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This Is What It Would Take For There To Be A Second Election

Parliament is heading for another almighty pile-up this week. So could another election be on the cards?

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Well, another one might be along sooner than you think.

The big political parties are heading for deadlock on Thursday, with neither on course to form a majority. And if they can't reach a deal with the smaller parties, it could be impossible for anyone to form a stable government.

Under normal circumstances, that would mean a second election could be on the cards within months.

But there's a spanner in the works.

In the past, prime ministers have been able to call an election whenever they want. But to prevent either the Tories or Lib Dems splitting up the coalition early, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act was passed in 2011.

It states that general elections can only be held every five years, starting in 2015. It also means that prime ministers no longer get to choose when to hold an election.

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1. Two-thirds of all MPs vote for an election.

That means 434 of the 650 MPs, not just two-thirds of those who happen to be present for the vote.

The only way that would happen is if Labour and the Tories both agree to dissolve parliament – which will only happen if the polls are inconclusive, since if one party is clearly ahead, the other certainly won't want to give it the chance to get more MPs.

2. The House of Commons passes a motion of no confidence.

This would only need a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds rule. But it's stil more complicated than it sounds.

In the past, a motion of no confidence would inevitably lead to a government immediately resigning. But under the act, there is a 14-day cooling-off period where other parties get the chance to form a government before a second confidence vote is held.

So how would a no confidence motion come about?

Well, first, whichever party was in power would try to put together a programme for government – a Queen's Speech. If that was voted down after the Queen had read it out, it would inevitably trigger a vote of no confidence.

In practice, says Catherine Haddon of the Institute for Government think-tank, this might be something of a formality, since the prime minister would almost certainly have to resign.

"If a government is defeated on a Queen's Speech or any kind of confidence motion, I think in terms of legitimacy – the politics of it, the public opinion, and also because the prime minister would be really punished by the electorate – I just find it difficult to believe that they at that point would not resign," she told BuzzFeed News.

And as for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act? "I think they would ignore the act and behave as governments have previously for well over 200 years."

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"If you go back over your history," Haddon told BuzzFeed News, "that's what usually happens. In the vast majority of cases where a government has been defeated on a vote of confidence, they've just resigned and passed the reins of power to their opposite numbers."

So could there be an election over the next few months?

"I think the chances of a second election before the summer are very low," said Haddon. "Because usually what happens then is that the electorate punish all parties, because they don't want to have to go back through a campaign, and the results often aren't very different."

A minority government could, however, choose to go to the polls later in the parliament – perhaps next year – to try to get a better result. The easiest way would be to amend, or repeal, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act itself. That only requires a simple majority, and would once again give the prime minister to call an election.

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at emily.ashton@buzzfeed.com.

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