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A UK election has been called for July 4. Here's what to know

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A UK election has been called for July 4. Here's what to know
News

News

A UK election has been called for July 4. Here's what to know

2024-05-24 19:26 Last Updated At:19:30

LONDON (AP) — The United Kingdom’s first national election in five years is shaping up as a battle for the country’s soul, with some saying it poses an existential threat to the governing Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010.

The center-right Conservatives took power during the depths of the global financial crisis and have won two more elections since then. But those years have been filled with challenges and controversies, making the Tories, as they are commonly known, easy targets for critics on the left and right.

The Labour Party, which leans to the left, faces its own challenges in shaking off a reputation for irresponsible spending and proving that it has a plan to govern.

Both parties are being ripped apart by the conflict in the Middle East, with the Tories facing charges of Islamophobia and Labour struggling to distance itself from antisemitism that festered under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Here is a look at the upcoming election and the biggest issues at stake.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set July 4 as the date for the election, months ahead of when it was expected. He had until December to call an election that could have happened as late as Jan. 28, 2025.

Elections in the U.K. have to be held no more than five years apart. But the timing of the vote is determined by the prime minister’s calculation of the date most advantageous to the ruling party. Sunak had been expected to call the vote in the autumn, when a number of economic factors were expected to have improved their chances, according to the Institute for Government, a London-based think tank.

But favorable economic news on Wednesday, with inflation down to 2.3%, changed the narrative.

People throughout the United Kingdom will choose all 650 members of the House of Commons for a term of up to five years. The party that commands a majority in the Commons, either alone or in coalition, will form the next government and its leader will be prime minister.

That means the results will determine the political direction of the government, which has been led by the center-right Conservatives for the past 14 years. The center-left Labour Party is widely seen to be in the strongest position.

Sunak, a former Treasury chief who has been prime minister since October 2022, is leading his party into the election. His primary opponent will be Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions in England and leader of the Labour Party since April 2020.

But other parties, some of which have strong regional support, could be crucial to forming a coalition government if no one wins an overall majority.

The Scottish National Party, which campaigns for Scottish independence, the Liberal Democrats, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which seeks to maintain ties between Britain and Northern Ireland, are currently the three largest parties in Parliament after the Conservatives and Labour. Many observers suggest the new Reform Party, formed by Tory rebels, may siphon votes from the Conservatives.

The Tories have held power for 14 years. They imposed years of financial austerity after the financial crisis, led Britain out of the European Union, and struggled to contain one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in western Europe. Most recently, Britain has been divided over how to respond to migrants and asylum seekers crossing the English Channel and has been battered by a cost-of-living crisis as prices soar.

Throughout it all, there were a series of ethical lapses by ministers and lockdown-busting parties in government offices. The scandals ultimately chased former Prime Minister Boris Johnson from office and finally from Parliament after he was found to have lied to lawmakers. His successor, Liz Truss, lasted 45 days after her economic policies cratered the economy.

The economy: Britain has struggled with high inflation and slow economic growth, which have combined to make most people feel poorer. The Conservatives succeeded in meeting their goal of halving inflation, which peaked at 11.1% in October 2022, but the economy slipped into a technical recession in the last six months of 2023, raising questions about the government’s economic policies.

Immigration: Thousands of asylum seekers and economic migrants have crossed the English Channel in flimsy inflatable boats in recent years, raising concerns the government has lost control of Britain’s borders. The Conservatives’ signature policy for stopping the boats is a plan to deport some of these migrants to Rwanda. Critics say the plan violates international law, is inhumane, and will do nothing to stop people fleeing war, unrest and famine.

Health care: Britain’s National Health Service, which provides free health care to everyone, is plagued with long waiting lists for everything from dental care to cancer treatment. Newspapers are filled with stories about seriously ill patients forced to wait hours for an ambulance, then longer still for a hospital bed.

The environment: Sunak has backtracked on a series of environmental commitments, pushing back the deadline for ending the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger vehicles and authorizing new oil drilling in the North Sea. Critics say these are the wrong policies at a time the world is trying to combat climate change.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media, as heavy rain falls, outside 10 Downing Street in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media, as heavy rain falls, outside 10 Downing Street in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks from 10 Downing Street to speak to the media in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks from 10 Downing Street to speak to the media in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media, as heavy rain falls, outside 10 Downing Street in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media, as heavy rain falls, outside 10 Downing Street in London Wednesday, May 22, 2024, as he announces that he is to call a General Election for July 4. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s far-right national security minister visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site on Thursday, a move that could disrupt the delicate Gaza cease-fire talks.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist settler leader, said he had gone up to the contested Jerusalem hilltop compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray for the return of the hostages "but without a reckless deal, without surrendering.”

The move threatens to disrupt sensitive talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire in the 9-month-old Israel-Hamas war. Israeli negotiators landed in Cairo on Wednesday to continue talks.

The visit also came just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for a trip to the United States, where he will address Congress.

Ben-Gvir said while standing in front of the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque that he “is praying and working hard" to ensure that Netanyahu will not give in to international pressure and will continue with the military campaign in Gaza.

Ben-Gvir last visited the site in May to protest countries unilaterally recognizing Palestinian statehood.

He has been convicted eight times for offenses that include racism and supporting a terrorist organization. As a teen, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.

As security minister, Ben-Gvir oversees the country’s police force. As a key coalition partner, Ben-Gvir also has the power to rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority and try to force early elections.

Ben-Gvir has used his influence to push forward pet projects and encourage Netanyahu to press ahead with the war in Gaza in the face of widespread calls to reach a cease-fire deal that would bring home hostages.

Jews and Muslims both claim the Jerusalem hilltop compound, which is considered the holiest site for Jews.

Palestinians consider the mosque a national symbol and view such visits as provocative, though Ben-Gvir has frequently visited the site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, during tense periods. Tensions over the compound have fueled past rounds of violence.

In an overnight session that lasted into Thursday morning, Israel’s parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state. The vote was largely symbolic and meant to send a message ahead of Netanyahu’s trip to the U.S.

Overnight Israeli strikes Thursday in central Gaza killed at least 11 people, according to the Hamas-run Civil Defense organization and hospitals. At least two children and two women were killed in air strikes on a house and a car.

In recent weeks, Israel has stepped up strikes in central Gaza, where many Palestinians have fled to escape fighting in other parts of the beleaguered territory. Israel’s military said it targeted a senior commander from the militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad’s naval forces in Gaza City, and another Islamic Jihad commander responsible for launches in the city of Shejayiah.

Israel also said it killed a senior commander affiliated with Hamas and other militant groups in Lebanon. In a statement, Sunni al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, identified him as Mohammad Hamed Jabbara and said he was killed in a strike in the western Bekaa area in Lebanon not far from the Syrian border. The Israeli military described Jabara as a Hamas operative in Lebanon who helped coordinate Islamic Group attacks targeting northern Israel.

The war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has killed more than 38,600 people, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count. The war has created a humanitarian catastrophe in the coastal Palestinian territory, displaced most of its 2.3 million population and triggered widespread hunger.

Hamas’ October attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants took about 250 hostage. About 120 remain in captivity, with about a third of them believed to be dead, according to Israeli authorities.

FILE - Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

FILE - Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sept. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

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