Comparison of the General and Local Elections

Article shared with kind permission of Mateusz Czerwinski (student).

General Elections are a very big event. It affects the country as a whole and is often mentioned in the press, television and radio. Even people who are not involved in Local Elections are likely to be involved in a General Election.

A General Election is a bigger event, because it affects the whole nation. The House of Commons is dissolved until the General Election ends and new Members of Parliament and Prime Minister swear allegiance to the Queen and country.

A General Election is bigger than a Local Election in all aspects. It involves many more people, it covers a much wider area, the campaign spending limit is much bigger and it is followed in much more detail by both local and national media. General Elections are a game of party policies. While Local Elections are based on personal beliefs and electing the candidate who would be most suited to the role, the General Election voting is mainly based on the party’s policies and which candidate represents which party, the electors will vote for the candidates from a certain party.

General Elections have now also started to involve political debates on national television. This helps the people to understand the party’s policies and influences their vote. These debates are displayed on BBC, Sky and ITV and are watched throughout the UK and abroad. One of the benefits of these debates appears to be the way in which they enable the issues to be accessible to large sections of the viewing population. The debates also seem to draw out the differences between the political parties.

Also what makes the General Elections much different is the fact that they attract the attention of British allies from overseas. A good example would be the US President who phones the winner of the elections. This tends to reinforce in peoples minds that there is recognition and acceptance of our democratic processes and the way in which we choose our political leaders.

Local elections on the other hand do not attract that much attention from overseas if any. Local Elections are based on smaller areas, and naturally it is a small, local event. There are a lot of people around who don’t know who their local councillor is, as it is not as covered by the media as much as the General Election. This is not to say that local elections are not important as they obviously are for the communities concerned. If local election result are reported at all in the media it tends to be dealt with in a general way as if it represent a barometer of public opinion about how well they think the government are doing and the country as a whole. Sometimes it seems as though the electorate uses local elections as an opportunity to voice their concerns about the way the country is being run by the government in power at the time.

In Local Elections the public tend to vote for someone who they believe is more suited for the role rather than looking at which party the candidate is in. This makes the election more fair and varied. Less money is spent on Local Election campaigns but whether this results in less people being informed about the event and a lower turnout at the polls is open to debate.

The Local Elections are based on local administrative areas and therefore it doesn’t affect other parts of the country. This gives the local people a sense of identity and belonging and a say in the running and delivery of local services. The government is still highly influential in the delivery of local services as it retains strong links and controls through its overall control of finances and responsibility for levels of taxation and expenditure.

Local Election candidates are often less well known than their counterparts in General elections. There are a few exceptions, Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London and is one elected local official who stands out. This may be partly due to his character. He is not afraid to speak out on a wide range of issues beyond his actual role. London is after all our capital and an important centre for business and international trade. This naturally makes Boris Johnson well known around the country and he appears to be very aware of the need for his voice to be heard when he is speaking for the people of London.

Local councillors do not control the government or Parliament and opinion polls seem to matter less than in General Elections. This may be because in local elections the electorate are looking for something different from national politics when is comes to local matters.

A good example of this may be the recent elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. Even though it was well advertised with national coverage by central government to promote the setting up of the elected officials and their role, only 15% of population took part in the elections. This is because many people didn’t really bother as much or didn’t understand what difference the PCC could make to the way that crime is tackled. However, it also indicates that independent candidates are more likely to be successful in Local Elections than the ones in General Elections. Sue Mountstevens is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset Police and one of a number of successful independent candidates.

It is hoped that the following table may be of help to tutors when explaining to Uniformed Public Service students what might be achieved in terms of their comparison of two elections processes. 

The table compares general elections with local elections. 

The areas mentioned are not held out to be complete or exhaustive and indeed students may be able to add additional areas for comparison.  The points that are made have been deliberately kept brief but hopefully sufficient to get students underway - the intention being that it will be for students to develop the points with more detail and examples where appropriate.  The resource is set out as a table but may be adapted to produce a written report or a presentation as required by individual tutors.

The resource may be particularly helpful when comparing the election processes and responsibilities of two levels of government for a merit in Unit 1: Government, policy and the public services.

General elections - UK Parliament

Local government elections in England - About my vote, produced ...


General Elections



Local Elections


Area - Country as a whole.


Local councillor serves on county, district or parish council.

Responsibilities – a Member of Parliament is elected to represent the public's interests and concerns in the House of Commons. MPs consider and propose new laws, and can raise questions about current issues with government ministers.


Responsibilities – A Councillor is elected to represent the people, and their views, in their area, (ward), and have to work towards a compatible local environment. They serve for four years. In England and Wales there are more than 20,000 elected councillors and they represent 410 local authorities. They hold surgeries where people can come to discuss local issues.

Media coverage – national news. Now includes TV prime ministerial debates.


Coverage is more limited – usually restricted to local newspapers or local television stations.


Politics play a major role – It is usually the party the candidate represents that is voted for rather than the individual.


Politics may be less important – this is debatable as in some cases it is the person that is elected and in other cases it is the party he represents.


Candidates see opportunity for full time position David Cameron – Prime Minister, William Hague – Foreign Secretary, Nick Clegg – Deputy Prime Minister.

Candidates are volunteers - Councillors do not receive a salary , but they can claim allowances and expenses towards the cost of carrying out their duties.


May attract attention from overseas.


Unlikely to attract attention outside our country.


Taken more seriously -campaigns, meetings, TV coverage etc.


Sometimes less well supported.


Seen as more important as outcome affects overall government, population as a whole.


Outcome only affects local area.




Prime minister and senior ministers are MPs.


Local councillors do not form the  government and are not entitled to sit in Parliament.


Elections spending limits – There are expenditure limits at general elections. As constituencies are larger than wards there is a lot more travelling involved to contact as many people in a constituency as possible.


Less resources – so less spent - There are no separate limits on campaign expenditure incurred during local election campaigns. Because wards are smaller than a constituency it is easier for candidates to campaign on a personal basis by knocking on doors.


Opinion Polls seem to matter more


Opinion polls seem to matter less


Examples of services – we have MPs whose roles include – the chancellor, foreign secretary,defence secretary, health secretary,secretary of state for work and pensions and the business secretary with responsibility for "business and banks" .

Examples of local services – locally elected councillors help facilitate the provision of local services and facilities this includes public services, including schools, social services, and public transportation,council housing, gyms and leisure facilities, local planning, recycling and trash collection.


The expense for a candidate hoping to be elected in a General Election can be crippling.

Costs for candidates hoping to be elected in local elections is less prohibitive.


Held every five years unless there is a motion of no confidence or a motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons.

Councillors are elected for a period of four years.



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