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Politics: Could Labour Walk into Government Without Being Elected?

Usually one tries to keep articles like this relatively short, and yet also with enough detail to avoid skipping over things too much or missing out something important. Sometimes however, it might not be quite so simple and one example is what could be coming our way over the next couple of months. Assuming therefore you don’t expire through boredom and read until the end it if, far be it for me to predict gloom and doom, especially since one person’s gloom is another’s brightness, here may be something to consider. There is the possibility that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour could find themselves running the country without having been elected.

I am not an expert in these matters I have to confess, so to write this article has meant staying up late into the night and looking things up because the idea that the UK could have an un-elected government sounds a little implausible but it is nonetheless possible.

That this should be so is an insult to every single person lawfully living in the United Kingdom and either entitled to vote now or who will be when they reach the right age to do so. It also exposes the flimsy shallowness of David Cameron and his time as leader of the Conservatives and subsequently Prime Minister.

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA), brought in by Cameron’s coalition with the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, removed the ability of Prime Ministers to call early general elections and handed that power to Parliament. Cameron and Clegg came up with the FTPA to look cool and funky; to stop Prime Minsters from cutting and running if things looked dodgy for them in the House of Commons, a tactic that has been used numerous times in the past and often criticised. They also did it to stop governments calling an election when things were rosy and it would be a near-certainty that they would win. This tactic has also been used in the past and once again, has been criticised because it gives a government some extra time in office without a serious election – in other words, party A wins, does well, and after three years (with two to go) with the opposition in disarray, calls an election and wins easily again. They get another five years, making seven in power (or even more if they time it right) before they have to think seriously about re-election if the other side has sorted itself out. It has happened.

The Act was intended to compel a government to stay in office for a full term – five years but it has a get-out clause.

The FTPA gives now gives parliament two options: the first is a motion supported by two-thirds of MPs that an early election should take place. This early election mechanism was used in 2017 by Theresa May, on a motion put down by her government and supported by the opposition. May did so because she thought she would win handsomely; the polls said she would and she seemed (at the time) to be more popular, by a distance, than Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Corbyn supported it because he thought he would win, and he nearly did. The election campaign was abysmally run by the Tories and Corbyn was able to realise some potential as a communicator. The result was a hung parliament, even though the Conservatives had 56 more MPs than Labour.

The second method is a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government, in the precise wording set out in s. 2(4) of the Act, carried by a simple majority, which is followed by a 14-day period in which the Commons can install a new government (or re-install the previous government) by a precisely worded new motion, this time of confidence.

The no-confidence method has not yet been used but it might well be on its way within a fairly short period of time.

Up to the creation of the FTPA, if a government had been on the end of a no-confidence vote, convention had it that the government would resign and a general election called. The risk to the opposition (who would be the ones calling for a no confidence vote) is that they would lose again and the government returned to power, that risk of course including an increased majority for the re-elected government in the House of Commons. Such a result would make the opposition look rather silly.

At this point things get a little more complicated so I hope I have got this right (although I make no promises) but if I have, it does present a very worrying possibility for democracy in the UK.

An obvious means by which an incoming government with a very slim majority – or no majority - in the House of Commons could be defeated is on the Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech is the one where Her Majesty reads what the incoming Government wants to do and it has always been something of a formality in that it is voted through the House of Commons with little or no opposition. Opposition parties have tended to focus on defeating the government on specific aspects, particular policies, rather than trying to throw the Government out before it has even begun. Defeat for the government over the Queen’s Speech would invariably mean another general election and if the opposition lose yet once more, there would be nothing gained. They would still look odd. But losing The Queen’s Speech has happened.

To govern effectively in the UK, the prime minister needs to command a majority in the House of Commons. Convention dictates that following a general election, the leader of the largest party is ‘invited’ by the reigning monarch to form a government. To demonstrate that the new government is legitimate, the Queen prese