Elections take place in Britain for:

> local government (county, district and parish councils)

> devolved and regional assemblies (Scotland, Wales, London)

> national legislature and government (Parliament)

> European assembly (the European Parliament).

Who can vote?

Citizens of Britain, or citizens of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, who are over the age of 18 are entitled to vote.

Excluded are peers, those convicted of serious criminal offences or of electoral offences (for a period of five years) and persons of 'unsound mind'.

The electoral register is compiled in October of each year and comes into operation the following February, for twelve months.

The franchise

Before 1832, only 3% of the adult population were able to vote. The 'Great Reform Act' of that year only increased the proportion to 5%. A number of Acts during the 19th century increased the proportion of men with the vote.

It was not until 1918 that women were able to vote - and then only those over the age of 30. It was only in 1928 that women were allowed the vote on the same terms as men (i.e. at the age of 21).

Even then, some people had two votes, through the University seats and through the business vote. It was not until 1948 that the principle of 'one person, one vote' was fully implemented.

The most recent change in the franchise was in 1969 when the voting age was reduced to 18.


Representation in Britain is on a geographical basis, with an emphasis on the link between the elected representative and his/her constituents.

> The basic electoral unit is the ward - it is the unit for representation on local authorities, with two or three members per ward on district councils and one member per ward on county councils. A number of wards together make up a local authority area - in Middlesbrough, for example, there are 21 wards with 48 elected members. The average number of electors per ward is between 4,000 and 5,000.

> For parliamentary purposes, the electoral unit is the constituency. The average number of electors in parliamentary constituencies is 70,000, although this varies considerably in different parts of the country.

> Since 1999, European elections have taken place on a regional basis, with between 4 and 6 Euro-MPs being elected per region, by a form of proportional representation (a closed regional list system).

Electoral boundaries are drawn up by the Boundary Commission, which is a permanent body which recommends new boundaries or any alterations to the Home Secretary.

Frequency of elections

> Local government elections are held on a four yearly cycle, with elections always taking place on the first Thursday in May. Different groups of councils have elections on different cycles - locally, Middlesbrough council had its last election in 2003 and will have its next in 2007.

> Euro-elections are held on a five year cycle: the last election was in June 2004, the next will be in June 2009. Elections take place in all EU member states at the same time.

> Parliamentary elections must take place at least once every five years, but there is no specific cycle of dates. The choice of the date of the general election is at the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day (unless the government is defeated on a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, as happened in 1979, in which case it must call a general election immediately).

This power of the PM gives a major political advantage to the governing party as a date can be picked to give them an electoral benefit - e.g. after a 'give-away' budget or before a down turn in the economy.