The Student Guide: British Politics Explained in 10 Mins
Are you a student wanting to know more about the British political system but not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place!
Within this guide we’ll be focusing on the different political parties, famous Political leaders from each party, who can vote in the UK, how our political system works and why, as a student, you should vote.
We hope this is a useful guide for you and helps you find out a little more about UK politics.
What Are The Different Political Parties?
Labour and the Conservatives are the main UK political parties and have dominated the UK political landscape since the early 20th century.
The Conservative party is the oldest political party in the UK, founded in 1834.
The Labour Party, the other most significant political party in the UK, was founded in 1900, as a political representation of the interests of Trade Unions and Labourers.
The other political parties in the UK are The Liberal Democrats, The Scottish National Party , The Green Party and Reform UK.
You can find out more below about the two dominant parties within British politics below!
The Conservative Party could be argued as the most successful political party in the UK, having won a majority in 12 of the last 20 General Elections.
The party, recently suffering a bout of political turbulence, with 5 different leaders in the last 6 years, is currently led by Rishi Sunak.
The Conservatives are “right wing,” or conservative, typically believing in Law and Order, Defence of Private property, Belief in natural inequality and natural hierarchy, Traditionalism and Patriotism.
These values have been the hallmark of the tenure of many Conservative Prime Ministers, of which the most famous and influential include Winston Churchill (1940-45,1951-55), Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and David Cameron (2010-16).
The Labour Party elected its first MPs (Kier Hardie & Richard Bell) in the election of 1900.
Currently it is led by Kier Starmer, but it too has had many significant Prime Ministers since its inception. For example, Clement Atlee (1945-51) and Tony Blair (1997-2007).
The Labour Party is ‘’left wing’’ and has traditional values that are different from the Conservative party, however it is best to explain these using two categories.
Simplified, pre- and post-Blair. Pre-Blair, the traditional labour party values were redistribution of wealth, a role of the state in the economy, strong Trade Unions, and social liberalism.
However, after Blair, these shifted slightly to a strong support for free-market capitalism, weaker Trade-Unionism but legal safeguards for workers and constitutional reform (e.g., Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being given Devolved Parliaments).
How Does The Voting System Work?
The UK has a voting system called First Past the Post. But what does this mean? FPTP means whoever gets the majority of votes in an election, wins.
It also means that the leader of the party that wins the most seats automatically becomes Prime Minister.
This system usually leads to two parties dominating the political environment (this is seen in other countries that use FPTP, such as the US with the Republicans and Democrats) as well as the Conservatives and Labour parties in the UK.
This is different to other political systems used around the world, such as Proportional Representation, which means the make-up of the Parliament reflects the popular vote exactly.
Such as, if the UK had PR, then UKIP would have won 83 seats in the 2015 General Election, as they won 12.8% of the popular vote, instead of the 1 they won. So, the voting system a country greatly affects the political landscape of the country, for better or worse.
This brings us on to the next thing, who can vote…
Who Can Vote & Why Should You Vote As A Student?
In the UK we have control over how our country is run and who is in government, due to being a democratic society.
If you’re able to, you should vote and be active within politics whilst at university.
If you want change to happen, the best way to do this is to vote for the party which aligns with your views.
The next general election is scheduled for 2024 so there will be an increase in political campaigning by parties and their supporters from now until then, so get involved and use your vote!
Every British citizen has the right to vote in UK elections as long as they have registered to vote, they are 18 or over on the day of the election and they are a a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen.
Only if you’re someone serving more than 12 months in jail is this right taken away from you.
Whilst the voting age in England is 18, it is 16 for registered voters in Scotland and Wales.
How You Can Vote?
To be able to vote, you have to register to vote, otherwise you will turn up at the polling Booth and they will not have you on record as a registered voter!
If you haven’t already registered to vote, it takes 2 minutes and is super simple so, head over to Register to vote – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
One thing to mention here that’s important is that, as of May 2023 you have to show ID cards when voting. However, you cannot use your student ID card for this, though for example, a pensioner’s bus pass is allowed.
The ID that is accepted is listed on the official GOV.UK website so make sure you take one of these with you when you go to the polling booth.
Ways You Can Get Involved In Politics
Voting isn’t the only way to get involved politically as a student, there are many other ways to exercise your democratic right to participate in politics!
To help you out, we’ve listed a few examples below.
Join A Political Party
You could join a political party and campaign on their behalf locally or nationally, join a politics society at your university, in your local area or even set up a group within your student accommodation.
Many universities have societies and clubs through their student union, so check yours out and see what’s on offer, and if there’s nothing – make a society!
Demonstrate Your Voice
Another way you can get involved with politics whilst at university is by joining or creating a march or protest about a cause that is close to your heart.
This is one of the most effective ways of demonstrating your voice and making it heard!
Write To Your MP
Another way to get directly involved in politics and use your voice is to write to your MP and tell them about the issues you care about or causes you would like them to support. After all, it’s what they’re elected for!
If you want to find out who the local MP is for your area, head here – MPs and Lords – UK Parliament.
However, politics isn’t just about parties and Parliament; it’s about getting involved and supporting a cause you care about, as everything is political, and anything can be changed through politics!
UK politics is exciting, confusing, and dramatic – and that’s why it is so important to know how it works as well as why your voice is important to it!
We hope you found this little background information on UK politics helpful, but it is down to all of us to get involved and try to understand the political system in the UK as best as we can.
Our politicians work for us, and if you want your views to be reflected in politics, you have to make your voice heard, in whichever way is best for you!