10:14 07 May 2010
Britain is facing the first hung parliament in decades.
The Conservatives have won the most seats in but fallen short of a majority, leading to the first hung parliament since 1974.
With all the different terms and confusing possibilities, here we have a handy guide to all your frequently asked questions surrounding the results of the UK general election.
How do you win an election?
The simple answer is by winning more seats in the House of Commons than all the other parties put together. In total there are 650 seats up for grabs, which means 326 seats are needed to win an overall majority.
What is a majority?
The big thing that matters in the end is which party wins enough seats in the House of Commons to form a government. To do that simply one party needs to get one more seat than all the others added together.
That is called an overall majority, but in the shorthand language of elections it is just called "a majority". In the 2010 elections there are 650 seats, so to get one more than everyone else put together a party must get 326 or more to get a "majority".
Of course it makes things much easier for a government if they have many more MPs than all the others put together. That number is called the "size of the majority". So, if one party were to win 326 seats, then all the other parties added together would be 324. The majority is therefore 326 minus 324: which is two. So the smallest majority possible is not one seat but two.
Another quick way of working this out is to take away 325 from the number of seats that winning party has got and double the result.
For example: If the winning party has 350 seats what is the majority?
So the majority is 50.
The difference between the winning party and everybody else will always be an even number, not an odd number.
What is a 'hung parliament'?
A hung parliament happens when no single party wins a majority over all the others.
A party can stay in power without an absolute majority by trying to forge an alliance with a smaller party to create a coalition government, or they could reach agreements with smaller parties that they will support the government if there is a vote in parliament aimed at bringing down the government and forcing an election.
Another possibility is for the biggest party to form a minority government with no agreements with other parties and just try to form majorities in favour of each individual bill as it comes up.
If no party is prepared to go down one of these paths then parliament will be dissolved again and there will be another election.
The last time a hung Parliament happened in the UK was in February 1974. Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson led a minority government, after taking just four more seats than his Conservative rival Edward Heath.
What is a constituency?
Also called a "seat", in a general election, this is where the political battles are fought. Voters in each constituency choose just one MP. The constituencies are towns or areas all of roughly the same size.
What has changed since the last election?
In the 2005 general election there were 646 constituencies in the Commons, this time there are 650. This is because there have been changes to 512 constituency boundaries across the country (although none in Scotland) and four new ones created. This is a regular exercise aimed at taking into account population movements and ensuring every seat has roughly the same number of voters.
These changes make it difficult to compare the last election result with this one. To overcome this problem, independent polling experts have created a list of how these changed constituencies would have voted if the last general election had been fought using these new boundaries. These results are called "notional" results.
What is meant when a party wins, gains or holds a seat?
What matters most is how many "seats" each party wins, and for things to change political parties need to win seats from each other. Because winning seats from each other is so important, a special language is used to show this. Seats that are won can mainly fall into two categories: "hold" or "gain".
Hold: If a party that wins a seat that it won in 2005, this is described as a "hold".
Gain: If a party wins a seat that it did NOT win at the last general election, this is called a "gain". Clearly these are really important to the opposition parties. If they are to form a new government, they need to win seats from the government and their opponents make "gains" and keep or "hold" all the seats they had last time.
What does short by mean?
It is, of course, possible for no party to win an overall majority. If this happens then expect to hear the term "short by". It is election short hand for the term "short of an overall majority by...". Since the lowest number needed to get a majority is 326 then to work out how many any party is "short by" just take away the number they do have from 326.
For example: If a party were to win 310 seats how many would they be short by?
326-310 = 16
So they are "short by" 16.
Is one seat missing?
Due to the death of UKIP candidate John Boakes in Thirsk and Malton, no election will take place there on May 6. Instead voters there will cast their ballots on May 27.
This means that the election result will be made up of a total of 649 seats, not 650.
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