Everything you need to know about the General Election: How to vote, how to register and how to find your MP

23 May 2024, 13:57 | Updated: 23 May 2024, 14:15

Everything you need to know ahead of the General Election
Everything you need to know ahead of the General Election. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Rishi Sunak has announced voters will be able to have their say on who runs the country - here's everything you need to know.

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When is the General Election?

The General Election is taking part on July 4 this year, after Rishi Sunak called it on Wednesday, May 23.

It's been about four and a half years since the last General Election, which took place on December 12, 2019.

Read more: Rishi Sunak's flagship smoking ban 'to be ditched' despite PM pledging that next generation will 'grow up smoke-free'

Read more: Rishi Sunak admits no Rwanda flights will take off before General Election

People pass a polling station in London
People pass a polling station in London. Picture: Getty

Which parties are taking part?

The last election was won by the Conservatives, who have been in power - either alone or as part of a coalition - since 2010.

But they are being challenged this time by a resurgent Labour Party, who, under Sir Keir Starmer are considerably ahead of the Conservatives in the polls.

So there is a good chance the UK could have a new governing party for the first time in just over 14 years.

Other parties contesting the election include the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, and Reform UK.

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Immigration

Immigration will be a key battleground for the election, with both the Conservatives and Labour acknowledging that migration should come down.

The Tories have pledged to "stop the boats" - prevent migrants from making the dangerous crossing of the English Channel - although crossings in the first half of this year have increased compared to the same period last year.

Mr Sunak admitted in an interview with LBC's Nick Ferrari on Thursday that the first flights taking illegal migrants to Rwanda would not set off before the election.

Sir Keir has said he would axe the Rwanda plan immediately, and boost the Border Force and work with EU countries to tackle illegal migration.

Labour have said they want lower inflows, but have not committed to a specific number.

There will be no flights to Rwanda until after the election, Sunak admits

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, meet NHS staff
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, meet NHS staff. Picture: Alamy

How many MPs do the parties currently have?

The Conservatives have 344 seats out of 650 in the House of Commons. Labour have 205.

The SNP have 43 seats, the Liberal Democrats have 15, and the Greens, Reform UK and the Worker's Party of Britain have one each.

Representing Northern Ireland, there are seven Sinn Fein MPs, seven for the Democratic Unionist Party, two for the SDLP and one for Alliance. In Wales, Plaid Cymru has three MPs.

Some 17 MPs sit as independents.

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament. Picture: Alamy

Who can vote?

To vote in a General Election you must:

  • Be an adult who is registered to vote
  • Be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • Lives in the UK or registered abroad as an overseas voter

You are qualifying Commonwealth citizen if you do not need permission to enter or remain in the UK, or if you do need permission to enter or remain, you have been given it.

A woman walks into a polling station
A woman walks into a polling station. Picture: Getty

Do I vote for the Prime Minister?

No, you vote for your local MP, who will represent your constituency.

Whichever party gets the most MPs generally gets to form the next government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister.

How do I find my MP?

You can find your MP by entering your address or postcode here.

Do I need to register to vote, and how do I register?

Everyone needs to register to vote, but you may already be registered.

If you're not already registered, you can do so here by entering your address, nationality and date of birth. It takes about five minutes.

The deadline to register to vote is usually about 12 working days before the day of the election.

Can I use a postal vote?

You must apply for a postal vote if you want to vote by post, for example if:

  • you’re away from home
  • you’re abroad and want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales

You can apply for a postal vote for one of the following:

  • a single election on a specific date
  • a specific period if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales
  • up to 3 years
Voters queuing at a polling station
Voters queuing at a polling station. Picture: Alamy

How do I vote, and do I need to bring ID?

Find your polling station by entering your postcode on the Electoral Commission website.

Polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm on July 4.

Bring photo ID when you go, as you will need it to vote.

Common types of photo ID accepted are: a UK, Northern Ireland, or EU photocard driving licence (full or provisional), or a UK or EU passport, but a full list can be found here.

When you get to the polling station, you should check in with staff at the polling station, who will hand you a voting card and show you to a booth.

Put an X next to one of the candidates and put your card in the box.

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari is joined by Labour National Campaign Coordinator Pat McFadden | 23/05/24

Who should I vote for?

That depends on your political views.

Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have yet published their manifestos, which will set out in detail their respective pitches to the electorate.

But from previous words and actions, we know that Labour and the Conservatives have different plans for key issues like the economy, immigration, and the NHS, although there is common ground between them too.

Economy and tax

The Tories have said that they want to cut taxes, following up on recent National Insurance cuts. The UK's tax burden has been the highest on record under this government.

They have also accused Labour of wanting to raise taxes, and claimed they have a £38 billion unfunded gap in their spending plans.

Labour's Sir Keir has said he wants to keep taxes low, although he has not committed to any tax cuts. The party has promised not to raise corporation tax over the next Parliament. Labour also want to bring in VAT on private school fees to pay for more state school teachers.

NHS

Labour have said they will cut NHS waiting lists by 40,000 a week within their first year of taking office. They said they would do this by getting health staff working more weekends and evenings, to be paid for by cracking down on tax avoiders.

The Conservatives under Mr Sunak have pledged to cut waiting lists - but they have grown under his leadership. He blamed this on NHS strikes.

"A priority of mine is to cut waiting lists and we haven't made as much progress as I would have liked, I have to be honest about that," he said on Thursday.

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