The beginner’s guide to general elections

On Thursday, 8 June, the UK goes to the ballot box. But what actually happens in a general election? Nicole Hogger explains all

What happens to Parliament during an election campaign?

As I write, on 3 May 2017, Parliament is being dissolved – something that is required by law to happen 25 working days prior to the General Election.

When Parliament is dissolved, every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant. Until a new parliament has been elected, there are no MPs. All MPs must stand again as candidates for election, or stand down.

How does the UK’s voting system work?

The UK uses the first-past-the-post electoral system. This means that voting takes part in each constituency, where a voter chooses their favoured candidate. The candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins, and other votes are disregarded.

The party with the overall majority of elected MPs in the United Kingdom forms a government. To get an absolute majority, a party has to win 326 seats.

Currently the seats are as follows:

 Conservative  330          
 Labour  229
 Scottish National Party  54
 Liberal Democrat  9
 Democratic Unionist Party  8
 Independent  5
 Sinn Fein  4
 Plaid Cymru  3
 Social Democratic & Labour Party  3
 Ulster Unionist Party  2
 Green Party  1
 Speaker  1
 Vacant  1



What happens if no party wins a majority?

If no party wins an overall majority, the one that ends up in power will not be able to pass laws without the support of members from different parties. This is known as a hung parliament.

In this scenario, the bigger party must try to make a coalition with a smaller party, as the Conservatives did with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, or reach a “confidence and supply” arrangement with another party, where its MPs agree to support certain aspects of the minority government’s manifesto.

Alternatively, the largest party can try to negotiate with other parties on a piecemeal basis to get laws passed, which can be very disruptive for the working of Parliament.

When will the next election be after this one takes place?

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 decrees that an election must take place every five years. But, as we’ve seen, an election can be held at any time before that if over two-thirds of MPs vote in favour of it in the House of Commons.

So while the next scheduled election after this one would be in 2022, we could see one sooner than that, especially if Brexit negotiations become tricky for the incumbent Prime Minister. 

How do you register to vote?

To vote in the General Election, you need to be registered by 22 May. It’s easy to do this online. Just visit and you’ll be guided through the process.


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Posted on Wednesday May 3