James Meadway looks at the possibility of a hung parliament and what’s to come after the election.

David Cameron has opened the possibility of the Tories grabbing power after tomorrow’s election, even without a Parliamentary majority.

Ruling out a coalition with the Lib Dems, in an interview with the Independent on Monday he made clear that he intends to run a minority government, breaking with convention.


Britain, notoriously, is one of the few remaining countries without a written constitution setting out the rules by which it is governed. Much depends on convention – on things being done a certain way, because they have always been done a certain way.

Convention dictates that the current monarch invite the leader of the party with a majority in Parliament to form the next government. Parliament is theoretically subservient to the Crown, but in practice the Crown merely follows Parliament.

This is a legacy of Britain’s peculiar revolution, in which a short-lived republic led by Oliver Cromwell was replaced by the dual system of Parliament and Crown in the latter 1600s. A compromise emerged in which the monarch remained head of state, but played no real part in domestic politics.

As long as a single party has a stable Parliamentary majority, post-election, this system has presented no headaches to the British ruling class.

Hung Parliament headaches

Problems emerge, as now seems likely, when no one party has a majority.

The last time this occurred was February 1974, when Edward Heath’s Tories failed to establish a working government. Labour, led by Harold Wilson, formed the government.

The convention established was that the existing Prime Minister was allowed a week or so extra in office to attempt to form a coalition government. Should that fail, he or she was to offer their resignation. This convention was clarified in February by the head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, giving evidence to a House of Commons Select Committee.

Now senior Tories are preparing to challenge this arrangement. They fear that should they fail to hold a majority of seats, Brown and Labour will be able to seize the initiative. Labour could use its week in office to negotiate a coalition deal with the Liberals.

It is reported that Tories intend to pressurise the Queen into demanding Brown’s immediate resignation – staging a virtual Tory coup.


This constitutional bickering is, on one level, faintly ridiculous: a direct collision between Britain’s wheezy traditions, and the brazen demands of modern, bourgeois politics.

But this little pantomime hides a brutal truth.

Whatever government emerges will be tied to slashing public spending on an unprecedented scale. They will all privilege appeasing the financial markets over providing public services. On this there is complete agreement amongst the main parties.

The question facing Britain’s rulers, then, is whether that attack is best led by a potentially unstable coalition, but one that might claim some 60% of the popular vote, or a stable but unpopular minority government.

So will they soft-soap when they cut, or go straight for the jugular?


The question is not settled. Major sections of the media, including now the influential Economist magazine and the Financial Times alongside the screeching Tory press, have already declared for Cameron.

In the event of a hung Parliament, expect the yammering from the Sun and the Mail for a Cameron premiership to reach fever pitch. They will be trying to bounce him into Downing Street.

But they have been unable to persuade sufficient of the electorate that Cameron’s unpleasant gaggle of bigots and toffs should be allowed anywhere near Number 10.

And at least sections of the ruling class appear to favour attempting a more consensual approach, much to Conservative ire. That’s why Tories have been making extraordinary attacks on senior civil servants like O’Donnell, calling him a “courtier” in league with New Labour.

The situation is too close to call, either way. Minor political disagreements and obscure Parliamentary rivalries may suddenly take on national significance as all sides grope towards forming a government.

Uncertainty over the outcome could provoke speculation against the pound and the British economy, just as Greece suffered.

Against the cuts

The only real certainty is that knives are being sharpened. The reputable Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that, in addition to the announced cuts, the Tories will need to hack off £67bn from public spending.

Really, these are not “cuts”. This is amputation; an all-out assault on the welfare state to keep financial speculators happy.

Greece shows the alternative. If Parliament does not represent the people, the streets will. A political movement must be built here to resist the onslaught.

And minority or coalition governments can be weak governments. The space for exta-Parliamentary activity is widended.

Of course, there are some candidates standing in who do not sign up to the consensus. The Left has been squeezed badly in this election, but decent candidates like those of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition deserve our support. In a few places candidates with strong local campaigns, like Respect’s George Galloway, Abjol Miah, and Salma Yaqoob, and the Green’s Caroline Lucas, will get good votes.

However, stopping the Tories at the ballot is the priority for tomorrow. Vote left where you can, vote Labour where you must.

The real battle starts on May 7.

James Meadway

Radical economist James Meadway has been an important critic of austerity economics and at the forefront of efforts to promulgate an alternative. James is co-author of Crisis in the Eurozone (2012) and Marx for Today (2014).