LONDON — Theresa May on Friday announced plans to form a minority government after Thursday’s election returned a hung parliament.
But what exactly is a minority government and why is May forming one?
Thursday’s general election returned a hung parliament, which means no one party has an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons. The Conservative Party is the biggest minority with 318 seats. At the time of writing, there was only one seat left to declare — Kensington. But even if the Tories win that seat, it cannot form a majority government. A party needs 326 seats to reach a majority.
When a hung parliament is returned, there are three main outcomes:
- A coalition government.
- A minority government.
- A second election.
The Tory Party opted for a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, the last time a hung parliament occurred. This meant that the two parties officially agreed to go into government with each other and draw up a shared legislative programme. However, the Liberal Democrats have ruled out a coalition in 2017’s election.
Theresa May is, therefore, looking at forming a minority government. This is where a cabinet is sworn into office despite not commanding a majority in parliament.
Why a majority is important
A majority is important because it theoretically allows the ruling party, the biggest, to get legislation passed. Laws are put to a vote in the House of Commons, with a majority of votes needed to pass them. Without a majority of seats in the House, a party risks seeing its manifesto stalled and blocked at every turn by opposition parties.
To avoid becoming a “lame duck” government that cannot get any legislation passed, minority governments often secure formal or informal support from other parties in the house.
In this case, the Tories have turned to the DUP, who have 10 MPs. In a speech on Friday announcing her new government, May said the Tories would work with its “friends in the DUP.”
May has turned to the DUP because the Lib Dems, Labour, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) — the three biggest parties behind the Tories — have all ruled out working with the Tories. However, the DUP appear to have given May assurances that they will support May’s legislative agenda, while not officially working to shape it.
Why is May likely to opt for a minority government rather than a coalition?
May’s logic is not clear yet but political commentators speculate that it is because of the social conservatism of the DUP. The party has campaigned against the decriminalising homosexuality in the past and could alienate the more liberal wing of the Tory party.
While May has officially announced plans to form a government, it does not yet mean she will be our next Prime Minister. Protocol dictates that May must now put a “Queen’s speech” to a vote in Parliament to officially establish her new government. However, this “Queen’s speech” could be voted down if enough Tory MPs rebel against the alliance with the DUP.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will also likely table a confidence motion in Parliament. This effectively becomes a vote of approval or disapproval in the Tory-DUP deal and could also bring it down.
The last time the UK had a minority government was in 1996, when by-election defeats and defections erased the Conservative Party’s majority. Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide victory for the Labour Party followed shortly after. There were minority governments in the UK in 1974, 1977, and 1979. All struggled to achieve much in power.
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