Another election? Don't count on it. Photo: Getty
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General election 2015: will there be a second election?

If no one wins on 7 May and Britain returns a hung parliament, could there be a snap second election? Here’s why it’s unlikely.

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) of 2011, which fixes general elections on a five-year cycle, will make it very difficult to call an early election.

There are three ways parliament could do this:

1) The first is by a two-thirds majority of the Commons voting to dissolve parliament and call an early election. But it’s unlikely that it will be in the interest of 67 per cent of the House to go to the polls again. The opposition would have to join the government in support of the motion, and presumably the Prime Minister would only put such a motion to the House because it would be in his interest (therefore presumably not in the opposition’s interest) to go back to the electorate.

2) The second is a vote of no-confidence. If the government loses a no-confidence vote, then 14 days are allowed for an alternative administration to be formed. If an act of confidence in a new government isn’t passed in 14 days, then there would be a second election.

But engineering a no-confidence motion would be difficult. Under the FTPA, the definition of no-confidence votes has been narrowed to exclude Queen’s Speeches and budgets (traditionally considered confidence motions). Whereas there used to be no set formula for no-confidence votes, now the wording would have to be very specific: “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”.

It would be very difficult for the government to no-confidence itself to trigger a second election, as the chances are in this scenario that it would be a minority government – and therefore the rest of the House would be able to oppose the motion. (It would be in the opposition’s interest to do so, if the government feels a second election would be to its advantage).

Also, if the rest of the House manages to vote down such a motion, then it may well be able to form an alternative administration within the 14-day window – as parliamentary government expert Philip Cowley puts it, “Why assume no alternative would form? If you are the opposition leader, you would at least try.”

3) The third option is to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. But this would require a simple majority, and a government would only be seeking to repeal the Act if it hadn’t won a majority. However, some point out that it would favour both Labour and the Tories to be able to call an election at any point – and therefore they might unite in repealing the Act.

But it’s not straightforward. As the Institute for Government's Dr Catherine Haddon explains, the Act wiped out the centuries-old Royal Prerogative to dissolve parliament, so repealing it wouldn’t just automatically revert back to the status quo pre-FTPA. Replacing it with something else would be constitutionally complicated, as whose hands should such a decision be in? If you’re erasing parliament’s power over such a decision, then you’d have to actively legislate for it to be in the hands of the executive, which is a tricky argument to make politically.

Others point out that a clause in the 1978 Interpretation Act could be invoked that means you can return to the status quo ante by repealing a law, if you express your wish to do so. But the Royal Prerogative has never been reinstated before, and constitutional experts are split on the matter.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.