Q What is a hung parliament?
A When no single party secures a majority of seats in the House of Commons, it is described as a hung parliament.
Q How likely is it that today’s General Election will result in a hung parliament?
A A total of 650 seats are up for grabs, so if the largest party secures 325 seats or fewer, then there will be a hung parliament. As of last night, all major national opinion polls projected such an outcome, with the results split over whether the Conservatives or Labour will secure the most seats.
Animation: How will a coalition be put together?
Q So, in the probable event of a hung parliament, what would happen next?
A Party leaders and their negotiating teams are expected to begin talks as soon as tomorrow morning in order to try to broker a deal. According to official guidance from the Cabinet Office, the Queen would not be expected to involve herself in the negotiations, but “there are responsibilities on those involved in the process to keep the Palace informed.”
Q What sorts of deals might result from the negotiations?
A The Cabinet Office identifies three broad types of government that could emerge. One option would be a formal coalition, as seen in the current government. Ministers from more than one party would officially work together in government with, in most cases, a combined majority of MPs in the House of Commons. A second choice would be a formal inter-party agreement, like the Lib-Lab pact in 1977. Labour leader Ed Miliband has ruled out such a pact with the SNP. A third outcome would see a single-party minority government that “can command the confidence” of the House of Commons via issue-by-issue votes.
Q Will the party with the most elected MPs automatically lead the next government?
A Not necessarily. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the Liberal Democrats would give the party securing the most votes and seats “the time and space” to form a government before speaking to the second-largest party. In a recent interview with the BBC, however, Clegg refused to say what the Lib Dems would do if a party won the largest number of seats but not the biggest share of votes. Even so, regardless of the outcome at the polls, or which party Clegg determines has the bigger mandate, there is no legal restriction on who the Lib Dems or any other smaller party might speak with. This leaves the door open to negotiations with, and a possible government led by, the party that comes in second place at the polls.
Q How long is the negotiating process expected to take?
A In 2010, it took the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats five days to agree to a coalition deal, but party insiders say this year’s talks could go on for much longer. That said, while there is no official time limit for negotiations, the new parliament is scheduled to adjourn on 18 May.
Q Who will run the country in the meantime?
A According to the Cabinet Office, David Cameron will stay in Downing Street, and the current government will remain in office, “unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation” to the Queen. But Cameron is not necessarily entitled to stay – or “squat,” as Gordon Brown was accused of doing in 2010 – until the next parliament commences. The Cabinet Office rules say the sitting Prime Minister is expected to resign “if it becomes clear that [their government] is unlikely to be able to command” the confidence of the House of Commons.