45° Good Evening
45° Good Evening

10 things you probably don't know about British politics

British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives emerged triumphant in the May 7, 2015, general election in the United Kingdom. Here are some factoids you probably don't know about British politics, from the voting system to the rivalry between the Miliband brothers to what Queen Elizabeth II needed to do after the vote.

1. Britons don’t vote for a prime minister

Instead, people across the United Kingdom vote for
Photo Credit: AP

Instead, people across the United Kingdom vote for a member of Parliament (MP) from their area (or "constituency") to a seat in the House of Commons. The candidate with the most votes is elected that constituencys MP. If one party wins a majority of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, its leader becomes prime minister. If there is no majority winner, the party with the highest number of seats can form a coalition government, as happened in 2010, when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats paired up for a Conservative-led government with David Cameron, a Conservative, as prime minister. The leading party can also form a minority government by refusing to partner with another group. Above, Britain's then-new PM, Cameron, and his wife Samantha arrive on Downing Street on May 11, 2010.

2. What happens to Nigel Farage?

The anti-European U.K. Independence Party, led by Nigel
Photo Credit: AP / PA Wire / Gareth Fuller

The anti-European U.K. Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage, above, received more than four times as many votes as in 2010 with nearly 3.9 million -- or 12.6 percent. But it won just one seat in Parliament in the May 8, 2015, election. The leaders of the defeated UKIP, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all resigned as head of their parties, though UKIP rejected the resignation of Farage, who's seen on May 8 in Margate, England after he lost his seat.

3. Another Miliband defeat

Ed Miliband, left, embraces his older brother, David,
Photo Credit: AP / Lefteris Pitarakis

Ed Miliband, left, embraces his older brother, David, whom he defeated to become Labour Party leader at the party's annual conference in Manchester, England on Sept. 27, 2010. Ed Miliband lost in the May 8, 2015 election to incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party.

4. What happens while there’s no Parliament?

The previous Parliament dissolved on March 30. The
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

The previous Parliament dissolved on March 30. The period between then and the election results is called purdah. MPs stop being MPs, and members of the government aren't allowed to announce any new initiatives that might give them an election advantage, the Mirror Online reports. Cameron is technically still prime minister, and other ministers remain in their posts but can't do anything new because of purdah. Above, a helicopter flies past the Palace of Westminster, the home of Parliament, on April 29, 2015, in London.

5. What is “Brexit”?

Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

"Brexit" is the informal shorthand for the U.K.'s possible exit from the European Union. Amid the rise of the U.K. Independence Party, which wants Britain to leave the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron promised a referendum on the U.K.'s membership in the 28-nation bloc in 2017. On Sunday, May 3, 2015, Cameron said he wouldn't compromise on holding such an in-out vote if the Conservatives formed a coalition with another party. After the Conservatives won an outright majority, Finance Minister George Osborne said Tuesday, May 12, that the government has a "very clear mandate" to change the terms of Britain's EU membership before a referendum. Cameron says he wants Britain to remain in the EU if it is reformed. The U.K. does not use the euro. Above, an EU flag flies outside the European Central Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany on Aug. 1, 2012.

6. What campaign tactic did Ed Miliband take to the next level?

On Saturday, May 2, 2015, Labour Party leader
Photo Credit: AP / PA Wire / Stefan Rousseau

On Saturday, May 2, 2015, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband unveiled the election promises his party had carved in stone -- as in an actual, 8-foot-tall limestone in Hastings, England. It listed his key promises, including "a strong economic foundation," "higher living standards for working families," and immigration control. Cameron dubbed it Miliband's "tombstone."

7. What did the queen have to do after the election?

Rush back to London. Polls had predicted that
Photo Credit: EPA / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Rush back to London. Polls had predicted that the election would be a much closer affair, and it could have taken days or even weeks of negotiating to form a new coalition government. So when Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives won a majority by themselves, Queen Elizabeth II, who was away at Windsor Castle, had to hurry back to Buckingham Palace for the customary meeting in which the election victor offers to form a government. Above, the monarch leaves after attending a service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-E Day at Westminster Abbey in London on Sunday, May 10.

8. Who did Russell Brand want to win?

The standup comic Russell Brand said he'd never
Photo Credit: AP / Invision / Joel Ryan

The standup comic Russell Brand said he'd never voted -- but on the Monday before the election, he threw his support behind the Labour Party and Ed Miliband and urged his 1 million-plus YouTube subscribers to do so too. Brand has become a political activist who has campaigned for London tenants' rights and written a bestselling manifesto called "Revolution." In Brands interview of Miliband released the week before, the candidate disputed the actor's contention that bankers have more power than politicians and voting doesnt change anything. But when Brand endorsed Miliband, he said that while he wouldn't change things overnight, he would listen to the people's complaints. Cameron had called Brand and Milibrand "a joke" after the interview, prompting the comedian to respond, "David Cameron might think I'm a joke. But I don't think there's anything funny about what the Conservative Party has been doing to this country and we have to stop them." Above, Brand speaks at the opening of The Trew Era Cafe, a social enterprise community project in east London, on March 26, 2015.

9. What do the results mean for Scotland?

The Scottish National Party's big jump from 6
Photo Credit: AP / Scott Heppell

The Scottish National Party's big jump from 6 to 56 seats -- at the expense of the Labour Party -- came just seven and a half months after Scotland voted down independence 55 percent to 45 percent in a historic referendum. Nicola Sturgeon, the charismatic leader of the Scottish nationalists, called the developments an "historic watershed" and "an overwhelming vote for change in Scotland." Another independence vote isn't imminent, however. Above, Sturgeon, in red dress, who is the first minister of Scotland, celebrates the results for her party in Glasgow on Friday, May 8.

10. How quickly is power handed over?

Unlike in the United States, which has 10
Photo Credit: AP / Max Nash

Unlike in the United States, which has 10 weeks between its election and Inauguration Day, transitions of power in the U.K. happen quickly. Polls close at 10 p.m. -- and within hours movers can be seen outside No. 10 Downing St. waiting to take away the losing prime minister's belongings. After his first, big win in 1997, Labour's Tony Blair gave his first speech as prime minister, at his new address, by lunchtime the next day. Left, Labour's first PM in 18 years was hugged by his wife Cherie outside No. 10 Downing St. on May 2, 1997. Blair brings to mind one more point -- parties can change their prime minister between elections, as when Blair resigned in 2007 and was replaced by Brown.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More news