A guide to what a hung parliament means and what the impact could be for construction

Mark Reynolds

The general election has ended in a hung parliament, with neither side receiving enough votes to form a majority government.

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 only 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; but, 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.”

Will Theresa May have to leave Downing St?

The prime minister is under huge pressure to resign, but she is attempting to stay on. This is despite comments from some senior Conservatives saying she should go.

May doesn’t technically have to resign, but her election losses appear to have made her position untenable (at least in the long term) and there are already rumours of a Conservative coup.

What happens in the post-election discussions?

Labour and the Conservatives may now enter talks with other parties about forming a coalition government, which is what happened in 2010, or a looser arrangement.

Theresa May is expected to visit the Queen this afternoon and seek to form a minority government, most likely with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Labour would also seek to form a minority government.

In the case of a coalition government, the larger party would need to give concessions to the smaller parties within it, something Labour has consistently said it is not prepared to do.

What is a minority government?

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 public spending cuts or a hard Brexit). 

Minority government is often seen as the most labourious form of politics 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 other types of agreement could be reached between parties?

Other outcomes include a formal coalition and a looser arrangement which is called “confidence and supply”.

Prior to 2015, the coalition government of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives shared power as well as government appointments. Nick Clegg, then Liberal Democrat leader, was deputy prime minister and Vince Cable was business secretary.

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).

What could be up for discussion?

Brexit is likely to dominate negotiations. While neither the Conservatives or Labour have been clear on their plan for exiting the EU, Theresa May’s approach is seen as more likely to result in a “hard Brexit” and no deal with Europe.

In contrast, Labour are likely to adopt a more “softly softly” approach, with a less hard line over freedom of movement and more chance of staying in the single market.

Ending austerity is also crucial for Labour. The Conservatives have advocated continued spending cuts.

What could this mean for the construction industry?

Both Labour and the Conservatives have committed to building more homes and easing the country’s housing crisis.

Labour promised to build 100,000 council and housing association homes a year by 2022 and create a Department for Housing.

The Tories pledged to build 1 million homes by 2020 and another 500,000 by 2022.

The Conservatives’ manifesto promised to “deliver our commitment to create 3 million apprenticeships for young people by 2020”.

The party also announced a publically funded national retraining scheme and a review of funding for tertiary education.

Labour took a strong line on retraining and promised to “introduce free, lifelong education in Further Education colleges, enabling everyone to upskill or retrain at any point in life”. The party would also open new technical colleges, maintain the Apprenticeship Levy and double the number of NVQ Level 3 apprenticeships completed on its watch.

Trade unions are likely to be strengthened under a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government.

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

Even if there isn’t 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 vvery unlikely.

Could there be another election?

Yes. The fixed-term parliaments means that in order to call an early election two-thirds of MPs need to vote for it.

Both Labour and Tory MPs would need to support the motion. However, the Conservatives still hold the most seats, with 317 (nine short of the 326 needed to form a majority).

But the circumstances under which the election was called – with Theresa May advocating stability and strong leadership – has undermined the party’s credibility, and MPs may feel compelled to back another poll.