Days of tense negotiation, or a quick round of Scissors, Paper, Stone? JJ Dunning explains how a “hung Parliament” gets sorted out…
50 million people are eligible to vote in this week’s General Election. But despite the huge number of us going to the polls, a clear winner is not guaranteed. In fact, a repeat of the 2010 deadlock - where no party had a clear overall majority - is expected.
So, in the event of another “hung Parliament”, just what the hell happens?
Wouldn’t it be great if all the leaders stripped to the waist, greased their torsos, and took part in a giant WrestleMania in Trafalgar Square? I can just imagine an oily David Cameron flinging himself off of one of the lions, landing on Ed Miliband’s back and getting him in a choke hold until taps out. The pay-per-view cash alone would wipe out the deficit.
Unfortunately, Westminster is a fusty old place that isn’t keen on progressive thinking. (And Ed Miliband is allergic to Lycra).
Instead, there are a series of very serious and proper routines that must be adhered to, lest the country descends into a rioting, looting, leaderless badlands. (A sort of a nationwide Glastonbury, if you will.)
Here’s what has to happen before a new Government can get itself up and running. And yes, it’s complicated:
1. Two Or More Parties Must Team Up
Until the shirtless wrestling option (outlined above) is adopted, political leaders will instead sit down in a room and do a lot of talking. Of course, any coalition, as we’ve seen over the past five years, will be an uneasy marriage of compromise. Unless you’re teaming up with the Lib Dems, who’ll immediately give up their principles and just say yes to everything.
2. A Government Made Up Of At Least 326 MPs Must Be Formed
There are 650 seats in the House of Commons. This means that any potential Coalition Government must have at least 326 MPs onside to have the authority to pass laws. A coalition may not be necessary if one party gets very close to the magical number of 326. The alternative is a minority Government. However, minority Governments require the support of minor parties to get their bills passed through Parliament, and therefore aren’t considered very strong. No jokes in this paragraph, just facts.
3. The Queen Has To Say It’s Fine
It’s not enough for two or more parties to just join forces and pitch up at work. The Queen has to ratify any coalition, and it also has to have the full confidence of the House of Commons. In this respect, The Queen is a bit like the CEO. So at least we’re paying her to do something.
4. David Cameron Can Stay At Number 10 Until 18 May
If David Cameron loses the election, he won’t need to ring mates for a place to crash. Well, not until 18th May. You see, that’s the date when the new Parliament meets for the first time. As incumbent Prime Minister, he will have first dibs on who to form a coalition with. This doesn't mean that Ed Miliband (the only other party leader with a realistic chance of being PM) just sits on his hands, though. He can negotiate with parties - possibly the same parties - during this period.
5. If Nothing Is Sorted By 27 May, We’re Right In It
The Queen’s Speech – not the Christmas one, but the post-General Election one – is scheduled for Wednesday 27 May. This date is also a deadline; any party leader bidding to be Prime Minister must get their programme together and voted through Parliament on this date.
So there you go. That's the basic outline.
Last time we had a hung Parliament, it took five days for the Conservatives to form a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This time, negotiations are expected to take a lot longer.
If our indecision is final, the country could be without a government for a few weeks.
Still, should be a laugh.
Whatever you do, remember to get to the polls tomorrow. Whoever you vote for, remember to shed a tear of pride for democracy. Even if it does result in a right old mess that nobody really voted for. It's the thought that counts.
Written by JJ Dunning, follow his informative rambles on Twitter: @JJ_Dunning