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The Fixed-term Parliaments Act — which the Tories pledged to repeal in their manifesto but which with the current parliamentary arithmetic is there to stay — makes a confidence and supply arrangement much more stable now than when it was last tried with the Lib-Lab pact of 1977-8. As Alistair Michie and the late Simon Hoggart record in their fascinating 1978 inside account of that arrangement The Pact (reissued by Faber & Faber, 2015, £14) that arrangement was endlessly teetering on the brink of collapse over trivial issues, most significantly increases in duty on petrol and the system to be used for direct elections to the European Parliament. Then governments could fall over losing a minor vote on a budget matter and indeed other defeats. With the Fixed-term Parliaments Act the only thing that brings down a government is the passing of an explicit motion of no confidence using the specific wording in the Act: “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.” Unlike in the late 1970s, the whips will not fear that the government will fall over a defeat on an obscure bill. For the government to get its legislation through Westminster, DUP MPs will have to be much more present than they have traditionally been; Northern Irish MPs in general have a poor Commons attendance record, preferring to stay in the constituencies. But surely the goodies they will be able to bring back to their constituencies will make their Westminster sojourns worthwhile.

Past governments have seen their majorities eroded over time via deaths and subsequent by-election defeats. It is why the Lib-Lab pact was necessary in 1977 to keep Jim Callaghan in office and why John Major’s government lost its majority before 1997 although it had one of 21 after its election victory in 1992. Yet something has changed.

Like Dickens’s Tiny Tim, Conservative MPs do not die — at least as long as they remain in parliament. Death rates for Tory MPs and Labour MPs used to be fairly similar. But since 2010 no Conservative MP has died in office — the last Tory to die in situ was Eric Forth in 2006 — while nine Labour MPs have died. This obviously includes the murdered Jo Cox, but it does not include Marsha Singh, who resigned his seat in 2012 due to ill-health four months before his death. The difference in death rates can partly be explained by the fact that there are more elderly Labour MPs. In the 2017 parliament there are 12 MPs on the Labour benches born before 1945, three of whom are over 80, and only five on the Conservative side, none of whom are over 80. It is also explained by the fact that the professional middle classes — from whom most Tory MPs are still drawn — have a more rapidly rising life expectancy than do less well-off groups. By-elections can, of course, be triggered by other factors, but with such a small majority the Tory whips will be doing their very best to avoid them. Don’t expect any sitting Conservative MPs to be offered peerages or to be made High Commissioner to Australia or Governor of Bermuda.

There is every reason to believe that the new government — with or without Theresa May at its head — can survive its full parliamentary term. There is only one thing which it seems at present could bring it down. While there has been much talk of there not being a majority for a “hard” Brexit in the Commons any more, if the government agreed to an arrangement with the EU which maintained free movement of people it is difficult to see a small group of hard-core Brexiteers, such as Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, continuing to support it.
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