The UK Government calls a general election every 5 years, although the Prime Minister can choose to call one at any point within those 5 years if they wish. A voting day, always a Thursday, is set and all British citizens can register to vote. In order to vote in the UK, you must be at least 18 years old on polling day, be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen, be resident at an address in the UK or be a British citizen living abroad who has been registered as a UK resident in the last 15 years.
You can register to vote in-person, via the post or by proxy, meaning you can choose a named representative to vote for you. If you choose a postal vote, the voting card will be sent to you and must be returned by the set date. If voting in-person, you’ll receive a postal notification with the address of your local polling station. Polls tend to be open from 7am through to 10pm and each person casts their vote in the ballot boxes at their local polling station. In the UK, ID is not required to vote, you simply state your name and address and the registrar will provide you with your polling card. You will normally have around 5 representatives of the main political parties as well as some independent candidates on the card. You must place an “X” in the box of your preferred candidate.
Anyone in the country can stand as a candidate, provided you are over 18 years of age and are a UK resident and citizen. Certain people, including those currently in the police, with bankruptcy restrictions or working in the civil service are unable to stand. Anyone can easily stand as an independent candidate, however, to represent a major political party, you’ll need to go through a rigid process and only one candidate for each party can be put forward in each constituency. When you put your name forward, you’ll need 10 electors from your constituency and must pay a ￡500 deposit.
On election night, most news coverage goes through the night and many stay up to watch as the vote count comes in. At 10pm precisely, the big media agencies will release their exit poll. One of the most accurate, almost down to the exact number, is from Professor John Curtice, who releases his exit poll on the BBC.
Local votes from each ward are transported to a main hub in each constituency where paid volunteers (anyone can register for this) follow a rigid system to manually count the votes. The candidates tend to be present at this hub all night, watching over proceedings. The main hubs have cameras in them where locals can watch the counting process too. When the final result comes in, the local election councillor will announce the results and the winning candidate becomes the MP of the constituency.
One interesting race after polls have closed at 10pm is the first constituency to declare. Two northern areas, Newcastle and Sunderland, often battle it out to become the first places to declare new MPs.
Results are called throughout the night with the final ones being called, generally, on Friday afternoon. On occasion, if the vote is exceptionally close, a recount may be required, taking results into Saturday. However, the picture of the next leaders of the UK tends to be relatively clear by Friday morning.
The new Prime Minister is the leader of the largest political party by vote. The outgoing Prime Minister will make a speech outside 10 Downing Street then head to our Sovereign to be formally asked to disband their Government. The new Prime Minister is then asked to create a new Government by the Sovereign and also heads to 10 Downing Street in London for the first photo opportunity with the family as well as a short speech setting out their agenda for the next 5 years.
Throughout their first day in power, MPs come and go through the 10 Downing Street door and news leaks out to the general public about the new Secretaries of State, who take the title the Right Honourable (Rt Hon), and key ministers under the rule of the new Prime Minister. In the coming days, all new MPs must pledge their allegiance to the country and Sovereign with an oath and Parliament may start sitting and get to work governing the country.
The second largest party who wins a general election is called the opposition. Their leader will challenge the Prime Minister in the House of Commons and they also have a shadow cabinet, to take over the Government with similar Secretary of State positions in case the Government collapses.