Law Review: The spectre of a ‘Hung Parliament’

Gordon Brown likely to stay as PM in hung parliament

MPs will get 18-day window to form government under emergency plan drawn up by Whitehall


There will be many who relish the prospect of a ‘hung Parliament’ – forcing people to work together. I am not, at this stage, in favour of such a result – partly because I remember the last hung parliament  and partly because I have little faith (or experience)  in politicians from the different parties in Britain being able to work together in the national interest.  I also feel that the country needs to return to being governed.  There is precious little government going on at the moment – there will even even less during the election period – and we are not in great shape.  I am, of course, given that we have not experienced these particular circumstances before  in terms of credit-crunch et al – happy to keep an open mind should there be a hung parliament.  National Governments have worked before – coalitions, tend not to.

The quality of political debate on Newsnight last night with Pickles, Prescott and Huhne shouting over each other was lamentable and..rather worrying. Newsnight is watched by adults – adults who are actually interested in politics.  It is not watched, generally,  by people who are not interested in politics – so it would be helpful if politicians would remember that when they go on Newsnight they are talking to an interested audience who do not need to hear a load of ‘political pap’ and watch grown men and women trying to score points off each other.  Eric Pickles went straight on to twitter to say that he was in a taxi.

@ericpickles:In the silence of the cab going back to the Commons after #Newsnight can still hear @ChrisHuhne & @johnprescott screaming

Hopeless….. I’m not a Tory but I do enjoy listening to Pickles.  Last night was, however, an exception

Civil servants have drawn up contingency plans – which include the Queen’s powers to forestall a second poll if it would not be in the national economic interest.  Interesting reading.  I suspect that more detailed legal analysis will follow in the press and blogs on this issue soon.

In the meantime – The Guardian has an interesting piece.

7 thoughts on “Law Review: The spectre of a ‘Hung Parliament’

  1. personally i think the guardian’s piece is lousy – nothing is substantiated and there is no indication as to what they suggest the appropriate constitutional principle may be – clearly, that is where the debate needs to be had, because i am as dubious as any about the idea that the incumbent should remain in place if there is no clear choice on a successor, even if he no longer heads the largest party. whence exactly is this derived? i hope someone like carl might do a nice piece on it… (*coughs politely*)

    mind you it isn’t half as bad as the tory trolls out in force on the comments. they at least are clear that this election will be decided online. and gloriously, pant-wettingly terrified that the chinless faceless policy-less duo will blow it as horrendously as kinnock before them. that at least is giving me some cause for mirth in this mess.

  2. SW – agree, but at least the issue is being flagged up by the Guardian.

    I may write something myself – but Carl, clearly..given his experience as a govt lawyer and his specialism in Constitutional Law is the man for a considered piece.

    Over to you Carl ! 🙂

  3. the real question for me is what the left-leaning voter does. clearly, a lot of us (yes i know not everyone here is ‘us’) want to avoid a tory government but don’t want to vote for more brown – or even more labour with or without him. is the announcement of what the civil servants might do (as someone at the guardian comments suspected) an attempt to stop people voting labour on the basis that, if they do, they’ll get brown back even if not the leader with most mps?
    i suppose i revert to my default position and recognise the thing i most want is not-the-tories and vote in the way that is most likely to bring about that scenario.
    i am half hoping there is a tory government so the labour party can blame it on brown. and the next few years (which will be awful whoever is there) poison the minds of the country so conclusively against conservatism that i can look forward to some policies from a government that calls itself labour which are not irredevocably tainted by the prevailing conservative view of market economics, which is what got us here in the first place. even henry james might have winced at the length of that sentence.

    and those who don’t share this political view can save their breath telling me ‘we don’t all want that’. i know; i can work out the bleedin obvious without your help, thanks.

  4. Bearing in mind (a) constitutional theory; (b) political reality and (c) the fact that we are supposedly a democracy, I would offer the following 6 thoughts:

    1. The civil service is supposed to be impartial and ought to keep out of this.

    2. The leader of the largest party in the Commons should be asked by Her Majesty to become P.M. Obviously, that party would have to be very careful because the combination of other parties could bring them down.

    3. Parliament should be summoned at the earliest date and not delayed as suggested. One cannot be sure how a delay would be viewed by the very nervous markets.

    4. No Minister should remain in office if they have failed to secure their own election to the Commons. [It has been suggested that Darling could continue as an interim Chancellor but I would argue that he could not unless he held a seat].

    5. In the event of a “hung” Parliament, there is likely to be a request for dissolution sooner rather than later. Her Majesty should not refuse this. If she were to do so in these circumstances she would be seen to be thwarting the need for the people to have a further say. Indeed, in 1974, Her Majesty did not refuse the October election. [Very exceptionally, one might see a case for refusing a dissolution – e.g. if one thinks of a situation where invasion was imminent. However, the formal powers of the Crown have to be very much a long-stop].

    6. The political realities have to be recognised and unless an incumbent P.M. wins an overall majority then the reality is that he has no democratic mandate to remain. This would be even more the case with Gordon Brown given that he was not party leader when his party won the 2005 election. Whatever the legal theory of the constitution, it does not “march alongside political reality” to paraphrase Lord Denning M.R. in Blackburn v Attorney General [1971].

  5. Being in agreement with Simply’s sentiment, I am put in mind of the West Wing, where the Mary-Louise Parker character bemoaned that the most popular candidate in any democractic election was None of the Above.

    If a hung parliament ensues, my guess is that the Tories will cosy up with the LibDems for the foreseeable, hold off a further dissolution until the markets get more than twitchy, allow for the effluxion of time to take the gas out of Lab’s April/May electioneering, and then go again. Lab has no cash and, absent a Ashcroft style figure stepping forward to bankroll a second election campaign, Lab will be a spent force in a second election. The Tories will then attain a majority and bung a few goodies to the LibDems for services rendered in the interim.

    One of the few positives to come out of a hung parliament is that it will give the Pilsbury Dough Boy the convenient excuse to get shot of Osbore.

  6. the lib dems are clearly a bunch of power-hungry whores, but i’m not sure that being cosied up to by the tories is a price they’d be prepared to pay. even yer power-hungry whore must have some standards.

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