Can Liberal Democrats win an election

Great Britain (House of Commons)

Electoral system

System of election of the House of Commons (House of Commons Parliament in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

  • Relative majority vote in 650 single-seat constituencies.
  • Each only one cross: Voters have each vote for one candidate in the constituency. Whoever receives the most votes in the constituency is elected.
  • The winner takes it all: The voices of the defeated "expire".

Constituencies / number of MPs

The electoral area is divided into 650 constituencies. In 2005 there were 646 constituencies, in 2001 there were 659. There are:

  • England 533 (up to 2005 there were 529)
  • Scotland 59 (up to 2001 there were 72)
  • Wales 40
  • Northern Ireland 18

The size of the constituencies in 2010 was between 21,837 (Na h-Eileanan an Iar / Western Isles) and 110,924 (Isle of Wight) eligible voters. The smallest constituency in England was Wirral West with 55,077 eligible voters. Arfon, Wales is the smallest non-island constituency. The 20 smallest are all in Wales and Scotland.

The constituencies are checked regularly (every 8 to 12 years) by four constituency commissions. Constituency Committee for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. In 2015 there were no changes in the constituency layout compared to 2010.

An actually decided reduction of the parliament to 600 seats combined with an equalization of the constituency sizes (Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011) failed in 2013.

Electoral term

The regular legislative period is five Years.
The practice that the Queen or the King can dissolve the House of Commons on the initiative of the government at a time chosen by the latter, became with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 replaced by the establishment of a fixed legislative period. The possibility of early elections remains unaffected.

Active and passive right to vote

Choose Who is allowed to at least on election day 18 Is of the age and is a citizen of the United Kingdom, a Commonwealth of Nations or the Republic of Ireland and lives in one of the constituencies. The following are excluded from the right to vote: Members of the House of Lords, convicted prisoners, who have been convicted of electoral offenses within the previous five years.

Selectable is who on election day at least 18 Is of the age and is a UK, Republic of Ireland or Commonwealth citizen with the right to vote. Ineligible are members of the House of Lords and those eligible to vote for the House of Lords, clergymen of the Church of England, some officials of the Crown, members of the military, business managers appointed by the government, judges, convicted prisoners. The exact rules are complex and therefore not conclusively presented here. Candidates in several constituencies are no longer possible.

Election day and election time

Elections in the UK take place on Thursdays. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides for the first Thursday in May as the regular election date. The UK has no reporting system. It is therefore necessary to register as a voter.

On election day, the polling stations are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time (8 a.m. to 11 p.m. CEST). There is the possibility of postal voting as well as the possibility of voting by a person of trust (proxy).

Disproportionality of the electoral system

The electoral system enables the majority to be reversed, which means that the party with the most votes in the country does not always win the most seats.

In the 1951 election the Conservatives had an absolute majority, although Labor received more votes.
In the 1974 election, Labor had more seats than the Conservatives, even though the Conservatives received more votes.

Unequal opportunities

The distribution of the strongholds and diaspora areas of the individual parties has a greater influence on their electoral success than the nationwide share of the vote.

  • Large parties are generally overrepresented compared to medium-sized and small parties.
  • Strong regional parties such as the SNP have a clear advantage over milieu parties with uniform support across the country (Green Party).
  • In the case of medium-sized parties such as the Liberal Democrats, pronounced regional strongholds can partially counteract their underrepresentation.
  • A party whose stronghold structure corresponds almost exactly to that of another larger party can be severely underrepresented (UKIP versus Conservative).
  • The extent of the weakness in diaspora areas is hardly significant for large parties. As a rule, this is of particular benefit to Labor.
  • Constituencies that are contested between more than two parties can be won with a relatively small percentage of votes. Examples are the constituencies of Cambridge or Norwich South.

Tactical voting

The electoral system forces most voters, if their vote is to be successful, to choose between the two most promising candidates in the constituency. As a result, the vote often does not go to the actually preferred party. For this reason, the total voting shares of all candidates in a party should not be converted into a hypothetical distribution of seats in a proportional representation. The example of the European elections in the United Kingdom shows that a proportional representation system leads to strongly divergent voting behavior.

Majority-building suffrage?

In the past, the electoral system meant that a relative majority of votes for the largest party in most cases led to an absolute majority in the lower house and coalitions were not necessary. The change in the longstanding bipolar system to a more diverse party landscape has made this effect less likely. This also shows that a majority electoral system in itself does not guarantee absolute mandate majorities.

Outgoing MPs

If MPs leave parliament, there are no automatic substitutes. Instead, a by-election will take place in the now vacant constituency. Through by-elections, the composition of parliament can change over the course of an electoral term, which in many cases works to the detriment of the respective government. The Major II government lost its absolute majority in 1996 as a result of by-elections and was dependent on the support of Northern Irish Unionists.

Reform discussions

The disproportionality of the electoral system has led to discussions and considerations about possible reforms several times in the recent past:

  • The then Prime Minister Tony Blair announced a referendum on the electoral system after his election in 1997, but this did not take place.
  • In 1997 and 1998 the Jenkins Commission conducted an extensive argumentative examination of a large number of electoral systems, which resulted in a detailed report.
  • According to the 2010 coalition agreement between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, on May 5, 2011 in Alternative vote referendum held a referendum on the introduction of an alternative vote. A clear majority of 68% of those who voted and a majority in all four parts of the country were in favor of maintaining the existing system.


  • Members of the royal family are also allowed to vote.
  • There are serial numbers on the ballot papers.


Links to information on the 2019 parliamentary elections

Links to polls and projections for the 2019 parliamentary election

Links to information on parliamentary elections

The information on the UK electoral system is taken from the sources indicated in the various links. We do not have the full relevant legal texts, which is also practically impossible due to the British legal system. All information is therefore without guarantee.