Facts Sheet

General Elections
(= elections to the whole House of Commons) are held every five years. For this purpose Britain is divided into 650 constituencies.
by-election = caused by death or removal of one MP (= Member of Parliament)
King/Queen dissolves Parliament upon the advice of the Prime Minister when

a) Prime Minister considers it desirable

b) term of five years nears its end

nomination day = candidates must produce to the returning officer a nomination paper
election campaign: candidates nurse districts; make house-to-house calls, hold meetings
election day (usually a Thursday) - nine days after nomination day
franchise; suffrage = right to vote (qualifications: age and domicile)

How to cast your vote
At the polling station poll clerks check register of electors and hand you a stamped ballot-(voting-) paper containing an alphabetical list of all candidates in the constituency. You take this paper to the polling-booth, make a cross against the name of your chosen candidate, fold the paper and drop it in a locked ballot-box. After 10 p.m. at the returning officer's headquarter the votes are counted.

The Electoral system
Every constituency sends a representative to London. To become a Member of parliament a candidate needs the simple majority (one vote more than his nearest rival)

= first-past-the-post system (FPTP)

= majority vote

Direct representation may give a distorted picture because that government comes to power which has won a majority of seats, not necessarily a majority of votes. In Germany: proportional representation (= PR): The parties are represented in the German Bundestag according to the percentage of votes polled in the elections.

How the parties finished (general election results 1997):
Total number of seats in the House of Commons: 659




Liberal Democrats


Tony Blair

John Major

Paddy Ashdown





Labour majority 179

Leader of the Conservative Party since September 1997: William Hague