How do UK Elections work?
April 5, 2005 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Now that Blair has called a general election, does anyone have recommendations for sites, books or other sources with good basic explanations of how the UK electoral process works? I've seen all of House of Cards and that one episode of Blackadder III, but there must be more to it than that...
posted by PinkStainlessTail to Law & Government (14 answers total)
 
Oh CRAP- if you haven't seen House of Cards and want to please don't click that link. I didn't realize just how loaded with spoilers it is!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:48 AM on April 5, 2005


It's quite simple: the UK and Northern Ireland are divided into approximately 650 districts. Each district elects a single MP on a "First Past the Post" basis (i.e., you just need one more vote than the next guy, not an absolute majority). The leader of the party with the most MPs-elect is automatically appointed Prime Minister by the Queen, and appoints the balance of the cabinet from among other MPs and members of the House of Lords.

If the party with the most seats has a majority of seats, as has happens in most elections, the Prime Minister basically has carte blanche to run the country for the next five years (but customarily will call an election after only four years).

If it happens that the party with the most seats doesn't have a majority of seats, its leader is still appointed Prime Minister but is at risk of losing office (and being forced to call another election) if he can't attract the support of enough members of other parties to pass important legislation, or to survive a vote of "no confidence."

There are two major parties in England (Conservative and Labour) and a semi-major party (Liberal Democrat, which is to the right of Labour on some issues and to the left of Labour, or at least Tony Blair, on other issues). In Wales and Scotland, these three parties are joined by a local nationalist party (Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, respetively) which are quite left on economic issues as well as supportive of local autonomy and cultural preservation. In Northern Ireland, the British parties don't contend -- there you have a mainstream Catholic party (generally aligned with Labour), a mainstream Protestant party (generally aligned with the Conservatives), an extremist Catholic party (Sinn Fein, which isn't aligned because its MPs refuse to take the oath to the Queen required actually to take their seats) and an extremist Protestant party (which also aligns with the Conservatives).

In addition to these parties, there are several other minor parties which attract a significant number of votes, but which aren't anticipated to win any seats. (The UK Indpendence Party on the right and the Greens on the left are the most significant). However, these parties definitely can play the role of spoiler in a close race.
posted by MattD at 9:03 AM on April 5, 2005


It's even simpler:

You vote for your local MP, which is broadly equivalent to a Representative in the US. Repeat.

The leader of whichever party has a majority in the Commons becomes Prime Minister. Occasionally there will be no majority party and more complicated stuff happens.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2005


Argh. Deleted too much.

It's even simpler:

You vote for your local MP, which is broadly equivalent to a Representative in the US. Whoever gets the most votes wins that seat. Repeat.

The leader of whichever party has a majority in the Commons becomes Prime Minister. Occasionally there will be no majority party and more complicated stuff happens.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2005


There's an orgy of information at the Electoral Commission's website. A good place to start is the FAQ

See also Parliament's FAQs about the election.

For information overload Politios Guide to the General Election is required reading. Lots of other good books at their website.
posted by dmt at 9:26 AM on April 5, 2005


MattD pretty much on target there. There are 659 MPs in all currently. They break down as follows.

Labour 408
Conservative 162
Liberal Democrat 55
Scottish National Party/Plaid Cymru 9
(SNP 5/PC 4)
Democratic Unionist 7
Ulster Unionist 5
Sinn Fein 4
(Have not taken their seats)
Social Democratic & Labour 3
Independent 1
Respect 1

Speaker & 3 Deputies 4
(Do not normally vote)

Total 659

Government majority 161

The leader of the opposition has suggested the number will be reduced should he be elected.

Some more information on what might happen in a hung Parliament here.
posted by biffa at 9:28 AM on April 5, 2005


The leader of the party with the most MPs-elect is automatically appointed Prime Minister by the Queen

One question - who determines the "leader of the party" -- do the MPs vote?
posted by anastasiav at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2005


Each party chooses its leader in internal elections, so the general public don't get to choose. This is why some Labour MPs want Blair to resign - they are worried they are losing support from Labour voters who don't like Blair.
posted by Orange Goblin at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2005


The leadership election process is entirely up to the party. The Labour Party uses a complex system involving trade unions, MPs and local parties, whereas the Conservatives ask the MPs and then the party members.

(this means the parties have a candidate for PM even between elections, unlike in America, since they choose a new one as soon as the old one resigns)
posted by cillit bang at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2005


An excellent easily understood, well written discription the British Parliamentary system and its unwritten constitution.
via daily kos
posted by adamvasco at 10:52 AM on April 5, 2005


You might be interested in Channel 4's FactCheck, whilst not not exactly on 'how elections work' per se, it's more 'how politicians work during election time'
posted by TheDonF at 11:28 AM on April 5, 2005


Does the Scottish representation going from 72 to 59 mean Labor basically loses approx 10 of their majority right away ?
posted by stuartmm at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2005


stuartmm:

Not necessarily. The fact that 13 seats are disappearing, and the redistricting going on, means that Labour will probably try and minimise their losses as much as they can. (There's a neat summation from the BBC here.) That said, yes, they'll probably lose some of their majority. Thing is, even if that happens, they're going to benefit from the fact that 5 or 6 seats which they don't hold already will disappear, which would cut their losses to maybe 5 or 6 seats. Scotland is traditionally Labour territory, and I'd wager that quite a few people (regardless of how they feel betrayed over the questions involved in the Iraq war) will reflexively vote for them just to make sure that the Tories don't get in, given that Scotland has, in the past, been used as a test bed for unpopular Tory policies such as the Poll Tax (Scroll down for Thatcher's version.)
posted by Len at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2005


All this said, to really know what goes on you want to see Yes, Prime Minister....
posted by kiwi.es at 1:01 AM on April 6, 2005


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