Today, May 7, British people went to the polls to pick their next government. It's actually a fascinating election — one of the closest and most complicated in years. Why that's true might be a little confusing, given the differences between the British and American systems, but thankfully the Guardian's video team is here to help out. This phenomenal video gives a four-minute overview of the British system and why this election is so close, plus a cutout cartoon of the Queen of England on a popsicle stick:
Here's the bullet point summary, in case you prefer text:
- These elections are for one chamber only, the House of Commons, but it's the chamber that counts: the winner of this election will be able to pick the next prime minister.
- Any party needs 326 seats out of a possible 650 to win. The problem is that neither major party — incumbent David Cameron's Conservatives (aka Tories) or Ed Miliband's left-wing Labour — looks likely to take a full 326 seats.
- When no one wins an outright majority, it's called a hung parliament. In that case, one major party will try to form a coalition with a smaller party. There's a number of possible partners, but there's no obvious coalition. For example, the pro-Scottish-independence and also very left-wing Scottish National Party is likely to do very well, but Labour doesn't want to partner with them because the SNP wants Scotland to leave the UK.
- If someone puts together a proposal for the next government, he or she has to take it to the queen for approval. It's not at all clear what the queen is supposed to do if, for example, Labour and the Tories send over competing proposals for governments.
In case you want even more detail on the British election — including some of the crazy minor parties and what happens if no one forms a majority coalition — read Dylan Matthews's excellent, comprehensive explainer.