Frequently Asked Questions: Elections

Useful information and related reading on general elections and by-elections.

When was the last general election?

6 May 2010.

How many general elections since the Second World War?

18 in total.

Where can I find the results of previous general elections?

When was the last time there were two general elections in one year?

1974. The first general election was held on Thursday 28 February, the second on Thursday 10 October.

When was the last by-election? 

The last by-election took place on 5 June 2014. Robert Jenrick of the Conservative Party won the Newark seat.

When there is a vacant seat, the usual procedure is for the party who held the seat to put down a motion in the House to move a writ, triggering a by-election in that constituency. 

Who decides to call a general election?

After the Fixed-term Parliament Act was passed on 15 September 2011, the date of the next general election is set as 7 May 2015. The Act provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years. There are two provisions that trigger an election other than at five year intervals:

  • A motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty's Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed
  • A motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)

Before this Act, the duration of a Parliament was set at a maximum of five years, although many were dissolved before that. The decision to call a general election was made by the Prime Minister by asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament.

Do general elections have to be held on Thursdays?

No. The Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011 sets the date of the  next general election at Thursday 7 May 2015 and subsequent elections to be held on the first Thursday of May at five year intervals. The Act does not state that general elections have to be held on Thursdays if they are held earlier as a result of the two triggers which are;

  • A motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty's Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed
  • A motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)

Before the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011 the Prime Minister could choose any weekday for a general election, according to a fixed electoral timetable. However, Thursday became the traditional day for general elections.

The last general election not to be held on a Thursday was on Tuesday 27 October 1931.

By-elections have been traditionally been held on a Thursday, but can be held on another week day, if preferred.

What happens to the Government when a general election is called?

The Government continues in office until the results of the election are known. The new Prime Minister will announce his Cabinet soon after.

When were women given the vote?

When was the voting age reduced to 18?

1969 (for both men and women)

Who cannot vote in a UK parliamentary election?

  • young people under 18 years old
  • foreign nationals (apart from citizens of the Irish Republic and Commonwealth countries resident in Britain)
  • members of the House of Lords
  • sentenced prisoners
  • people convicted within the previous five years of illegal election practices
  • Electoral Commission factsheet: Who can vote? (PDF 43 MB) (external site)

Can the Queen vote?

The Queen can vote, but in practice it is considered unconstitutional for the Monarch to vote in an election.

What is the largest constituency?

Ross, Skye and Lochaber - measures approximately 12,000 square kilometres.

What is the smallest constituency?

Islington North - measures 735 hectares.

Which MP has the largest majority?

Stephen Timms MP holds the largest majority in the seat of East Ham with a majority of 27,826.

Which MP has the smallest majority?

Michelle Gildernew MP holds the smallest majority in the seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone with a majority of 4.

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