About the election

The UK general election on Thursday 4 July will decide the 650 MPs who will sit in the UK-wide House of Commons. If a party gets more than half the seats they will form the Government, and the leader of that party will be the Prime Minister, who runs the UK government. 

Part of what makes an election confusing is that a lot of different arguments and perspectives are being boiled down to a single cross in a box.  Elections are often described as contests between party leaders to be Prime Minister (and it’s valid for this to be the basis of how people vote), but for most people these leaders are not on the ballot. How our elections work on paper, and in practice are two different things. 

Our 10 point guide

1. The UK is divided into 650 areas, called constituencies. Around 70,000 people live in each constituency. The boundaries of most constituencies are changing for this election, but the number of constituencies (650) is staying the same. Each constituency elects one Member of Parliament (MP), who represents that constituency and takes a ‘seat’ in the House of Commons.

2. The House of Commons is the more powerful of the two Houses of Parliament. It is where MPs debate and vote on draft bills. If a bill is passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, it becomes law.  When a general election is called, Parliament is ‘dissolved’, all current MPs lose their position and new elections are held in each of the 650 seats to fill those seats. 

Enter your postcode to find out more about your constituency and the MP that has represented you.

3. General elections use a voting system called First Past The Post to elect the 650 MPs who sit in the House of Commons. This means that the candidate who gets the most votes gets the seat, but does not require them to get over half the votes. This can lead to tactical voting – where you may choose not to vote for your preferred candidate or party, and instead vote for another candidate/party with a greater chance of beating a candidate/party you more strongly dislike. 

4. Every eligible person in the UK will get to cast one vote for a candidate to become their constituency’s MP. Candidates can stand as a member of a political party, or as an independent.

5. Political parties will release manifestoes – a document outlining the policies they want to bring in, and candidates will often also produce their own supporting election materials. 

Enter your postcode to find out who is standing in your constituency.

6. You need to register to vote by 18th June. Once registered, there are three ways to cast your vote. You can vote in person at your local polling station on 4 July; in advance by post; or nominate someone to vote on your behalf by proxy.

7. If voting in person, you’ll need photographic ID. Polling stations are open 7am-10pm on Thursday 4 July. At the entrance desk, give your name and hand over your ID. You’ll be marked off the register, then you’ll be given a ballot paper. Find a vacant voting booth. Inside there’ll be a pencil for you to mark the box next to your preferred candidate. Your ballot paper will list your candidates and their party in alphabetical order with a box next to each name. Either a tick or cross in the box is fine – as long as it’s clear. Alternatively, you may choose to ‘spoil your ballot’. When you’ve finished, post your ballot into the ballot box. 

Visit the Electoral Commission to find out more about how to vote.

8. After 10pm on election day, all of the votes from each polling station are taken to one central place in the constituency where they are counted. After the votes are counted, the candidate with the most votes is elected as the MP for that constituency.

9. After all 650 constituencies have elected their MP, if a party has more than half the  MPs (aka seats), that party will form the Government. The MP who is the leader of that party will become the Prime Minister. If no party gets more than half, multiple parties can work together to form a government. The party with the second highest number of MPs will form the Official Opposition. The MP who is the leader of that party is known as the Leader of the Opposition.

10. Parliament will sit again for the first time on Tuesday 9 July. MPs will be sworn in and they will elect a Speaker (the impartial ‘referee’ of the House of Commons), then the State Opening of Parliament is expected to take place on 17 July. This will include the King’s Speech, which is a speech written by the Government, but read by the King, which sets out what the Government plans to do over the next year. 

House of Lords / Roger Harris on flickr

Now what?

Democracy doesn’t end when the election result is decided. We’ll be back with another 10-point guide after the election. Sign up to our mailing list so you don’t miss out. If you’d like to support our work, please consider donating


Header image by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash