A dummy’s guide to the election: What’s a hung parliament? Can the Queen say no to Theresa May?

Here are the answers to the questions you're too afraid to ask about the General Election 2017...

Two months after calling a snap election, Theresa May has been left red-faced after losing her majority and leaving Britain with a hung parliament – just one of several bits of political jargon now floating about. Here are answers to the questions you might be too embarrassed to ask about how the days following the 2017 general election will affect your future.

1. What’s a majority?

On June 8 you voted for a local Member of Parliament. Most MPs belong to a political party like Labour or Conservative. The winner in your constituency then became one of 650 MPs in the UK Parliament. A majority is achieved when a party receives more than half of the 650 seats in Parliament: 326 seats.

The incredible youth turnout in this election (reportedly 72% among 18-24s) helped win Labour 29 seats. The Tories lost 12 of theirs, meaning the majority they started the election with has now gone, and embarrassingly for Theresa May, who called the election, we now have a hung parliament.

2. What’s a hung parliament?


If no political parties are able to win 326 seats, the election results in a hung parliament. When this occurs, three things can happen, and Theresa May has chosen the third.

  1. The UK can have another election, in which case the whole process will start again.
  2. A minority government can be created. This is the option Corbyn said he would choose if Labour had been the largest party. Minority governments are very rare: the last time the UK had a minority government was in 1996, and it only happened because the Tories’ small majority from the 1992 election had slowly crumbled into a minority because of defections and Tory losses in by-elections. It only lasted about a year, between 1996 and the general election of 1997, when the Tories lost spectacularly. A minority government is generally not seen as preferable because the government loses its near-guarantee of passing legislation in the House of Commons. As Theresa May claimed when she called the election, the impending Brexit negotiations mean it’s a crucial time for unity in Parliament. Labour’s idea of taking on the next five years as a minority government was a bold move: they effectively said they would proceed as a minority government while assuming that MPs from parties like the Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP would vote in their favour in the House of Commons.
  3. Two or more parties can combine their numbers and form a coalition government, like the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did after 2010’s election. This is the option Theresa May has chosen: after all other parties pre-emptively refused to make a deal with the Tories, she has agreed to a coalition with Northern Ireland’s DUP party.

Theresa May
Theresa May

3. Who are the DUP?

The Democratic Unionist Party are a socially conservative party in Northern Ireland. They’re anti-abortion and also oppose same-sex marriage. They have a history of climate change denial and in 2011 five of their MPs called for the return of the death penalty. They are also Theresa May’s only option to retain power.

The DUP got the most seats in Northern Ireland in this election. They won 10, which – alongside the Conservative Party’s 318 seats – would be just enough to have a majority in government (328 seats). Their leader Arlene Foster has said she’s against the Tories’ hard Brexit, but she and Theresa May have reportedly still reached a deal. This means Theresa May will now visit Buckingham Palace to get the Queen’s formal approval to form a government.

4. Can the Queen say no to Theresa May?

No. If a party leader has enough seats, the Queen cannot refuse their request to form a government. With the 10 seats of the DUP, Theresa May has 328 seats – so unless something unprecedented happens, a DUP-Tory coalition it is.