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It’s from a few weeks ago, but this article by John Rentoul in the Independent is interesting all the same. Whilst a hung parliament is likely on current polling information, what is less likely is which party will benefit out of it. Rentoul suggests that David Cameron has been speaking to Prof Vernon Bogdanor, a fellow at my college, and the thinking is that the Conservatives would expect to form a government even if they were smaller than Labour in a hung parliament.

The precedent is supposedly the first Labour Government which took office in 1924. After the 1924 election, Stanley Baldwin commanded more seats in the Commons than Labour but could not command the confidence of the House. It is essentially this event that Prof Bogdanor argues creates a precedent for a hung parliament being a political problem rather than a consitutional one. However, I don’t think that it’s as easy to brush aside the constitutional implications: in the event of a hung parliament, the prime movers are the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.

The political issue is of course which party the Liberal Democrats would assent to having confidence in (or at least abstain in a confidence debate) but the fact remains that a political decision would have to be taken by the two Secretaries, with the tacit approval of the Monarch, as to how long any party would have to try and cobble together a deal that could secure a Government with the confidence of the House. That this political decision would have to be taken by people without the constitutional privilege of making political decisions, underlies, I think a broader constitutional problem. Should one party fail to command the confidence of the House should the other be given the chance? What if dissolution and fresh elections would specifically benefit one party? Should a dissolution be granted anyway? I’m not saying I have the answers but trying to deny the constitutional problems of a hung parliament helps nobody.

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