Last modified July 29, 2015 by Kelly McBride

After the vote

What happens if no one wins? Here are a few scenarios, and the terms explained.

Usually, the election would result in one party gaining the most seats and being able to form a majority government. However, the political party system in the UK is changing rapidly and smaller parties are receiving more votes than ever before. This means that it’s less likely for one party to be the main biggest party.

Assuming that no one wins outright, (a hung parliament) the party who gets the most MPs voted in has different options to try in forming a stable working government. This is convention, meaning these processes and order of negotiations have emerged based on previous practice through the years.

The first option is to form a minority government, and get support for the Government’s programme on an issue-by-issue basis, but this is difficult in practice and risks the Government being brought down at any time by a vote of confidence against it.

Secondly, to try to reach a more secure arrangement, the party could attempt to agree with other parties that they would vote with them in certain areas, but always support them on the Budget (“supply”) and motions of no-confidence in the Government. This kind of agreement is known as supply and confidence and it prevents a minority government from losing office, unless the agreement breaks down. However, they can still lose votes on issues that are not motions of no confidence.

Finally, and for maximum stability, the party could try to work with another party in a coalition, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did in the last Parliament. This is formal joint government arrangement, and usually results in a “Coalition Agreement”, which the parties agree as a work plan for their time in Government.

The largest party will have 19 days to make up a government, as the Queen’s Speech has been scheduled for the 27th May. The Queen’s Speech and State Opening of Parliament, including the Prime Minister kissing the Queens hand, is the official appointment of the Government. The Commons vote on the Queen’s Speech, and must receive a majority in support of the new government or it is rejected. The leader of the opposition party (the second largest party traditionally) is then invited to try to form a Government. This scenario is unlikely and last happened in 1974. This Government must receive a vote of confidence by the MP’s in the House of Commons. If they do not receive the necessary support to form a Government, there may be a second election – depending on the legal interpretation of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 which causes some confusion in this area. If the leader of the Opposition or the largest party were able to hold a second election, there would be a period of 25 days allowed for more campaigning, in which the Leader of the Opposition holds a limited position of Prime Minister. It is hoped that the process of calling a second nationwide General Election does not occur in the first place, but if needs must, the expectation is that a Government will be formed.

It is worth noting that there is a potential spanner in the works: if Labour get slightly more votes and are technically larger, although not large enough to form a majority, the Conservatives could claim they have the first right to form a government as they are the incumbent party. It is constitutionally unclear, but the issue could matter more in this election given a wider number of possible coalition formulas.