What is a minority government? How is it different to a coalition?

How does a minority government work?

If one party does not have a majority in parliament after an election, there are a few options available.

As in 2010, parties can try and form coalitions and agree a common policy programme. They can also agree a looser former deal called “supply and confidence” where only one party runs the government but does things in exchange for votes that stop the government falling.

The third option is a minority government.

What is a minority government?

A minority government is where the government doesn’t have more than half the seats in parliament and therefore can’t pass laws without the votes of parties not participating in the government.

How can they exist?

If a proposed government wins a confidence vote in parliament, it becomes the government. Other parties could support a government without actually joining it.

This could happen for a variety of reasons: the supporting party might think the resulting government was a better option than something else, the minority government might be the only option to form a government other than another election, or the supporters might get concessions.

Why could a minority government happen this time?

The last polls conducted before polling day show the Scottish National Party (SNP) is likely to win a lot of seats and hold the balance of power.

The SNP has said it won’t work with the Conservatives and will vote against a Tory government to put Labour in power.

But Labour has said it won’t do any deals with the Scottish National Party.

In this situation you’d have a Labour administration that relied on the SNP holding the line against the Tories. It would have to work on a vote-by-vote basis and use votes from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Tories, or a mix, to implement its programme.

Are minority governments common?

In some countries they are very common. In Denmark there have been more minority governments since World War II than there have been single party majority governments.

This is because parties in Denmark rarely get a majority but most of them don’t like each other enough to go into coalition with one another.

The system seems to work fine - Denmark has a high quality of life and is generally thought to have well-run public services.

Has the UK ever had a minority government before?

In the 20th century Harold Wilson led a minority Labour government for seven months in 1974. He called an election and later won a small majority.

In 1996 and 1997 John Major’s government became a minority government because of defections and losses at by-elections.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in