How does the general election work?

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The 2015 General Election promises to be one of the most important, and closely-fought, contests in modern British political history. But how do we get from the votes cast at the ballot box, to the formation of a new government?

Britain is divided into 650 constituencies, with an average electorate of around 70,000 people per constituency. In each constituency, eligible voters vote and whichever candidate receives the most votes is elected to be the representative for that ‘seat’ in the House of Commons. The vast majority of candidates stand for a political party, such as the Conservatives or Labour.

After the election (on May 7th), each party will have a certain number of MPs; equivalent to the number of constituencies, or seats, they have won. If a party has 326 seats, or more, they will be invited to form a government, as they will hold a majority of the seats in the Commons. If no party has a majority, the largest party may choose to form a ‘minority government’, and attempt to rule without a parliamentary majority, or they may seek to form a coalition with other parties, in order to take them beyond the all-important threshold of 326 seats.

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