Q & A: Could we see a second general election before christmas?

Q Who decides when the UK holds its General Elections?

A Prime Ministers used to be able to call a General Election whenever they wanted. But new legislation enacted in 2011, called the Fixed-term Parliaments Act (FTPA), changed that. The FTPA stipulates that General Elections are held every five years, on the first Thursday in May.

Q But Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said that the UK could see another General Election before Christmas. How would that be possible?

A The FTPA offers two exceptions in which a parliament could force an earlier General Election. The first option requires the House of Commons to pass a motion for an early election. Unlike most laws, which are passed with a simple majority, a motion for an early election would need the support of two-thirds of the House. The other exception would be for the House of Commons to pass a motion of no confidence by a simple majority, and if, after a required two-week period of negotiations, no stable alternative government were able to form.

Q What is a motion of no confidence? 

A In the past, Queen’s Speeches and budgets were considered confidence motions. But the FTPA restricted the definition of a motion of no confidence to exclude Queen’s Speeches and budgets, and instead include very specific wording: “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.”

Q But couldn’t a new parliament just repeal the FTPA?

A Yes, it would be possible for the next parliament to overturn the legislation. But that would require a simple majority -- an outcome that looks increasingly unlikely for any major party to achieve from yesterday’s General Election.