Frequently Asked Questions: General Election

What is a general election?

A general election is an opportunity for people in every part of the UK to choose their MP - the person who will represent their local area (constituency) in the House of Commons for up to five years. There is normally a choice of several candidates in each constituency, some of which are the local candidates for national political parties. People can only vote for one of the candidates and the candidate that receives most votes becomes their MP.

When is the next general election?

The next general election is expected to take place on Thursday 7 May 2020.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides that parliamentary general elections take place every five years on the first Thursday in May. The Act also contains two provisions that could trigger an earlier election other than at five year intervals.

When was the last general election?

The last general election was held on Thursday 7 May 2015.

Where can I find the results of the 2015 General Election?

The House of Commons Library published a complete set of results following the 2015 General Election.

How do I vote in a general election?

There are various ways to vote in an election.

Can I stand as a candidate in a general election?

Full guidance for candidates is provided by the Electoral Commission, the independent body that regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections.

Who decides to call a general election?

Parliament is dissolved automatically under provisions in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Prior to the Act, dissolution was a personal prerogative of the Queen. The Act has replaced the prerogative and now Parliament is dissolved automatically 25 working days before a general election.

The Act provides that parliamentary general elections take place every five years on the first Thursday in May. It also provides for early general elections if either the House of Commons votes for an early general election or following the failure of the House to agree a vote of confidence in a new government within 14 days of a vote of no confidence in the government holding office.

Do general elections have to be held on Thursdays?

Not necessarily. The Fixed-term Parliaments 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. However, if an earlier general election is triggered the Act does not state that the election has to be held on a Thursday.

Before the Fixed-term Parliaments 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.  

What is dissolution?

Dissolution is the official term for the end of a Parliament. A Parliament can last for up to five years and is dissolved automatically under provisions in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. For the General Election on 7 May 2015 Parliament was dissolved on 30 March 2015.

What happens to the Government when Parliament is dissolved?

Parliament and Government are two separate institutions.

The Government does not resign when Parliament is dissolved. Government ministers remain in charge of their departments until after the result of the election is known and a new administration is formed.

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Sovereign. Ministers are appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. These appointments are independent of the role of MP. Ministers retain their ministerial titles after dissolution, but those who were MPs can no longer use the MP suffix.

The Cabinet Manual sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government.

What is the 'wash-up' period?

The 'wash-up' period refers to the last few days of a Parliament, before dissolution. All the unfinished business of the session must be dealt with and the Government seeks the co-operation of the Opposition in passing legislation that is still in progress. Some Bills might be lost, others might be progressed quickly but in a much-shortened form.

When does my current MP stop being an MP?

When Parliament is dissolved the role of MP ceases to exist until the election of a new House of Commons at the next general election.

What if my MP is still helping me with a problem when Parliament is dissolved?

Although MPs are under no obligation to continue helping their constituents after the end of a Parliament, and must not try to do so in an official capacity, in practice most MPs will continue some urgent constituency work in the dissolution period.

Can I contact my MP after Parliament has been dissolved?

Officially no one has an MP from dissolution until the result of the election is known. MPs who are hoping to be re-elected will often keep in touch with their former constituents, although they cannot do this in any official capacity. Members who are not standing for re-election are not able to honour commitments made to their constituents when they were an MP.

Can my MP stand for election to Parliament again?

Yes.

Where can I find the results of previous general elections?

The House of Commons Library has published the following papers:

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.

Is there a general election for members of the House of Lords?

General elections do not affect the membership of the House of Lords. Members of the Lords are appointed to the House of Lords and are not elected. 

How do you become a Member of the House of Lords?

There are a number of routes to becoming a Member of the House of Lords

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