When Parliament is dissolved every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant and a general election is held. Each constituency in the UK elects one Member of Parliament (MP) to a seat in the House of Commons. Usually the political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons forms the Government.
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 will take place on Thursday 8 June 2017. The deadline to register to vote is Monday 22 May 2017.
This follows a decision by the House of Commons to agree to an early general election. The motion was passed by 522 votes to 13 – more than the required two-thirds majority – on Wednesday 19 April 2017.
Prior to this decision, the next election had been expected to take place on 7 May 2020, under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which provides that parliamentary general elections take place every five years on the first Thursday in May.
What is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 sets the interval between general elections at five years. At the end of this time a new House of Commons must be elected.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years.
However, 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)
Previous to this Act, the Prime Minister could call a general election at any time within the five year period and not all Parliaments lasted the full five years.
Before the Act was passed in 2011, a general election could be called earlier for a number of reasons. For example, the Prime Minister could decide to call an election at a time when he or she was most confident of winning the election (getting more MPs than any other party) or if a government was defeated on a confidence motion, a general election could follow.
Do general elections have to be held on Thursdays?
Not necessarily. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 set the date of the last 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 has become the traditional day for general elections.
The last general election not to be held on a Thursday was on Tuesday 27 October 1931.
Where can I find the results of the general election?
Election results are widely reported in the local and national media, with many providing rolling coverage of the results as they are announced.
Each local authority with responsibility for running elections publishes the results for parliamentary constituencies in their area.
The Electoral Commission publishes the overall election results as well as those for individual constituencies.
- GOV.UK: Find your local council (external site)
- General Election 2015: House of Commons Library briefing paper
Who becomes Prime Minister?
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.
Who chooses the Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister is appointed by the Queen, who is guided by constitutional conventions.
The Cabinet Manual sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government, including the role of the Sovereign.
Formation of a government following a general election
Usually the political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons at a general election forms the new government and its leader becomes Prime Minister.
If no party wins a majority of the seats, a situation which is known as a ‘hung Parliament’, then the largest party may form a minority government or there may be a coalition government of two or more parties. The Prime Minister appoints ministers who work in the government departments, the most senior of these sit in Cabinet.
Commons Library briefings
The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial. The Library has published the following briefing papers on general elections and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011:
- UK election statistics 1918-2012: House of Commons Library briefing paper
- Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011: House of Commons Library briefing paper
- The History of the Parliamentary Franchise: House of Commons Library briefing paper
- Party Political Broadcasts: House of Commons Library briefing paper
- Pre-election contacts between civil servants and opposition parties: House of Commons Library briefing paper
- Responsibilities of Returning Officers: House of Commons Library briefing paper
Read current parliamentary material available on general elections, including select committee reports, briefing papers on current legislation and other subjects produced by the parliamentary research services.