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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 08:19 GMT

A guide to words and phrases that are commonly used during election campaigns:

Absentee ballot A vote cast by someone who cannot reach a polling station. Can be postal or by proxy (see below).

Agent A person who represents candidates in their dealings with the electoral authorities and runs their campaigns.

Ballot Another term for vote.

Ballot box Sealed box with a slit in the lid, into which voters place their ballot papers.

Ballot paper Paper containing a list of all candidates standing in a constituency. Voters mark their choice with a cross.

Battlebus A vehicle used by a party to transport its leader or other senior figures around the country to rallies or to meet the people.

Boundary Commission The body which reviews constituencies every 8-12 years to make sure they represent current population patterns. The last review came into effect for the 1997 election when eight seats were added and most had their boundaries changed.

Budget The government's tax-raising and spending plans, outlined once a year by the chancellor of the exchequer.

By-election An election held between general elections, usually because the sitting MP has died or resigned. There have been 17 by-elections this Parliament.

Cabinet The group of senior ministers at the head of the government.

Candidate Someone putting themselves up for election. Once Parliament has been dissolved, there are no MPs, only candidates.

Canvassing During a campaign, active supporters of a party ask voters who they will vote for and try to drum up support for their own candidates.

Coalition When two or more parties govern together, when neither has an overall majority. Coalitions are very rare in Westminster; the last was the administration led by Winston Churchill during the Second World War.

The Liberals propped up the last years of the Labour Government of 1974-9, but did not actually take a part in its running.

Constituency The geographical unit which elects a single MP. There are 659 in the UK.

Deposit 500 paid by candidates or their parties to be allowed to stand. It is returned if the candidate wins 5% or more of the votes cast.

Devolution The delegation of powers to other parliamentary bodies within the UK, specifically, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.

Dissolution of Parliament The act of ending a Parliament.

Election expenses Candidates are only allowed to spend a limited amount of money on their individual campaign. Accounts must be submitted after the poll proving they did not exceed this limit.

There used to be no limit on what parties may spend nationally but that has changed for this election.

Electoral register A list of all those in a constituency entitled to vote. Also known as electoral roll.

Exit poll A poll asking people how they have voted just after they have left the polling station.

First past the post Term used to describe the UK's parliamentary election system. It means a candidate only needs a simple majority - more votes than his or her rivals - to be elected.

Franchise The right to vote. Now available to those over 18 and on the electoral register.

General election Election at which all 659 seats in the House of Commons are contested. General elections must take place at least every five years, but are usually held after about four years on a date chosen by the prime minister.

Hung parliament If after an election no party has an overall majority, then parliament is said to be "hung". The main parties will then try to form a coalition with one or more of the minor parties.

Landslide The name given to an election which one party wins by a very large margin. Famous landslides in UK elections include Labour's victory in 1945, the Conservative win in 1983 and the election which brought Tony Blair to power in 1997.

Local elections Elections to 34 English county councils and 10 unitary authorities are taking place on 3 May.

Manifesto A public declaration of a party's ideas and policies, usually printed during the campaign. Once in power, a government is often judged by how many of its manifesto promises it manages to deliver.

Marginal constituencies Seats where the gap between the two or more leading parties is relatively small. Often regarded as less than a 10% margin ie requiring a swing of 5% or less, though very dependent on prevailing political conditions.

Minority government A government formed by a party which does not have an absolute majority in the House of Commons. Harold Wilson led a Labour minority government between February and October 1974.

MP Member of Parliament. Strictly this includes members of the House of Lords, but in practice means only members of the House of Commons. When an election is called Parliament is dissolved and there are no more MPs until it assembles again.

Nomination papers A candidate must be nominated on these documents by 10 voters living in the constituency.

Notional result After major boundary changes like that in 1997, the main broadcasters agree how altered constituencies were likely to have voted in the previous election. This gives them a base against which to compare the new results.

Number 10 The official residence in Downing Street of the British prime minister since the 18th century. Number 10 and Downing Street both serve as terms to describe the prime minister and his or her inner circle, as in "Number 10 has said that".

Opinion poll A survey asking people's opinion on one or more issues. In an election campaign, the key question is usually about which party people will vote for.

Opposition The largest party not in government is known as the official opposition. It receives extra parliamentary funding in recognition of its status.

Party Election Broadcast (PEB) Broadcasts made by the parties and transmitted on Tv or radio. By agreement with the broadcasters, each party is allowed a certain number according to its election strength and number of candidates fielded.

Personation The offence of impersonating someone else in order to use their vote.

Poll Another term for vote or election.

Polling day Election day.

Polling station Location where voters go to cast their ballots.

Postal vote People unable to get to a polling station are allowed to vote by post if they apply in advance. They are also allowed a proxy vote.

Proportional representation Systems of voting which aim to give parties the representation in a parliament justified by their level of voting support.

Prorogation The act of ending a session of Parliament. Performed when an election is called.

Proxy vote People unable to get to a polling station are allowed to appoint someone to vote on their behalf if they apply in advance. They are also allowed a postal vote.

Psephology The study of voting and voting patterns.

Queen's Speech The government's legislative programme for the coming session of Parliament. Delivered by the Queen, but written by the government.

Recount If a result is close, any candidate may ask for a recount. The process can be repeated several times if necessary until the candidates are satisfied. The returning officer has the final say on whether a recount takes place.

Referendum A binding vote of the whole country on a single issue.

Returning officer The official in charge of elections in each of the 659 constituencies.

Safe seat A constituency in which the holding party has a big lead to defend. Often regarded as being a margin of 15-20% or more.

Soapbox Famously used by John Major in 1992 to address crowds in an old-fashioned way.

Speaker An MP elected by other members of the Commons to chair debates and deal with the running of the Commons. By tradition, an MP who is Speaker is not opposed by any of the main parties at elections.

Spin The attempt to place a favourable interpretation on an event so that people or the media will interpret it in that way. Those performing this act are known as spin doctors.

Spoiled ballots Ballot papers which have been filled in incorrectly. The returning officer has the final say over whether any paper not marked with a single cross is valid.

Swing The transfer of votes from one party to another. The actual transfer is complicated, so usually taken to mean between the top two parties in any seat or area.

Tactical voting This is when people vote not for the party they really support, but for another party in order to keep out a more disliked rival.

Target seats In theory, any seat that a party contests and held by a rival is one of its targets. In practice, a target seat is one that a party believes it can win and puts a lot of effort into doing so.

Tellers Representatives of parties who wait outside polling stations and ask people for their number on the electoral roll. This is to help the parties ensure all their supporters have voted. Tellers have no official status and no-one is obliged to give them any information.

Turnout The number or percentage of people eligible to vote who actually do so.

West Lothian Question Shorthand term coined to describe a question posed by Tam Dalyell, once Labour MP for West Lothian.

Mr Dalyell asks how it is right that post-devolution, Scottish MPs can vote at Westminster on matters solely to do with England, while English MPs do not have the same influence on that issue in Scotland, as it has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Westminster A term used to describe the hothouse of politics centred around the Palace of Westminster and its surroundings.

Writs of election Once Parliament has been dissolved, a writ of election is issued for each constituency formally announcing the poll.