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Coalition: what are the alliance options?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 May 2010

Negotiations in the wake of the hung parliament have thrown up a range of possible coalitions between the main parties and smaller groupings. Here are some of the choices.

Big Ben (Getty)

The total number of seats in the House of Commons is 650, so to secure an outright majority a party or coalition requires 326 seats.

However, the five Sinn Fein MPs do not vote, and the SNP's six MPs do not vote on non-Scottish matters. This means the threshold for a majority in much legislation is 318.

Although Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon has blogged that a deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is now on the cards this still remains an option until a firm deal has been announced.

The main disadvantage of this arrangement is that it produces a combined total of 315 MPs. To form a majority coalition, support from a combination of nationalists, Northern Ireland parties and the country’s one Green party MP would be required.

The prospect is that this coalition would last no long than the few months it would take to install a new Labour leader and stage the promised referendum on voting reform.

This option, floated by SNP leader Alex Salmond, would combine the parties who regard themselves as progressive: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, the Alliance party (Northern Ireland), and the Green party.

The disadvantage of such a pact is that its inevitable tensions would make it potentially fragile. There would also be a question mark over whether it could last long enough to implement the more proportional voting system demanded by the smaller parties. And it would be susceptible to backbench defections.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander has said he cannot envisage that Labour would involve the SNP in a coalition deal, however.

"I can’t envisage circumstances in which we would enter into agreement with the Scottish National Party, given how fundamental are the differences," he told BBC Radio Scotland.

If the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, cannot command an authority in the Commons, he would go to the Queen and either suggest she ask David Cameron to form an administration or seek a dissolution of parliament.

A probable 307 Conservative seats in the Commons would put David Cameron 19 seats short of an outright majority.

In a "supply and confidence" arrangement, smaller parties would agree to back a Tory administration in return for assurances on key issues. However, this arrangement in inherently unstable and could prompt an early second general election.

The combination of 307 Conservative and 57 Liberal Democrat seats in the House of Commons would guarantee a comfortable majority.

This would be the most stable of the available compromises, but the scale of the compromises that would be required by both parties might affect their future electoral prospects.

But both parties have traditions that are significantly different, and they diverge on crucial issues such as immigration, defence and Europe. Legislation on these matters could become almost untouchable because of the prospect of a split in the coalition.

If neither Labour nor the Conservatives can assemble enough support to get their Queen's speech through the Commons and avoid a confidence vote, the Queen would have little option other than to dissolve parliament, initiating another general election. This could happen as early as the summer.

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