What is a General Election?

General Elections are an opportunity for all of us to elect a representative (Member of Parliament) for our consitituency to sit in the House of Commons in Parliament. 

Members of the public decide who to vote for by considering a number of factors including; each political party’s manifesto promises, or the candidates themselves.

There are 650 Members of Parliament who make up the House of Commons, one for each of the UK’s 650 constituencies. General Elections also decide which party will govern the country and become the Government, based on the party that wins at least 50% (325) of the constituencies in the UK.

If none of the political parties get over 325 (half) of their MPs elected across all the constituencies then they may choose to team up (or form a coalition) with other parties to form a government, or run as a minority government. Given laws need a majority of support in Parliament, a minority government is less likely to pass laws and gain support from the opposition.

General Elections take place every 5 years, although the Prime Minister can call an early election if they feel it is necessary.

How do they work?

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the electoral system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons. With FPTP the winning candidate only needs one vote more than their leading opponent in order to win their seat.

This fantastic video, produced by Parliament, explains General Elections in 60 seconds.

How does it affect me?

General elections have a huge impact on every citizen living in the UK, this is because they decide who forms the Government and who ultimately governs the entire country

As well as influencing the national political landscape, general elections also have an impact on local communities. Who your MP is can have a big impact on what happens in your area. Some MPs can be really active and take part in activities such as campaigning for local causes, securing investment for the community and raising constituents’ concerns in Parliament. Other MPs may be more concerned with national issues and achieve huge changes on a country-wide scale. Many are a mix of the two. Choosing the right candidate for you is therefore important, not only should you ensure their political beliefs line up with your own, but you should consider what type of MP that person will be.

The impact of a change in government after an election can be small or dramatic, it very much depends on the political context of the time. One thing is for sure, whoever is in power will be deciding things like:

  • What young adults and children learn in school
  • What taxes you will pay on what you earn and the products you buy
  • What levels of support you will receive from the state –  e.g. job seekers allowance, housing benefit etc
  • How much money will be given to the NHS, International Aid and the Military
  • How the UK will be tackling climate change, extremism and equality issues

Voting in the election is the easiest way to have your say over who makes these decisions.

Who should I vote for?

It is completely up to you who you vote for.

If you don’t know where to start you can take a look at our quick summaries of the major political parties (here), but we recommend you take a look at each party’s manifesto when they are announced a few weeks before the election.

Don’t want to read the full manifestos? Think about the issues you care about (e.g. education, environment or transport) and compare parties on these issues.

You could also use our Policy Matrix tool (see the 2017 version here), where we take the key policies from each of the manifestos and put them in a super easy format so you can compare them directly.

It is also worth looking at the candidates standing in your area, an MP/candidate might represent a political party but may not always agree with it. There is a lot of variation between MPs beliefs within parties. You might support a party but not the local candidate or vice versa!

Don’t forget about minor parties and independent candidates! Although we have focused on the major political parties in the UK there are many candidates that represent smaller parties or even stand independently. It is always important to look into these candidates’ policies too.

How else can I get involved?

Voting on election day is not the only way to get involved in the General Election. There are plenty of things you can do to get involved in the democratic process!

Political parties are always encouraging their supporters and members to help campaign throughout the year, and especially at election time. Campaigning often involves delivering leaflets, talking to voters, and helping to spread the party’s message in the local area.

You can get involved by contacting the party, or their local branch. Often if you’re a member you’ll receive emails about getting involved too.

Campaigning is a vital part of elections, it connects ordinary voters with the political parties, plus being involved is usually pretty fun and is a great way to meet new people with similar ideas and outlooks!

The 2017 General Election

In April 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that a ‘snap’ general election would take place on June 8th 2017. This election was a bit of a surprise given that the last one had only taken place in 2015 and general elections are usually held every 4-5 years.

This map shows the results, with Conservative won constituencies in blue and Labour won constituencies in red. Other parties are also represented in this map; SNP (yellow), Lib Dems (orange), Plaid Cymru (green), Green (light green). Northern Ireland has a different set of political parties. We recommend reading more about this on our dedicated Northern Ireland page.

There is not currently a General Election due until 2022.

Glossary

Constituency – An area of the country which votes for a candidate to represent them (the Constituents) in the House of Commons. There are 650 constituencies in the UK, one for each MP. However, the Government is currently looking to reduce this number to 600. Constituencies are arranged in order to give each MP a roughly equal number of Constituents.

Parliament – Parliament is made up of the House of Commons and House of Lords, it’s role is to Legislate (make laws) and check the work of government. The government runs the country. It has responsibility for developing and implementing policy and for drafting laws.

The Government – Government is lead by the Prime Minister and is usually made up by the party with the most ‘seats’ in the House of Commons.

Members of Parliament – MPs are people who represent their constituents in Parliament. They win this position via an elections and usually belong to a political party. Candidates are people who stand in elections in the hope of becoming MPs.

Manifesto – A formal document that outlines where parties/candidates stand on issues from the NHS to taxes and the policies they wish to implement if they are elected. Manifestos are heavily scrutinised by other parties and the media who try to gain clarity on how commitments are to be achieved and who the ideas hurt and help. By doing this the general public can decide who they want to elect based on their position on all the various issues.

Coalition – A temporary alliance of political parties in order to form a government. For example, the Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition in 2010.

What is a General Election?

General Elections are an opportunity for all of us to elect a representative (Member of Parliament) for our consitituency to sit in the House of Commons in Parliament. 

Members of the public decide who to vote for by considering a number of factors including; each political party’s manifesto promises, or the candidates themselves.

There are 650 Members of Parliament who make up the House of Commons, one for each of the UK’s 650 constituencies. General Elections also decide which party will govern the country and become the Government, based on the party that wins at least 50% (325) of the constituencies in the UK.

If none of the political parties get over 325 (half) of their MPs elected across all the constituencies then they may choose to team up (or form a coalition) with other parties to form a government, or run as a minority government. Given laws need a majority of support in Parliament, a minority government is less likely to pass laws and gain support from the opposition.

General Elections take place every 5 years, although the Prime Minister can call an early election if they feel it is necessary.

How do they work?

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the electoral system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons. With FPTP the winning candidate only needs one vote more than their leading opponent in order to win their seat.

How do they affect me?

General elections have a huge impact on every citizen living in the UK, this is because they decide who forms the Government and who ultimately governs the entire of the UK.

As well as influencing the national political landscape, general elections also have an impact on local communities. Who your MP is can have a big impact on what happens in your area. Some MPs can be really active and take part in activities such as campaigning for local causes, securing investment for the community and raising constituents’ concerns in Parliament. Other MPs may be more concerned with national issues and achieve huge changes on a country-wide scale. Many are a mix of the two. Choosing the right candidate for you is therefore important, not only should you ensure their political beliefs line up with your own, but you should consider what type of MP that person will be.

The impact of a change in government after an election can be small or dramatic, it very much depends on the political context of the time. One thing is for sure, whoever is in power will be deciding things like:

  • What young adults and children learn in school
  • What taxes you will pay on what you earn and the products you buy
  • What levels of support you will receive from the state –  e.g. job seekers allowance, housing benefit etc
  • How much money will be given to the NHS, International Aid and the Military
  • How the UK will be tackling climate change, extremism and equality issues

Voting in the election is the easiest way to have your say over who makes these decisions.

Who should I vote for?

It is completely up to you who you vote for.

If you don’t know where to start you can take a look at our quick summaries of the major political parties (here), but we recommend you take a look at each party’s manifesto when they are announced a few weeks before the election.

Don’t want to read the full manifestos? Think about the issues you care about (e.g. education, environment or transport) and compare parties on these issues.

You could also use our Policy Matrix tool (see the 2017 version here), where we take the key policies from each of the manifestos and put them in a super easy format so you can compare them directly.

It is also worth looking at the candidates standing in your area, an MP/candidate might represent a political party but may not always agree with it. There is a lot of variation between MPs beliefs within parties. You might support a party but not the local candidate or vice versa!

Don’t forget about minor parties and independent candidates! Although we have focused on the major political parties in the UK there are many candidates that represent smaller parties or even stand independently. It is always important to look into these candidates’ policies too.

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