Imagine this on May 8th: the Tories have ended up with 270 seats in the House of Commons, the exact same number as Labour. The Lib Dems have 30, the SNP 40. The rest of the House is comprised of tiny parties with a handful of seats, the DUP being the largest with 9.
If you’ve already done the maths in your head, you realise that no government could be formed out of two parties alone, and even multiple party government would be a stretch. You may be thinking that Labour could form a minority government with the Lib Dems and SNP supplying support; but even putting aside any logistical difficulties in getting that set up, what gives Ed Miliband the right under this scenario to be prime minister over Cameron? After all, they have the same number of seats, and if that’s the case the Tories almost certainly have a more votes, not to mention the fact that Cameron is sitting prime minister.
Cameron could get the Lib Dems to work with him, making life even more complicated. If he can get the Lib Dems into a coalition in this set of circumstances and work something out with the DUP, he would have a perfectly rightful claim to be able to set up a government over Miliband. So who gets to be prime minister then? Who decides?
Technically, the Queen – but she’s also not allowed to actually decide, a paradox that’s never been actually tested up until now. Both Labour and the Tories would have a perfect right to claim they can put together a minority government of reasonable stability under the circumstances (Labour wouldn’t necessarily need the Lib Dems to make a claim equal to the Tories in this case).
One supposes another election in quick succession would be the answer, but under the Fixed Term Parliament Act this is not so simple. Basically, we could be in for two weeks of chaos while the Tories and Labour have one all mighty bunfight about who gets to run the country for the next five years (theoretically anyhow, although one struggles to see how any minority government that is still a minority with another party can last the full term, fixed terms or no fixed terms) before everyone could throw in the towel and have another general election.
I’m genuinely scared about this scenario coming to fruition. With anti-politics so rife at present, I worry about whether the country can stand it. Another election might drain even more political goodwill from the system, reducing it to the dregs. As a postscript I might also add that, given they are the only party that can afford another general election, the Tories would probably win the damn thing second time round.