Election Day 2015 – What it’s about.

It’s Election Day here in the United Kingdom.  A day of promises, posing and national box ticking as the people of the country look to vote in a new Government for the next five years.  All across the land polling stations are open, typically to 10 pm when they will close and counting will begin.  

It’s worth pointing out at this point that polling stations will close at 10 no-matter if you are in the queue or not so if you are voting it’s a good idea to get it in early.

What the Vote is For

This election is for the selection of Members of Parliament (known as MP’s) to sit in the House of Commons at Westminster in London.  Each MP represents a constituencies worth of people in the towns, villages and, in some cases, cities in the area.  Particularly big cities often have multiple constituencies in themselves – for example London has 73 for its population of over 8 million.  

A member of parliament’s role is to vote on legislation in the House of Commons to pass or repeal new laws and other acts of parliament.  There are 650 seats in the entire house. 

Who can be voted for:

In a British general election, voting is limited by constituency meaning that people are limited to voting for whoever is standing for election where they live.  A voter in London cannot vote for an MP in Edinburgh unless they are registered to vote in that city (which would mean they could not vote in London). 

While it is possible to vote for an independent candidate, historically most successfully elected MP’s have enjoyed the backing of a political party within the country.  As a result, it is these parties who typically end up forming governing blocks within parliament.  Traditionally, there has usually been a “majority” party which has effectively run the country.  However more and more candidates from more and more parties continue to offer a wider variety of choice for the British voter such that, in 2010, Britain had its first coalition government since the second world war.

How Voting Works

The British electoral system works via a first past the post system.  In a nutshell what this means is that whoever gets the most votes wins the election.  While lauded for its simplicity and tendency to return strong governments, it does have several drawbacks.   The biggest one being that an MP need only rely on a minority of support in their constituency in order to be elected. 

For example, if I stand for election and only get 25% of the vote, I can still become the MP for that area so long as no other candidate gets more votes than me, despite the fact that 75% of the people I represent did not vote for me.  Nevertheless, a referendum held in 2012 overwhelming voted in favour of keeping the current system. 

Who Becomes Prime Minister?

In Britain, the head of state is Queen Elizabeth II who fulfils the comparable role of president in many other countries that don’t have a monarchy.   However unlike these presidents the Queen’s constitutional power is very limited and rarely excercised, with the business of governing left to the Prime Minister of the day and his cabinet of ministers.

As mentioned, Briton’s vote only for their local representation meaning that they can only vote for whoever stands in their constituency.  That means that, unless a party leader is standing for election in a persons local area, it is not possible to vote directly for the next prime minister in the same way that citizens of other countries vote directly for their president or leader separately from their parliament.  

Typically, the Prime Minister of the largest party in the House of Commons becomes Prime Minister, and the head of the next largest becomes the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.   However, constitutionally a party leader who was able to form a stable government such that it could survive a vote of no-confidence from its opposition could become prime minister if they could put together the largest coalition within parliament even if they were not the largest party.




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