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Minority Report - How the Government can navigate a Hung Parliament

13 June 2017

The 2017 General Election produced a surprise Hung Parliament. Read our special briefing to find out what happens next.

In the event that a single party fails to achieve the 326 seats needed for an overall majority in the House of Commons, then a Hung Parliament arises.

Between 2010 and 2015, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats served in a full Coalition Government with a formal, written agreement forming the basis of their joint positions and allowing for any differences, and ministers from both parties serving in office.

However, the chances of a similar arrangement in the 2017 Parliament are remote given the much smaller size of the junior party involved in the deal.

Two other avenues are available to a party seeking to rule as a minority Government, meaning it is in office, but lacks a Commons majority:

  • Confidence and Supply: This is where the governing party reaches an agreement with a smaller party or parties for their support on votes critical to the survival of the Government, including on Budgets and motions of no confidence
  • Vote by vote: A scenario where no formal or informal understanding exists and the Government Whips attempt a construct a majority for each key Commons vote

In Confidence and Supply arrangements, the support parties often receive specific concessions on key issues.

However, the Institute for Government notes that the junior party in such an arrangement typically does not have to receive ministerial posts. Moreover, the senior party is not forced to negotiate its entire policy programme with another party, as would be the case in a more formal coalition arrangement.

The disadvantage of this sort of arrangement for the larger party is that there is no guarantee the smaller party will vote with the Government on specific policies it may bring forward. As a result, the minority Government will be forced to build coalitions on an issue-by-issue basis.

For the Conservative Party, this is may mean that more controversial aspects of its policy platform are excised.

It is worth noting, however, that while the number of seats required for an absolute majority is 326, the refusal of Sinn Féin MPs to take their seats and the tradition that the Speaker and Deputy Speakers do not vote in Parliament means that the actual number of seats required for a ‘working majority’ is only 320.

As a result, if the Government can rally its own backbenchers then it would still be possible for it to pass legislation without the support of the DUP if it can secure support from only a few other MPs.

With the Parliamentary arithmetic as it is, this could mean that rebellious backbenchers prove to be the key beneficiaries of the arrangement.

The exact agreement between the DUP and Conservatives is likely to determine the extent to which the Government can rely on their support on a day-to-day basis. However, ensuring party discipline will be key in the new Parliament, a task which may prove a tall order for a Prime Minister whose authority lies in tatters.

Read more

DeHavilland has produced an in-depth guide to the process for forming a Government in the event of a Hung Parliament. Click here to read it now.

Who are the Democratic Unionist Party and what are their policies? Read the DeHavilland briefing now.

Madhav Bakshi, Political Analyst
Madhav Bakshi
Political Analyst

Madhav Bakshi is a Political Analyst within DeHavilland’s Editorial Team and leads on Energy policy. He is a graduate of King’s College London, where he studied International Politics.