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Johnson is contesting his first election as Conservative leader.
uk election 19

What to look out for as the UK delivers an election verdict with Brexit on the horizon

The extended Brexit date of 31 January looms large over the election.

TODAY IS ELECTION day in the UK, with the two largest parties both declaring it as the most important election in a generation. 

With Brexit the dominant issue and the potentially even the future of the UK on the table, it’s difficult to argue with that claim.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured the holding of the election at the fourth time of asking so he’s very much staked his leadership on winning.

For Jeremy Corbyn, the election could very well be his final shot at becoming prime minister.

There’s so much more going on too, so here’s some specific things you should keep an eye out for.

Is the dreaded ‘Christmas election’ really to be feared?

Holding an election near Christmas is usually seen as a bad idea, with politicians always saying that the public don’t want to vote during the festive period.

This very argument was made repeatedly during the recent Dáil confidence vote in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy

Whether this is actually true though is an open question. The UK’s last winter election in 1974 had a turnout of 78.8%, the highest in the last 50 years

It’s therefore worth looking out for to see what the turnout is like today and to see if the time of year has had an effect.

Turnout has increased in each of the last four UK elections with 68.8% voting in 2017.

general-election-2019 The Old Royal High School in Edinburgh is a polling station today. PA Images PA Images

One thing that’s not a question though is that snow or other severe weather could cause issues at polling stations. No such problems are being predicted, however.

There are two ice warnings in place in Scotland but no snow warnings and the UK’s Met Office has said that it is not expecting anything that “will cause any real disruption”.

The magic numbers

Johnson called the general election hoping to win a parliamentary majority that his predecessor Theresa May failed to win.

The all-important number for Johnson to win an absolute majority is 326, eight more that his party won two years ago. 

In reality though, he will likely need a couple less depending on how many seats Sinn Féin win.

With Sinn Féin abstaining from taking their seats, it reduces the majority in parliament.  

For example, when the Conservatives under David Cameron won 331 seats in 2015 the party had an absolute majority of 12, given that the remainder of seats in parliament was 319. 

When Sinn Féin’s five seats were taken out, however, Cameron’s working majority increased to 17.  

Johnson will be hoping for a similar return when the votes are counted and a poll released on Tuesday night suggested that 339 seats is possible.  

For Labour, it’s worth remembering that the party doesn’t necessarily need to win a majority, only prevent the Conservatives from doing so.  

If the party were to increase their seat count by just a few, Corbyn could perhaps form a minority government with the support or abstention of the SNP and possibly the Liberal Democrats.

Will the ‘Red Wall’ hold?

general-election-2019 Jeremy Corbyn in Sheffield yesterday. Jacob King / PA Images Jacob King / PA Images / PA Images

Labour heartland areas across the north of the England are seen as key to this election because of the potential they go Conservative and grant Johnson the extra seats he needs to win a majority.  

Many of these constituencies voted Leave in the Brexit referendum and Johnson has been frantically campaigning across them in the final few days in a bid to win over Leave voters.

Yougov’s final constituency-by-constituency  prediction forecast that Labour could lose as many as 29 seats, having earlier said 43 could go. 

The pollster said Labour appeared to be “patching over the cracks” in the red wall as the campaign has progressed, so one of the big questions tomorrow is how many of these seats Labour manages to hold. 

How many women will be elected to parliament? 

A record number of women MPs are expected to be elected when the votes are counted, with predictions that at least 220 could be returned. 

The previous election saw 208 women elected and more women are standing this time around, many of whom are in safe seats. 

BBC has reported that there are a total of 1,124 women standing for election, about a third of all candidates. 

Who will be this year’s Nick Clegg?

The Telegraph / YouTube

Former Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in a shock defeat in the last general election. Even the winning candidate was surprised.

Such is the unforgiving nature of the UK electoral system where there is no room for second place, we’re usually treated to images of some ‘big beasts’ losing their seats. 

Michael Portillo is perhaps the most famous example when losing his seat in 1997. So much so that ‘Portillo moment’ has become part of British political lexicon. 

This time around, there are a few of notable names who might be at risk. 

Perhaps most of Irish interest given his prominence in the Brexit negotiations, there have been suggestions that Dominic Raab could be in danger on foot of a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats.

Raab had a huge majority of over 23,000 votes in the last election but polls in the past couple of weeks have shown his challenger is creeping to within a few percentage points.  

Others on the Conservative side who are said to be at risk are former leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers. 

Chuka Umunna, who left Labour to join Change UK and is now with the Liberal Democrats, also has some way to go to keep his seat.  

There is also one other potential bombshell defeat…

Could Boris Johnson lose his seat? 

It might seem unlikely but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility either.   

Johnson’s seat in the West London constituency of Uxbridge & Ruislip South has a majority of just 5,034, the smallest of any sitting prime minister for 100 years.

It would mean that a swing of about 5% of the votes from him to his Labour challenger could see him lose the seat. If it were to happen, it would be the first time ever than an incumbent prime minister has lost their seats. 

Labour’s Ali Milani is the man hoping to cause the upset and BBC News has reported that “thousands” of activists from the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum group have been dispatched to help him.

Even if it does happen though, the Conservatives are reportedly planning a backup plan that would see a Conservative MP from a safe seat standing aside to instead go to the House of Lords, allowing Johnson to contest a by-election to become an MP again.

The Institute for Government also explains that there is precedent that would allow Johnson remain as prime minister even if he had lost his seat.  

‘The Brexit election’?

general-election-2019 Johnson in a JCB emblazoned with his party's slogan. PA Images PA Images

The dominant social and political question of the time has still not been answered three-and-half years after the Brexit vote in June 2016. 

While some may argue that the question has been answered but that politicians haven’t listened, the fact is that most of the parties running in the election are either opposed to Brexit or want another referendum. 

Labour are in the latter camp and want another referendum, with Corbyn now stating he’d take a ‘neutral stance’ if such a vote came around.

The party has been keen to campaign on other issues and was reportedly unhappy that Sky News decided to brand its coverage as ‘The Brexit Election’. 

Conversely, Brexit has been the central point of the Conservatives’ campaign with Johnson using every opportunity possible to speak about it. 

Similarly, the Liberal Democrats are campaigning with Brexit squarely at the centre, albeit from a Remain standpoint.

Elections are traditionally fought along ideological lines with voters choosing between left and right policies, but Brexit has changed the game somewhat. 

The results will go a long way to showing us how much this is the case. 

Will you be staying up to keep track of the election results on Thursday?

At we’ll be liveblogging all night to bring you all the major developments as they happen. Before dawn on Friday we’ll break down exactly what you need to know about the results and the likely consequences for Brexit. Our overnight team will also be bringing you a special early morning edition of our weekly The Explainer podcast on Friday – and if you’re a subscriber to our Brexit newsletter you can expect a bumper edition into your inbox too before your first coffee of the day has cooled.

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