House of Cards: How We Get A Government From A Hung Parliament


With another hung parliament seeming almost inevitable, it’s worth having a look and seeing what happens in the event of no party securing a majority in Westminster. This is especially important as there is a lot of misinformation coming out from certain parties about who gets to form the next government.

As pretty clearly set out on the UK parliament’s own website there are some well established steps towards forming a government in the absence of a majority.

‘In a situation of no overall control the Government in power before the General Election gets the first chance at creating a government. If they cannot do so, the Prime Minister will resign.’

This means that even if Labour are the largest party, David Cameron will have the first chance to cobble together a governing coalition or minority government supported by ‘confidence & supply’ which amounts to a working majority and in any case, the existing government would remain in office until a new government could be formed.

This exposes the lie in the much repeated Labour maxim that ‘the biggest party gets to form the government’ as this is only true if they win a majority OR the incumbent government fails to arrange a working alliance. So, voting SNP is not a vote for the Tories, seeing as the SNP will not ally with the Conservatives. Just thought that was worth confirming.

As the polls stand at the moment, it seems unlikely that Cameron will be able to pull together such an alliance as the likely tally of Conservative plus Liberal Democrat seats will fall well short of the mark. Even a tenuous confidence & supply arrangement with their most likely supporters in UKIP, the DUP and Ulster Unionists would probably not suffice to get Cameron back into number ten without a significant improvement in fortunes for one or more of these parties.

This means that the largest opposition party, i.e. Labour would be given the chance to form a government.

‘If the incumbent government is unable to command a majority and decides to resign, the leader of the largest opposition party may be invited to form a government and may do so either as a minority or in coalition with another party or parties.’

As Labour look likely to be the biggest party overall and they have a broader selection of possible coalition partners, their task could well be easier. At the moment, most polls indicate that only the SNP could provide sufficient backing to make a two-party coalition feasible, but it is not outwith the realms of possibility that Labour plus Liberal Democrats could hold together enough seats to form a government.

Failing that, there is the potential of a progressive alliance (such as the one which Labour shied away from in 2010) where Labour rely on the support of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens and possibly Liberal Democrats in a confidence & supply fashion.

The waters are made murkier by the enmity that exists between Labour and the SNP, with Scottish independence or at least further devolution a considerable elephant in the room where any discussions may take place.

The fact that the SNP could well have denied Labour a majority by routing them in their Scottish heartlands and the two parties would remain opponents in the Scottish parliament is unlikely to make such negotiations any easier.

Combine that with the current discredited status of the Liberal Democrats and Labour’s traditional distrust for any parties seeking to usurp their supposed voter base (in this instance, Plaid Cymru and the Greens) and creating such an alliance would be an epic achievement indeed.

There is of course the possibility that the two largest parties will decide that their needs are best met by laying down with their greatest enemy and we could see a ‘grand coalition’ or ‘national government’ formed by the Conservative and Labour parties.

The question of who would be Prime Minister in such a government is quite interesting as David Cameron would probably look to remain as he is the incumbent, but with Ed Miliband likely being the leader of the larger party it would be hard to see Labour acquiescing to such an arrangement.

While such an alliance would have seemed unthinkable even five years ago, both main parties have been beset by new threats in the interim and following Labour’s drift to the right since the 1990s are not as ideologically opposed as their rhetoric often indicates.

I can’t help but think that this would be the worst of all possible worlds as we would be handed another five year government which is welded to the preservation of the status quo in the British state as well as continuing the harmful policies of austerity.

It would also surely mark the end of the Labour party as we know it, the final nail in a coffin first shaped and measured by Tony Blair twenty years ago. In the act of getting into bed with and apparently propping up a Conservative administration such an alliance might give Labour some power, might reign in the worst excesses of austerity but would surely result in a Conservative majority in 2020 and the decimation of Labour’s support in line with how the Liberal Democrats have fared since supporting Cameron as Prime Minister.

In any case, should we have a hung parliament then the following will occur.

1- The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government will remain in place until a new government is formed.

2- As incumbent Prime Minister, David Cameron will attempt to form a government with a working majority, most likely seeking coalitions with or confidence & supply from the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, DUP and Ulster Unionists but negotiations with Labour are possible.

3- If that fails, the leader of the largest opposition party, Ed Milliband will have the chance to form a government, likely seeking coalition or confidence & supply deals with the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens or Sinn Fein.  Failing that a coalition with the Conservatives is not unthinkable.

Of course, it could well happen that no stable government is formed at this election and we start the dance again with another election in autumn. What fun!

In that case, this is how that could come about…

‘After the Fixed-term Parliament Act was passed on 15 September 2011, the date of the next general election is set as 7 May 2015. The Act provides for general elections to be held on the first Thursday in May every five years. There are two provisions that trigger an election other than at five year intervals:

 – A motion of no confidence is passed in Her Majesty’s Government by a simple majority and 14 days elapses without the House passing a confidence motion in any new Government formed

– A motion for a general election is agreed by two thirds of the total number of seats in the Commons including vacant seats (currently 434 out of 650)’

This might all seem a murky business and you might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.


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