All the forecasts indicate a hung Parliament as a probability rather than a possibility. I offer my understanding of the mechanic and dynamics of this to those who perhaps have never examined the matter in any detail.
If you are already well-informed on such matters, pass on – what follows is not for you, you clued-up thing, you …
CURRENT STATE OF PARTIES
Liberal Democrat 56
Democratic Unionist 8
Scottish National 6
Sinn Fein 5
Plaid Cymru 3
Social Dem & Lab. 3
Total no. of seats 650
HARD ARITHMETIC OF FORMING A GOVERNMENT
After a general election, the leader of one of the parties has to demonstrate that he or she can command a majority of the votes in the House of Commons on major issues - e.g. the Budget, major legislation, decisions to commit the Armed Forces – in other words, impose the democratic will of the Government on dissenting voices in the House and govern the United Kingdom. This is a obviously a practical necessity and of course constitutional requirement, as the leader has to convince the Queen as Head of State.
If one political party has this capacity, its leader de facto becomes Prime Minister, subject to the Queen’s ratification, but if no single party has the requisite number of seats – even though one may have more seats than any other single party – then either
a deal has to be struck with another party or parties, or
the party with the majority of seats has to risk governing as a minority government, or
a hung Parliament effectively exists and another general election has to be called.
This situation existed in the hectic days following the last general election in 2010, and a fascinating spectacle it was.
There have been many projections of just how the seats will play out after May 7th, and there will be many more, as poll after poll offers its forecasts, but for the purpose of illustration of the arithmetic, I’ll use a slightly dated, but useful projection of the BBC’s – the first Newsnight Index - for no better reason than that I already have a graphic for it – and it may well be as accurate as any other that comes up!
With 650 seats in the House, a simple majority requires the aspirant governing party or parties to be able to command 326 seats (half of 650 + 1)– but since Sinn Fein doesn’t take up its five seats, that becomes 323 (half of 645 +1). Sinn Fein could of course put a green cat among the Brit pigeons at any time by deciding to turn up!
If we look at the Newsnight Index projection (it’s not the current one), Labour, on this projection, would be the party with most seats, but not enough to hit the magic 323. Ed Miliband could then choose to “do an Alex Salmond 2007” and elect to govern as a minority government – a high-wire act, with huge risks, which Alex was well-equipped to perform – requiring him to do ad hoc deals on every major vote with other parties or interest groups within and/or across parties. If he hadn’t the balls for this – or the Queen didn’t like it – he would then have three other options -
call for another general election, or
try to strike a confidence & supply deal with another party or parties – a kind of minority government with a pre-arranged support understanding, or
form a coalition government with one party or with more than one party - a Rainbow coalition
(Aficionados of the various Borgen series on BBC Four will understand all of this effortlessly, plus have an insight into the role of sex in government!)
Who will Ed’s likely partners in government be – if he chooses to have partners – and how would it play out on the above, or similar projections of a May 7th outcome?
To get to the magic 323, he needs 37 votes. For comfort – and to reassure Lizzie – he ideally needs more. The SNP can give him 33, Plaid two and Greens one. He definitely(?) won’t find his extra one from the Tories or UKIP, and thus is left to trawl among the LibDems, the Northern Ireland parties and the Others!
Perhaps George Galloway will see his way clear to support Ed, but probably at a price that would be unacceptable!
However it plays out, it seems inevitable, if present polling trends are accurate, that the SNP will be the key player.
But consider this possibility – the LibDem 26 plus 11 others – but drawn from where?
I haven’t had so much fun since the 1945 General Election, where I campaigned for Labour and Attlee as a ten year-old. Now, that was fun …N.B. The Speaker does not vote, except in deadheat votes, when the convention is that the speaker casts the tie-breaking vote in favor of the governing party.