UK Politics

General election: What you need to know

The UK will have a general election on 8 June. Here's what you need to know.

Ask a question


Sorry, your browser cannot display this content.

What is a general election?

A general election is how the British public decide who they want to represent them in Parliament and, ultimately, run the country. Everyone who is eligible - and registered (see below) - gets to vote for one candidate to represent their local area, which is known in Parliament as a constituency.

The candidates standing for election aare usually drawn from political parties, but can also stand as independents. The person with the most votes in a constituency is elected as its MP, to represent that area in the House of Commons.

The leader of the political party with the most MPs after the election is expected to be asked by the Queen to become prime minister and form a government to run the country. The leader of the political party with the second highest number of MPs normally becomes leader of the opposition.

Once elected, MPs work both in your area - or their constituency - dealing with local matters, and in Parliament, where they vote and help shape law, alongside 649 other MPs.

Why is there going to be a general election on 8 June?

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called a general election on 8 June - three years earlier than scheduled.

Mrs May's official reason for holding an election was to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. She claimed Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems would try to destabilise and frustrate the process in Parliament. But Mrs May's Conservative Party has a big opinion poll lead over Labour so she will be hoping the election will see her getting a bigger majority in the House of Commons, tightening her grip on power.

As things stand, it does not take many Conservative MPs to decide they don't like something the government is doing to get it derailed. Mrs May is also tied to the promises made by the Conservatives at the 2015 election, when David Cameron was prime minister.

She has made a few changes - such as backing grammar schools and easing plans to reduce the deficit - but an election gives her the chance to set out her own vision for Britain.

Where do the parties stand in the opinion polls?

Find out the latest picture with the BBC's poll tracker. The latest polls have shown the Conservatives ahead, but that their longstanding lead over Labour has narrowed.

What manifestos have been published?

The Conservatives published their manifesto on 18 May with Theresa May promising a "mainstream government that will deliver for mainstream Britain".

Labour's manifesto was launched on 16 May - Jeremy Corbyn pledged to raise the income tax rate for earnings over £80,000 and £123,000.

The Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto on 17 May with leader Tim Farron promising a second EU referendum.

The SNP unveiled their manifesto on 30 May with a call for a Scottish referendum at the end of the Brexit process.

Plaid Cymru promised to give Wales a "strong voice" in Brexit when it launched its manifesto on 16 May.

UKIP launched its manifesto on 25 May with a pledge to tackle radical Islam.

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein published its manifesto on 22 May saying a "new era" was opening up in Irish politics and the SDLP published its pledges on 30 May. The DUP followed on 31 May, saying the union with the UK was "by far" the most important issue of the campaign. The Alliance Party's manifesto was published the same day and the UUP's manifesto came on 1 June.

You can read and compare all the parties' hand-on-heart pledges with our super simple manifesto guide.

Who is allowed to vote?

Basically, if you're aged 18 or over on election day, registered to vote and a British citizen you can vote. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the UK and citizens of qualifying Commonwealth states resident in the UK can also vote if they are over 18 and registered to vote.

What if I'm abroad?

British citizens living abroad can vote if they have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years, although the deadline to apply to register now passed, as has the postal vote application deadline.

People who will be temporarily abroad can vote by post (although it's too late to apply for a postal vote) or by proxy, which means getting someone else to vote for you.

How do I register to vote?

It's too late to register to vote in the general election on 8 June. You can register to vote in future elections online.

How do I vote by post?

It's now too late to apply for a postal vote. If you have already applied, post your completed ballot paper and voting statement back as soon as possible so they arrive in time. Alternatively, forms can be handed into your local polling station by 22:00 BST on polling day.

What about students who live away from home?

Students may be registered at both their home address, and at a university or college address. It all depends whether you spend an equal amount of time at each and, ultimately, the electoral registration officer will decide whether or not someone can register at both.

At the general election, it is an offence to vote more than once.

What if I've moved house?

Anyone who has moved since they last voted, must register at their new address - paying council tax does not mean you are registered to vote. If you did not re-register in time, you may be able to still vote at the address you originally registered at. If this is too far away, you can always arrange a proxy vote.

What if I'm on holiday?

You can vote either by post or by proxy - which is where you appoint someone else to register your vote on your behalf. To do that you can download the form here. Whoever you nominate must be eligible to vote in the election themselves.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionHow do I register to vote?

The deadline for applying to vote by proxy for 8 June was set as 5pm on Wednesday 31 May. Details of where to find your local registration office are on this site.

Why is this a 'surprise' or 'snap' election'?

Theresa May had said she wanted to wait until 2020 for the next scheduled election but changed her mind, in a move that took everyone by surprise.

Prime ministers used to be free to hold an election whenever they felt like it - but under the 2011 Fixed Term Parliaments Act, a general election is supposed to take place every five years on the first Thursday in May, which is why the next one was scheduled for May 2020.

But an election can be called ahead of schedule for two reasons - if there is a vote of "no confidence" in the current government, or if MPs vote for an early election by a two-thirds majority. Mrs May chose the second option, which was overwhelmingly backed by MPs, by 522 votes to 13.

You have to go back to 1966 and Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson for the last example of a government holding an election after a short time in power to increase its number of MPs.

In 1974, there were two elections eight months apart - but that was under different circumstances because no party won a majority in the Commons in the first one.

When will the general election after this one be held?

A 2017 general election means that the subsequent election is now due in 2022. That's because the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which decrees that elections take place every five years, is still in force.

But an election could be held at any time if two-thirds of MPs vote for it, as they did this time. A future government could also decide to scrap the Fixed Term Parliaments Act - the Conservative manifesto includes plans to do so.

What are the key dates?

Parliament broke up on 3 May to allow just over a month of full-pelt campaigning ahead of 8 June.

What about the local elections?

The general election didn't stop voting taking place in 34 local council areas in England, all 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 councils in Wales on 4 May.

The Conservatives gained control of 11 councils and Labour lost seven, with UKIP losing the 145 council seats it had been defending, and gaining just one.

In addition, six areas in England voted for newly-created "combined local authority mayors". The Conservatives won four mayoral races and Labour two. The Manchester Gorton by-election, caused by the death of Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, had been due to take place on 4 May but will now be held at the same time as the general election on 8 June.

What does the general election mean for Brexit?

Britain is still on course to officially leave the European Union on Friday 29 March 2019. Negotiations with other EU nations are not due to start until June, meaning the election will probably be over and a new government in place before any serious talking gets under way in Brussels.

The Conservative Party says this is a "one-off chance to hold an election while the European Union agrees its negotiating position". If Mrs May wins by a big margin in the UK, she will see it as a vote of confidence in her strategy for leaving the EU.

But if her slender House of Commons majority is cut further or she loses the election - with anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats getting many more MPs - then the UK's current Brexit strategy will be up for grabs.

There's a summary of where Britain's parties stand on Brexit, if you'd like to read it.

What is a poll tracker?

There are lots of opinion polls carried out in the run-up to a general election. Their methods vary but they usually survey the views of at least 1,000 people to find which political party is likely to get most votes.

They give each party a percentage rating based on how many people said they would vote for them.

A poll tracker amalgamates the results of several opinion polls to try to get as clear a picture as possible.

The BBC tracker, for example, takes the results of the latest seven opinion polls, on a rolling basis, and works out the median (middle) rating for each party.

When you hear someone talking about one party having a poll lead over another - they are talking about the gap between the percentage ratings of the parties in the latest poll or set of polls.

Aren't the polls always wrong?

The opinion polls were wrong about the 2015 general election and the industry has yet to fully fix the problems that caused those inaccuracies.

So they should be taken with a pinch of salt. But the gap between Labour and the Conservatives in the polls leading up to the 2015 election was between 0% and 6%, and in the end the Conservatives did better than polls suggested.

The Conservatives have a bigger lead than that now, although it has narrowed recently.

How would the current opinion polls translate into seats?

It's not a straightforward process to work it out. Many Labour MPs have "safe" seats - they got thousands more votes than their nearest rivals in 2015, meaning they could lose votes and still retain their place in the Commons.

The Conservatives have fewer "safe" seats than Labour. They pulled off their surprise 2015 general election victory by winning seats just where they needed them, such as in previously Liberal Democrat-held constituencies in the south-west of England.

The danger for Labour is that it piles up votes in seats it already holds - something that happened in 2015 - rather than in areas represented by rival parties. This makes it harder for it to suffer large-scale losses, but it also makes it relatively harder for it to make big gains.

Are there going to be any boundary changes in this election?

No. They were not due to be introduced until 2020. A public consultation is under way with final proposals set to be made in 2018.

Who is standing?

The main parties faced a race against time to get candidates in place and some streamlined their normal selection procedures, with more candidates chosen centrally.

Some 68 parties and 191 independent candidates contribute to a total of 3,304 people standing for Parliament this year - a decrease of 664 from 2015.

Are any MPs standing down?

Oh yes - it's proved a good chance for people to get out, or try to return to, frontline politics. Some of the big names stepping down include former Conservative chancellor George Osborne - who is now editing the London Evening Standard newspaper - and ex-party chairman Sir Eric Pickles.

Labour's Alan Johnson is retiring, and former health secretary Andy Burnham will not stand after becoming Mayor of Greater Manchester. Some former MPs are aiming to get back, though - including former Lib Dem ministers Sir Vince Cable and Ed Davey.

And others are throwing their hat into the ring for the first time, including blogger Jack Monroe - who is campaigning over the NHS - while UKIP's Paul Nuttall is among his party's best known hopefuls.

How do the parties currently stand?

The Conservatives have 330 seats, Labour 229, the SNP 54, the Lib Dems nine and Plaid Cymru three. The Green Party has one MP.

UKIP have no MPs after their sole representative left the party and became an independent.

For Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party have eight MPs; Sinn Fein, who don't take up their seats, four; the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) three; and the Ulster Unionist Party two. Five MPs sit as independents.

More on this story