Every four years, United Kingdom elects a new parliament. This is called a General Election and it’s pretty complicated. If you’ve ever wondered how a country decides who is going to run things, this is how! We asked our contributor Tina Price-Johnson to write an explanation of the General Election for kids.
When I was in Year 9, my school ran a mock general election, so we could learn how an election works. I was chosen to be the Liberal Democrat candidate, and two other students were chosen to represent the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. We didn’t have any other parties at that time!
We had to pretend we were running to be elected as an Member of Parliament (MP), and the other students in the school were the voters. We created posters and learned what each party stood for, so we could debate in front of the whole school and give our speeches. We spoke to students in the hallway, and each of us had a team of other students to help us out. This is exactly what all the candidates for MP in your local area will be doing. More or less!
What is an MP?
There are 650 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. They represent the people from all over the UK. We often refer to them as MPs.
The UK General Election is decided through a system called First Past The Post (FPTP). Every five years registered voters in UK can choose the person they wish to be their MP from a list of candidates in their area (which is known as a constituency). The FPTP system means that even if the vote is close – even if one candidate has just 1 vote more – then they are declared the winner.
We say that they have won a seat in the House of Commons, although they don’t win an actual seat or a chair, because that would be weird!
To determine the nationwide winner, the FPTP system comes into play again. There are 650 seats in the Houses of Commons, and so to form a majority government, a party needs half + one vote, which would be 326 votes.
What is a Hung Parliament?
Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean that we are going to hang them! If one party does not win enough seats to form a government, then we call this a hung parliament. This happens when no one party has the absolute majority, i.e. more than 326 of the 650 seats. In this case, the parties must work together to find a combination of parties to form a coalition government.
What Does the Government Do?
The government decides which laws they want to pass, and shares this with the country in the Queen’s Speech in November. If the MPS do not agree with the law as proposed, the government may have to change or even scrap it. Other MPs may introduce a proposed law, but since most time is taken up by the government’s bills, they are often not signed into law.
What is the Cabinet?
When we talk about the ‘Cabinet’, we mean the men and women who make decisions for the country. The leader of the party in government is appointed to the position of Prime Minister. The Prime Minister gives a general direction and represents the UK at home and abroad.
The day to day work of making laws is done by the ministries. These are the 24 departments such as Education, Health, Justice, Transport, and Defence. The Prime Minister appoints Cabinet Ministers to head these departments, and they are referred to as the Secretary of State for their department, e.g. Secretary of State for Defence. You can find out all about each department on the UK Government website.
Some ministers have different names, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who runs the Treasury Department, or the Home Secretary, who runs the Home Office and is responsible for the internal affairs of England and Wales.
How to Choose Who to Vote For
Voting is very important, and it is necessary for the voter to know what the parties will do if they are elected. Their promises are in their Manifestos, and that is why the upcoming general election is talked about so much. Some voters already know who they are voting for, and others are unsure. It is a good idea to know exactly what the parties stand for, and what laws they would introduce if they were in government.
You can find out what the main parties standing for election in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are promising on their websites, which can be found here:
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland
Conservative Party (Tories)
Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland)
Green Party (England and Wales)
Plaid Cymru (Wales)
Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland)
Social Democrat & Labour Party (Northern Ireland):
UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Ulster Unionist Party (Northern Ireland)
Did you know that some parties are proposing that 16 – 18-year-olds should be allowed to vote? If you were allowed to vote, who would you vote for, and why?
Oh, and if you were wondering how I did in my general election, I came third!
Find out more about politics on Jump! Mag