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Q&A: HUNG PARLIAMENT

Q. What happens now that there is a hung parliament?

A. In the first instance, Gordon Brown has the constitutional right to try and form a government, something he will almost certainly do. Last night, Labour figures led a concerted effort to try and convince the Liberal Democrats to enter a Lib-Lab coalition, in exchange for a referendum on replacing the first-past-the-post voting system.

Q. What if Gordon Brown fails to form a government?

A. It would then fall to Tory leader David Cameron to try and form a government. Like Gordon Brown, he could do this by forming a Lib-Con coalition with the Lib Dems, although he is less willing to do a deal on electoral reform than Gordon Brown. Failing that, he could try to cobble together a working majority by bringing other parties into the fold, like the Scottish Nationalists or Ulstermen. But these MPs would also extract a high price, most probably assurances over public spending in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Another option is a minority government, which would see David Cameron secure ad hoc backing for essential legislation like the emergency budget. However, if he failed to push a crucial bill through, he would have lost the authority to govern and would probably have to call a second general election in a bid to secure a working majority.

Q. Who are the Lib Dems most likely to back?

A. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is reeling from a disastrous night. His party was expected to do much better both in term of votes and seats. For now, he is giving little away, merely offering platitudes about ensuring stability and acting responsibly. The Lib Dems have form in this kind of situation. In the Scottish Parliament elections of 2007, the party failed to live up to expectations, and was in no mood for coalition talks. It had been happily governing Scotland in a Lib-Lab coalition since the birth of devolution, but after a thrashing at the polls, Lib Dem MSPs decided to walk out of government and nurse their wounds.