One of the catchiest phrases doing the rounds on Twitter as the UK election results come in is "Activate the Queen". It all started with a BBC radio interview with Professor Peter Hennessey of the University of London back in March.
Here’s a quick transcript:
Hennessey: "The understanding is that the Prime Minister of the day doesn’t activate the Queen until he or she resigns. And the Prime Minister of the day, ie Gordon Brown, doesn’t have to resign straight away. If it’s messily hung and it’s very close he could face parliament with the Queen’s Speech and only when voted down on that Queen’s Speech — which is a matter of confidence — would he have to resign. And normally the Queen would then turn — and the word is always normally — to the political figure who commands most seats in the House of Commons or is most likely to be able to command the House of Commons — command the confidence of the House of Commons. But it gets very messy Sarah, if the Prime Minister of the day who’s lost a vote of confidence asks for another dissolution because the Queen doesn’t have to accept that request. She would normally turn to David Cameron …
Interviewer: So … one second … If the Prime Minister of the day doesn’t effectively lose completely but something happens and he thinks ‘let’s call another election’ he’s not necessarily in a position to do that?
Hennessey: The Queen doesn’t have to grant that request and almost certainly would not because he’s had dissolution and had his election. She would then offer the chance to form an administration to David Cameron. And if he put — and this is where it gets messy and very uncertain — if he put a Queen’s Speech to the House of Commons which he lost on and he asked for a dissolution of Parliament thereby triggering an election he would get one. He would almost certainly get one. And these guidelines make all that pretty clear now for the first time. You see the Queen is like Heineken lager, there are certain parts of the Constitution that only she can reach. But the real point is, she mustn’t be politicised. The parties have to sort it out among themselves and she gives her good housekeeping seal of approval when they’ve sorted it out.
Update: Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell draws the Queen as a Dalek “ACTIVATE! ACTIVATE!” But nobody seems to get the joke.