Election explainer

The UK is a constitutional monarchy with an elected lower house called the House of Commons. The other two tiers of the UK state are the House of Lords and the Head of State (the Queen). The government is usually made up of the party (or coalition of parties) who obtain the most seats in a General Election. The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the party which gains the most seats.

In 2010, government terms were set at five years. This means there’s a General Election every five years in May. Every UK citizen over the age of 18, who’s registered to vote, can vote. Voting is not compulsory.

The UK has a first-past-the-post system. This means the UK is divided into constituencies (650 in total), people can vote for an MP to represent their constituency – the candidate with the most votes in that constituency wins.  A candidate may stand as an independent (only they are in their party) or for a party. The two largest parties in the UK are Labour (left of centre/ socialist) and the Conservative party (right of centre/ conservative). There are a number of other parties across the UK the largest of which are the Liberal Democrats (centre party/ liberal), UKIP (right leaning/ conservative) and the Greens (left leaning/ socialist). Nationalist parties (parties who usually only stand in one of the nations of the United Kingdom) are also popular. You have the Scottish Nationalist Party – otherwise known as the SNP – in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales. There are a number of parties which only stand in Northern Ireland these include; Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionist Party. The party with the most seats usually forms a government. They are usually the party with the most votes – but this is not necessarily the case.

In 2015 pollsters are predicting that no party will have an overall majority (more than half the total number of seats in the House of Commons). This means it is highly likely that a number of parties may get together and form a coalition. Who is likely to form a coalition with whom is unclear. While they are predicted to do poorly to in this election compared to 2010 many pundits believe the Liberal Democrats are likely to be part of any possible coalition.