The Tories are attempting to brand Ed Miliband as a confidence trickster set to “hijack” Downing St even if he does not get the biggest block of seats in a hung House of Commons, while Labour has struck back by insisting David Cameron will be little more than a house invader if he attempts to cling to the official residence with no hope of putting together a parliamentary majority.
There is no point checking with the British constitution over what happens when no one can command a majority — because there is no written constitution.
Instead, there is a hastily-drawn-up Cabinet manual put together after the creation of Britain’s first peace- time coalition in eight decades in 2010 — and that is open to interpretation.
The manual states that the new government can only be formed by whoever “is best able to command the confidence of the House of Commons”.
“An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but it is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative,” the manual states.
But with the Commons not meeting again until May 18, Mr Cameron looks set to try and stay in Downing St if there is any chance of him getting support for a legislative programme, known as the Queen’s Speech, which is set to go before parliament on May 27, it would then be voted on on June 3 — the moment a new government would stand or fall.
With Labour insisting there is no chance of a Tory-led majority as their only possible allies are the Lib Dems and the expected eight or nine DUP MPs, they want him to make way for a minority Labour administration as soon as this weekend.
But some Conservative strategists are pushing for Cameron to risk a Queen’s Speech he knows will not pass as it will show Labour and the SNP in alliance voting it down.
If, as the polls suggest, the Tories emerge as the largest party, even though this is likely to be by a slim margin, Conservatives feel this stance would put them in a stronger position for a snap second general election within the next 12 months.
With the SNP insisting they would never vote for a Tory agenda, Miliband knows he could get a Queen’s Speech through in June, and thus avoid an emergency general election in July.