general election

Kid's Guide to the General Election


Dunno if you’ve heard, but the UK will be having a General Election on 4 July 2024. (Heard? Between that and the Euros you’d think that was ALL that was going on! Ed) Politics can seem overwhelming and probably even a bit boring at times (isn’t it just a load of people in suits arguing in an old building?). But although there is a lot of that, by getting to grips with the terms and learning some facts about the system, it may make it a little more interesting! So without further ado, here is AQUILA’s guide to the UK’s political system for kids! 

A royal stamp of approval

Although King Charles is the head of state he remains neutral on all political issues. He cannot vote or stand for election. His main duties are to open and close each parliament and give his royal agreement to laws that have been passed. 

Who’s in the house?

The House of Commons is filled with 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected every five years (or less if the party in government decides to call an early election). They debate laws and, if a majority agree, they can make new ones, change, or get rid of old ones.

general election
The State opening of Parliament © House of Lords 2023 _ photography by Roger Harris_39260


The House of Commons is sometimes called the Palace of Westminster as it was once a palace! 

The last monarch to live here was King Henry VIII!

780 Lords-a-leaping

Did you know that about 780 people can sit in the House of Lords, although many of them choose not to? And did you know that NONE of them have been elected! They can change or vote against laws passed by the House of Commons. The members of the House of Lords are called peers.

The green room

Inside the House of Commons chamber, the Government and the Opposition sit on rows of green leather-covered benches facing each other. The Prime Minister and his top advisors sit closer to the aisle down the middle and are known as frontbenchers. Other MPs of the same party sit behind them. It is the same set-up on the other side where the Opposition MPs sit.

There are also places for MPs who belong to other parties or are independent.

When a vote on a new law is taken, MPs who vote in favour are known as ‘ayes’ while those who vote against are ‘noes’. The result of the vote is then declared. Not all MPs are present through all debates, but they can be brought in if the vote is important.

general election
UK government, OGL 3, via Wikimedia Commons


Each elected MP has a named peg where they hang their coat (just like primary school, ed!). But unlike school pegs, these have a purple ribbon attached to them which, once upon a time, was for the MPs to hang their swords! 

Order, order!

The Speaker of the House of Commons organises what happens in the chamber and chooses when MPs can speak. They are also responsible for keeping order, as debates can be quite noisy (also just like primary school, ed!). The Speaker may punish MPs who break the rules.

Black Rod is a person responsible for maintaining buildings in the Houses of Parliament and organising ceremonial events.

The Serjeant-at-Arms (yes, that is the correct spelling) is also there to keep order and can remove MPs from the chamber by order of the Speaker.

MPs known as Whips make sure members of their own party are ready to vote at the right time.

sergeant at arms opening ceremony at Westminster
Two Serjeants-at-Arms of the Royal Household escort the officers carrying the regalia into the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament in 2022. @ukhouseoflords, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


When MPs or peers vote on laws, they walk over to their chosen corridor in their respective house. These are called ‘Aye’ and ‘No’ in the House of Commons and ‘In Favour’ and ‘Not in Favour’ in the House of Lords.

Election time

  • General Elections for most MPs are usually held every five years.
  • Polling day is usually on a Thursday and the General Election this year will be on 4th July 2024. Polling stations are usually in public buildings and are open from 7am until 10pm.
  • In most elections, people, often representing a political party, become candidates. Each party usually has an identifying colour that they use for poster campaigns and advertising. There will be debates on television. Candidates tour the constituency (the area for which they want to be elected) making speeches to convince people to vote for them and talking to as many people as they can.
  • People who are able to vote have to be on a list called the electoral register. Most adult citizens can vote if they are over the age of 18.
  • Voting is done in secret. Candidates’ names are listed on a sheet and voters choose who to vote for. They make a cross alongside the name. Voting is done inside an enclosed booth. The paper then goes inside a large sealed box that is not opened until after voting has closed.
  • All these sealed boxes are taken to a large central hall where they are carefully counted. The candidate who receives the largest number of votes is the winner.
  • In the UK we have a first past the post system i.e. the party with the most MPs gets to form the Government. If the result is close, they might need the help of another party or parties. This is known as a coalition.


The original House of Commons chamber was destroyed during World War II, but the green benches and furnishing is a tradition that goes back over 300 years. The seats in the House of Lords are red, apart from the monarch’s, which is gold… obvs. 

Follow-up activities 

  • Make a colour-coded pie chart to show the main parties of the MPs that are elected in the election. Some rounding off of numbers may be necessary and smaller groups/independents may have to be counted together. Make sure all parts are fully labelled.
  • Stage a mock election with a group of friends. Candidates should be prepared to speak to the rest of the group about their views and policies. Think up an attractive logo and plenty of catchy slogans (rhyming works well). An allotted time should be given for each speaker before a secret vote is taken.
  • Find out who is the newly elected Member of Parliament for the constituency in which you live. Perhaps you could invite them to your school/college to talk about their work.
  • Once the election is over and MPs are back in parliament you can watch televised debates in the chamber live on BBC Parliament.

If you want to learn more about the world around you and have a ton of fun along the way, then an AQUILA subscription is for you! Click here to find out more!

Words: John Davis