In March, the Justice Committee of the House of Commons published a useful short report on Constitutional processes following a general election. It is as useful for the evidence given to it as it is for the substance of the report. In case there is a hung Parliament, the evidence – from former Cabinet secretaries Lords Butler and Turnbull, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Peter Riddell and current Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell – is well worth reading. The Committee was especially interested in the draft chapter governing government formation drawn up by Sir Gus.
One small point of terminology. The Committee favours using the term ‘no overall majority’ in place of a ‘hung Parliament’, since it regards it the former as more accurate and contains fewer pejorative connotations. However, this particular recommendation appears, as yet, not to have caught-on.
The same point can be made about its suggestion that the term ‘caretaker’ should be used to cover the principles governing the period from an election until a new government that clearly has the confidence of the new House of Commons has been returned. It regards the term ‘caretaker’ as “clearer and more meaningful than ‘purdah’ and should be used in formal guidance”. My experience, which I am sure is not uncommon, is that whenever I mention ‘purdah’ to a general audience, they (not surprisingly) have no idea what the term means.
Both seem reasonable suggestions, though I suspect the existing terms (especially hung Parliament) will be difficult to displace. Are there better alternatives than ‘no overall majority’ and ‘caretaker’ principles?