(May 6, 2010) On April 6, 2009, United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that a General Parliamentary Election (also commonly referred to as a general election or national election) would be held on May 6, 2010. A significant legal development in this election is that new constituency boundaries will be followed. These boundary changes increase the number of seats in Parliament from 646 to 650.
There are no set timetables for parliamentary elections to occur in the United Kingdom, other than that Parliament cannot sit for longer than five years. The effect of the April announcement is that all 650 seats of Parliament will be up for election. The political party that wins the majority of seats will go on to form the government of the day. For this election, there has been considerable talk that a hung Parliament may result. This occurs when no single party has a clear majority. There are a number of things that can happen if this occurs; one possibility is that the incumbent government could continue and try to seek a majority. If this majority cannot be obtained, or if it is defeated in a vote of no confidence, then the person who can demonstrate that he or she has control over the House of Commons then goes ahead and forms the government. Political parties could also form coalitions in order to achieve the majority. (10 Downing Street, General Election to Take Place on May 6, 2010, Prime Minister's office website, Apr. 6, 2010, available at http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/press-notices/2010/04/general-election-t
o-take-place-on-6-may-2-23093; Representation of the People Act 1983, c. 2; Cabinet Office, Cabinet Office Manual, Chapter 6, DRAFT, 2010, http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/343763/election-rules-chapter6-dra
ft.pdf (last visited Apr. 29, 2010); Lucinda Maer, Hung Parliaments, House of Commons Library website, SN/PC/04951, Mar. 17, 2010, available at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-04951.pdf.)
The system of campaign financing used in the U.K. places emphasis on political parties' accounting for their spending. Limits are placed on how much the party can spend during an election, rather than on how much people can donate, although there are limits on who may donate as well as requirements that declarations be filed for donations over certain amounts. The campaign spending limit for political parties is considerably higher than that for individual candidates. In the 2005 general election, the national campaign expenditure limits were £30,000 (about US$35,000) per constituency contested, plus 7p for every entry on the electoral register. For all three major parties contesting seats nationwide, this amounted to around £19.5 million (approximately US$26 million). In the 2005 general election, the Conservative Party's campaign expenditure was £17.85 million (about US$25 million), the Labor Party's was £17.94 million (about US$25 million), and the Liberal Democrats' was £4.32 million (about US$6 million).Additionally,the two main political parties' combined expenditure in the 12 months prior to the election was approximately £90 million (about US$126 million). The higher figure takes into account the annual expenditure of these parties. (Clare Feikert, Campaign Finance: United Kingdom, Law Library of Congress website, Apr. 2009, available at http://www.loc.gov/law/help/campaign-finance/uk.php; Strengthening Democracy: Fair and Sustainable Funding of Political Parties, Mar. 2007, available at http://www.partyfundingreview.gov.uk/files/strengthening_democracy.pdf; Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, c. 41.)
For a fuller discussion of this topic, see Clare Feikert-Ahalt, United Kingdom: General Election 2010, on the Law Library of Congress' website at http://www.loc.gov/law/help/uk_election.php?show_public (last visited May 5, 2010).