Help & Advice28th April 2015

The General Election - A Brief Explanation

With the general election around the corner, here's a brief independent view of what it's all about

by Natasha Hirst

We are 10 days away from the general election but what is it all about?  I’ve been pleased to see many people talking about the elections, and discussing issues that matter to them. Many people are reaching the same conclusion; they can’t easily tell the difference between the different political parties and they don’t know who to vote for.

A chart setting out more easily what each party stands for can be found here

First things first - what is a general election?

In a General Election you are voting for your Member of Parliament (MP).  They represent your constituency (your local area) in Parliament in London. The individuals who stand for election are called candidates. The candidate who gets the most votes in the election will become the MP for the next five years.

MPs have the opportunity to:

  • influence or make decisions about issues that cover all of the UK, including economy, employment, welfare and benefits, national security;
  • debate and vote on new laws that are passed in Parliament.​

A General Election is held every five years and the political party who wins the most seats (that is, elects the most MPs) will be in Government. Sometimes more than one party joins together to create a Coalition Government, like the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government we’ve had for the last five years.

What else do MPs do?
As well as sitting in Parliament, MPs also spend time in their constituencies. MPs can support and advise people who need help dealing with benefits or employment difficulties and certain other issues. 

You can also ask to meet your MP to talk about other topics that are important to you. For example,  you might feel that more needs to be done to improve Access to Work for Deaf people. Perhaps you’d like your MP to understand more about the importance of promoting BSL. You can request communication support if needed for a meeting to talk about these issues. 

Why does my vote matter?
Being able to vote is your democratic right.  It is important to vote as a way of having your voice heard.  If you encourage other people to vote, then enough votes can get your preferred candidate elected. Your vote can make a difference.

Am I voting for the Prime Minister?
No. You vote for the person you want to represent your constituency. You may choose to vote based on which political party you would like to lead the UK Government, or you may choose based on which individual candidate you think would be best at representing your local area.

What if I don’t like or know any of the candidates?
If you feel that politicians and political parties don’t represent you or the issues you care about then that is a reason to get involved and make your views known. Voting is one way of doing that. Just as important is meeting with politicians in between elections to tell them your views. You can also get involved with campaigns that raise awareness about problems in society and say what you think needs to be done to change things. If enough people get involved, politicians have to listen.

Part two of this article gives more information on what different political parties stand for to help you make a decision on who to vote for.

What does this mean for the Welsh Assembly?
The general election does not directly impact on the Welsh Assembly.  However, policy conflicts occur when the UK Government is led by a different political party to the Welsh Government. 

In 2016 there will be the Welsh Assembly elections where you can elect your Assembly Members (AMs). The Welsh Assembly has some powers to make laws on certain issues just in Wales. For example, Assembly Members can debate and vote in the Welsh Assembly on issues such as education, social services, health and local government.  They do not have powers to change tax or alter the benefits system.  MPs do not have a vote in the Welsh Assembly.  AMs do not have a vote in Parliament.

See the infographic for an explanation of political structures in the UK.

PART TWO
 

What do different political parties stand for?
Each political party has a set of values and priorities for how they want to run the country.  Each party will have a different view on what should be done to make the UK a better place to live and work in.  During the election campaign, lots of announcements are made about what parties want to do if they win the election. It’s confusing to understand it all.

What is meant by left and right?
The main difference in political parties is whether they have left or right wing values.  This influences what their views are for tackling economic and social problems.

People who are left wing value equality and ensuring that there is enough support for people who cannot support themselves. They believe in using taxes to create a more equal society with opportunities for all people, not just for wealthy people.

Left wing parties believe in a supportive welfare system and a strong national health service.  The Green party, and Plaid Cymru are left wing. Labour are traditionally left wing but are viewed as more central in recent years.

People who are right wing believe in tradition and economic freedom and that if people work hard, they will be rewarded.  They tend to believe that if people do not succeed in life, it is their own fault. Right wing people believe in reducing the role of the state which also cuts back on public services.

Right wing parties in the UK are the Conservatives (known as Tories), and UKIP. The Liberal Democrats (known as Lib-Dems) have a mix of left and right wing values. The Scottish National Party is centre/left.

What are parties saying about Deaf or disabled people?
Sadly, no parties have made their websites accessible through BSL. The Liberal Democrats have pledged to formally recognise British Sign Language as an official language of the UK. All parties do have policies relating to disability and welfare issues which will affect Deaf people. Some parties have made their manifesto available in BSL but these are very long with little thought give to how best to communicate those intentions to the Deaf community

The UK Poverty Audit (www.ukpovertyaudit.org) looks at the main political party manifestos in detail with a visual summary of how parties scored.  For example on disability, the Greens and Lib-Dems “showed an explicit commitment to disability rights, closely followed by Labour.” Unsurprisingly, UKIP and the Conservatives scored badly on this issue.

On social security (benefits and welfare) “the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems do moderately” and “Conservatives and UKIP score poorly as their proposals seek to move further towards very basic provision of welfare.”  

No parties scored higher than moderate on employment issues since none took full consideration of the impact of different socio-economic backgrounds. This means that they didn’t consider in enough detail how their policies will affect disabled people, people on low incomes, black and minority ethnic communities, women and so on.

What does all that mean?
The authors of this report want life to be better for people who are poor, and who face other barriers in life (these are known as disadvantaged groups). These barriers might be their disability or negative attitudes in society because of their ethnicity or because they are women or young people.  If it is important to you that life is fairer for these people then here is a quick summary:

  • Conservatives and UKIP scored very poorly and are not likely to make life fairer. 
  • Lib Dems scored fairly well in some areas including disability and health.
  • However, the Conservatives and Lib Dems have been in Government for the last five years and have not made society fairer for disadvantaged groups.
  • Labour scored better than the Conservatives and UKIP, especially on areas such as disability, housing and education.
  • The Greens got the highest scores and have good values for making society fairer. However, it is very uncertain how realistic some of their ideas are or how they would find the money to carry them out.​​

With all parties there can be a difference between their high level manifesto aims and the detail of how they would put these aims into practice.  For this reason, it is incredibly important that Deaf and disabled people campaign and raise awareness in between elections.  Life will not get better unless we make sure our views are heard.

See the policy chart for a summary of some key manifesto pledges from the different political parties.  There is a conclusion for each party to help you reach a decision on which party you might consider voting for.

Where else can I get more information?
For another summary of Party manifestos see the Disability Rights UK website: www.radar.org.uk/news/2015/april/election-manifestos-2015

Take a look at www.deaflondon.org/bsl-manifesto-videos to watch BSL videos about some of the party policies www.ukpovertyaudit.org report on party manifestos is very useful to look at.

If your MP is standing again in this election, find out how they've voted on issues in Parliament, and see their expenses and other info here: www.theyworkforyou.com

If you want to look at the websites of the main political parties here they are. 

Labour Party: www.labour.org.uk
Conservatives: www.conservatives.com
Liberal Democrats: www.libdems.org.uk
Green Party: www.greenparty.org.uk
Plaid Cymru: www.plaid.cymru
Scottish National Party: www.snp.org
UK Independence Party: www.ukip.org

If you want to work out what your political values are, you can do the Political Compass: www.politicalcompass.org

Don't forget to vote - elections on are the 7th May!

Article by Natasha Hirst

posted in Community / Help & Advice

28th April 2015