DEAL OR NO DEAL?
(The below is intended to be a neutral look without bias towards any political party).
NOT for the first time in the history of British politics, the machinations in the run up to the General Election hold all the fascination of watching a snake pit.
Whatever your politics, there are perhaps two significantly new dimensions to this year’s vote. The first is the potential rise of a new major block in the Westminster system; the second being the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.
Firstly, the possible emergence of a major new block of politicians which will play a major role in Westminster.
If opinion polls are to be believed, the SNP will emerge as a significant political mass in Westminster, effectively acting as a fourth or fifth major party (behind the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, and UKIP). (While UKIP are these days potentially the third largest party by votes, this is unlikely to be reflected in seats due to geographical and constituency issues).
Whether Ed Miliband does a deal with the SNP or not immediately post May 7, the reality seems to be that neither Conservative nor Labour will have an absolute majority – nor indeed have enough seats with which to form a coalition government (unless Labour do collaborate immediately with the SNP). Mr Miliband has ruled this out.
Of the 59 seats in Scotland, the SNP could win at least 55. If Labour polls around 275 seats, an SNP collaboration could push them past the 326 needed to win a majority.
But given this deal has been effectively ruled out publicly by Labour, where would Cameron or Mr Miliband turn in the event that either nudges ahead as the largest party - but finds themselves short of a majority?
David Cameron might win the lion’s share of the seats, but his predicted 280 or so seats leaves him far short of a majority.
Worse still, the predicted splintering of the Lib Dem vote (some going to Labour, the SNP and UKIP) means the Lib Dems could end up with between 18-30 seats; not enough for either Labour or the Tories to form a carbon copy of the Con-Lib coalition of the past five years, nor even a Lab-Lib coalition. The numbers just don’t add up according to the opinion polls.
Even with the support of some N Ireland MPs, and the Lib Dems, again if projections are to be believed, Mr Cameron will still fall short of a cobbling together a majority.
The possibility of a minority government remains. If Mr Cameron (or Mr Miliband) does win the largest number of seats but finds himself short of an absolute majority, he could seek permission from The Queen to form a minority govt.
The problem with minority governments till now is that they have been regarded as being weak – having to fight tooth and nail to pass legislation in Commons.
The first hurdle for a minority govt to pass is for its Queen’s Speech to be accepted when voted upon by MPs.
The Queen's Speech is read by the Queen from the Throne in the House of Lords at the State Opening of Parliament. It is drawn up by the government, and contains an outline of the government's policies and proposed legislative programme for the new parliamentary session.
The SNP could support either a Labour or Conservative minority government’s agenda.
The Queen’s Speech is debated for four-five days and a vote taken on such.
Under old rules, a defeat of a government’s Queen’s Speech was an effective vote of no confidence in the govt, triggering a resignation and election.
Thanks to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act introduced by this coalition, there are new rules as to when and how a general election might be called.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act says defeat on this motion (The Queen's Speech) does not necessarily qualify as a no-confidence motion, (but the weight of political history means that defeat will more likely lead directly to resignation).
So if Cameron wins the popular public vote in terms of number of seats, if he loses the vote on the Queen’s Speech – i.e. he cannot command the respect of the House (by not winning a majority vote of MPs voting on the Queen’s Speech), he may resign.
The leader of the opposition would then be called upon to form a government followed by a Commons vote to test confidence in the new administration.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act provides for an alternative mechanism of an explicit vote of no confidence, requiring a new government to be formed and then followed by a fresh confidence vote within 14 days.
There thus remains the possibility that Mr Miliband could enter number 10 without having initially formed a majority, and having the second most number of seats in the initial general election; in effect, through the strange process of government, entering No. 10 through the back door.
While not openly doing a deal with the SNP, he might benefit from any collective opposition vote of MPs against a Conservative minority.
Alternatively, Mr Cameron could hang on to power with a minority without the current Lib Dem in coalition if he wins ‘confidence and supply’ support from other parties on key issues and votes on legislation over the course of his minority.
Either way, we could be in for a long wait for any majority or even a coalition govt after May 7.
More on the Fixed Term Parliaments Act can be read here: