General Elections UK

Of the various elections held in the UK, the general election is often the most highly anticipated among the British electorate. The results of the general election greatly impact the UK's political course over the ensuing five years. In this article, you will learn more about British elections, how they are conducted, when they are conducted, as well as some of the most important elections held in the UK over the years.

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General Elections UK General Elections UK

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    General Election UK

    In the UK, a general election is one in which voters select Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent them in the House of Commons. In a general election, each citizen votes for one MP candidate in their constituency using the first-past-the-post system (the UK has 650 constituencies). At the end of the election, the party with the majority of elected MPs is invited by the monarch to form a government.

    As per the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011, general elections are to be conducted every five years. However, general elections can be held earlier under the following circumstances:

    1. When parliamentarians believe that the government is incompetent, they can issue a motion of no confidence. If the motion is passed by a simple majority of MPs and it is not countered within 14 days, the government should resign or hold an early general election.

    2. The passing of a motion which is approved by two-thirds (66%) of MPs from the majority political party calling for a general election.

    General Election UK, Image depicting a ballot box and the Union Jack, StudySmarter Image depicting a ballot box and the Union Jack,

    The UK general Election System

    As previously mentioned the United Kingdom is split into 650 districts called constituencies. Each constituency is represented by a democratically elected Member of Parliament who is tasked with representing their constituency in the House of Commons.

    Individuals who are legally able to vote can participate in the general election.

    Principles of UK General Elections

    In the run-up to a general election, MP candidates across the UK will campaign in order to win one of the 650 seats in the House of Parliament. There are 650 seats in parliament to represent the 650 constituencies.

    Political campaigns can take the form of door-to-door campaigning, public speeches, and television appearances. Each candidate aims to convince members of the public to vote for a specific politician or party. Politicians and political parties will also publish a manifesto as a part of their campaign in the general election.


    A published declaration of the intention, motives, and views of the MP candidate and/or political party. It is essentially a plan outlining what the MP or party will do, what issues they support, and what issues they will not support if they are elected.

    UK Parliamentary Elections

    For a political party to win the general election, it must have a majority in parliament. A majority in parliament is 326 seats; this is just over half of the total amount of seats in parliament. If a political party wins 326 seats, they have an overall majority and the leader of the political party becomes the prime minister after receiving an invitation to form a government from the Queen.

    Whilst there are multiple parties in the UK, the general election usually boils down to which of the two major parties - Labour or Conservative- receives the overall majority of votes. Historically, the Conservative party has had more success in general elections.

    If a party does not win a majority of seats, this is called a hung parliament. If this happens, there are two options:

    1. The larger party can try to join with another party so that together they have 326 or more seats to form a coalition.

    2. If the party with the most elected MPs but not an overall majority does not want to form a coalition, the party can try to rule as a minority government.

    Hung parliament

    A parliament in which no political party has enough seats to secure an overall majority from the general election.

    History of the UK General Elections

    The first British general election occurred after the Act of Union, which was the amalgamation of the English and Scottish parliament in 1708. This general election is therefore referred to as the first British election as previous elections would have been exclusively English or Scottish general elections.

    The key parties in this election were very different from the parties we see in today's elections. The 1708 election was largely a competition between the Whig party and the Tory party. Both of these parties have since disbanded. However, the Conservative party, which is the party of leadership in the UK today, has historical roots in the Tory party.

    You may recognise the name of the Tory party. Whilst the Tory party has disbanded, a faction of the party, led by Benjamin Disraeli, transformed itself into what is today the Conservative party. This is why the term Tory is often used to describe members and supporters of the Conservative Party today.

    General Elections UK, A back and white image of a 20th-century general election, StudySmarterA black and white image of a twentieth-century general election,

    List of UK General Elections

    Here is a list of some of the most important general elections in UK history.

    YearGeneral elections
    1945The 1945 general election produced the first-ever Labour majority government, and it did so by a landslide. Wartime necessity had shown that a large and active state could achieve great things without any apparent loss of individual liberty. This resulted in the establishment of the welfare state as well as the National Health Service (NHS).
    1974This election resulted in a hung parliament where a Labour minority government emerged.
    1979This election marked the start of the 18-year-long rule of the Conservative party. It brought Margaret Thatcher to power, who became the first female Prime Minister of the UK. Thatcher's policies were highly controversial and changed the fabric of the UK forever.
    1997This election ended the Conservative Party's 18-year grip on power and saw the emergence of New Labour under Tony Blair. New Labour positioned itself at the centre of the political spectrum distancing itself from Labour's associations with the left.
    2010The 2010 election resulted in the second hung parliament and the removal of the Labour party after 13 years in power. This election saw a coalition between the conservative party and the liberal democrats.
    2019This election was widely anticipated as it would seal the fate of the Brexit debate, which was an issue that had been left unresolved in British politics. The conservatives won this election with a landslide majority, Boris Johnson became prime minister and would later finalise the Brexit deal.

    General Elections UK - Key Takeaways

    • A General Election in the UK is an election where voters select Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent them in the House of Commons.
    • A general election occurs every five years as a result of the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act.
    • The United Kingdom is split into 650 segments that are called constituencies.
    • For a political party to win the general election, it must have a majority in parliament. The majority in parliament is 326 seats.
    • If a party does not win 326 MPs a hung parliament is declared.
    • The 1945 general election produced the first-ever Labour majority government and resulted in the establishment of the welfare state and the NHS.
    Frequently Asked Questions about General Elections UK

    How often are general elections held in the UK?

    Since the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 General elections are automatically held every 5 years. However, they can be called earlier for specific reasons such as a motion of no confidence by a majority. 

    When is the UK general election?

    The UK General election occurs every 5 years on a Thursday, the next UK general election is set to be on 2 May 2024.

     What is the UK general election system?

    The UK general election system is a system where individuals are able to vote for the MP for their local constituency, this gains the MP and their Party a seat in parliament. 

    What is the result of UK general election?

    The result of the UK general election is that Members of Parliament are voted into the House of Commons and the leader of the party who has a majority in the House of Commons become Prime Minister. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How many constituencies are there in the UK?

    Which political party won the 2019 general election in the UK?

    What is an MP?


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