We are all hung together

As the results of the general election clearly show a hung parliament, Dr Julian Francis looks at what this means. 

The prime minster has gambled and lost. She approached the crap table with her majority chips in the hopes of reaping a big return but instead rolled snake eyes and is struggling to cling onto some of her chips.

Britain faces a hung parliament once again with a political landscape that is so fragmented that making the formation of a strong government very unlikely. So what does all this mean for the country?

Well, we start with the constitution and a document called The Cabinet Manual that contains the answers that we are looking for. The first thing to keep in mind is that we have a government and that Theresa May is the prime minister and will remain prime minister until she resigns. Therefore, the momentum rests with the Conservatives who will have the first chance at forming a new administration.  

The next thing to keep in mind is that the government needs to command the confidence of the House of Commons. This is a two-stage test that has both a positive and negative aspect that must be kept in mind. The positive aspect is that a government must have the support of a majority of MPs, which is the scenario we are most used to. The negative aspect is that a government must not have a majority against it and this is what will be the key issue in a hung parliament. The negative test explains how a party can form a minority government and continue to govern.

Theresa May is now looking over the results and is trying to figure out how to progress. She will be looking to see how she can either build a coalition of support that delivers a majority in the Commons or how she can ensure that no coalition of opposition can be built against her that will defeat the government.

The magic number is 326 as any government that has more than 326 will have a majority but if they have less they will be a minority vulnerable to losing key votes in the Commons. Mrs May starts with a base of 318 so is looking around to see if she can borrow eight or more votes from another party. The most likely partner is the DUP who have 10 seats and is also a pro-Brexit party that may be willing to work with the government.

Any potential link up with the Liberal Democrats, who have 14 seats, is ruled out by the ghost of the coalition which hangs over the party and they have ruled out any deal with the Tories as a result, so it is the DUP who say they will support the Conservatives in their efforts to form a government.   

Support of the government can take a number of forms. The first and weakest form of support is an agreement with another party or parties who agree to support the government on an issue by issue basis guaranteeing the junior party/parties the maximum degree of leverage but only providing a fig leaf of support for the government. The second form is a confidence and supply agreement which is a more formal agreement between two or more parties that agree to a set programme of government but does not see the minor party/parties join the government. This process is currently used in Wales between Labour and Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly. The final option is a formal coalition agreement as we had in 2010 that will see two or more parties form a government. 

So what can we say with certainty? Well, we will have a government not matter what happens. The government, no matter which party forms it, will lack a majority of its own and will be relying on other parties to deliver it programme. The Conservatives will have the first chance at making a go of it but should they fail then we could see Jeremy Corbyn kissing hands in the near future. A second general election is very likely and we must now be prepared for this outcome. Finally, the clock is ticking for Brexit and the negotiations must start regardless of what is happening in Westminster.

As the Chinese say to curse their enemies, ‘may you live in interesting times’. Well, these are very interesting times indeed. We are watching history in the making and people will be discussing the election of 2017 for years to come.

Dr Julian Francis is the director of policy and external affairs at Association for Consultancy and Engineering.