Balance of power (parliament)
In parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

ary politics, the term balance of power sometimes describes the pragmatic mechanism exercised by a minor political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 or other grouping whose guaranteed support may enable an otherwise minority government
Minority government
A minority government or a minority cabinet is a cabinet of a parliamentary system formed when a political party or coalition of parties does not have a majority of overall seats in the parliament but is sworn into government to break a Hung Parliament election result. It is also known as a...

 to obtain and hold office. This can be achieved either by the formation of a coalition government
Coalition government
A coalition government is a cabinet of a parliamentary government in which several political parties cooperate. The usual reason given for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament...

 or by an assurance that any motion of no confidence
Motion of no confidence
A motion of no confidence is a parliamentary motion whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government.-Overview:Typically, when a parliament passes a vote of no...

 in the government would be defeated. A party or person may also hold a theoretical 'balance of power' in a chamber without any commitment to government, in which case both the government and opposition groupings may on occasion need to negotiate that party's legislative support.


The Senate
Australian Senate
The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Senators are popularly elected under a system of proportional representation. Senators are elected for a term that is usually six years; after a double dissolution, however,...

, which serves as the nation's
Government of Australia
The Commonwealth of Australia is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a result of an agreement among six self-governing British colonies, which became the six states...

 upper house and as a house of review, was established on the basis of ensuring that the smaller Colonies joining the Commonwealth were given equal representation, as required under the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. Between 1901 and 1918, Senators were elected on a first past the post system, changing to each state voting as one electorate on a preferential system
Preferential voting
Preferential voting is a type of ballot structure used in several electoral systems in which voters rank candidates in order of relative preference. For example, the voter may select their first choice as '1', their second preference a '2', and so on...

 from 1918 until 1948. During this period, the majority party in the lower house also generally had a commanding majority in the Senate. Since 1949, Senators are elected on the basis of achieving a transferable quota
Single transferable vote
The single transferable vote is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through preferential voting. Under STV, an elector's vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or...

 in each State or Territory. In more recent years, this method of election has generally resulted in a multi-party mix. In the early years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, Senators were more inclined to vote along State lines, with some exceptions.

The Senate has the power to reject or defer bills passed by the lower house
Australian House of Representatives
The House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the Parliament of Australia; it is the lower house; the upper house is the Senate. Members of Parliament serve for terms of approximately three years....

, thus obliging the government of the day to negotiate with minor parties in the Senate (or the opposition) in order to pass its legislation. The Australian Senate cannot directly bring down a government, though it can pass an indicative motion of no confidence and has the power to defer or block supply bills
Appropriation bill
An appropriation bill or running bill is a legislative motion which authorizes the government to spend money. It is a bill that sets money aside for specific spending...

, as notoriously occurred in the constitutional crisis of 1975 which was precipitated, in part, by the deferment of supply through a manipulated balance of power.

If no party holds a majority of seats in the lower house, it is necessary to form a coalition with other members of parliament
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 in order to form a stable government, rather than rely on the support of crossbenchers who hold the balance of power.

United Kingdom

The normal UK response to a "hung" or "balanced" parliament is the formation of a minority government. Coalitions or even formal agreements by one party to support the government of another party are rare.

1847-1852 Conservative
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 325, Whig and Radical 292, Irish Repeal
Repeal Association
The Repeal Association was an Irish mass membership political movement set up by Daniel O'Connell to campaign for a repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland....

 36, Irish Confederate 2, Chartist
Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom during the mid-19th century, between 1838 and 1859. It takes its name from the People's Charter of 1838. Chartism was possibly the first mass working class labour movement in the world...

 1. Total seats 656.

The United Kingdom general election, 1847
United Kingdom general election, 1847
-Seats summary:-References:* F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987* British Electoral Facts 1832-1999, compiled and edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher *...

 produced a House of Commons in which no group had a clear majority. Candidates calling themselves Conservatives won the largest number of seats. However, the split among the Conservatives between the majority of Protectionists, led by Lord Stanley
Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby
Edward George Geoffrey Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, KG, PC was an English statesman, three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and to date the longest serving leader of the Conservative Party. He was known before 1834 as Edward Stanley, and from 1834 to 1851 as Lord Stanley...

, and the minority of free traders, known also as the Peelites, led by former prime minister Sir Robert Peel, left the Whigs, led by prime minister Lord John Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell
John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, KG, GCMG, PC , known as Lord John Russell before 1861, was an English Whig and Liberal politician who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the mid-19th century....

, in a position to continue in government.

The Irish Repeal group won more seats than in the previous general election, while the Chartists' Feargus O'Connor
Feargus O'Connor
Feargus Edward O'Connor was an Irish Chartist leader and advocate of the Land Plan.- Background :Feargus O'Connor was born into a prominent Irish Protestant family, the son of Irish Nationalist politician Roger O'Connor...

 gained the only seat the party would ever hold.

1885-1886 Liberal
Liberal Party (UK)
The Liberal Party was one of the two major political parties of the United Kingdom during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a third party of negligible importance throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, before merging with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 to form the present day...

 319, Conservative 249, Irish Parliamentary Party
Irish Parliamentary Party
The Irish Parliamentary Party was formed in 1882 by Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Nationalist Party, replacing the Home Rule League, as official parliamentary party for Irish nationalist Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons at...

 86, Others 16. Total seats 670.

As a result of the United Kingdom general election, 1885
United Kingdom general election, 1885
-Seats summary:-See also:*List of MPs elected in the United Kingdom general election, 1885*Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885–1918*Representation of the People Act 1884*Redistribution of Seats Act 1885-References:...

 there was no single party with a majority in the House of Commons. The Irish Nationalists, led by Charles Stewart Parnell
Charles Stewart Parnell
Charles Stewart Parnell was an Irish landowner, nationalist political leader, land reform agitator, and the founder and leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party...

 had the balance of power.

The Conservative minority government (led by the Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, KG, GCVO, PC , styled Lord Robert Cecil before 1865 and Viscount Cranborne from June 1865 until April 1868, was a British Conservative statesman and thrice Prime Minister, serving for a total of over 13 years...

), which had come to office earlier in the year after the Parnellites and dissident Liberals had defeated the Liberal government of W.E. Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone FRS FSS was a British Liberal statesman. In a career lasting over sixty years, he served as Prime Minister four separate times , more than any other person. Gladstone was also Britain's oldest Prime Minister, 84 years old when he resigned for the last time...

, improved its position in the election but not sufficiently to obtain a majority. During the general election Parnell had called on Irish voters in Britain to vote Tory (i.e. Conservative).

However, as Gladstone was willing to propose a measure of Home Rule
Home rule
Home rule is the power of a constituent part of a state to exercise such of the state's powers of governance within its own administrative area that have been devolved to it by the central government....

 for Ireland which Salisbury opposed, Parnell decided to bring down the Conservative ministry when the new parliament met. A Liberal minority government came into office in January 1886.

1892-1895 Conservative and Liberal Unionist
Liberal Unionist Party
The Liberal Unionist Party was a British political party that was formed in 1886 by a faction that broke away from the Liberal Party. Led by Lord Hartington and Joseph Chamberlain, the party formed a political alliance with the Conservative Party in opposition to Irish Home Rule...

 313, Liberal 272, Irish Nationalists 81, Others 4. Total seats 670.

The situation was similar to that in 1885-86. Following the United Kingdom general election, 1892
United Kingdom general election, 1892
The 1892 United Kingdom general election was held from 4 July to 26 July 1892. It saw the Conservatives, led by Lord Salisbury, win the greatest number of seats, but not enough for an overall majority as William Ewart Gladstone's Liberals won many more seats than in the 1886 general election...

, although the Irish Nationalists were split between pro and anti-Parnellite factions, they all still preferred the pro-Home-Rule Liberals to the anti-Home-Rule Unionists of Salisbury. The Conservative government was defeated early in the new parliament and Gladstone formed a new Liberal minority government.

1910-1915 United Kingdom general election, January 1910 Liberal 274, Conservative and Liberal Unionist 272, Irish Nationalists 82, Labour
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 40, Other 2. Total seats 670.

United Kingdom general election, December 1910 Liberal 272, Conservative and Liberal Unionist 271, Irish Nationalists 84, Labour 42, Other 1. Total seats 670.

The Liberal government of H.H. Asquith continued in office as a stable minority administration. Despite strains, both the Irish and Labour members preferred a Liberal government to a Conservative one. This continued to be the case until Asquith formed a Liberal-Conservative-Labour coalition to prosecute the First World War.

1923-1924 United Kingdom general election, 1923
United Kingdom general election, 1923
-Seats summary:-References:*F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987*-External links:***...

 Conservative 258, Labour 191, Liberal 158, Others 8. Total seats 615.

The 1923 general election led to the defeat of the Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...

. The Labour Party of Ramsay MacDonald
Ramsay MacDonald
James Ramsay MacDonald, PC, FRS was a British politician who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government for two terms....

 formed a minority government in January 1924. Although the party with the balance of power (Asquith's Liberals) appeared to be in a very strong position, the Labour leaders made a deliberate decision not to reach any agreement with the Liberals. As the Liberal Party did not want to join forces with the Conservatives and could not afford a quick general election, they were left in the awkward position of having to vote with the government on measures they had not been consulted about.

The Labour government eventually fell when, in a debate about alleged political interference in a decision whether to prosecute a Communist newspaper editor, the Conservative Party abandoned its own motion and voted for a Liberal one which thus passed and caused the resignation of the Labour government.

1929-1931 United Kingdom general election, 1929
United Kingdom general election, 1929
-Seats summary:-References:*F. W. S. Craig, British Electoral Facts: 1832-1987*-External links:***...

 Labour 287, Conservative 260, Liberal 59, Others 9. Total seats 615.

The situation was similar to 1923-1924. However the Labour Party was the largest party in the House of Commons, so the Liberals (now led by David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George
David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor OM, PC was a British Liberal politician and statesman...

) could abstain without bringing down the new Labour minority government.

As the world economic situation worsened, MacDonald had some discussions with Lloyd George. These led to a government bill to introduce the Australian style alternative vote electoral system. This measure was being obstructed by the Conservative Party and dissident Labour politicians and had not become law before the Labour government fell. A National government was formed, in 1931, with the support of a part of the Labour Party and Conservative and Liberal leaders.

1974 United Kingdom general election, February 1974
United Kingdom general election, February 1974
The United Kingdom's general election of February 1974 was held on the 28th of that month. It was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party,...

 Labour 301, Conservative 297, Liberal 14, Others 23. Total seats 635.

This election led to the Conservative government of Edward Heath
Edward Heath
Sir Edward Richard George "Ted" Heath, KG, MBE, PC was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and as Leader of the Conservative Party ....

 losing its majority, with Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

's Labour Party winning four more seats. However no two parties (other than Conservative and Labour) could jointly provide a majority in the House of Commons. The balance of power was held jointly by the Liberals and others (Welsh
Plaid Cymru
' is a political party in Wales. It advocates the establishment of an independent Welsh state within the European Union. was formed in 1925 and won its first seat in 1966...

 and Scottish nationalists, with the Northern Irish members)—who were unlikely to act together.

Heath entered into discussions with the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe
Jeremy Thorpe
John Jeremy Thorpe is a British former politician who was leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976 and was the Member of Parliament for North Devon from 1959 to 1979. His political career was damaged when an acquaintance, Norman Scott, claimed to have had a love affair with Thorpe at a time...

. No agreement was reached, mostly because Heath was not prepared to agree to electoral reform. Also, the Liberals were not keen to support a government which had just lost an election (although it did narrowly win the popular vote). In any event, a Conservative-Liberal coalition would have been a minority government and would have needed the support of the Ulster Unionist Party
Ulster Unionist Party
The Ulster Unionist Party – sometimes referred to as the Official Unionist Party or, in a historic sense, simply the Unionist Party – is the more moderate of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland...

(which had recently broken with the Conservatives) to command a bare majority of seats.

Heath resigned and Wilson then formed a minority government.
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