Can Labour form a minority Government?

In a slight change to this blog’s regular topic, here’s a look at the political picture nationally rather than just in Cambridge. One question that has been raised since Labour’s better-than-expected showing in the General Election on Thursday is whether or not Labour could realistically form a minority Government. Here’s a look at the numbers, starting with the composition of  the new House of Commons:


The Conservatives are the largest group with 317 MPs – or 318 if you include the Speaker, but as he is neutral and does not normally vote, I have listed him separately. Labour are 55 seats behind the Conservatives, with 262. Amongst the minor parties, Sinn Fein now have 7 MPs, but they do not take their seats in the Commons and so do not vote. The other seats in Northern Ireland are now all occupied by the DUP, except for North Down which is held by an Independent, Lady Sylvia Hermon.

As I write, the Conservatives are busily trying to conclude an agreement with the DUP which would make the Commons arithmetic look like this:


The 317 Conservatives plus the 10 DUP MPs would add up to 327, while all the other MPs, apart from Sinn Fein and the Speaker, would total 315 – this would give the Government an effective majority of 12. However, if the Conservatives cannot ultimately enlist the support of the DUP, then their 317 MPs would face a combined opposition of 325 – enough to defeat them by eight votes.

So could Labour form a minority government instead? Their immediate problem, on putting forward a programme for Government in a Queen’s Speech, would be that their 262 MPs would be outvoted by the 317 Conservatives, by a margin of 55. Clearly, they would need support from other parties. Let’s look at what those parties have said about this.

The SNP’s Nichola Sturgeon has said, “If there was to be a hung parliament and the parliamentary arithmetic allowed it, I would want the SNP to be part of a progressive alternative to a Conservative government, not in a coalition.” So that’s probably enough of a basis, at least in theory, to add the 35 SNP MPs to Labour’s total. That brings it to 297, still 20 votes behind the Conservatives.

What about the Lib Dems? On the face of it, their policy would seem to rule out any sort of pact or deal with Labour. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they find some way of supporting Labour against the Conservatives. That adds 12 more votes, bringing the total to 309, still eight votes short of the Conservative total. Let’s throw in the four votes of Plaid Cymru, and the vote of the lone Green MP, Caroline Lucas. We’re now up to 314 for our theoretical anti-Conservative alliance, still three votes behind the Conservative total of 317.

With Sinn Fein and the Speaker out of the picture, that just leaves the 10 DUP MPs, and Lady Sylvia Hermon. Even if the DUP MPs abstain on the Queen’s Speech, that’s not enough to put Labour in power – the Conservatives would still have three more votes. For Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister, he would need the active support of the DUP as well as all the other non-Conservative parties. The DUP have explicitly ruled this out, saying that they would not support a Labour Government while Jeremy Corbyn remains leader. So barring something completely unexpected, such as mass defections, or a Conservative-Labour Grand Coalition, there is no way that Labour can form part of the Government as things stand.

Update: Julian Huppert points out that as well as the Speaker, there are three Deputy Speakers, who don’t vote either. The rules state that one of them comes from the same side of the House as the Speaker, and two from the other side. This doesn’t change the conclusion that Labour can’t govern without DUP support.

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