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How to become an MP

There are 659 MPs in Westminster, each representing constituencies across the UK. MPs begin their parliamentary careers as backbenchers (which literally means that they sit at the back of the Commons chamber). There are approximately 389 backbench MPs in parliament.

On this page:

What does the role involve?
What will I get out of this?
What will I be expected to give back?
What skills or qualities do I need?
How do I get involved?

What does the role involve?

The role of MPs is not set out in any single document but has come to consist of a combination of representing and assisting constituents, voting on legislation and deciding on policy as well various other tasks that keep British democracy in motion.

Representing and assisting constituents
The main role of an MP is to represent the people of their constituency in Parliament. MPs identify local problems by listening to their constituents, either by:

  • holding advice surgeries in their constituency where local people can meet with them in person
  • dealing with questions that they receive by email, post and fax

    If there is an issue of importance to people in the constituency, the MP may make a speech about it in the House of Commons. They can also raise issues directly with government ministers.

    MPs have a high profile in the constituency that they represent, which often means that their opinion can often influence swing debates one way or another. For example, if the local authority or housing association is refusing to re-house someone, but the local MP thinks they should be re-housed, the local authority or housing association will often take the MPs opinion into account.

    Voting on legislation and deciding on policy
    MPs have the power to shape government policy in a number of ways. They can:
  • Vote on legislation - bills are presented before the Commons, where MPs have the opportunity to debate and vote to pass or oppose the legislation
  • Place amendments on bills – MPs can put forward an amendment on a bill, which can resolve conflict on a particular issue without altering the overall aims of the bill
  • Sit on select committees – select committees are independent groups of MPs, from a variety of political parties, which scrutinise government policy in a number of different areas. They have the power to make recommendations to government in the form of reports, which are seen, as highly influential and often have an impact on government policy.
  • Sit on policy forums – all of the main political parties have policies forums where party members discuss what policies the party should adopt

    What will I get out of this?

    Many of the ways to be an active citizen involve making your voice heard by others who are in positions of power. Standing for election as an MP means putting yourself into that position so you can actually pull the levers of power and help to make decisions about the issues that affect both your constituents and society as a whole. If you get inside the system then you have a very good opportunity to effect change.

    As an LGBT MP, you can play an important role in highlighting the negative effects on society when people, including LGBT people, are marginalised and socially excluded.

    Backbench MP receive an annual salary of around £56,358 plus an allowance for staff and offices.


    What will I be expected to give back?

    Lots of time and energy.


    What skills or qualities do I need?

    You must have:

  • Good local knowledge
    MPs need to know about the communities that they represent – what kind of people live in their constituency and what they care about

  • Energy
    Being an MP is time-consuming, they are always in demand, mainly from their constituents. Elections are also extremely hard work. So, make sure you have plenty of energy.

  • Commitment, compassion and determination
    To be an effective MP you must be committed to representing and assisting the people in your constituency. Most MPs also have a strong desire to change society for the better.

    How do I get involved?

    Almost anyone can become an MP. If you are a UK, Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland Citizen and are over 21 you can stand for Parliament.

    You can’t become an MP if you are:

  • a peer
  • an undischarged bankrupt
  • a member of the clergy of the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, the Church of Ireland or the Roman Catholic Church
  • holding a position that receives wages from the Crown, such as a civil servant, holders or judicial office, the armed forces or the police
  • a prisoner serving a sentence of over one year in prison
  • a person found guilty of certain electoral offences

    Potential MPs need to be nominated for election by a proposer and a seconder, both of whom must be registered voters in the relevant constituency. The nomination must also be signed by eight other electors and submitted along with a fee (known as a deposit) of £500 which is returned to candidates who get more than 5% of the votes cast.

    Any candidate standing for election without the support of one of the major political parties is extremely unlikely to become an MP, although it can happen as both Martin Bell in 1997 and Dr Richard Taylor in 2001, have shown. A further incentive to secure a party nomination is that your deposit will be paid for you by the central party.

    Potential MPs should therefore choose which party they wish to represent in Parliament and then work within the structures of that party to secure selection. The key steps are:

  • join the party that best represents your personal beliefs and values
  • get involved with party activity in the area you wish to represent
  • take up a position of responsibility within the party or the local community, for example as a local councillor or member of the school board, to develop your skills and experience and demonstrate to yourself and others that you have the necessary abilities and interests for a full time political career
  • contact the party headquarters to register your interest in being selected as a candidate and ask for information on the process, deadlines for submitting applications and dates for attending interviews

    Selection procedures for choosing the official party candidate in a constituency depend on which party you wish to represent. It is likely that you will be asked to make a speech to local party members who will then vote to choose between all those who have put themselves up for selection.

    Once selected you need to develop an election strategy and run a campaign to promote yourself to the electorate. Party candidates should be able to rely on help from the local members but this may be thin on the ground, especially where the party has historically gained little support in the area.

    Your campaign needs:

  • funds to produce leaflets, posters, badges and other materials
  • an office or HQ with a telephone line and some basic IT equipment
  • people to deliver leaflets, knock on doors and talk to voters, make phone calls and staff street stalls

    Useful Contacts

    You can obtain more information about becoming an MP from the House of Commons Information Office.

    House of Commons Information Office
    House of Commons
    SW1A 2TT

    tel: 020 7219 4272

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