Supermajority vs. micro-opposition: Parliament after the general election? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 39

28 Jun 2024

Government Ministers have been warning of the risks if Labour wins a ‘supermajority’. But does the concept have any real meaning in the House of Commons?

If Labour emerges from the election facing a tiny – a micro-opposition – what are the implications? And if the Conservative Party ends up with a similar number of seats to the Liberal Democrats should – indeed could - the rights and responsibilities of being the Official Opposition be split? Is there any historical precedent to call upon?

How will events unfold when MPs get back to business? When can we expect the first legislation after the King’s Speech? When will Select Committees be set up? Will there be an early Budget? Will Parliament sit into August or break for recess as normal at the end of July?

And how is the House of Commons preparing to support the new MPs? What will await them during their first days at Westminster? When will they get their offices? How will they learn the do’s and don’t of etiquette in the Chamber?

  • Does the phrase 'supermajority' have any real meaning in the House Commons?

  • What are the implications for parliamentary dynamics if Labour faces a micro-opposition?

  • If two parties - for example, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - win a comparable number of seats, could they split the rights and responsibilities of the Official Opposition?

  • Is there any historical precedent where the identity of the Official Opposition was in question?

  • What is the timeline for MPs returning to business?

  • When will we see the first Government Bills after the King's Speech?

  • When will Select Committees be set up?

  • When will the Budget take place? Could it be later that anticipated?

  • Why will MPs need to approve the Main Estimates before Summer recess?

  • What will Parliament's sitting schedule look like: will MPs break for the Summer recess at the end of July or in August?

  • What preparations are being made by the House of Commons to welcome the new MPs to Westminster?

  • What will the new MP's first days at Westminster look like?

  • How are MPs offices allocated?

  • How do MPs learn about parliamentary etiquette and House of Commons chamber protocols?

Parliament Matters is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Parliament Matters is supported by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.


Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.


00:00:00:00 - 00:00:16:24 You're listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 00:00:17:01 - 00:00:44:14 Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox and I'm Mark D’Arcy.

Coming up, supermajority blues. What does it mean if Labour come out of the election facing a tiny and micro opposition in the Commons? How will Parliament housetrain the generation of 2024? And how will events unfold when the MPs get back to business?

00:00:53:23 - 00:01:15:23 But first, Ruth, we’re one week out. We're recording this a week before polling day and I suppose you could say nothing very much has still changed. We were saying that last week. The campaign seems remarkably stable. The polling numbers are uniformly awful for the Conservative Party. I mean, it's got to the point now where a Conservative score in the 20s is greeted with hosannas in some quarters. 00:01:15:23 - 00:01:51:04 So I suppose you've got to have the massive health warning here if the polls are wrong. And a week or so from now, Rishi Sunak is triumphantly returning to Downing Street with cheering and slightly disbelieving crowds before him. I think the polling industry may collectively just go out of business. But if it doesn't, if they're right, we are looking for a quite unusual situation in parliament, a government so utterly dominant, so completely outweighing the opposition, that maybe the whole machinery of scrutinizing the actions of ministers, of scrutinizing the new laws they propose, is going to be dangerously unbalanced. 00:01:51:09 - 00:02:14:00 Yes, and we'll probably come on to that. But the concern I'd have is, yes, they've got a huge majority and can use that to push through whatever legislation they want. But the question is, have they got the democratic mandate for some potentially really difficult issues that they may have to tackle very, very early on in a new administration when some of these big issues have not really been discussed? 00:02:14:04 - 00:02:33:10 Well, there's no doctor's mandate. The things that struck me about this was that this is not the pursuit of power. This is the trivial pursuit of power. We've been talking about betting scandals. We've been talking about Rishi Sunak getting whacked. We've been talking about peripheral issues. But there's a massive cost of living crisis out there. There's a massive climate crisis. 00:02:33:10 - 00:02:54:06 There's a huge crisis in the public finances. The world looks an incredibly dangerous place. More dangerous than it's been for most of my adult life. And those have intruded very little into a campaign that seems mostly centred around who scored the cleverest point and delivered the funniest one liner in a prime ministerial debate. So there's no doctor's mandate. 00:02:54:06 - 00:03:13:05 There's no moment when anyone has turned to the country and said, this is going to hurt, but it's necessary. And that's, I think, is probably the concern here that if the government gets in, they know what the scale of the economic problems are. But what our one of our first interviewees on the podcast, Meg Hillier, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, talked about the big nasties.

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