We are 9 days out from the election, people look at the opinion polls wanting to know who is going to win, who is going to form the next government. The simple answer is that at present they can’t tell us – we look set for a hung Parliament and who will form the government will depend to a certain extent upon negotiations between the parties, rather than the levels of support the parties receive.

Ironically the present electoral maths look set to give is an excellent illustration of the arguments used by both supporters of PR and its opponents. For PR’s supporters we look likely to get a hugely unproportional result – Labour could possibly end up with the most seats with the fewest votes, the Lib Dems in second place, but with under 100. For PR’s opponents, who argue that PR leads to governments being decided in secret discussions behind closed doors, we are heading into an election where measuring public opinion cannot tell us who will triumph – for that will depend upon the negotiations after the election.

If I can’t give you any polling evidence on what the result of a hung Parliament will be, I can at least offer guidance on what will happen! The way a hung Parliament plays out is guided by some key constitutional principles:

1) The prime minister remains the Prime Minister until he resigns. Even if he has lost his majority or is no longer the largest party, the PM remains PM until he resigns. It is his right, if he wishes, to wait until Parliament reassembles and to try and get approval for a Queen’s speech, even if he does not lead the largest party.

2) The Queen’s government must continue. When the Prime Minister resigns the Queen immediately invites someone else to replace him, in the knowledge that they will accept. The Palace will not allow there to be a period without government.

3) The Queen will not involve itself in anything that could be construed as being partisan, and does not personally involve herself in negotiations – though the Palace will closely follow the progress of negotiations.

4) Should the Prime Minister resign, the Queen will invite the person most capable of commanding a majority in the Commons (or at least, getting a Queen’s Speech and budget past the House). That will normally be the leader of the largest party, but it doesn’t have to be.

5) Should a Prime Minister loose a vote of confidence, or something regarded as a vote of confidence like the vote on the Queens Speech, they must resign or request a dissolution. A dissolution remains the personal power of the monarch, and she may refuse if the Parliament has only just been elected and there is a chance of an alternative government.

Putting all that into practice, this means that in a hung Parliament Gordon Brown will remain Prime Minister during negotiations. What that does not mean is Brown automatically getting first dibs at negotiations or arranging a coalition. Negotiations between the parties do not have a formal structure and are up to the parties themselves, if Nick Clegg wishes to play Labour and the Conservatives off against each other at the same time, or refuse to negotiate with Brown, or go straight to dealing with Cameron – he can.

If a coalition or pact commanding a majority in the House emerges, then one way or the other it will become the government, regardless of Brown being the sitting PM. If it is not a Labour led coalition then in theory it could come down to them waiting for Parliament to reassemble and forcing Brown out in a confidence vote, but in practice Brown would accept the inevitable and resign with dignity once it became clear that his position was not tenable.

The instance where Gordon Brown’s position as incumbent does make a difference is if there is no agreement to a coalition or a pact. As the sitting Prime Minister, Gordon Brown would then be the leader to go before Parliament and essentially dare them to vote down the Queen’s speech, leaving the other parties to consider whether it is in their strategic interests to vote the government out or bide their time and suffer it to continue for the time being.

If a party does end up without a majority, daring the Commons to vote them out, the threat they hold over the other parties is the that of a dissolution and a second election. The Queen does have the right to refuse such a dissolution under certain circumstances (basically if Parliament is still young and there is an alternative government that may be able to command a majority). Essentially, if Brown went before the Commons, lost a vote of confidence, and asked for a dissolution it would be refused, and David Cameron offered the chance to try and form a government instead. It’s less clear whether Cameron would be granted a dissolution if he in turn was defeated – in 1974 the opinion of the Palace was that they would have been very hard pressed to refuse Wilson had he requested one. I expect in practice Cameron would be granted one unless an alternate government with an agreed majority was obvious.

The final thing to consider are the rules of the political parties themselves, or two specific rules in particular. Firstly the Labour party – Nick Clegg has implied that one requirement for him to agree a deal with Labour would be a change of leader. In the Labour party’s rules, if they are in government and the leader becomes permanently unavailable, then the cabinet and NEC can pick one of the cabinet as leader until a full leadership contest can be arranged – in other words, if Brown resigned as Labour leader during coalition negotiations he could in theory be swiftly and easily replaced within the party rules.

The second issue is the Liberal Democrat party’s rules. Formally Cameron and Brown have a free hand in negotiations, Clegg does not. The Southport Resolution in the Lib Dem rules requires him to get the support of 75% of the Parliamentary Liberal Democrat party, and 75% of the party’s Federal executive (and failing that the support of two-thirds of the wider party) in order to enter into any agreement that “could affect the party’s independence of political action” – taken as meaning a coalition agreement. While all the leaders would in practice need to take their parties with them, only Clegg would have such a formal process to deal with somehow.

That’s the background – beyond that, all is speculation.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Pack for correcting me on the mysteries of the Lib Dem rule book. If Clegg did not get the 75% support from his Parliamentary party and executive, he’d then need two-thirds support of a special conference, and then failing that, of the wider party. On the other point that has been raised, outgoing Prime Ministers have in the past offered the monarch advice on who they should invite to succeed them, however, this is informal advice (“advice with a small a” in the terms the Palace would use) that the Queen may ignore, not the formal Advice from a minister to the monarch that the Queen is compelled to follow.


313 Responses to “What happens in a hung Parliament”

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  1. Matt !

    The populus poll is within the margin of error so nobody is ignoring it! It just overstates the tory support a little when compared to other polls! Can’t you see that ?

  2. Well of course the yougov poll is correct and the populus poll is wrong, 2 weeks ago is was the opposite -)

  3. Incidentally, the bookmaker Paddy Power is offering odds on who it thinks will be the best pollster. It has YouGov as the favourites at 2/1 and Populus in last place with 5/1. Do they know something we don’t?

  4. http://today.yougov.co.uk/homepage

    YouGov have Labour overtaking Lib Dem and just 4% behind Tories on no change.

    Populous Rogue?

    Meh.

  5. Ian: A poll that has been ” cherry-picked”
    CAPTCHA CODE:

    YLPP ( Why Labour Party Parliament?)

  6. Matt
    So Labour supporters discount the populus poll (and rightly criticise some Tories for liking it/posting about it) but agree with the Yougov one without further polls? Sounds like hypocrisy on both sides to me.
    ************************************
    Absolutely spot on. There are still one or two ultra-partisan Labour supportors on here who would be better suited to other sites.
    Balanced debate is the best thing about this site.
    So far, the polls tonight are better news for the Tories. Populous are a respected polling company with a good track record, whether some people like it or not!!!

  7. @Duncan

    PR turns elections into a postcode lottery too: if your poscode is SW1A 0AA you get a vote for the government – if it isn’t you don’t.

    I’m not a big fan of an all PR system – but I would be in favour of some combination: an elected Lords on PR and HoC on FPTP for example.

    As this article says, you can’t judge the outcome of this election from the polls. Unfortunately voters can’t judge what will happen with their vote either.

  8. You definitely don’t like Nick do you Pam. funny all the Radio 2 phone-in ladies todday were gaga about him. ;:-)

  9. I believe the public are becoming impressed with Cameron. He has warned about a hung parliament and let Cleggs new found success go to his head.
    Cameron is out on the street getting close to the public while the other 2 hide behind their own supporters. Confrontations will only help as he shows his potential of personal
    Graphs, projections, % and trends are ok but as with all selling you have got to meet the punter. Cameron is the only one rolling up his sleaves and doing the old fashioned campaigning.

    His efforts will be rewarded and i predict a Con 40, Lab 24, Lib 26. I have no data to offer just good old experience. I was ridiculed when several days ago i suggested 38 , 26, 26. Beware the grumpy old mans
    prediction. PS in my former life I was a sales manager. My team performed well as we believed the more doors you knocked on the luckier you got.

  10. “The populus poll is within the margin of error so nobody is ignoring it! It just overstates the tory support a little when compared to other polls! Can’t you see that ?”

    How do we know that the populus poll is overestimating the Tories without further polls? How do we know that the YouGov poll isn’t overestimating Labour? We don’t. We should wait for further polls before deciding. ComRes and other polls should give us a clearer picture.

    I have to say, I find Blue, yellow and red supporters are all as biased in their analysis as each other!!

  11. @ PAM F

    His model predicted:
    1. LAB in 2nd place behind CON; &
    2. LAB to be within 2 points of CON by end of week.

  12. @GEOFF -“Incidentally, the bookmaker Paddy Power is offering odds on who it thinks will be the best pollster. It has YouGov as the favourites at 2/1 and Populus in last place with 5/1. Do they know something we don’t?”
    No :)

  13. Matt
    What happened to your promise not to post? ;)
    I agree by the way with the reaction of Lab and Con supporters to the Populus and YouGov polls. Although personally I class yougov and icm above the others based on past performance. Doesn’t mean they will be right this time though.
    l

  14. Pam F

    It works both ways! I bet you this Yougov poll will be tucked away in small print tomorrow. The first poll to put Labour in 3rd place was splashed across the front page.

    Richard O

    Why is the yougov poll good for the tories ?

  15. Are these the first polls that take into account the ‘Vote Clegg Get Cameron’ Guardian story?

  16. @AMBER
    I was a bit cynical about your friend’s predictions. Now I’m not so sure.
    Mind you, could just be wishful thinking on my part.

  17. @JULIAN

    But doesn’t that indicate to you that they clearly (for some reason) expect YouGov to be closer to the result than Populus, and therefore we should take the results of a YouGov poll more seriously than those of a Populus poll?

  18. From the rumour mill, I suspect the Comres poll has Labour joint 2nd (possibly joint second) and a narrowing of the lead (e.g. no increase for tories).

  19. @Michael,

    I said so far the polls are better for Tories. YouGov is no change within margin or error, Populous is a big boost. We await Comres with interest.

    Rich

  20. Matt

    I did say when compared to other polls. If you look at the last 5 polls to be released the Tory figure is quite high in comparison is it not ?

    The populus on me be right because as I have said it is within the margin of error!

  21. @RAF,

    “What happened to your promise not to post? ;)”

    Still too addicted XD.

  22. Not surprised to see the Lib Dems trailing off. Too much from NC about what he will be doing as kingmaker. Comes across as arrogant for him to presume a result before it happens. Even if his words have been taken out of context, he shouldn’t have engaged in crystal-ball gazing in the first place, thus avoiding the whole inevitable hung-parliament news blitz. Even a pre-teen would have told him that his words would be used in any way the media sees fit.

  23. @ Geoff
    “Incidentally, the bookmaker Paddy Power is offering odds on who it thinks will be the best pollster. It has YouGov as the favourites at 2/1 and Populus in last place with 5/1. Do they know something we don’t?”

    Yes, they commissioned a YouGov poll

  24. @ Richard O – “Balanced debate is the best thing about this site. So far, the polls tonight are better news for the Tories.”

    That’s what a Tory would say!

  25. @GEOFF – “But doesn’t that indicate to you that they clearly (for some reason) expect YouGov to be closer to the result than Populus, and therefore we should take the results of a YouGov poll more seriously than those of a Populus poll?”
    Based on YouGov’s past performances, they have chosen well. But that’s information we all have.
    Any other decisions they make regarding prices (odds) will purely be based on how much money is wagered.
    That’s it I’m afraid.

  26. I honestly don’t know which polling company is best, it always used to be MORI (1992 excepted) but nobody seems to hold the “gold standard” anymore.

    Maybe people are too wise to pollsters now and more sophisticated techniques need to be used?

    All I can say from all the polls I’ve seen in this election is that, overall, the Cons are in the lead, LibDems are now second and Labour third. However, none of this tells us who will actually “win” the election (have most seats, overall majority, team up with in a coalition)

    In the good old days, 1992 excepted, the polls were actually very good predictors of the result.

    How useful are polls now?

  27. I have an e-mail from ComRes sayong tonight’s figures are:-

    Con 32 (-2)
    Lab 28 (nc)
    LD 31 (+2)
    Oth 9 (nc)

  28. Geoff
    Incidentally, the bookmaker Paddy Power is offering odds on who it thinks will be the best pollster. It has YouGov as the favourites at 2/1 and Populus in last place with 5/1. Do they know something we don’t?
    ***************************************
    slightly silly post.
    betfair have Labour on 32-1 for majority and 6-1 for most seats, err, borrowing your line (if I may be so bold), do they know something we don’t?

  29. Tichard O

    Populs is within the 4% MOE. The Tories could be on 32% in line with all the other polls just the same as they could be 36% in all the other polls in line with populus! Or am I being stupid ?

  30. @ Amber Star & Pam F

    Where can I find Eoin’s original prediction model? All he has said seems to be coming true, albeit sometimes a bit slower.

  31. @matt75

    I doubt itf the Guardian has much influence gien it’s circulation. I was struck by the number and nature of uestions and comments this morning on Radio 5 live to Clegg and about the LDs which repeated back the amnesty on immigration (“the place is overcrowded enough already” as an example), and I think that may be one large factor. The negative messages and focus on a hung parliament (all from the angle “is it a bad thing?”) are also proabbly a factor.

    I think the detailed analysis of politicos of the finer points of statements on post electoral scenarions probably have less effect

    I think Cameron has been pretty steady (and hasn’t faced much scrutiny) in thelast four days

    Brown has been performign well IMHO and is getting a little reward in some positive comments – dour doggedness is being portrayed as a virtu and what appears to be an upward poll trend, albeit minor to date: whereas a year ago it was stubborn cussedness
    caveat: this is just my opinion, folks

  32. “I did say when compared to other polls. If you look at the last 5 polls to be released the Tory figure is quite high in comparison is it not ?”

    Not really. As most Labour supporters themselves claimed 3-7 days ago, the Tory lead over Labour was only around 4-6% then. Little has changed in that regard (i.e. most polls put the Tories on 33 or 34, or thereabouts) with around a 5% lead over Labour.

    The real election changer will be this Thursday. That may prove crucial.

  33. Matt75
    Are these the first polls that take into account the ‘Vote Clegg Get Cameron’ Guardian story?

    I thought it was supposed to be the ‘vote Clegg get Brown’ that would produce the Populus result (???)

  34. Apologies for my typos tonight. That’s what happens when you start work at 5am ! :)

  35. you gov, ICM, kellner , com res polls are what I look at

    here are the last few polls from ” respected ” pollsters

    eoin , although he has a slant that we will see a labour majority , will back this up

    ICM 33 28 30

    YG 34 28 30

    COMRES 32 28 31

    YG 33 28 29

    YG 33 29 28

    come on lads and lasses , these show things are so tight , its daft to suggest a tory surge on one poll today and a liberal decline on another

    lets stop the partisan comments

    Eoin has stated all along he sees a rise in red , a stabilising in blue and a fall away off yellow

    lets ee how close he is

    but to suggest a big tory lead emerging or the total destruction of them in one day by several different posters is just plain daft

  36. @andy williams

    eh? Those were last night’s Comres figures.

  37. It is possible the focus on a hung parliament has had some effect, but Yougov just M.O.E. and nothing for Labour to get too excited about!

    There are obviously different views on electoral systems but it’s clear F.P.T.P. can create such anomolies and some people’s votes are far more important than others!

  38. @Andy Williams
    That’s yesterday’s Comres numbers, isn’t it?

  39. @Andy,

    I venture to say that your Comres email is historical, perhaps a half a day old.

    There is some significant movement in Comres tonight. What that movement is as of yet unclear…

  40. Howard: Dislike? I don’t trust him….I also think he’s contradicting himself, if he needs 75% of his Party’s support as Anthony posted previously, perhaps he has been under pressure to not antagonise the Labour voters and has changed his tune today,

    However, I’m sure he’s a very clever man, and knows what he’s doing. He’ll be around for a while yet looking at all of the polls.
    But as for politicians, this lady is more impressed by political passion and conviction than looks, and his speeches don’t convince me. But what would be his role if it’s not PM?

  41. @AmberStar

    CB still tuned in to the universe I see :-)

  42. @pankot

    E-mail is dated today and says todays figures

  43. Well that was a mad half hour for nothing then was it not?

    Always best to await them all. I expect AR will pots 37 22 25 just to confuse those who wish it.

  44. @andy williams

    Fair enough, but the same figures were released yesterday so it should say (nc) for all parties!

  45. “Not really. As most Labour supporters themselves claimed 3-7 days ago, the Tory lead over Labour was only around 4-6% then. Little has changed in that regard (i.e. most polls put the Tories on 33 or 34, or thereabouts) with around a 5% lead over Labour”

    Exactly well the populus poll has them on 36 and a 9 point lead over labour! So the populus poll has a higher tory figure in comaprison with other polls.

  46. @eoin

    And it’s only 90-odd minutes old

  47. Fascinating analysis, though I disagree on one point. If Lib Dems do line up to support a Tory government, Gordon will not go quietly to preserve his dignity; there will be a genuine political point to be made to take it as far as forcing the Lib Dems to have to vote down a (no doubt carefully crafted apple pie and motherhood) Labour Queen’s Speech, so that they are visibly being seen to side with the Tories. At the very least that gives Labour ammo against the Lib Dems, at worst it is a real test of whether Clegg can keep party discipline.

  48. It will not be lost on Libs that 28%s are appearing more frequently.

    That is 5.3% up on 2005.

  49. Apparently, the tweet is “New ComRes poll looks pretty interesting. Not happy reading for the Tories #ge2010”

    Given ComRes’ misleading tweets in their last few polls, I’m going to guess it’s the opposite and it’s a clear Tory lead. And I’m a Lib Dem supporter hoping I’m wrong!

  50. I am only using Populous tonight.

    Yougov and others are clearly rogues.

    :-)

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