In celebration of National Voters Registration Day, [Smiths] Politics editor Shaun Balderson discusses how the General Election actually works in the second instalment of Elections for Dummies.
It is your fundamental human right to vote. Despite this, conditions have been set. The first condition is being 18-years-old, the second is that you must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, The Republic of Ireland or the commonwealth and the third requires that you’re a member of a constituency, which you will be, and on the electoral register, which I hope you are. If you happen not to be on the electoral register here is a handy link. All you need to register is very basic information about your name, address and National Insurance Number. It takes five minutes, no excuses.
If, however, you are serving a sentence in prison, the UK takes away your right to vote. But hey, if you’ve managed to live past 18 and avoid the long arm of the law well done you.
The next step is understanding who your voting for and how to do it. In the general election you vote for one candidate, of the many that will be running, to become your local Member of Parliament (MP). The job of an MP varies, however, broadly speaking an MP is meant to represent the views of their constituents in parliament and out of parliament in other political spheres.
The candidates can stand for a political party or independently. The party’s have quite broad bases with candidates on various extremes of the political spectrum. It’s important when voting for a candidate not just to know their party’s policies, but actually the candidate themselves. A recent example could concern LGBT rights, one might be a supporter of the conservatives but find there local conservative candidate views on the issue so abhorrent that they wish not to vote for them. Or one might be left of the political spectrum, support the vast majority of labour policies, yet, find there local labour candidate an outspoken heavily right leaning arsehole. (Cough)Simon Danczuk.
The election is on 7th May – put it in your diary! You can vote either by postal ballot or on the day by attending your assigned local polling station. If you don’t know your assigned polling station, don’t worry, it be sent to you on a little postcard near the time of voting. It’s a simple procedure: go in, give your name, you’ll be allocated a little booth, and all you have to do is mark as shown, whichever box indicates your preferred candidate and place the slip into the box. (There is no name or catalogue number on the slip, its all anonymous, its just to check you registered).
For your constituency, whoever gets the most votes wins and is elected: it’s as simple as that. The winner doesn’t need an absolute majority of all votes, just one more vote than their competitors. This is known as ‘First Past The Post’ which is a simple plurality electoral system. The rest of the votes are recorded and published purely for statistical reasons. Even if your candidate didn’t win, the statistics do matter and a vote is never truly wasted. At the next election, candidates will align themselves more towards these votes in order either to secure the next win or to gain back the disaffected voters that cost them and their party the constituency seat.
There are many different variations in voting systems for different elections and some are designed to be more representative of the whole population by using all of the votes for all of the candidates, rather than just the winner. Others operate on a preferential basis where you can number the candidates from who you like the most, to the least. All the different methods have unquestionable advantages and disadvantages over each other, and trade offs occur in picking any system.
Once the votes have been counted and MPs selected, the winning MPs are able to attend parliament to vote on policies and raise issues on behalf of their constituency. The Queen invites the party that has won the most seats to set up government, the cabinet and so forth. Due to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 set up by David Cameron, the dominant party will remain in government for five years and the general election occurs in May of the last year of their term. That means the winning party of this general election will be in power until at least 2020, so choose wisely! Within this time, unless your MP does something very naughty, dies or decides to step down, they will be reading endless reports and representing their constituencies in parliament.