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”

1 3 4 5 6 7
  1. Am I right in detecting that ComRes always seems to reflect the direction of the other polls of the previous day? If so, this would indicate that the small daily movements hither and thither are accurate – it is just that a rolling poll is slower to reflect them?

  2. @WanderingWelshman,

    I take your point, but surely if Labour can improve their vote by a good 3-4% as many Labour supporters have been suggesting, then the Tory vote can be improved by a similar number?

    With the final debate being seen by an estimated 9 million people on the BBC on Thursday, who’s to say either set of supporters are wrong?

  3. From twitter : @HouseofTwits ComRes(The Independent/ITV): Con 32 / LD 31 / Lab 28 / Other 9
    and backed up by other twits.

    So could be right.

  4. @WanderingWelshman,

    Tories can also increase their share aswell!!

    Final debate will be interesting, as the Greece implosion will be fresh in everybodies minds and gives a warning of what might happen here if Brown doesn’t pay down the debt and embarks on more public sector spending instead.

    rich

  5. Wanderingwelshman

    “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”

    SPOT ON!!

  6. @Pam F

    If he’s that tricky then he is ideal for PM no mistake. I wonder what our views in that regard are on DC? I think it’s is a subject that we could be very easily non-partisan about. I think DC is OK but I do worry about the awkward mob (Redwood et al) behind him. He could spend his entire premiership fighting them, never mind his coalition partner (that might be OK). Voters of Wokingham, now is the time to come to the aid of your party and abstain on May 6th!

  7. ComRes – Groundhog Day?

    Lol!!

  8. Comres is not yet released. It is embargoed until 10pm.

    Has anyone uncovered a TNS?

  9. Tony: When we did the predictions, mine was 37. 35, 21 7 (seems amazing now, I admit)..# I think Eoin’s was something like 36,34,22

    I wouldn’t like to predict anything now. The polls are swinging, boucing, wobbling.. basically moving all over the place. And it could be all together different in the event. I m beginning to wonder why are we so obsessed with the things. Maybe the averages will show a trend. I don’t know. Where’s the crystal balls?

  10. “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.”

    Yeah, but with one crucial point – those polls are now a few days out of date, and so, are less meaningful in a constantly changing election campaign like this.

  11. As far as I can see Yougov has been very static over last week. All within MOE. Con 33-35; Lab 27-29; LD 28-30

    2010-04-27 33 29 28
    2010-04-26 33 28 29
    2010-04-25 34 28 30
    2010-04-24 35 27 28
    2010-04-23 34 29 29
    2010-04-22 34 29 28

    Still everything to play for – but I an doubtless many others have already voted.

  12. nteresting Eoin. Maybe they’re still sending yesterday’s e-mails then hence ANDREW’s twitter report a couple of posts above.

  13. Is the cOM res a rolling poll again?

  14. @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?”

    They also have Angus Reid as joint favourites !
    And they don’t usually provide very good reading for Labour !

  15. @MATT

    fully agree

    but that seem way off the mark either bump up tory support to a figure that has people scratching their heads ..or do the same to either the liberal or labour vote

    have a look at them over the last ten days

    since the debate , which seems to have changed something , we can all agree on that ..we can look from outside at polls the last few days ..and taking out the wild cards ..then we have a 4 or 5 point tory lead..sometimes less …brought up from below from a fluctuating , but generally steady red and yellow ..interchanging

    all roads seem to lead to a hanger ..but we get labour types like my sister ..getting all excited when the lead isnt increasing and yellows and blues making all sorts of wild claims based on not a dose of what the polls tell us

    take tonight ..the wild card earlier poll which showed a tory bump way above what would expected ..has a cry of we are on our way by the blues…REDS IN PANIC then followed by misery.BLUES IN PANIC when yougov lines up with what was being said by the other polls the last two days

  16. Yeah, but with one crucial point – those polls are now a few days out of date, and so, are less meaningful in a constantly changing election campaign like this.

    The yougov polls of yesterday and tonight aren’t!

  17. Its very simple folks, do like me just follow YouGov, ICM and ComRes. If there is any golden standard its with these 3 polling houses.

  18. @Dave, 7.22pm

    There is a distinct air of realism about your posts.
    As an ex Labour supporter and canvasser, I drew comparisons with 1983, albeit stating that the scale this year would be nowhere near as great and the Tories will likley gain a small majority (not Thatchers tally of 144) but I was howled out by the instant experts.

    Met up with another old man, an old canvassing pal of mine from the 70s/80s who stays in Durham now (now also “ex”- he’s moving to LibDem this time!!!!) and we both agreed that from our experiences in the 70s,80s and 90s the “I dont know”/”It’s none of your business” clubs are largely comprised of Conservative voters.

    Back in my younger day, when asked my political preference by anybody, no matter who they were, I’d robustly state LABOUR! Almost everybody I knew, up and down the UK who supported them was on the same boat, even in the “dark years” of the 80s. During telephone canvassing away back then when the voting intention of the individual was usually always asked prior to us giving our “speil”, the most clandestine and evasive of the lot were Tories.

    Shy Labour- no such thing- all proud to shout their party up from the highest rooftops.

    Shy Liberals- Generally no, they usually open up and state their suppoert and that they “dont like etc etc..” the two big parties.

    Shy Tories- Yes indeed- very much!!!!!

  19. A bit confused now. Is all the discussion about the comres poll irrelevant cos it’s not about tonight’s poll after all?

  20. @Pam F

    My average line (includes all polls included in AW’s column on the side) shows things being pretty stable over the past 5 or so days – i.e. since the LD bounce settled down – roughly 34, 28, 29. (Lib, Lab rounded up, Lab a bit more).

    The variability (apart from the MORI 23% for LD) has been within the MOE of those numbers.

  21. @George,

    I agree with your post. Defintely more shy Tories than shy Labour. history of polling against actual results shows us this is true, and is worth perhaps 1-3% on the day.

    rich

  22. Theoretically, Comres should only be half as jittery as YG. This is because they lop today’s 500 onto yesterdays. Any significant movement therefore would be significant indeed.

  23. @Michael,

    I’d wait until other polls are out tonight is all I’m saying. I posted, even when the populus poll was released earlier on, that I expect that other polls tonight will show a Tory lead of around 4-5%, and not show the larger lead that populus did. However, until the other polls are released tonight, we cannot definitely say that the populus poll is a rogue and overestimates the Tories by 4%. Until others are released I think we should all reserve judgement.

  24. ‘@ George Gardner

    Yes, I too met the shy Tories often when canvassing for the Libs back in the 80s. However, the polling companies have tweaked their techniques to compensate for this factor compared to back then.

  25. @George Garner
    With regard to the concept of Shy Conservatives is that still as potent now that many pollsters use internet polling?
    Maybe its fashionable at the moment to knock GB?

  26. @ George Gardner

    “Shy Labour- no such thing- all proud to shout their party up from the highest rooftops.”

    Doesn’t sound realistic to me. Plenty of commentators have speculated how the Major 1992 victory – secured by ‘shy’ Tories unwilling to declare in polls – could be repeated in 2010 to Labour’s benefit. Lots of people grumbling about Labour/Brown but will they have the stomach to turn away?

  27. How about this for a scenario – Lib/Dems the only winners with 8% gain against Cons (down 1or 2% )and Labs down (7 or 8%) so the Palace invites Lib/Dems to form a minority gov with tacit Labour support. Labour largest part in seats(just) and become the official opposition and the Conservatives become – backbenchers!

  28. The current Tory leads against red are

    ICM 5%
    YG 4%
    ComR 4%
    Pop 8%

  29. @Richard O,

    “I agree with your post. Defintely more shy Tories than shy Labour. history of polling against actual results shows us this is true, and is worth perhaps 1-3% on the day. ”

    I posted something on opinion and exit polls historically underestimating the Tory vote earlier. Unsurprisingly, I was lambasted by some for suggesting that it may happen again at this GE.

  30. George G
    AW says that is no longer the case and may even be the other way around. I have to say my impression was the same as yours but recently one or two houses I always guessed were Tory (always voted is a cert in my preconception) turned out to be Labour!

    And then it dawned – they lived in a very Tory village and wanted to socialise. It works both ways of course.

  31. @richard0 @ George

    As a fellow old timer I would agree that was the case, but I think it is of fading significance. The class wars of the 70s and the naked capitalism (greed is good) of the Thatcher years made Conservative voting seem slightly immoral (“My hearts says labour but my wallet says conservative)

    The manifesto differences are now so small, and if anyone is really resented (on some issues – Iraq, defence spending) it is probably Brown, so I would think the CON don’t know factor would be on the low side of your 1% – 3% albeit still there.

  32. Matt

    “I’d wait until other polls are out tonight is all I’m saying. I posted, even when the populus poll was released earlier on, that I expect that other polls tonight will show a Tory lead of around 4-5%, and not show the larger lead that populus did. However, until the other polls are released tonight, we cannot definitely say that the populus poll is a rogue and overestimates the Tories by 4%. Until others are released I think we should all reserve judgement.”

    I think we actually agree then :) That is all I was saying MOE and all that! :)

  33. I think Tony Dean makes a valid point about it being less likely to feature at this GE though, and it was a point I touched briefly on earlier.

    Might still affect the result though – who knows?

  34. Shy Tories- Yes indeed- very much!!!!
    ……………………………………
    (ashamed ones..?) Too embarrassed to admit? Why are they more shy?

    Forgot to say Howard , saw 2 Tory posters in WSM today, thwy’re still here after all.

  35. Could there be a potential “Shy Non-LibDem” factor? Clegg so trendy that its embarrassing to admit you’re not following the herd?

  36. @Matt

    You said “…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…”

    Matt, we will never know which poll is right. We have no true value to compare it to. All we can say at this minute is that Populus has a slightly higher figure for the Tories than YouGov does. Everything else is [rude word].

    @geoff

    You said “…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 they do not. The myth (Google “Chinese Room”) that bookies must know something is perniciously persistent, but still a myth.

    @Kyle Downing

    You said “…FPTP must stay. The most simple way to elect a Government…”

    Leaving aside the fact that the word “simple” has more than one meaning, you are wrong: the most simple way to elect a government is to appoint a dictator-for-life. The reason why we don’t do it like that is because generally we prefer our governments to be democratic and are willing to sacrifice simplicity to that end.

  37. Ask yourself this, if these polls are anywhere near correct, what would a good debate for Gordon BRown on the economy do, this Thursday night? Remember just 1% of blue needs to switch for red for the gap to be 2% with YG/ComR

  38. Shy Tories- Yes indeed- very much!!!!
    ……………………………………
    (ashamed ones..?) Too embarrassed to admit? Why are they more shy?

    Forgot to say Howard , saw 2 Tory posters in WSM today, they’re still here after all.

  39. “I think we actually agree then :) That is all I was saying MOE and all that! :)”

    We do indeed agree, Michael :). I am always sceptical when new polls come out and show big movements, whether they are favourable to the Tories, Lab or the Libs. I usually take the average of all polls into consideration.

  40. Not surprised to see Conservative and Labour figures firming back up and LibDems falling back. LibDems blew it appearing to make demands of other parties before votes counted. Looked arrogant and ran constantly on the news. Cameron got good attacks in on LibDems/hung parliament yesterday. Expect Con and Lab to reassert themselves this week with better poll figures

  41. @RichardO
    “what might happen here if Brown doesn’t pay down the debt”


    Is there a more ambitious plan to reduce the deficit from the other parties. I am not alone among the electorate in thinking not.

  42. Robert Corbishley

    “The push for PR by Clegg et al is just brazen self-interested opportunism and not the noble aim it is wrapped up as.”

    That may well be true, but even if it is, it does not prove that PR as in Scotland would not be a better system. Your reliance on such an argument betrays your party allegiance and the fact that it is more important to you than fairness, good government and democracy.

    Are you aware just how adversely FPTP affects your party in Scotland, and how PR in a better parliament has put it in a position where a place in govenment is possible?

  43. “Matt, we will never know which poll is right. We have no true value to compare it to. All we can say at this minute is that Populus has a slightly higher figure for the Tories than YouGov does. Everything else is [rude word].”

    Yep, which is why we need to look at all polls before deciding what the actual voting figures are likely to be IMO.

  44. Howard – I didn’t say he didn’t do well, I was commenting on the attack dog nature of the interview. Jon Snow BEAT on him. I actually think he was OK mostly too, but he totally contradicted himself on working with Brown and when I wrote Ouch, Snow had him like a rabbit in the headlights over Non-Doms.

  45. -The final results will definitely be affected by Thursday’s debate
    -All polls indicate the economy is the most important issue in the election

  46. I live in a staunch Tory held seat-what I have noticed this year is the lack of political posters displayed-no Tory ones, very few others-I do think people are more secretive with their voting intentions than they used to be. This election is impossible to predict-I do not think any of the polls can accurately predict what will happen on 6th May.

  47. @Theresa,

    “The final results will definitely be affected by Thursday’s debate
    -All polls indicate the economy is the most important issue in the election”

    Totally agree. The final debate this Thursday could make a huge difference, especially if one leader clearly outperforms the others.

  48. John B Dick
    Are you aware just how adversely FPTP affects your party in Scotland, and how PR in a better parliament has put it in a position where a place in govenment is possible?

    Of course they are but it is essential to understand that every proposal for such as PR is resisted by Con. That’s fair enough because that is what it stands for. Read Ken above. What gets me is the Labour doing the same. Bless the late Robin Cook and now Alan Johnson and David Milband, real talents among dinosaurs.

  49. Someone once emphatically disagreed with me when I posted this before. I apoligise to that person for posting it again.

    In politics, momentum is everything.

  50. Re Posters – Brighton Pav is a Christmas tree of Green and Red. You’d be forgiven fro thinking it was a two way fight, but in fact the Tories hope (hoped?) to win it.
    My sister-in-law’s road is literally 50% “postered” with an even Lab/Green split.
    Terribly exciting.
    By the Way, do we actually have ComRes yet?

1 3 4 5 6 7