Political parties in the House of Commons

In the British political system, there are no substitute MPs who step in to replace an MP who is abroad, ill or dead. If an MP is abroad or seriously ill, he or she cannot vote in Parliament. A dead MP also finds it difficult to vote, and in this case a new MP is chosen in a by-election. A by-election is also held if an MP retires or is made a life peer and leaves the House of Commons to take a seat in the House of Lords. In the course of any parliamentary year it is natural, then, for there to be several by-elections.

In by-elections the electorate is usually more volatile than in general elections – this means they are more likely to vote for a party they did not vote for last time. This is because, unless the prime minister’s party only has a majority of one seat in the Commons, a by-election will not in any way decide who is going to form a government.

The “state of the parties” list at any moment is usually different from the result of the last election, because of gains and losses at by-elections.


  1. Use the internet to find out the “state of the parties” in the House of Commons at this very moment.
  2. Compare it with the results of the last general election. Point out which party has gained any seats, and which has lost.
  3. Also find out if there are any other reasons for changes (such as an MP deserting one party and joining another). Bear in mind that there might be one or more constituencies that do not have an MP at the moment, pending a by-election.
  4. Present your findings to a group of four students, and explain how strong the prime minister is in the present Parliament. Discuss whether he or she is likely to be challenged before the next general election.

Cappelen Damm

Sist oppdatert: 09.11.2012

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