What is a General Election?
General Elections are an opportunity for the public to elect a Member of Parliament to represent their constituency 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 become the Government and run the country, 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 (create a coalition) with other parties to form a government, or run as a minority government. Given laws need a majority in Parliament to pass, 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.
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.
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.