General elections

General elections

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 MP (Member of Parliament) to a seat in the House of Commons. The political party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons usually forms the Government.

How often are general elections held?

The date of the next general election is set at 7 May 2015 after the Fixed Term Parliament Act was passed on 15 September 2011.

The act provides for general elections to be 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)

Previous to this act, the duration of a Parliament was set at five years, although many were dissolved before that, at the request of the Prime Minister to the Queen.

How does it work?

MPs are elected from a choice of candidates by a simple majority system in which each person casts one vote. The candidate with the most votes then becomes the MP for that constituency.

Candidates may be from a political party registered with the Electoral Commission or they may stand as an 'Independent' rather than represent a registered party.

Where do people vote?

Most voting takes place in polling stations but anyone eligible to vote can apply for a postal vote.

Overseas voters

British citizens living overseas are entitled to be registered to vote in UK Parliamentary elections for up to 15 years in the constituency they were registered in before leaving the UK. They are not entitled to vote in UK local elections or elections to the devolved assemblies.

Returning officers

After a general election has taken place and the vote has been counted, the Returning Officer for that constituency declares the result.

He or she also sends the name of the elected candidate to the Clerk of the Crown at the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry produces the White Book, a list of all Members of the new Parliament, which is brought to the Chamber on the first day the Parliament sits. The election results then appear in the London Gazette.

Last general election

The most recent general election in the UK took place on 6 May 2010.

House of Commons Library analysis

The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The Library produced a briefing that provides detailed analysis of the results of the 2010 General Election.

Are you registered to vote?

The general election will take place on Thursday 7 May 2015. To vote in an election you must be on the electoral register. You can register online or by post.


The UK is currently divided into 650 areas called parliamentary constituencies, each of which is represented by one MP in the House of Commons.