UK Politics

Election countdown: 98 weeks to go

Jeremy Vine in the BBC's 2010 election studio
Image caption One of the traditions of election night is the whizzy TV graphics - as shown here by Jeremy Vine in 2010

There are now 98 weeks to go until the scheduled date of the next UK general election. Here's the state of the race.

First things first...

It's not escaped our notice that quite a few people were horrified by the idea of an election countdown starting two years out from an election. As Julian Wiseman put it: "One of the objections to a pre-determined date of the next election was that campaigning would start earlier. A hundred weeks! BBC have mercy on us." Dave from Burntwood said: "There are 99 weeks to go. NINETY NINE for goodness sake. How can you talk about a countdown so far our from an election???" Derek Bird from Northants, said: "A day is a long time in politics and you are trying to forecast the outcome of the next 700? By then all the parties will have screwed up in one way or another."

So why have a countdown?

This is the first time we've known exactly when the next election is set to be. The fact is that the UK's political parties are all now resolutely focused on that date, with policy announcements being made, and Commons votes being cast, with at least one and a half eyes on how it might affect their chances in May 2015. And just to reassure Derek - and others who made similar points - we're not trying to predict what's going to happen, we're looking to cover the twists and turns and changing fortunes over the next two years.

Recap for new readers

David Cameron's Conservatives went into coalition with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats after the 2010 general election. Ed Miliband replaced Gordon Brown as Labour leader a few months later. The coalition's main priority has been the economy and cutting the UK's deficit. It has hailed progress in getting Britain "back in shape", but Labour says the coalition has been cutting "too far too fast". Meanwhile a new electoral force has emerged in the shape of the UK Independence Party...

The state of the polls

Stat of the week

54 - percentage of Tory supporters who would vote to remain in the EU if David Cameron renegotiated Britain's membership, compared with 20% if the vote was held tomorrow. Professor Tim Bale, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says the YouGov research proves grassroots Tories trust their leader.

The Scottish factor

Morgwn Davies from Haddington, Scotland, noted that our first countdown piece had not mentioned "the most significant political vote between now and 2015, the Scottish Independence Referendum". Louise, from Edinburgh adds "Surely a decision on Scotland/the UK's constitutional future will be one of the most significant factors in influencing the outcome of the 2015 General Election". Good points, which we'll be returning to in future weeks.

Candidate news

Image caption Katie Ghose missed out on a chance to represent Labour in Brighton

Katie Ghose, director of 2011's unsuccessful Yes to AV campaign, has failed in her bid to be selected by Labour to fight the marginal seat of Brighton Kemptown, currently held by the Conservatives.

Ms Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, lost out to public relations executive Nancy Platts. Ms Platts was narrowly defeated by the Green Party's Caroline Lucas in the neighbouring seat of Brighton Pavilion at the 2010 general election.

Labour opted to have all-women shortlists for both Brighton contests. Hustings for the three Labour women battling it out for the chance to take on Ms Lucas are due to start shortly.

Labour selected a man, charity executive Peter Kyle, to fight nearby Tory-held Hove and Portslade, another key marginal.

And there is an all-male line-up a few miles north of Hove, in Crawley, where a former head of public affairs at Gatwick Airport, a DJ and a parliamentary assistant are battling it out to represent Labour in a fight to unseat Tory MP Henry Smith, reports the Crawley News.

Elsewhere this week, Tory ministers Ian Duncan Smith and Alan Duncan were re-selected in Woodford and Rutland respectively.

The Lib Dems have selected Hampshire County Councillor Jackie Porter to try and take Winchester, Mark Oaten's former seat, back from the Conservatives. Her selection brings the total number of Lib Dem candidates in place to 29, 10 of whom are women, according to the Lib Dem voice blog.

There is a UKIP vacancy in Stourbridge, after the party's prospective candidate Peter G Le Maistre - in a contest to unseat Tory MP Margot James - announced he was standing down due to a "change in personal circumstances". The former Lib Dem is now seeking a UKIP candidacy in the South West of England, reports The Stourbridge News.

Nick Bent, who edits an environmental magazine for Bob Geldof's 10 Alps media company, has been selected to fight Warrington South for Labour, a seat he narrowly lost to the Conservatives in 2010.

On the campaign trail

The G8 summit - and David Cameron's efforts to get agreement on arming Syrian rebels and cracking down on tax avoidance - dominated the week at Westminster, temporarily banishing talk of an election.

But there was a rash of punditry about how both the Conservatives and Labour seem to think they are heading for defeat in 2015.

Steve Richards, writing The Guardian, set the ball rolling on Saturday, with a piece in which he said both parties were gripped by pessimism - but warned them to buck their ideas up or it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

James Forsyth picked up on the theme in a Spectator blog, but tried to lift Tory spirits by predicting a bout of Labour in-fighting, which taken with an expected improvement in the economy, gave David Cameron's troops some hope.

Forsyth cited a piece by Rafael Behr, in The New Statesman, as evidence of unhappiness in the Labour ranks with the performance of leader Ed Miliband.

Council by-elections

Labour this week strengthened its grip on Kirklees Council, in West Yorkshire, with Simon Alvy winning the vacant seat of Liversedge and Gomersal by 159 votes from the Conservative candidate.

Conservative former council leader John Dobson was beaten by UKIP's Ashley Collins in a borough by-election in the Watlington ward, near King's Lynn.

Mr Dobson told the Eastern Daily Press his defeat was a "wake-up call" for North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham and South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss that the "UKIP threat is not going away but increasing".

Lessons from history: 98 weeks before the 1979 election

Image caption The Sex Pistols sign new record deal outside Buckingham Palace

On 7th June 1977 the nation was celebrating the Queen's silver jubilee. Around a million people lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the sovereign, who addressed a dinner of former prime ministers and commonwealth heads of state. The punk band The Sex Pistols were arrested on the same day after promoting their banned single "God Save the Queen" by playing on a boat on the Thames.

Although music has changed since the 1970s, the politics may seem strangely familiar. The governing Labour Party did not have enough seats to command a majority, and were being supported in power by a deal with the Liberal Party. Britain's relationship with Europe was the big issue of the day. Prime Minister James Callaghan was having difficulties persuading his own MPs to vote for changes to European Economic Community rules he had negotiated. The prime minister supported Britain's membership of the EEC (later to become the European Union), but more hard-line people in his party, including some in his cabinet such as Tony Benn, were agitating for Britain to leave, and calling for the prime minister to make this a pledge in the next Labour manifesto. The Times reported that the left thought this would "win them back all the ground lost to other parties since 1974 and sweep [Labour] back to office".

It didn't quite work out like that. The Lib-Lab pact which was maintaining the government in power fell apart in 1978. Callaghan's minority government continued until 1979, and Labour fought the general election that year on a promise to re-negotiate the terms of EEC membership, to make it "looser". But, after the strikes and piles of uncollected rubbish during the winter of discontent, Labour lost to Margret Thatcher's then pro-European Conservatives, and remained out of power for 18 years.

And another thing...

The UK will not be shifting its traditional voting day from Thursday to Sunday, following a suggestion by the European Commission that polls should be held on the same day across Europe.

Europe Minister David Lidington told MPs the main reason for not shifting polling day to the weekend was the impact such a move would have on different faith groups.

Compiled by Alex Hunt, Brian Wheeler and Chris Davies.

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