UK election ballot
An envelope containing a Postal Vote for the upcoming UK General Election is posted in Birkenhead, north west England. Image Credit: AFP

British voters go to the polls on July 4 in a general election to choose members of the House of Commons.

This time the high cost of living, failing public services and rising immigration are some of the main issues.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that a win for Keir Starmer’s opposition party in line with opinion polls would mean the incoming government would have a “blank cheque” to do what it likes.

Starmer, a former human rights lawyer and chief public prosecutor, has said what was needed was to “return politics to service and continue to make that argument that politics is a force for good”.

Here’s a guide to the general elections and some of the main issues the polls are being fought around.

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How many seats are there in the lower house of Parliament?

There are 650 members of parliament (MPs) in the lower chamber of parliament, each representing a constituency or seat.

A total of 543 seats are in England and 57 in Scotland, with 32 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.

There are 4,515 candidates this year - a record.

This is primarily because of the hard-right Reform UK’s decision to end its 2019 promise not to stand against the Conservatives, and more Green party hopefuls.

In all, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tories are fielding candidates in 635 seats, with 631 for both Keir Starmer’s Labour and the Liberal Democrats, led by Ed Davey.

Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, has 609 with 629 for Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay’s Greens. The remainder are running for smaller parties or as independents.

How are MPs elected?

Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm. Electors vote once for a candidate in their constituency, marking a cross on a ballot paper.

Voters have to be registered, over 18, and either a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen, resident in the UK or registered as an overseas voter.

Prisoners and members of the unelected upper chamber of parliament the House of Lords cannot vote.

Ballots are counted immediately after polling ends, with the results declared from late evening into July 5.

The UK general election uses the first-past-the-post system, which means the candidate and party with the most votes wins.

How is the government formed?

For an overall majority, a party has to secure at least 326 seats.

But in reality the figure is lower, as the Speaker - an MP who is by convention elected unopposed in his or her constituency - and their three deputies - also MPs - do not vote in parliament.

MPs from the pro-Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party do not take up their seats in the UK parliament because they do not recognise British sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

As head of state, the monarch - currently King Charles III - nominates the leader of the biggest party in parliament as prime minister.

The next biggest party becomes His Majesty’s Official Opposition, with a Shadow Cabinet of MPs as counterparts to government ministers.

The leader of the opposition goes head-to-head with the prime minister in parliament every week when parliament is sitting.

What happens if no party wins a majority?

There is a hung parliament if no party has an overall majority. The biggest party may decide to form a minority government, requiring the support of other parties to pass legislation.

Alternatively, it can negotiate with one or more smaller parties to govern as a formal coalition, as happened in 2010 when the Conservatives ruled with the Liberal Democrats.

What functions do MPs perform in parliament?

MPs scrutinise and vote on proposals from the government, and can sit on parliamentary committees to study the work of the executive as a whole or specific issues.

Not all policy and proposed legislation is a matter for the UK parliament in Westminster. Areas such as health, transport, environment and housing are devolved to lawmakers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who won the last general election?

At the last general election, held on December 12, 2019, Boris Johnson’s Conservatives were runaway winners with 365 seats, with Labour on 202.

The Scottish National Party won 48, followed by the Liberal Democrats on 11.

Northern Ireland’s pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party secured eight seats, with Sinn Fein on seven, and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru on four.

What are the election issues this time?

Cost of living and economy

Recent Ipsos polls reveal that most Britons feel economically worse off than during the 2019 election. Living standards have declined due to high inflation, partly driven by the Ukraine war’s impact on energy prices. While wages are rising faster than prices, economic growth is stunted by weak investment, slow productivity, and a worker shortage. The government can’t boost spending due to weak growth and high public debt, exacerbated by high-interest rates needed to service COVID-19 and 2022 energy price spike debts.

Struggling health service

The National Health Service (NHS) symbolises many voters’ frustrations. It faces severe staff shortages, strikes, and the demands of an ageing population, all while recovering from COVID-19 backlogs. Many Britons wait weeks for non-urgent care, and over 7 million are on hospital treatment waiting lists. NHS dental care is also in crisis, with an estimated 12 million Britons unable to access needed services.


Immigration remains a key political issue, with 37% of voters in a February Ipsos poll citing it as crucial in their voting decisions. The 2016 Brexit vote was partly driven by immigration concerns, which now fuel the government’s efforts to deter asylum seekers by sending them to Rwanda.


Younger voters struggle to afford homes, with far fewer owning houses than two decades ago. Between 1997 and 2023, average earnings doubled while house prices increased 4.5 times. Rents are also rising, and high inflation has pushed up mortgage rates. The UK needs an estimated 300,000 new homes annually to address under-supply and curb price hikes.

Sense of decline

Many Britons feel the country is in decline. A YouGov poll showed that three-quarters believe the UK is worse off than in 2010, when the Conservative Party took power. The NHS is overstretched, prisons overcrowded, schools crumbling, railways plagued by delays, and the British army deemed ill-prepared for conflict.


Polls indicate that the public supports Britain’s legally binding 2050 net zero target, but many oppose policies they perceive as unfairly distributing the costs. Meanwhile, younger and more progressive voters believe Britain is not implementing radical enough measures to meet its climate goals.

- with inputs from agencies