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UK election result 2017: What is a hung parliament and what happens now?

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s gamble in calling an early election backfired spectacularly as her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament, throwing British politics into chaos.

world Updated: Jun 09, 2017 14:14 IST
Conservative Party leader Theresa May (left) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Conservative Party leader Theresa May (left) and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.(AFP File Photo)

The prime minister called a snap election to increase her majority and now looks like she will be left with no majority at all.

But in her speech on Friday morning she signalled that the Conservatives hoped to hang on in government. The full picture across the UK has yet to emerge although the Tories have won the most seats.

To win outright, a party must in theory secure 326 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, gaining a majority and earning the right to form the next government.

As it stands, while the Conservatives are predicted to come very close to this total, with a forecasted 316 seats, they will not exceed it.

We are heading for a hung parliament. The UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system means hung parliaments rarely happen in Britain, but it was the case following the 1974 election and most recently in 2010.

In the case of a hung parliament, the leader of the party with the most seats is given the opportunity to try to form a government. This can take two forms: one option is a formal coalition with other parties, in which the coalition partners share ministerial jobs and push through a shared agenda.

The other possibility is a more informal arrangement, known as “confidence and supply”, in which the smaller parties agree to support the main legislation, such as a budget and Queen’s speech put forward by the largest party but do formally take part in government.

May or her successor as leader of the Tories will now have the chance to try to form a government. She could attempt to scramble together a formal coalition of other parties, possibly including the DUP, that would take her over the threshold needed to obtain a House of Commons majority. Alternatively she may try to lead a minority government if she can convince other parties to back her in a vote of confidence.

If the Tories fail to form an alliance, Jeremy Corbyn could attempt to strike a deal with the SNP, the Lib Dems, the nationalist parties from Northern Ireland and the Greens. But this is an unlikely scenario.

Attempts to form alliances have already begun behind the scenes and a deal could be declared within days. MPs will return to parliament on Monday. But nothing can be confirmed before MPs hold a vote of confidence in that government, which will not happen before 19 June.

There is a possibility, yes. If any proposed new government fails to gain a majority of support in the House of Commons for a Queen’s speech, its proposed legislative programme, the UK would be forced to have another general election. This would probably be held sometime in August.

It could be within days, or it could take weeks. According to the Hansard Society, coalition governments tend to form at times of national crisis and it can take weeks to settle upon who is the new prime minister.

On six occasions – January 1910, December 1910, 1923, 1929, February 1974, and 2010 – a general election failed to produce outright victory for a single party. On five of these occasions, minority government followed; the exception was the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition that took office in 2010.

In four of these five instances the identity of the government and prime minister was not immediately clear.

In 2010, Gordon Brown held onto the premiership for six days as frantic negotiations took place, resigning only when it became clear that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had reached agreement on a viable coalition.

The Liberal Democrats have consistently ruled out any coalition, creating the possibility that neither the Conservatives nor Labour being able to secure a coalition.

The SNP has shown more openness towards the idea of coalition government. Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, previously told the BBC: “If there was to be a hung parliament of course we would look to be part of a progressive alliance that pursued progressive policies.”

The Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas has also said she would be willing to enter a coalition with Labour.