Redbrick’s Guide to the General Election
Make sure you’re ready to vote this May with your student newspaper’s guide to registering to vote, how to find out who to vote for, and placing your ballot on the day
How do I register? You can no longer register.Some of you may have already received polling cards through the door but, if you haven’t, that only means you haven’t yet registered to vote, not that you’re not eligible.
As a student, you can register to vote both at home and at your term-time address. Your term-time seats are likely to be either Edgbaston or Selly Oak, you can find out which at TheyWorkForYou, which also gives a voting breakdown of your previous MP. Both of these seats were represented by Labour in the last Parliament.
You can register to vote in both, but you should only vote in one of your two seats for the General Election (to vote in both is a crime). However, if there is another election going on at the same time, such as a council election, you can vote for that too, and if there’s a council election in both seats, you can vote in both. Let’s make that clear:
- Vote in the General Election at your term-time address, and a council election at home
- Vote in both the General Election and the council election at your home address
- Vote in the General Election at your term-time address, and vote in both the Birmingham City Council elections and your home council election
- Vote in the General Election at your home address, and vote in both the Birmingham City Council elections and your home council election
If you want to vote at home, but know you’re going to be in Birmingham on the day, you can apply for a postal vote. This usually has to be completed by submitting a form by post – check with your local council to be sure.
Who do I vote for?
Once you’ve registered to vote, you need to decide who to vote for. If you’ve got a party in mind already, that’s great – you just need to wait for polling day, but why not let us know in our poll, open every week from Monday-Friday. If not, take a look at their policies. Even better, look at the policies without the party name attached to them, and find out who you agree with most. You can choose the topics you most care about to make your choice more personal.
What do I do on the polling day?
Voting is really simple. Your polling card will tell you where to place your ballot, and then you just go in on the day, give them your name and address, and then mark a cross next to your preferred candidate. As long as it’s clear which party you want to vote for, your ballot will be accepted.
If you’ve chosen a postal vote to vote at home, you will receive this before polling day and it will give you information on when it needs to be submitted by.
You should not put a cross in more than one box, or write or draw anything on the ballot paper, unless you want to spoil your ballot. Spoiling your ballot will result in your vote not being counted; some people do this if they do not want to vote for a candidate, or want to protest against the voting system.
What happens after?
Your MP is decided using the First-Past-The-Post voting system. This simply means that whoever gets the most votes in your seat becomes MP. That means a candidate can win the election with just 25% of the vote in some cases. All of these MPs then sit in Parliament; there are 650 in total, representing everyone in the UK.
When all the votes are counted, the party with the most seats usually forms the Government. It’s easy if they have over half the seats in Parliament (326), but if they fall short of that number – like happened in 2010 and is predicted to happen this year – there are various options available to them:
- They can form a minority government, where they try and run the country using just the number of MPs they have. These governments are usually unlikely to get their bills passed in Parliament. This last happened in 1974 and Parliament was dissolved to hold a new election after six months.
- They can form a coalition government, where they negotiate with other parties to form a Government made of many parties. This happened in 2010, where the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats teamed up to form a majority Government. This coalition has survived the past five years.
- They can form a government based on a confidence and supply arrangement with another party. This is like a minority government with an informal agreement with other parties where they will vote together on certain issues to make sure bills are passed. This is currently the proposal for a Labour and SNP government. However, this means that the government may get defeated in Parliament if it does not get the votes from the smaller party
Once an agreement is reached, the leader of the party who wants to form a government requests permission from the Queen (for formality and tradition only), who then appoints the leader of that party the Prime Minister and requests that they form a Government.
After that, the Government will set an agenda and Parliament will begin.