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What the hell happens next? Your post-election questions answered

As we head into election day, the polls are still neck-and-neck – meaning that neither Labour nor the Tory party is likely to be able to form a majority government. So, what happens now?

It looks like none of the parties will win outright. This is uncharted territory!

Not true. The outcome is no excuse for politicians and civil servants to claim that the UK is “unaccustomed” to hung parliaments. Of the 20 Westminster governments formed in the 20th century, five were coalitions and five were minority governments. And, of course, the parties muddled through a hung parliament in 2010.

If no one achieves a majority, who wins?

The party whose leader can command the “confidence” of the House of Commons – which basically means securing enough support from the smaller parties to form a viable government. It’s a common misconception that the leader of the party with the most seats automatically becomes prime minister.

But won’t David Cameron get first dibs at making a deal, as the incumbent?

There is no such convention. The Prime Minister will remain in Downing Street until it becomes clear who can lead the next administration, but making deals and speaking to the smaller parties will be a free-for-all. And neither is it the case that the party to win the most seats has the first shot at forming a government, or that the smaller parties are obliged to speak to that party before any others.

So if Labour or the Tories think they can form a workable government, what will it look like?

We could see another formal coalition, like the one we have now – though there is less appetite for that this time, and the Lib Dems are unlikely to win enough seats to rule alongside either the Tories or Labour with a majority. A confidence-and-supply arrangement (where a smaller party backs government bills on a case-by-case basis) is another possible form of partnership. A minority government ruling alone is looking increasingly likely, though it is generally seen as undesirable. We could even see a minority coalition, as New Zealand did between 1999 and 2008. All of these are dependent on the electoral arithmetic and each of the parties’ “red lines” for negotiating a deal.

Who’s running the country during these deals?

The “caretaker convention” allows government ministers to remain in place, though little official business can be done. Cameron would stay in office, signing off initiatives and stopping ongoing agreements from lapsing, but there would be no new policies, contracts or public announcements. The civil service would remain in the more exotically named “purdah”, operating under specific professional restrictions on conducting government business.

How will the new government test itself to see if it works?

It is for the parties themselves to determine who among them is best placed to govern. Once they settle on which party is most likely to be able to govern, its leader goes to the Queen to be appointed prime minister. But the first real test is the Queen’s Speech. This is when the new government puts its legislative programme to a vote in the Commons. It is currently scheduled for 27 May.

What if they haven’t decided by then?

If there is still deadlock by 27 May then the Queen will want to stay out of it, and the Leader of the House of Lords (Baroness Stowell) will make the speech instead. One of the parties will have to dare to give things a go. If its Queen’s Speech fell, it would almost certainly face an immediate no-confidence vote.

And if it lost the no-confidence vote?

Then the leader would be compelled to resign as prime minister and advise the Queen to invite the opposition to attempt to form a government. If an alternative administration isn't formed within 14 days, there would have to be a second general election.

How likely is a second election?

If the electoral arithmetic is irredeemably hung, we could end up with a second election this year. But it is unlikely, thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Support from at least two-thirds of the House of Commons would be needed for a motion calling for an early election. Or a majority would be required to pass a vote of no-confidence. It would be very difficult for a minority government to engineer either scenario, or to repeal the Act.

Does the Queen step in at any point to help to decide who governs?

No, not at all. The Queen’s private secretary will be in contact with Downing Street and will keep her updated, but she will be in Windsor and unreachable by politicians.

 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Struggle

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.