With only a few days to go before Britain’s voters go to the polls in that nation’s first general election since 2005, it’s increasingly doubtful that any of the three main political parties can win the outright majority of seats they’ll need in order to form a new government.
The result would be a “hung parliament.”
Nearly all public opinion polls in Britain show a “hung parliament” as the most likely outcome of the election that’s scheduled for May 6, 2010. According to the Electoral Calculus web site, which uses statistical analyses of opinion polls taken between April 23 and May 2, 2010, the Conservative party is likely to receive approximately 37 percent of the vote; the Liberal Democrats approximately 27 percent; and Labour 26 percent. The remaining 10 percent would be divided among other parties.
In order for any political party to win an outright majority in the House of Commons, and therefore form a new government, it must win 326 seats. The Electoral Calculus analysis of May 2, 2010 suggest that, if public current opinion polls remain steady, and no major shift in public opinion occurs between now and election day, the new House of Commons would likely be divided as follows:
Conservatives: 317 seats
Labour: 213 seats
Liberal Democrats: 88 seats
National/Others: 32 seats
In this case, the Conservative Party would hold the largest number of seats, but would fall 9 seats short of the majority they would need to form a government
Other independent election analysts offer similar breakdowns of the popular vote, although predictions as to the number of seats each party likely to win varies to a degree. However, every analysis points to a “hung parliament” as the most likely outcome.
In the event British voters do indeed return a “hung parliament,” to the House of Commons, what happens next? In the short term, there will be a lot of political confusion, even chaos. All the major players – the Labour Party, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats – will begin jockeying for position, negotiating with each other in order to form political alliances that could lead to a governing majority.
These alliances could take the form of a formal agreement between parties. (For example, in a likely scenario, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats could formally agree to form a coalition, giving them a combined total of 405 seats, more than enough to form an outright majority). Coalition governments have existed in the past, and have been effective, especially in times of war or national crisis.
Another possibility: one of the major parties could form a “minority government.” For example, (in a very unlikely scenario), the Labour Party could offer to form a government without a majority. They would rely on informal agreements and alliances with other parties in order to achieve the working majority they would need in order to govern effectively. Minority governments have also existed in the past, but have been far less successful.
The bottom line: in the increasingly likely event of a hung parliament, political confusion and chaos is likely to be the order of the day in Britain, at least for the short term. Recent history suggests that a “hung parliament” will lead to another general election being called within one year.
Electoral Calculus web site
Poll of Polls: Still No Sign of Clear Winner – Channel4 News
Political Forecasting Unit – Nottingham School of Business
Election Seat Calculator – BBC News