A few weeks ago I ran through what each of the smaller parties have said about whether or not they would be prepared to join a coalition in the next parliament, and if so with whom.
Since then there have been a few developments. I’ve rounded up what we know so far.
The Green party leader Natalie Bennett this week told the BBC that her party would in no circumstances “prop up” a Conservative government. She indicated the Greens would be willing to support a Labour government of some description, but would not enter a formal coalition. Instead the party would offer support on a vote-by-vote basis, a convention known as “confidence and supply”.
Bennett confirmed the Greens are focusing on 12 seats at the election, starting with holding their one existing seat Brighton Pavilion (which I predict they will), and that their top target is Bristol West.
The Democratic Unionist Party has now ruled out entering a formal coalition after the 2015 election.
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party would instead be willing to “shore up” a future government, but this would be conditional on securing the best deal for Northern Ireland.
Dodds revealed that the DUP had already been approached by “other parties at Westminster” and added: “We’re very happy to talk to everybody, as always.”
The DUP won eight MPs at the 2010 election and is traditionally seen a natural ally of the Conservatives.
The Social Democratic and Labour Party has yet to say officially what it would do in the event of another hung parliament. It won three MPs in 2010 and its left-of-centre agenda would make it a naturally ally of Labour at Westminster. SDLP leader Alistair McDonnell has admitted his party would be more likely to deal with Labour than anyone else.
Sinn Fein won five seats in 2010 but because of its long-standing policy of abstaining from participation in the House of Commons, those MPs have never attended parliament. The party confirmed recently that this policy would continue into the next parliament. While this would not have any direct impact on the composition of a coalition, it would influence the nature of business in the House of Commons, as Sinn Fein’s absence reduces the total number of working members in the Commons from 650 to 645. In turn this reduces the number needed for an absolute majority from 326 to 323.
The party’s position has not altered since Nigel Farage told the New Statesman in early November that he could not see Ukip “wilfully going into a formal coalition with anybody”. Farage added that he would be willing to do a “confidence and supply” deal with any party or government that “gave me an opportunity to get my country back” – in other words, a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. He confirmed this included Labour, which has so far ruled out a referendum.
Unlike the parties mentioned above, Ukip won no MPs in 2010 and will go into the 2015 election with only two Tory defectors to its name.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has already ruled out any kind of deal that would either enable or sustain a Conservative government. This includes both a coalition and a “confidence and supply” arrangement. But Sturgeon has ruled nothing out when it comes to Labour. At the SNP’s annual conference in November, she 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.
The SNP won six seats in 2010. If current opinion polls are to be believed, they will increase this number in 2015, largely at Labour’s expense.
Plaid Cymru’s position mirrors that of the SNP. The party has said it would not support any kind of Conservative government. But it has not ruled out a coalition with Labour.
Party leader Leanne Wood said this week that they would prefer a “confidence and supply” arrangement with a Labour-led government, but that a coalition might be possible with whoever could deliver “the best deal for Wales”. Wood recently met with her counterparts Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett to discuss tactics for the election campaign. It sounds like all three are intending to coordinate their actions in the event of a hung parliament. Plaid Cymru won three seats in 2010 and ought to hold all of them in 2015.
There are two more MPs in Northern Ireland, neither of whom belong to any of the three main parties. One is Sylvia Hermon in Down North, who sits as an independent and who won a massive majority of 14,364 in 2010. The other is Naomi Long of the Alliance party, who won a majority of 1,533 in Belfast East. As far as I can see, neither has yet indicated how they may cast their votes in the event of a Tory or Labour-led minority administration.
I haven’t included the Liberal Democrats in this round-up. It’s obvious they’d be happy to remain in power as part of a coalition. Harry Lambert has written of how the Lib Dems are likely to be a more right-leaning party after the election, which suggests a coalition with the Tories is more plausible than one with Labour – though it remains to be seen just how many Lib Dem MPs will be left after polling day.