What is the government’s simple majority?
There are 650 seats in parliament. To have an overall majority, a political party must win over half of these seats: at least 326.
At the 2019 general election, the Conservative Party won 365 seats. As of October 2023, this stands at 351 following:
- Conservative by-election defeats in Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire, Wakefield, Tiverton and Honiton, Selby and Ainsty, Somerton and Frome, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Mid Bedfordshire, and Tamworth
- a Conservative gain at the Hartlepool by-election
- Christian Wakeford’s defection to Labour
- the suspension of the whip from Rob Roberts, Julian Knight, Peter Bone and Crispin Blunt following allegations of sexual misconduct
- the suspension of the whip from Matt Hancock due to his participation in 'I'm a Celebrity...'
- the suspension of the whip from Andrew Bridgen for anti-vaccine social media posts (Bridgen later joined the Reclaim Party as its first MP)
- the suspension of the whip from Scott Benton after he was filmed offering to lobby ministers in return for payment
- the surrendering of the whip by Bob Stewart following his conviction for a racially aggravated public order offence
In practice, Benton, Blunt, Bone, Bridgen, Hancock, Knight, Stewart, and Roberts are still likely to vote with the government on most issues.
The combined total of opposition party and independent seats is therefore 300. This gives the Conservative Party a simple majority of 50 seats.
How do we calculate the government's working majority?
In practice, the government has a larger ‘working majority’. This differs from the simple majority because two groups of MPs do not vote in parliament.
Firstly, there is the Speaker and his or her deputies. While the Speaker is usually first elected to Parliament as a representative of a political party, they resign from their party upon election to the chair. This is because their role requires them to be non-partisan and impartial. The Speaker does not vote upon legislation in the House of Commons unless their vote is required to break a tied division.
The Deputy Speakers - of whom there are usually three - are also expected to exercise their role impartially and without regard to party politics. They do not vote in divisions either, but unlike the Speaker, they retain their party affiliations.
By convention, of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, two are drawn from the governing party, and two from the main opposition party. This reduces the effective size of the Commons by four, to 646 MPs. The current Speaker is Sir Lindsay Hoyle; he and Dame Rosie Winterton, one of the Deputy Speakers, were both originally elected as Labour MPs. The two other original Deputy Speakers - Dame Eleanor Laing and Nigel Evans - were elected as Conservative MPs.
In December 2022, Sir Roger Gale - a Conservative MP - was appointed as an additional deputy speaker during the absence of Dame Eleanor Laing. This reduces the effective size of the Commons further, to 645 MPs.
The second group of non-voting MPs in the House of Commons are the Sinn Féin members. Sinn Féin, a Northern Irish republican political party, rejects British political institutions and its MPs do not take up their seats in the House of Commons.
The seven seats won by Sinn Féin in the December 2019 general election bring the total number of voting MPs down to 638. This means the government only needs 320 MPs to have a secure majority in parliament.
What is the government's current working majority?
With 347 Conservative MPs and 291 independent and opposition MPs eligible to vote on parliamentary legislation, the government has an effective working majority of 56 votes in the House of Commons. Twenty-nine Conservative MPs would need to rebel to ensure a government defeat in the House of Commons (provided all opposition and independent MPs vote against the government).