Thursday 6 May 2010

Hung Parliaments and majorities for anoraks

With the polls about to close, I will admit to a gloomy feeling about what the 10pm exit poll will bring. Partly clouded by memories of 1992 as much as evidence from the marginals, that is compunded by the feeling that the seats will finally break more favourably for the Tories than the initial projection has it. Blogging may be intermittent - I am mainly on the BBC election night boat - but we should have plenty of reaction by the early hours.

In the event that all of those tactical guides, constitutional conventions and Parliamentary slide-rules may well soon have to be put away for four or eight years, I thought I might share a couple of thoughts which - if they are not at the very centre of the political universe - may well be of no use at all to anybody by about 3am tonight.

A majority of one is impossible

1. Anybody talking about what it would take to win "a majority of one" has not noticed that there are 650 seats, making that arithmetically impossible: 326 seats wins you an overall majority of two.

Dont' forget the Sinn Fein factor

2. However, a party does not need 326 seats to have a single-party majority sufficient to win a no confidence vote unless Sinn Fein were to take the oath and turn up to Parliament, which they have been clear that they will not do.

For example, if Sinn Fein have five seats, then there would only be 645 working MPs so the de facto majority post would then fall back to 323. (Would it really be beyond all Fenian principle to take the oath purely with the aim and intent of voting "no confidence" in Her Majesty's Government?)

David Cameron hopes his Unionist Alliance will help him get to Downing Street but few seem to have noticed he could have a secret interest in Sinn Fein picking up one extra seat if at the expense of the SDLP or DUP.

The Lib-Lab threshold

3. There are hung Parliaments where the outcome is obvious and others where it is uncertain. In terms of Parliamentary arithmetic (so leaving aside political factors of public support and perceived legitimacy), the rule of thumb for all of the ink spilled on those anti-Tory coalitionist tactical voting guides might be this:

If the Tories had most seats, then any LibDem-Labour governing alliance in a hung Parliament is likely to be viable only if the two parties have 326 seats between them. This depends not only on the number of LibDem seats being greater than the gap between the Tories and Labour - but on it being greater than by over 30 seats (or whatever the final total of all "other seats" is.

(This rule of thumb discounts one Green being on hand to form a "traffic light" coalition; and I have yet to see a suitable metaphor is for a Lib-Lab-Green-Plaid-Ulster-etc arrangement).


I have been out and about and offline all day, so apologies if my fellow anoraks have already covered these points.

If anybody has any still more arcane points of information or detail - I have never got my head around what difference the Speaker and Deputy Speakers can make in practice if on the majority borderline - then, whatever the outcome tonight, we at least would be very pleased to hear them.

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