The British general election is based on the first-past-the-post system and the simple criteria for victory is that the party that wins an overall majority of seats in the Commons forms the next government. Britain’s last general election was on May 5th 2005.

Facts about general elections in Britain:

1 The election is traditionally held on a Thursday. But this is only a convention as the Prime Minister can call a general election for any day.
2 The last general election not held on a Thursday was held on Tuesday, October 27th, 1931.The December 1918 election was held on a Saturday. 
3 There will be 646 constituencies contested on May 5th 2005 – less than the 2001 election as Scotland’s Commons representation has been reduced because of devolution. England has 529 constituencies, Scotland 59, Wales 40 and Northern Ireland 18.
4 The total number of voters in Britain is 44 million.
5 The constituency with the largest electorate is the Isle of Wight with 108,000 voters.
6 The smallest constituency is the Western Isles with 21,800 voters.
7 It is possible to win the most seats but not to win an overall majority. However, this has only happened once in recent history – in February 1974 when Labour won 301 seats out of a possible 635.
8 A party can lose an election even if they win more overall votes. In 1951, Labour polled more votes but won fewer seats. The same happened to the Conservatives in February 1974. 
9 The best Conservative result in terms of seats won was under Margaret Thatcher with 397 seats won in 1983. The party’s worst result was in 1997 when they won 165 seats.
10 The best Labour result was in 1997 with 418 seats won. Its worst performance was in 1983 when the party won 209 seats. 
11 In the 2005 election, the Conservatives will be defending just one seat.
12 The highest voter turnout was in 1950 with a turnout of 83.9%. The lowest turnout was in 2001 with just 59.4% of people eligible to vote voting.
13 In 1918, women aged 30 or over were given the right to vote; in 1928 men and women aged 21 or over had the right to vote. In 1969, the voting age was reduced to 18.
14 The first women elected to the Commons was Countess Markievicz. She represented Sinn Fein and refused to take up her seat in the Commons. The first woman elected to the Commons who did take up her seat was Nancy Astor in 1919.
15 The average age for an MP in 2001 was 50 for Labour, 48 for the Conservatives and 47 for the Liberal Democrats.
16 The first ethnic minority MP was Mancherjee Bhowanggree who won in Bethnal Green for the Conservatives in 1895.
17 After the 2001 election, the most common previous occupation for an MP was being a teacher.

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