in the election, which secured the Conservative majority. Voters cited Corbyn's leadership and Brexit as to why they either switched to the Conservatives or stayed at home.
A YouGov post-election survey determined that the age over which a plurality of voters opted for the Conservatives was 39, down from 47 in the 2017 election. In contrast to previous elections, the YouGov survey additionally found that a plurality of voters in the DE social grade—comprising the unemployed, state pensioners, and semi-skilled and unskilled workers—had opted for the Conservatives over Labour.
Between 26% and 33% of voters said they were trying to stop the party they liked least from winning, i.e. voting tactically. Recommendation by tactical voting websites had some benefit for Liberal Democrat candidates.
The new Parliament reportedly had the highest number of openly LGBTQ MPs in the world, with 20 Conservative MPs, 15 Labour MPs and 10 SNP MPs who identify as LGBTQ. For the first time in both cases, the majority of elected Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs were female.
Reactions in political partiesThe election led to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats having leadership contests: the former as Corbyn resigned, the latter as Swinson failed to be elected as an MP.
The Labour leadership campaign was marked by conflicting analyses of what had gone wrong for the party in the general election. There was debate as to whether Corbyn's unpopularity or their position on Brexit was more significant. The 2020 Labour Together report, published by internal Labour party figures after Keir Starmer was elected as leader of the party, highlighted issues such as Corbyn's unpopularity, the party's Brexit policy and poor seat targeting, as well as long-term changes in Labour's electoral coalition.
Successful Liberal Democrat MPs were critical in private of how the decision to support a policy of revoking Article 50 was arrived at and how it was communicated. Some have also criticised the general election campaign for being "hubristic" with its initial defining message that Swinson could be the country's next Prime Minister. Ed Davey, the party's co-acting leader after the election, argued that the unpopularity of Corbyn lost the Liberal Democrats votes to the Conservatives. On the other hand, Wera Hobhouse, who was re-elected by a majority of 12,322, argued that the party had been wrong to pursue a policy of equidistance between Labour and the Conservatives in the general election campaign. Instead, she argued that the party should have concentrated more on campaigning against the Conservatives.
Ipsos MORIpolling after the election suggested the following demographic breakdown:
YouGovpolling after the election suggested the following demographic breakdown:
DonationsElectoral commission data shows that in 2019 Q4, total donations for each major political party, over £7,500, are as follows: