Election 2015

UK election 2015: Six reasons why anyone else should care

Party leaders in a 2 April televised debate Image copyright AFP

Voters in the UK prepare to go to the polls on Thursday in an election seen as one of the closest-fought in years.

But why should the vote be of interest beyond England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

A third of eligible voters in the UK are themselves unlikely to bother to turn up and vote so why should anyone else care? Here are six good reasons.

It's a cliff-hanger

In brief, because Britain is still a very rich and powerful country that millions of people visit or move to every year; because all its various internal divisions of class, region, wealth, race make it a fun and culturally vibrant place; and, for goodness sake, because nobody has the faintest idea who is going to win.

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What the latest national polls say

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Because of what's at stake

The UK continues to be one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and a nuclear power with the fifth largest defence budget in the world. But at this election much of that is at stake.

At least two parties, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats, not only oppose the renewal of the UK's nuclear deterrent but may have the influence to do something about it.

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Image caption The UK's Trident nuclear weapons system has become a big issue for two major parties

Then there's the fundamental question of Britain's relationship with Europe, with David Cameron promising an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union by the end of 2017, if he remains prime minister.

And let's not forget that the rise of the Scottish National Party is sure to raise at some point the question of independence and the prospect of a somehow diminished United Kingdom.

Could a UK without Scotland or without nuclear weapons or outside the EU still command a seat at the UN's top table, and what would Nato and the US think? These are not entirely fanciful outcomes but real possibilities.

EU holds it breath ahead of UK vote

What it will mean for migrants and other visitors

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Every year since 1998, net migration to Britain - the difference between those leaving the country and coming into it - has exceeded 150,000.

In many of those years it has even been above a quarter of a million people. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, immigration has been a big issue at this election just as it was in 2010.

One party, UKIP, is saying Britain must take back control of its borders by leaving the EU, thereby ending free movement for half a billion Europeans, and by introducing an Australian-style points system for judging who should and who shouldn't come in.

UKIP are not going to win the election, but it's worth remembering that the Conservatives are also hoping to discourage EU nationals from coming here through changes to the benefits system, while Labour is promising to crack down on companies that use cheap foreign labour.

Access to the UK is likely to change in some way or another.

What it will mean for international investors

Statisticians are not entirely sure, but the UK is still the fifth or sixth biggest economy in the world and the City of London rivals New York as the global centre for financial services.

Apart from the Conservatives (and even they've been rather shy) this election campaign has been pretty hostile to the wealthy and especially those who are foreign and rich.

The opposition Labour party, for example, is promising to raise taxes on expensive properties and to start taxing the global earnings of wealthy foreigners in London, not to mention further bank taxes and an increase in corporation tax.

So there is plenty to think about there for those in the boardrooms of international companies.

The future of the economy

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Image caption IMF head Christine Lagarde said it was obvious that what was happening in the UK had worked

The UK's 2.6% growth rate last year made it one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Unemployment is at 5.6% compared with a eurozone average of 11.3% and the current government's economic strategy was endorsed by International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde.

But Britain's economic problems are far from solved. It still imports more than it exports and still has an enormous budget deficit of £87bn, or 5.5% of GDP.

It's how to tackle this that forms the biggest, most significant, but barely discussed divide at this general election.

Put simply, the Conservatives are promising to get rid of the deficit by the end of another five years in government, exclusively through spending cuts. Labour is committed only to the much vaguer target of reducing borrowing.

The highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has accused both parties of providing the electorate with at best an incomplete picture of what to expect.

A time of dramatic change

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Image caption Is coalition government in the UK about to become the norm?

My last effort to persuade you of this election's significance is that it's just a cracking story with something very odd, possibly even momentous, about to happen.

Most striking, of course, is Scotland. Although it voted No to independence last September, the whole referendum campaign electrified support for the Scottish National Party and the SNP is looking at a landslide on Thursday.

In the short term, at the very least, it could mean the SNP having a huge say in who forms the next UK government.

But beyond that it will surely at some point revive the question of independence. And what will being wiped out in its Scottish heartlands do for the psyche and long-term prospects of the Labour Party?

More broadly nationwide, Britain's two-party system appears under severe threat, with the distinct prospect that between them Labour and the Conservatives will struggle to gain two-thirds of the votes cast. Compare that with their near 90% vote share just 50 years ago.

Will it be a blip, or is Britain heading for an era where, as in Europe, government by coalition is more the rule than the exception?

BBC News Timeliner

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Winners and losers. Laughter and tears. Celebrities and the general public. Find echoes of the current campaign on a trip through the archive of elections past.

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