RSS
Britain's hung parliament: 5 scenarios
Five days after the British general election, no government has emerged. And the Prime Minister just resigned. What happens now?
 
After an inconclusive election, Britain has a hung parliament. What now?
After an inconclusive election, Britain has a hung parliament. What now?
Wikicommons

For the first time in decades, a general election in Great Britain has failed to produce a winner. With parliament now hung, the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, are each seeking to form an alliance with the third-party Liberal Democrats to reach the threshold number of parliamentary seats needed to form a goverment. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced his intention to step down once a successor emerges. But no one quite knows when that will be, and all eyes are now on Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. (Watch a Russia Today report about the governmental standstill.) Here are the potential outcomes of the U.K.'s current political limbo:

3:08pm — Since this article was written, Gordon Brown has stood down as Prime Minister to allow David Cameron to take over the role. Exactly what coalition the Conservatives have agreed to with the Liberal Democrats is yet to be announced.

A Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition
As the Conservatives (aka "Tories") won the largest percentage of the vote, the Liberal Democrats agreed to meet with them first. But their weekend talks were inconclusive. The Tories have very little in common with the Lib Dems politically, and the third party's insistence that any deal include a change in the British voting system to proportional representation is likely to win the support of few Conservatives. But if the Lib Dems agree to a less radical version of voting reform, a coalition deal could still be on the cards. Talks between the two parties resumed on Tuesday.
Prime minister: David Cameron, the Conservative leader

A "confidence and supply" government
Short of a forming a proper coalition, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats can form a "confidence and supply" government. Rather than agreeing on a broad legislative agenda, the parties would unite to offer a national budget — but for all other legislation, the Lib Dems could still function as an opposition party. This is reportedly the deal most likely to be reached between Nick Clegg and David Cameron, but it is "potentially risky," according to Jodie Ginsburg at Reuters. "The government can effectively be held to ransom over every piece of legislation it wants to pass."
Prime minister: David Cameron

A Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition
Gordon Brown announced his resignation yesterday so that talks with the Liberal Democrats could begin — Nick Clegg had reportedly ruled out discussions while the PM held onto power. Supporters of a deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats call it a "progressive coalition." But critics call it a "coalition of losers," since the parties came second and third in the voting. Many on both sides think a Lib-Lab coalition would prove so flawed that another general election would be called before the end of the year — which the Tories would probably win. 
Prime minister: Gordon Brown would remain in office until a new Labour leader was elected in late summer.

A Conservative minority government
The Tories are in theory able to form a minority government and rule without a parliamentary majority, but only if the Liberal Democrats announce no deal can be reached with either of the two main parties. In practice, senior Conservatives are ruling it out. As Tory minister George Osborne said, "We can't just turn up at Buckingham Palace and say we'd like to form a minority government." It has precedent though: Harold Wilson led a minority Labour government in 1974 for eight months.
Prime Minister: David Cameron

A national government
During WWII, the two main parties joined together to form a national government after Neville Chamberlain stepped down. The same idea has been floated by a handful of politicians, with the financial crisis as the spur, but most consider it an "unthinkable" option. "There is no support for it at Westminster," says Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian. "The global financial crisis does not provide an existential threat to the UK of the kind posed by Hitler."
Prime minister:
Gordon Brown, as the incumbent, would remain in place until a new Labour leader was voted in.

 

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week