With all predictions pointing to a hung parliament, what could happen after the election?

Election 2015

With the closest election race in recent times coming to a close and the outcome far from certain, what could happen after the votes have been counted? Building has put together this handy guide to what happens in a hung parliament, and what such an outcome could mean for construction.

What is a hung parliament?

There are 650 MPs in the House of Commons and to form a government a party would need to command a majority of them. Because Sinn Fein boycotts the UK Parliament the number of MPs needed for a majority is 323.

A hung parliament is when no party manages to reach this number of MPs, and has to either attempt to form a coalition or try a minority government.

Who can form a government?

Any party which is represented in parliament can in theory attempt to form a government, however in practice it is either of the two main parties who have any realistic chance. The party which returns the most MPs has the first try at forming a government; however, if it cannot get the support of enough MPs then another party can form a government.

The Cabinet Office manual which outlines the rules for forming a government states: “The ability of a government to command the confidence of the elected House of Commons is central to its authority to govern. Commanding the confidence of the House of Commons is not the same as having a majority or winning every vote.”

Would David Cameron have to leave Downing St if he doesn’t win a majority?

The PM is duty bound to stay on until a stable government is formed and avoid what is known as a constitutional crisis, as is the rest of the government. Those who remember the 2010 election may remember the coverage of Gordon Brown staying put until the coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats was formed.

An incumbent government is expected to resign if it become clear that it is unlikely to be able to command the confidence of the house and that there is a clear alternative.

What happens in the post-election discussions?

If Labour or the Conservatives fail to win a majority (which looks highly likely) they may enter talks with other parties over forming a coalition government, which is what happened in 2010, or a looser arrangement.

In this case the larger party will usually either allow concessions on policies to the smaller party to gain their support and / or allow the smaller party to have MPs in government as ministers. This is why the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is deputy PM.

What types of agreement could be reached between parties?

There are a number of outcomes including a formal coalition, a looser arrangement which is called confidence and supply, and another where parties support a minority government on a vote-by-vote basis.

The current government is a formal coalition where the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have shared power as well as government appointments, with Liberal Democrats in positions of power including figures such as Vince Cable as business secretary and Nick Clegg as deputy PM.

A confidence and supply arrangement is where the minor party (or parties) agree to support a government in motions of confidence and appropriation (supply), which allows the government to receive money to enact its policies. This arrangement would not allow the minor party to have their MPs as ministers in government. The smaller party would also agree to support the larger if the opposition attempted to topple it (confidence).

An even looser possibility is for no formal or even informal agreement at all and a minority government survives on a case-by-case basis. This would mean that the smaller parties would support the government on each individual vote and still vote, or abstain on policies it did not agree with (such as spending cuts or the renewal of Trident).

This is the most labourious form of government as each law would potentially be put to other parties. However, some commentators have suggested this could be more inclusive as smaller parties are able to consult and inform on any new legislation.

What could be up for discussion?

Anything could be discussed and policies identified in campaigns either changed or scrapped; however, many of the parties (including Labour) have announced so called “red lines” which mean they will refuse to support a government if those policies aren’t adopted.

For example, the Lib Dems have announced six “red lines” which include pay rises for public sector workers and an extra £8bn for the NHS. Labour’s “red line” is the scrapping of the non-dom tax status.

What could this mean for the construction industry?

All parties are committed to improving the current level of apprenticeships and depending on the result we could see the same or more investment in housing, the health estate and education. There is only a slim chance spending in these areas would be reduced under an agreement between parties. The Green Party want to restore capital spending to 2010 levels, and the SNP stated that it would support increases in capital spending across the UK as part of anti-austerity measures. However, UKIP want to cut it as part of a hard-line deficit reduction plan. UKIP has also repeatedly vowed to scrap HS2.

Plaid Cymru and the DUP have asked for extra funding in Wales and Northern Ireland - which could mean more spending on infrastructure in those parts of the UK.

What happens to government if we, umm, don’t have a government?

It is expected that a government of some shape will be formed by May 18th, when a new prime minister is due to ask the Queen to summon parliament to meet. However, even though there may not be a sitting parliament, the business of government continues (although not completely as normal) before, during and after the election. This is mainly due to the civil service keeping things working as expected, like keeping the car running but not actually going anywhere.

If no one can form a government can the Queen intervene?

In theory, yes. In 1834 King William IV used what is known as “reserve powers” to dismiss a prime minister who was deemed to have “undermined his authority”. However, the possibility of the Queen becoming involved is very, very unlikely.

Could there be another election?

In theory yes, however, the introduction of fixed-term parliaments means that in order to call an early election two-thirds of MPs need to vote for it. In practical terms this would mean both Labour and Tory MPs supporting the motion. However, if it is likely that one party has an advantage over the other it would be hard for the disadvantaged party to vote in favour of an election which it could well lose.