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The front door of 10 Downing Street

Everything you need to know about the UK general election

It would be an understatement to say that a lot has changed since the last general election in the UK. Well, it's almost time to make your way to the polling station once more so here is everything you need to know about this democratic process.

Image: 10 Downing Street | dominika zara /

With a general election in the UK just around the corner, we’ve put together a fact and trivia sheet to answer all your burning questions.

What is a general election?

The UK is a representative democracy, whereby its people vote to elect officials to represent them in Parliament. A general election is when the people cast their vote and choose their local Member of Parliament (MP).

Who won the last general election?

The last general election was held on 12th December 2019 and saw the Conservative Party win a large majority of 80 seats. The Prime Minister at the time was Boris Johnson.

When is the next general election?

According to law, elections must be held no more than five years apart. This means that the latest an election can be held is January 2025.

However, elections are determined by the Prime Minister, in this case Rishi Sunak, who has previously hinted that a general election will take place in the 'second half' of 2024.

Why are general elections always held on a Thursday?

General elections have been held on a Thursday, ever since 1935. The reason is that it was initially hoped that Thursday would encourage greater voter turnout. Fridays were ruled too close to the weekend, whilst the weekend itself was out due to the need to pay polling staff extra for working on a Saturday or Sunday.

However, there is no statutory requirement that states elections must always take place on a Thursday. According to law, they can be held on any weekday.

Who can vote in a general election?

According to UK law, the following criteria must be met for someone to be eligible to vote at the next general election:

  • You must be aged 18 or over
  • You must be on the electoral register
  • You must be a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a Republic of Ireland citizen with a UK address
  • Not legally excluded from voting

When is Parliament dissolved before a general election?

The current Parliament first met on Tuesday, 17th December 2019. Since the maximum term of a Parliament is five years from the day it first met, it means the current Parliament will automatically dissolve on Tuesday, 17th December 2024.

Polling Day then usually takes place 25 working days later, which places the very latest the next general election could be as 28th January 2025.

However, the King possesses the power to dissolve Parliament and force a general election. Therefore, he could theoretically exercise this power at any given time.

What does dissolution mean?

When a Parliament is dissolved, it effectively means that every MP loses their job. Their seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant and they can no longer call themselves MPs since they don't represent their constituents.

What role does the King play in the general election?

Apart from the above-mentioned point about dissolving Parliament, after the general election has taken place, the King invites the leader of the winning party to become Prime Minister and form a government in the monarch’s name.

The King then opens Parliament through the State Opening, which marks the beginning of the Parliamentary year.

Has a Prime Minister ever lost their seat?

No incumbent PM has ever lost their seat at a general election. Some, however, have come close. In recent memory, when Boris Johnson became PM in mid-2019, he did so with a constituency majority of just 5,034 in his seat of Uxbridge & South Ruislip.

It was the smallest majority of any sitting Prime Minister since 1924.

Can you be Prime Minister without being an MP?

This question falls into a grey area since no incumbent PM has ever lost their seat at a general election. Technically, there is no law stating that a Prime Minister must be an MP, however, constitutional convention certainly dictates otherwise.

Do we vote for a new Prime Minister?

Indirectly, yes, however individual votes during a general election are only ever cast for local MPs. When the polls are closed and votes are tallied up, the leader of the party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons becomes (or remains) Prime Minister.

However, if your local constituency happens to be Richmond (Yorks) where Rishi Sunak is the current elected MP, then you will indeed be casting a vote with the PM's name on it.

After the election results are in, the leader of the party that came second in the polls becomes the leader of the opposition.

How many seats in Parliament are there?

The House of Commons is currently made up of 650 seats.

What is a Hung Parliament?

A Hung Parliament happens when no political party wins a majority of seats at a general election. When this happens, the largest party can either form what is called a ‘minority government’ or enter a coalition government made up of two or more parties.

When was the last winter election?

The last winter election was the most recent one, which took place on Thursday, 12th December 2019. However, that was the first one held during the colder months since the November 1935 elections.

Over the past 100 years, most elections have been held during late spring/early summer.

When was the last time two general elections were held in one year?

Two general elections were held in 1974, one in February and one in October. The reason? Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson called the second general election in the hope of turning his minority in Parliament into a working majority, which he did.

What is the highest and lowest voter turnout for an election?

Looking at the past 100 years, the highest voter turnout was 83.9% in the 1950 general election, whilst the lowest was 57.2% in 1918.

The last general election in 2019 saw a voter turnout of 67.3%.