How a Government is formed in a hung parliament

For the second time in 7 years, First Past the Post has failed to give any party a clear majority, which is the only damn thing it’s meant to be good at. So now we have a hung parliament and the Conservatives are planning to form a minority government with the support of the DUP, a party that is quite literally to the right of UKIP. The procedures by which a government is formed in a hung parliament are quite murky and have been subject to a lot of debate. I know how dull of a subject this can be, but a lot of the decisive parts of politics are painstakingly boring. Politicians exploit this because they know the electorate will not take an interest, don’t give them the opportunity to ignore you. I will do my best to explain and hopefully clarify this process.

Typically in a normal election, the party with a majority of seats in the House of Commons will form a government. However, when there is a hung parliament there are three potential options to form a government outlined by the Cabinet Manual. The first is a formal coalition government can be formed in which two or more parties will form a government which is what happened in 2010 with the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. The second option is a formal inter-party agreement, which happened in 1977 where Labour was just short of a majority and made a formal agreement with the Liberals. Labour accepted a number of Liberal policies and in return the Liberals agreed to vote to keep Labour in government. This is different to a coalition as the Liberals were not in government with the Labour party. The third option is to form a single party minority government which is supported by other parties on an informal case-by-case basis (sometimes referred to as a ‘supply and confidence agreement’).

Theresa May has said she will form a minority government with the informal support of the DUP, currently talks on the details of that agreement are taking place. To be clear, this is not a coalition, there will not be any members of the DUP actually in government. Whether they will have undue influence on the Conservative minority government is another question entirely.

Now the key to actually forming a government is passing a vote on a “Queen’s Speech” in order to secure the confidence of the House of Commons (HoC). A “Queen’s speech” is simply a speech outlining what that party would do in government, which if passed, is read out by the Queen in the House of Lords at a later date (the actual involvement of the Queen is purely ceremonial). It’s essentially a vote of confidence on the party or parties trying to form a government. It’s a convention* that the current Government, the Conservatives, in this case, has the first opportunity to try and secure the confidence of House of Commons. It is also a convention that the current government should continue as a ‘caretaker Government’ until a new Government is in place or it becomes clear the current Government does not have the confidence of the HoC.

The Conservatives are expected to put forward their Queen’s Speech on the 21st of June next Wednesday. Theresa May is attempting to strike a deal with the DUP in order to secure a confidence and supply agreement. If she manages this, the DUP will either abstain or vote in support of the Conservatives Queen’s speech allowing the Conservatives to form a minority Government. If she fails to secure the confidence of the HoC, then as the opposition Jeremy Corbyn will have an obligation to try and form a minority or coalition government. However, it looks quite certain that with the help of the DUP, Theresa May will be able to form a minority government.

As a final point, I will say that my personal opinion on the deal Theresa May is doing with the DUP is an absolutely terrible idea. Putting aside the fact that the DUP are right wing religious extremists with ties to loyalist paramilitaries, by using them to prop up May’s minority government she is endangering the peace process in Northern Ireland. In the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, there is a power-sharing agreement between the Nationalist and Unionist parties set up by the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish and British Governments are meant to be neutral mediators in the power-sharing agreement. However, power-sharing in the Assembly broke down a couple months ago. Theresa May is breaking the Good Friday Agreement by relying on the DUP to form a government because they will have an undue influence on the Westminster Government. John Major, a previous Conservative Prime Minister who laid the groundwork for the Good Friday Agreement has already warned Theresa May saying the peace process is “fragile” and would be undermined if the British Government was seen to be taking sides. Sinn Féin has already said that Theresa May’s deal with DUP is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It is despicable that Theresa May is gambling the peace process in Northern Ireland and people’s lives for her own political gain.


*Conventions are simply traditions within the Parliamentary system that are not legally binding but are generally followed by all, they form a central part of the UK’s uncodified constitution.

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