Sensing the growing likelihood of an election in 2015 where nobody wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons, a number of smaller political parties have started to outline their attitude towards a hung parliament – in particular, whether they’d be willing to enter a coalition.
Here’s what we know so far.
The Democratic Unionist party won eight MPs in Northern Ireland in 2010. If it manages the same tally in 2015, the party could be a key player in shaping the identity of the next government. Its leader Peter Robinson used a speech at the DUP’s annual conference over the weekend to remind delegates “the prize at a Westminster election has never been greater.” But he went on to say the party would not wish to become a member of any formal coalition. Robinson stated that the DUP would instead “sustain, in office, a government that offers policies and programmes that are in the best interests of Northern Ireland in particular, and the UK as a whole.”
In other words, the DUP would be willing to support a minority government, or a government with a very slender majority, on a vote-by-vote basis: what in official jargon is called “confidence and supply”.
Given the DUP’s history as a broadly right-wing party, it is the Conservatives who would be most likely to both seek and benefit from such an arrangement (although in 2010 the DUP said it was “not ideologically opposed” to supporting a Labour-Lib Dem coalition.)
The Scottish Nationalist party won six MPs in 2010 and, if current polls are to be believed, could increase this number greatly in 2015, largely at Labour’s expense.
The party’s new leader Nicola Sturgeon has already ruled out any kind of deal that would either enable or sustain a Conservative government. This includes both a coalition and a vote-by-vote arrangement. I don’t think the Tories will have been particularly surprised by this statement, although there have been a few examples recently of both parties working together in local government in Scotland, such as Dumfries & Galloway council.
When it comes to Labour, however, the SNP has ruled nothing out. At the party’s annual conference this month, Sturgeon said: “Think about how much more we could win for Scotland from a Westminster Labour government if they had to depend on SNP votes.” She then outlined three areas of negotiation the SNP would raise in any coalition talks: more devolution for Scotland; a “rethink” of the “endless austerity that impoverishes our children”; and the future of Trident nuclear weapons on the river Clyde.
If Labour is sensible and pragmatic, it should already be thinking about how to handle such proposals and the idea of working with the SNP in government.
Nigel Farage earlier this month said he could not see Ukip “wilfully going into formal coalition with anybody.” But he added that he’d be “very comfortable supporting anybody that gave me an opportunity to get my country back” – that is, whichever party was in the best place to stage a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. To secure this referendum, Farage told the New Statesman he would be prepared to “do a deal with the devil if he got me what I wanted.” He acknowledged this included Labour, which has so far ruled out just such a referendum.
Ukip would not, therefore, seek to become a member of a coalition government but instead would – like the DUP – offer its support on an ad hoc basis to achieve certain specified ends. Of course, unlike the DUP and the SNP, Ukip won no MPs in 2010 and will go into the 2015 election with only two Tory defectors to its name.
The Social Democratic and Labour party won three MPs in Northern Ireland in 2010. It has yet to state publicly whether or not it would support a minority government or join a coalition. But given the SDLP’s history and politics, it’s a safe bet the party would be more inclined to work with a Labour administration than the Conservatives.
Only the SNP has so far intimated it would be willing to enter a coalition – or more precisely, not ruled it out. The DUP and Ukip have ruled it out and stated a preference for supporting a government on a vote-by-vote basis. The SDLP has yet to make its intentions clear.
It’s worth adding that all of the above refers to what the parties are saying at the moment. Things could suddenly become very different once the election is over and the chance of a seat in cabinet is being dangled in front of their eyes.