How might the government lose its majority?

With a small working majority, it’s not hard to imagine the government losing its majority before 2022.

In last month’s election, the Conservative party won 317 seats (and the Speaker), just short of the magic-number 326. As a result of the deal with the DUP together they stand at 327 seats.

However, the government does not have as slim a majority as it may appear since Sinn Fein's MPs (all seven of them this time around) do not take their seats. In practice, this means that the opposition have seven less MPs, giving the government slightly better chances.

The opposition has a total of 315 MPs whereas the Conservatives and DUP have 327. If the government were to lose just seven seats then the opposition would be in the majority. That tells us just how close this election was, and that even the smallest of back-bench rebellions on the government benches could deliver an upset.

So how might the government lose its majority?

By-elections defeats

The slim majority means that a handful of by-election losses for the Conservatives or DUP could cause a loss in majority.

Before the election, the Conservatives did well in by-elections, even winning Copeland from Labour, the first time a governing party had won a by-election since 1982, according to the Telegraph. The opposition Labour party was weak, but having exceeded expectations in June it now looks like a fierce opposition party, ready to take seats off the government. There are a number of seats where the Liberal Democrats and SNP were not far behind the Conservatives as well.

The last thing the government will want right now is by-elections.


Another factor that could end the government’s majority is potential defections. With Jeremy Corbyn’s non-centrist agenda it is unlikely that Labour would woo any Conservative MPs over to their side, but Tory MPs on the liberal, pro-EU wing of the Conservative party could be tempted to go independent – or even join the Lib Dems – if a hard Brexit was pursued of if they could not continue to support the DUP-deal.

How likely is it that the government will lose their majority?

Looking at the 1992-1997 parliament, there is precedent for this as John Major lost his majority in 1996 due to numerous defections and by-election losses, according to the New York Times.

And then what?

Under the Fixed-term Parliament Act (2011), elections must be held every five years, meaning the next one is not due until 2022, however, the 2017 snap election shows that there are ways around the Act.

For 2017, two-thirds of the Commons voted for the new election, however, if the government lost its majority a new election could take place if the House voted in favour of a motion of no confidence in the government. There would then be a two-week period in which the government would scramble to form a new administration, but if that could not secure a majority then an election would take place.

The next election is scheduled for 2022, but with such a small majority another early election is not off the table.

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