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 Fixed-term Parliaments Act was enacted on the 15 September 2011 and due to this the date of the next general election will be Thursday 7 May 2015 with subsequent general elections being 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.

Can I stand as a candidate in a general election?

You can stand as a candidate in the general election if you are 18 years old or over, and either a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or a citizen of a Commonwealth country who does not require leave to enter or remain in the UK, or who has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Certain people may not stand as candidates, such as members of the police forces, members of the armed forces, serving civil servants or judges, certain convicted prisoners or those declared to be bankrupt. The Electoral Commission offers guidance to anyone wishing to stand as a candidate in a UK election.

Can I vote for a new Prime Minister?

No. You can only vote to elect your local MP in a general election. Even if you live in the constituency represented by the current Prime Minister or the leader of another political party, you are still only voting on whether he or she will be your local MP in the next Parliament.

What is the 'wash-up' period?

The 'wash-up' period refers to the last few days of a Parliament, after the election has been announced but before dissolution. All the unfinished business of the session must be dealt with swiftly 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?

Members of Parliament lose that title and any privileges associated with the role as soon as Parliament is 'dissolved' and his or her seat becomes vacant. This is the official end of a Parliament and is carried out by Royal Proclamation shortly after the Prime Minister has announced the date of the general election.

What if my MP is still helping me with a problem when an election is called?

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. Most will try to ensure constituents' cases are handed on if they are retiring or they lose their seat at the election.

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 (about three weeks later). 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.


Dissolution

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 by Royal Proclamation followed by a general election.

What happens to Select Committees when Parliament is dissolved?

All committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords cease to exist on dissolution and must be re-appointed in the new Parliament.

Can I visit Parliament for a tour during the dissolution period?

New bookings cannot be made once dissolution has been announced. Tours that were booked through your MP beforehand will go ahead, but will instead be conducted by House of Commons tours officers.

What happens to the Government when Parliament is dissolved?

The Government does not resign when Parliament is dissolved; essential business must be carried on and government ministers remain in charge of their departments until after the result of the election is known. Only then will the Monarch ask the leader of the majority party to form a new administration.

Does the Commons Speaker lose office when Parliament is dissolved?

Like every other MP, the Speaker must stand again for re-election in his or her constituency at a general election. Usually a serving Speaker will not be opposed by candidates from the other main political parties in his or her constituency. When MPs return in the new Parliament they usually choose to reappoint the previous Speaker, but may decide to elect a different MP to the role.

How does dissolution affect the House of Lords?

When Parliament is dissolved by the monarch both Houses are disbanded until the monarch opens Parliament again. All business in the House of Lords comes to an end.

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; one of which is through the independent House of Lords Appointments Commission. Read more about becoming a Member of the House of Lords


Voting

Can I vote in the general election?

To be able to vote in the general election your name must be on the electoral register for your area, and you must be 18 years of age or over on polling day.

To find out if you have already registered, or to register now, contact your local electoral registration office.

Who can register to vote?

You can register to vote if you:

  • are 16 years old or over and
  • are a British citizen or an Irish, EU or qualifying Commonwealth citizen (Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are those who have leave to enter or remain in the UK, or do not require such leave) and
  • live in the UK or have registered to vote from a UK address within the last 15 years
  • are not subject to any legal incapacity to vote

The Electoral Commission can give advice to anyone who wishes to register to vote in a UK election.

Which parliamentary constituency am I in?

The constituency you are in depends on where you live, or, for overseas voters, the address you used to live at in the UK. Your local electoral registration office can tell you which parliamentary constituency your address was in for the 2010 general election.

Will my constituency be the same as it was for the last general election if I have not moved house?

Not necessarily. Every 8- 12 years the constituency boundaries are re-drawn to take into account movement and growth of the population in the UK. Boundaries have been reviewed since the 2005 general election and many constituencies were different for the 2010 election.

How do I find out who the candidates are in my constituency?

Your local Electoral Registration Office will display the names of all the candidates on town hall and local council notice boards in your area about a week before polling day. Information is also normally available in local newspapers. Candidates may send information about themselves to you and there may be public meetings where you have the opportunity to hear all the candidates speak.

How do I vote?

You can vote in person at a polling station or vote by post. Or you can nominate someone else to vote at a polling station for you (vote by proxy). You will be given, or sent, a ballot paper listing the names of all the candidates who are standing for election in your constituency. You can only vote for one of the candidates at a general election and you do this by marking the box next to the name of your chosen candidate.

Where do I go to vote in person?

If you are on the electoral register, your local electoral registration office will send you a poll card telling you which polling station to go to and where it is.

How do I vote by post?

You need to apply beforehand to arrange a postal vote. The deadline for applications is 11 working days before the election takes place. You can apply at your local registration office or online. Your ballot paper will be sent to you in the post a week before the election and it must be returned in good time to arrive by 10pm on polling day in order to be counted.

How do I vote by proxy?

You should normally apply to your local electoral registration office or online to vote by proxy at least six working days before an election. However, if you have a medical emergency nearer to the election day, you can apply to vote by emergency proxy if the emergency means that you cannot go to the polling station in person.

Can I vote if I live overseas?

If you are a British citizen living overseas you are entitled to a postal vote in UK Parliamentary general elections and European elections for up to 15 years after moving abroad.

How can I find out the election result in my constituency?

Results are posted up by local officials on town hall and local council notice boards in each constituency and are also reported in the local and national press. Results are also available online.

Related information

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