What Is A Hung Parliament?

Here's What A Hung Parliament Actually Is

There are two reasons why you may fear asking what a hung parliament is: it's sexually suggestive and the media are referring to it so often, it makes it sound like it happens in Britain all the time.

The third of these is not true. Our First Past The Post system is designed to produce straight-forward single-party government - where one party wins most of the 650 seats and then has enough to govern and pass every piece of legislation it wants.

The hung parliament the last election produced - resolved after five days of negotiations established the Tory/Lib Dem coalition - was the first election to return one since 1974.

But we are almost certainly heading towards a hung parliament after tomorrow's election - where none of the parties has the required 326 to win.

In a hung parliament, what happens after the election can be a lot messier and unpredictable than the poll itself.

Parties vying to govern must either form a coalition so their combined totals are majority, press ahead with what they have and strike a deal with another party to protect them against being over thrown or just press ahead and negotiate with other party to get each vote through.

Here's the rough sequence of events that would follow if we wake up with a hung parliament on Friday:

David Cameron will remain the prime minister, just as Gordon Brown did in 2010, after the election.

He can stay in Downing Street while negotiating a deal to keep him there for another five years or until Ed Miliband negotiates one instead.

A coalition is the most formal option - the parties involved produce an agreement of what to legislate and receive ministerial positions are divided up.

In 2010, both Labour and the Tories attempted to form a coalition with the Lib Dems, who eventually sided with the Tories saying this was the only possible option given the numbers.

This time around will be far more complicated with the emergence of new small parties creating far more combinations for potential governments.

Either of the two largest parties could strike a supply and confidence deal. This would see that party take office as a minority government but with a deal that one of the smaller parties (Lib Dems, SNP or Ukip, for example) would not vote against it in no confidence motions (defeat in which would force another election) and vote with the government on the budget - perhaps in exchange for aspects of the smaller party's manifesto to be legislated.

Miliband has ruled out either of these options with the SNP which could mean he had to take the third option if he is in position to lead a government: Go it alone and negotiate ad-hoc deals for each vote.

Either way, someone has to present a Queen's Speech laying out the next legislative year on May 27. Experts have warned the complexity of this election will make any hung parliament negotiations a lot longer than last time, so brace yourself for a three-week wait to find out who has actually won.

The formation of the 2010 Coalition


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