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Hung parliament in the balance in 2010

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 31 March 2010

Opinion polls suggest no single party will secure an overall majority in the general election and that the UK will have its first post-election hung parliament since 1974.

Hung parliament

The polls are pointing to a hung parliament after the next general election.

With the Treasury sounding out the Lib Dems’ Vince Cable about his party’s economics policies, Whitehall is preparing the way for a parliament in which no single party has an absolute mandate to rule.

The Electoral Calculus website, which uses recent opinion polls to anticipate a general election result, is predicting that the Conservative party will win 302 seats, while Labour will secure 263 seats and the Liberal Democrats 52.

That would give the Tories the largest number of MPs but leave them 24 seats short of an overall majority. By the same token, Labour would be 64 seats short.

It is a situation where both of the big parties will inevitably have to contemplate deals and alliances if they want to govern.

If there is no decisive vote, the challenge for Conservative and Labour then becomes either (a) to secure a coalition government in tandem with one or more of the other parties, or (b) to form a minority government and rely on a series of ad hoc alliances in order to push through legislation.

Read more from Channel 4 News on hung parliaments
- Brown could lose and still be PM
- Minority governments, coalitions and pacts
- What’s so bad about a hung parliament?
- Hung parliaments: a short history

So is a coalition government in the UK preferable to a minority government?

Peter Riddell, political commentator and assistant editor at The Times, told Channel 4 News: "In Britain we live in a majoritarian political culture, so in the event of a hung parliament all the players will be thinking of a second general election.

"A coalition is assured of a parliamentary majority, and the arguments are within the coalition - for example, the Lib-Lab coalition in Scotland. With a minority government, the arguments are in parliament."

"In practice you're more likely to have a minority administration in the Westminster system because people will be thinking that there's going to be an election within the year."

And looking ahead to a hypothetical post-election House of Commons that did indeed reflect Electoral Calculus's predictions, Mr Riddell doubts that Labour would be in a position to form a government.

"Labour would have lost the best part of 100 seats to get into that situation," he notes. "The Liberal Democrats would be very reluctant to back a loser.

"The most likely outcome would be a minority Cameron administration."

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