Cameron wrong on Brown first go at forming new government

David Cameron in an Indy interview is full of confidence but surprisingly misunderstands the conventions for a hung Parliament. Let’s hope he’s better advised on Treasury matters if the time comes. 

Mr Cameron challenged the Whitehall convention that says that, if Britain votes for a hung parliament, the existing Prime Minister gets the first chance to form a government, even if his party has fewer seats or votes than its main rival. The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, recently reaffirmed that this remains the position.

 Apparently relying on his student memory of 20 years ago, he gets it wrong, despite his 1st class degree . He should have consulted his old tutor Vernon Bogdanor, or Robert Hazell who advised the cabinet office.

Your front-page story (26 April) misunderstands the constitutional conventions in saying that “the prime minister should be allowed to try to form a government first”. The incumbent prime minister stays in office after the election and is entitled to meet the new parliament and test whether his government still commands confidence. But other parties are perfectly entitled to negotiate with each other to see whether they can form an alternative government.



  • Precisely!

    The business of government has to continue. Parliament is supreme. So, short of Cameron ‘phoning the Palace to request his cousin-by-illegitimacy to intervene or leading an armed march, there is no way of unstooling the tenant of Downing Street’s potty-of-state before a Commons vote of confidence, or the near-certainty of one.

    The precedent is February 1974: quite recent. The outgoing PM is truly outgoing when an assured majority of the Commons can be cobbled together against him. All that amounts to is Clegg (+/- A.N.Other) announcing that his Y number of seats plus Cameron’s X-number of seats = 325 or more, and Dave’s in. Or not. Should Clegg not be bought (or unable to take his party with him), Dave’s stuffed, despite the screams of the Tory press.

  • Seymour Major

    I would be surprised if Cameron really was bothered about the convention.

    More likely, Cameron was dishing out propaganda to undermine the possibility of Clegg hooking up with Labour.

  • An extra wrinkle?

    Dawn breaks next Friday. Cameron has his first-place, but nothing near the “natural” 325-seats needed to claim a majority. Labour trails. The Libs have picked up a score or two of seats, many from Tories (there are more Tory/Lib marginals than any other combination).

    Clegg is now under siege by the press (and by the markets?).

    Clegg’s agents are busily contacting the incoming cohort of new MPs. Will they support a Lib-Con pact? Or an “arrangement”? Or what?

    By noon, Clegg reckons he has the agreement of his party and announces, yes he will play footsie.

    Gordon Brown hurriedly starts packing. Let joy be unbounded in Murdochia.

    The (extended) News at One: several newly-elected Libs, with wafer-thin majorities over Tories, announce that, on the contrary, any Tory alliance will be over their dead bodies. The Libs are now big enough to split: by no means an historic first.

    etc. etc.

    The scenario is endless: every minority in sight will want to play (even up to the SF “abstainers” seeing this as an opportunity to rewind Joe Biggar’s obstructionist example?). As Friday drifts into Saturday the dust still has not settled.

    Chaos ensues. Particularly so, when early on Saturday morning Iran goes nuclear (just as the fall of Krushchev coincided with the 1964 election). An urgent meeting of the Security Council is called: who is the UK Foreign Secretary?

    The parliamentary numbers still do not add up. The Nats have proclaimed a pox on all your parties. The DUP have taken the hump because SF are screwing the odds.

    Night falls on Whitehall: Brown desists from packing for a crisis meeting with the Governor of the Bank of England.

    Less dramatic, early editions of the Sundays reveal the Chief Constable of West Loamshire covered up his wife’s speeding tickets: who is Home Secretary to authorise the sacking?

    That is what I meant by saying that the business of government must continue.

  • I think the convention is that the outgoing Prime Minister, at his first meeting with the Queen, either agrees to form a government or resigns (in which case she calls for the leader of the other largest party). If he doesn’t resign, a vote of confidence is required to remove him.

    Obviously, where there is a conclusive result (ie absolute majority) the outgoing PM resigns immediately on his own and his government’s behalf.

    I would assume (but wouldn’t be entirely certain) that ministers remain in post even while Parliament is dissolved, and that if an emergency occurs between the resignation of one PM and the next appointing his cabinet, the new PM is temporarily responsible for the lot – majority or not.

    I would further assume that if Cameron cannot reach 300 seats and can’t reach a deal with the Lib Dems, he would have to call a fresh election very quickly as he could not govern – for example, his emergency Budget would be thrown out by the Commons in short measure, enough to force him to call a fresh election anyway.