Here's what could happen after the election on Friday morning

When will we have a clear picture?

If there is a tight-run race, it might take until the final results are declared on Friday afternoon to know whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband has the upper hand in forming the next government.

What if Cameron has most seats?

He will have the first shot at attempting to stitch together a governing coalition – or could opt for a confidence and supply deal (where a partner would promise to support the Tories in budget and confidence votes).

His chances depend entirely on the numbers: if the Tories receive 290-300 seats they can probably get past the finishing line with Lib Dem and Democratic Unionist Party backing. Below that number he will face an uphill struggle.

What if the Tories are narrowly behind Labour?

Because he is the incumbent Prime Minister, Cameron could try to build enough support for another term in office. But the arithmetic would be against him. And his party’s second place would raise questions about the legitimacy of the move in the court of public opinion.

What if he cannot assemble enough support?

If the Tories are clearly ahead of Labour, Cameron could still declare victory and challenge Ed Miliband and the SNP to join forces to vote him out of office over a Queen’s Speech programme.

Can he do that?

A constitutional grey area. Labour argues that if Cameron cannot command the confidence of the Commons, then Miliband should be given the opportunity to form a government and not have to wait until a minority Tory administration is defeated on a Queen’s Speech.

What if Ed Miliband’s party has the most seats?

If Labour is clearly ahead, Cameron would be expected to vacate Downing Street, leaving Mr Miliband with the task of assembling a viable administration. Like Cameron, he could try to turn to the Lib Dems if his party picks up around 290 seats. However, Labour is unlikely to win that many, leaving its leader with the headache of the SNP holding his fate in his hands. Miliband has promised there will be no deals (including a confidence and supply arrangement) with Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

Could Ed Miliband try then to go it alone?

Yes, if there was no prospect of a stable Tory-led administration. Miliband could submit a Queen’s Speech and challenge the SNP to defeat it and potentially open the door to the Conservatives – or a second general election.

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