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Q&A: 2010 General Election

Category: Politics

Published: 6th Apr 2010 11:00:16

Here are the basic facts you need to know about this year's general election.

Why does there have to be an election?

Elections must be held at least every five years in Britain - but it is up to the prime minister to choose a date. The last possible date Gordon Brown could have gone for was 3 June 2010.

How does it work?

More than 45 million people aged 18 or above get the chance to vote for a new Member of Parliament. The party with more MPs than all of the others put together will form a new government. If no party manages to get enough MPs to win outright, there is what's called a "hung Parliament". The leader of the party with the most MPs will normally become prime minister, but it is possible that two other parties could decide to work together in a coalition if they can rely on more than half the votes of MPs.

What is at stake at this election?

This general election is expected to be the most closely fought since 1992, with Conservative leader David Cameron bidding to end 13 years of Labour Party rule and Gordon Brown attempting to gain the backing of the British public to carry on as prime minister. If, as some opinion polls suggest, neither gets enough MPs to form a majority government, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists could have key roles in the choice of the next government.

What will be different this time compared with 2005?

This election will be fought on new constituency boundaries everywhere except Scotland, where new boundaries came into effect in the 2005 election. In all, some 478 of 533 constituencies in England, and 22 of 40 constituencies in Wales, and all the 18 seats in Northern Ireland have had their 2005 boundaries changed. The new House of Commons will comprise 650 seats rather than the 646 contested in 2005. A party requires 326 seats to secure an overall majority.

What about the campaign itself?

The biggest change will be the first ever televised prime ministerial debates. Conservative leader David Cameron, Labour's Gordon Brown and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, are set to battle it out in three 90 minute programmes on ITV, Sky and the BBC on successive Thursdays in the final three weeks before polling day.

Any election night changes?

The traditional drama of election night had been under threat after many returning officers, the local council officials in charge of counting, said they would not start until the following morning but it seems that the vast majority will still be declaring as usual overnight.

What happens to Parliamentary business?

All outstanding legislation from the time that Parliament is dissolved (expected to be Monday 12 April) falls. The next government may choose to reintroduce the legislation after the election, or not.

How do I vote?

On election day - Thursday 6 May - go to your local polling station, which will normally be in a local school, church or leisure centre. Polling station opening hours are 7am - 10pm. Tell the staff your name and address so they can check that you are on the electoral register. You can show them your poll card, but you do not need it to vote. Once you have been given your ballot paper listing all the candidates, go into the polling booth and place a cross against your choice. When you have marked your vote, fold the ballot paper in half and put it in the ballot box.

Am I entitled to vote?

You must be over 18 and a UK, Republic of Ireland or Commonwealth citizen who has leave to enter or remain in the UK, or does not require such leave. Citizens of EU countries living in the UK, citizens of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or a British Overseas Territory living in the UK are also eligible.

How do I register?

During August or September you should have received an annual canvass of electors form. If you still need to register you can find out how to on the About My Vote website along with a lot of other useful information on voting and the general election. The last day you can apply to register to vote is Tuesday, 20 April.

Can't I vote by post?

Yes. The deadline to apply for a postal vote is 20 April. The deadline for getting a proxy vote (someone voting on your behalf because you are ill, out of the country or unable to reach the polling station for some other reason) is Tuesday, 27 April.

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BBC News, 2010. Q&A: 2010 General Election [Online] (Updated 6th Apr 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/49745/Q-A-2010-General-Election [Accessed 30th Aug 2014]

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