I wrote about prospects for a minority government if no party gets an overall majority at the General Election, and some of the things that might need to change at Westminster if it’s to work. Moves away from its majoritarian and adversarial culture to one based much more on negotiation and mediation, compromises and trade-offs, and an acceptance of a more dominant role for Parliament as against the government. But will it last?
Traditionally the Prime Minister asked the Sovereign for a dissolution. In the modern era such requests were always granted. Sometimes the government had lost the confidence of the Commons (1924 and 1979), run out of steam (1951), or politics had been turned upside down and the new arrangements needed popular endorsement (1931).
But in most cases in the past 100 years the decision was in the hands of a PM who was looking to call the election at the best time for their party, as when Harold Wilson in 1966 and 1974 went to the country for a bigger majority. That is no longer the case. The date of the election on 7th May was set down in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA) and, so long as that Act remains in force, all future elections will take place on the first Thursday in May in the fifth year after the last election – subject only to two special circumstances that are in the hands of the House of Commons.
The first is that MPs vote for an “early parliamentary general election” by a special two-thirds majority of the whole membership – 434 members or more. The second is a vote of no confidence in the government. If that happens there is a breathing space of 14 days in which an alternative government can seek the confidence of the House – if that occurs, the early election is off.
The question is this: if the numbers in the Commons are anything like I used as a basis for my previous piece (Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all Northern Irish 17) what is the likelihood of the Commons voting for an early election?
There’s growing talk in Conservative and Labour circles about a minority government. Let’s make an assumption about numbers – not a prediction, just approximate numbers based on current polls: Con 275, Lab 275, LD 35, SNP 40, UKIP 5, Green 2, Speaker 1, all the Northern Irish 17 (of which the present numbers are DUP 8, SF 5, SDLP 3, All 1).
Take out the Speaker and assume that Sinn Fein get five again, and the target for an overall majority is 323. On these numbers a majority Coalition looks hard to achieve – though don’t underestimate the ability of politicians to moderate or even overturn pre-election statements when it comes to getting into government. But add the heightened level of distaste in both Conservatives and Labour for both the concept of coalition and recent practice (at least in Westminster) and the idea of a minority government is not a fantasy.
Of course, a Labour or Conservative minority administration will still need to find a majority in the Commons, whether by positive votes or abstentions, but that’s a different issue. And the PM in a minority government does not need to be leader of the largest party, as indeed the Labour leader Ramsay Macdonald was not in 1924. We should also note – something else that the British media has so far not noticed – that a minority government may itself be a coalition of two or even more parties. On the figures above a Lab-SNP government would still be 18 votes short of a majority, and either a Con-LD or Lab-LD government 23 votes short.
Liberal Democrat peer and deputy leader of Pendle Borough Council calls on the Government to provide grants that would encourage housing developments on unprofitable brownfield sites in East Lancashire.
This is about former cotton towns in East (Pennine) Lancashire where the housing market is slack and house prices in the towns are low – decent terraced houses typically from £50,000 to £85,000, modern semis and bungalows from £100,000 to £150,000.
Most of the available housing land, brown or green, is not “viable”. The cost of land and building plus the developers’ profits is more than the local market return from sales or letting. The only exceptions are attractive countryside sites on the edge of town where there is strong resistance to development (and not just from NIMBY neighbours), the subject of bitterly fought planning battles.