One of the most closely-contested general elections for decades gets under way as parliament is dissolved – meaning every one of the 650 MPs elected in 2010 is officially out of a job.
As the election campaign officially begins, David Cameron is expected to warn of a “stark choice” facing the country when he returns to Downing Street after a symbolic final audience of his term in office with the Queen.
Launching the opposition’s business manifesto, leader Ed Miliband will say a Tory victory poses a “clear and present danger” to jobs and prosperity and make it a Labour commitment to “return Britain to a leadership role” in Brussels.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will follow Mr Cameron into the Palace for a separate private audience before focusing on the NHS at a Midlands seat the Liberal Democrats are fighting to hold. Ukip leader Nigel Farage will also be setting out his party’s key election pledges.
Dissolution is the official term for the end of a parliament. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a general election must be held in the UK, and a new parliament elected, every five years.
Parliament will be dissolved at 5pm today – 25 working days before the general election. At this point, every one of the 650 MPs elected in 2010 ceases being an MP and becomes a candidate.
All are barred from using the title – requiring changes to websites and Twitter handles – and they will be locked out of the offices and facilities at the Commons they have enjoyed for the last five years. Parliamentary privileges will also be removed.
Parliament and government are two separate institutions. The government does not resign when parliament is dissolved. Government ministers remain in charge of their departments until after the result of the election is known and a new administration is formed.
The prime minister and ministers retain their ministerial titles after dissolution, but those who were MPs can no longer use the MP suffix. During the period of the election, they will continue to be paid by parliament.
When parliament has been dissolved, the monarch issues a royal proclamation summoning the new parliament. The royal proclamation will be published in the London Gazette.
The prime minister will ask Her Majesty to summon the new parliament to meet on Monday 18 May, when the business will be the election of the speaker and the swearing-in of members.