Making it up as we go along?
Posted by Matt Walker on March 31, 2010
It emerged today that Whitehall (i.e. the Civil Service) has drawn up a plan in the event of a hung parliament next month. It has been suggested that the newly elected House of Commons would not meet for 18 days after the election, as opposed to the usual 6 days. This would enable negotiations to take place between parties for the formation of a new government. The current government would remain in place whilst these negotiations take place.
The worry for Whitehall is that if the Commons meets early it would vote out the government, after which would be a protracted period of uncertainty which would affect financial markets. In other words, the 18 day stand-off would be an attempt to foster political stability so as to prevent economic instability.
If this is how things pan out, Gordon Brown could remain as prime minister for up to 18 days after the election, even if the Conservatives are the biggest party. This would give him breathing space to create a workable coalition. Of course, whilst he is trying to do this there would be nothing to prevent David Cameron putting out feelers to minority parties.
According to The Guardian, the Head of the Civil Service, Gus O’Donnell has drawn up the manual to set out who should do what in the advent of a hung parliament, and also to prevent the Queen from being drawn into the political mire. It has been suggested that the Queen could refuse a second immediate election if she deemed it damaging to the country. Imagine, for example, that Brown remained as prime minister despite losing the election, and during the newly agreed 18 day waiting period actually asked the Queen to dissolve parliament again!
What’s also interesting here is what it reveals about the nature of the UK constitution. We are faced with the prospect of a hung parliament, a situation experienced in most countries, and we need the Head of the Civil Service to draw up a manual explaining what to do under such circumstances. Arguably, the UK constitution should be doing that job.