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Party games: Possible red lines and negotiating positions in a Hung Parliament

2 February 2015

With the traditional two-party structure of British politics looking increasingly precarious, it seems highly likely that the election result will once again prove indecisive.

However, with the latest predictions suggesting that the Liberal Democrats could lose as many as half of their seats at the next election, it seems unlikely that the current Government would be able to survive in any recognisable form.

A semi-victorious party leader waking on 8 May to discover he has not quite won the 326 seats needed for a majority would have a number of options for a new Government.

One possibility is a Coalition made up of three or more parties. This seems unlikely, however, as the Liberal Democrats are the only minority party that has expressed any interest in a formal Coalition.

Another option to adopt would be the formation of a Minority Government. The viability of such a Government is usually determined by the extent to which it would be able to pass a Queen’s Speech through Parliament.

However, such a Government could make arrangements to bolster its position. Confidence and supply arrangements would mean that a smaller party could agree to support the Government in a vote of no confidence and supply votes for key legislation, such as the Budget.

A number of smaller parties have suggested they would consider such an arrangement, though most have added that they would attach conditions to their support.

The SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru all declared in a joint statement that they would consider working with Labour on the condition that the Trident nuclear missile system was decommissioned. 

Labour has reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining the UK’s nuclear deterrent in response to this statement, but were it to relent in this area, a confidence and supply arrangement with the SNP in particular could allow it to form a Government.

While all three of these smaller parties have ruled out the prospect of supporting a Conservative Government, UKIP has intimated that it would be willing to cooperate. Unsurprisingly, its condition for such an agreement is an In-Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

Exactly what form these arrangements would take remains unclear. For instance, Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett stated in an interview that her party would be interested in cooperating on an “issue-by-issue” basis.

In the event of a Labour-Green agreement, this might mean that Labour could struggle to achieve any of its policy goals without Green Party approval.

A final, and far more remote, prospect is a ‘Grand Coalition’, with the Labour and Conservative Party coming together to form a single Government.

Such a system is relatively common in countries like Germany, where the two largest parties work together.

Indeed, Ian Birrell, former speechwriter to Prime Minister David Cameron, has suggested this could be the only viable model for the next Government. Business Secretary Vince Cable warned fellow Liberal Democrats to “prepare” themselves for this possibility.

However, even in these times of extraordinary change, a new Conservative-Labour union may be a step too far for some.

Possible Coalitions: A Free Briefing by DeHavilland

If you want to know what the next UK Government could look like and who could be in it, DeHavilland has published an in-depth briefing on possible coalition combinations.

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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.