For parliamentary elections, the system used is referred to as “First past the post”. Within the House of Commons there are 650 elected Members of Parliament (MP’s) that each represent a constituency. A constituency represents an average number of people eligible to vote, and therefore can vary in geographical size.
According to the Office for National Statistics, England has a median number of voters within a constituency of 72,400 voters, Scotland has 69,000, 66,800 in Northern Ireland and 56,800 in Wales.
Each constituency votes for one MP, and these elected representatives take up a seat in the House of Commons.
In the voting process, each person who is listed on the Electoral Roll is eligible to place a cross next to the person listed on a ballot paper that they wish to elect as their MP. These ballot papers are then transported to a counting station, usually located in the main town of the constituency.
As there are 650 constituencies, the political party that reaches 326 elected members, can then form a Government. For example, in the 2015 General Election, the Conservative party won 330 seats, and by virtue of having a greater number than the sum of the other parties, could then form a Government without outside assistance from another political party. If there is no overall control of the House of Commons, the largest party can seek assistance from another Political party, as happened in the 2010 General Election, when the Conservative Party only gained 306. This was resolved when the Liberal Democrats, who had won 57 seats, agreed to work in a coalition Government.
Parliamentary Elections, either as part of a General Election, or a By-Election, which occurs when the incumbent MP has ceased to be an MP for whatever reason, take place on a Thursday.
I have always been aware that election of MP’s took place on a Thursday, but I was unsure as to the reason why this is the case, and as part of my reflection, I felt that I needed to fully understand why.
Reading books and papers, and research online, there seems to be a variety of reasons put forward for why Thursday is the day of choice for Parliamentary elections.
Until I commenced my research, I was unaware that the choice of Thursday is a relatively new occurence. Prior to World War 1, Elections were held over a period of up to a month, until the first “one day” election was held on 14 December 1918, one month after the Armistice was signed to signal the end of the Great War.
That first “one day” election was actually held on a Saturday, and the following 5 General Elections were held Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. From 1935 until the present day, every General Election has been held on a Thursday.
There are various stories as to why Thursday was eventually selected as the polling day. One reason I found is that with Thursday being the day before Friday, which was traditionally pay day for workers, that workers would be more likely to be “in drink” if the polls were held on a Friday. Sunday was mooted to be a polling day, but potential voters may have decided not to vote, because they would be in church.
One of the more likely scenarios put forward, is that Thursday was, and in some areas, is a traditional day for a market, and that there would be lots of people who would do their shopping within a town. As people would be away from their homes, they would feel more obliged to vote in an election while they were out and about.
The date of a General Election is now fixed following the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which decreed that there is a fixed term of office for a Government of 5 years. As part of that act, the date of the General Election, bar any votes of no confidence in the Government, will be on a date on or before the 7th May 2020.