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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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How can Labour break the Osborne supremacy?

The Conservative hegemony is deeply embedded - but it can be broken, says Ken Spours.

The Conservative Party commands a majority not just in the House of Commons, but also in the wider political landscape. It holds the political loyalty of expanding and powerful voting constituencies, such as the retired population and private sector businesses and their workers. It is dominant in English politics outside the largest urban centres, and it has ambitions to consolidate its position in the South West and to move into the “Northern Powerhouse”. Most ambitiously, it aims to detach irreversibly the skilled working classes from allegiance to the Labour Party, something that was attempted by Thatcher in the 1980s. Its goal is the building of new political hegemonic bloc that might be termed the Osborne supremacy, after its chief strategist.

The new Conservative hegemony is not simply based on stealing Labour’s political clothes or co-opting the odd political figure, such as Andrew Adonis; it runs much deeper and has been more than a decade the making. While leading conservative thinkers have not seriously engaged with the work of Antonio Gramsci, they act as if they have done. They do this instinctively, although they also work hard at enacting political domination.

 Adaptiveness through a conservative ‘double shuffle’

A major source of the new Conservative hegemony has been its fundamental intellectual political thinking and its adaptive nature. The intellectual foundations were laid in the decades of Keysianism when free market thinkers, notably Hayak and Friedman, pioneered neo-liberal thinking that would burst onto the political scene in Reagan/Thatcher era.  Despite setbacks, following the exhaustion of the Thatcherite political project in the 1990s, it has sprung back to life again in a more malleable form. Its strengths lie not only in its roots in a neo-liberal economy and state, but in a conservative ‘double shuffle’: the combining of neo-Thatcherite economics and social and civil liberalism, represented by a highly flexible and cordial relationship between Osborne and Cameron.  

 Right intellectual and political resources

The Conservative Party has also mobilised an integrated set of highly effective political and intellectual resources that are constantly seeking new avenues of economic, technological, political and social development, able to appropriate the language of the Left and to summon and frame popular common sense. These include well-resourced Right think tanks such as Policy Exchange; campaigning attack organisations, notably, the Taxpayers Alliance; a stratum of websites (e.g. ConservativeHome) and bloggers linked to the more established rightwing press that provide easy outlets for key ideas and stories. Moreover, a modernized Conservative Parliamentary Party provides essential political leadership and is highly receptive to new ideas.

 Very Machiavellian - conservative coercion and consensus

No longer restrained by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives have also opted for a strategy of coercion to erode the remaining political bastions of the Left with proposed legislation against trade unions, attacks on charities with social missions, reform of the Human Rights Act, and measures to make it more difficult for trade unionists to affiliate to the Labour Party. Coupled with proposed boundary changes and English Votes for English Laws (Evel) in the House of Commons, these are aimed at crippling the organisational capacity of Labour and the wider Left.  It is these twin strategies of consensus and coercion that they anticipate will cohere and expand the Conservative political bloc – a set of economic, political and social alliances underpinned by new institutional ‘facts on the ground’ that aims to irrevocably shift the centre of political gravity.

The strengths and limits of the Conservative political bloc

In 2015 the conservative political bloc constitutes an extensive and well-organised array of ‘ramparts and earthworks’ geared to fighting successful political and ideological ‘wars of position’ and occasional “wars of manoeuvre”. This contrasts sharply with the ramshackle political and ideological trenches of Labour and the Left, which could be characterised as fragmented and in a state of serious disrepair.

The terrain of the Conservative bloc is not impregnable, however, having potential fault lines and weaknesses that might be exploited by a committed and skillful adversary. These include an ideological approach to austerity and shrinking the state that will hit their voting blocs; Europe; a social ‘holding pattern’ and dependence on the older voter that fails to tap into the dynamism of a younger and increasingly estranged generation and, crucially, vulnerability to a new economic crisis because the underlying systemic issues remain unresolved.

 Is the Left capable of building an alternative political bloc?

The answer is not straightforward.  On the one hand, Corbynism is focused on building and energizing a committed core and historically may be recognized as having saved the Labour Party from collapse after a catastrophic defeat in May. The Core may be the foundation of an effective counter bloc, but cannot represent it.  A counter-hegemony will need to be built by reaching out around new vision of a productive economy; a more democratic state that balances national leadership and local discretion (a more democratic version of the Northern Powerhouse); a new social alliance that really articulates the idea of ‘one nation’ and an ability to represent these ideas and visions in everyday, common-sense language. 

 If the Conservatives instinctively understand political hegemony Labour politicians, with one or two notable exceptions, behave as though they have little or no understanding of what is actually going on.  If they hope to win in future this has to change and a good start would be a collective sober analysis of the Conservative’s political and ideological achievements.

This is an extract from The Osborne Supremacy, a new pamphlet by Compass.

Ken Spours is a Professor at the IoE and was Convener of the Compass Education Inquiry. The final report of the Compass Education Inquiry, Big Education can be downloaded here.