The votes have been totted up and as no single party holds a majority, Britain is left with the first hung parliament in 36 years. Although the Conservatives have the most seats and the highest percentage of the vote, they are still 21 seats away from an overall majority. This leaves three main options for the future: the Conservatives can attempt to lead a minority government, they can enter into a pact with the Lib Dems, and if this fails, Gordon Brown can step in to try and organise a Lib/Lab coalition. Prior to the results of the election, Cameron declared that a hung parliament can only lead to ‘muddle and fudge,’ so can the UK come out of this with a stable government?
The UK is not used to having a hung parliament. Since the Second World War the UK has only had 1 other hung parliament, in 1974. This is because First Past the Post is designed to give a single party a majority, and generally succeeds in this. However, with the recession and MP’s expenses, the British electorate have become highly disillusioned with British Politics and have sought alternatives to the usual two party system; thus the votes have been scattered, and the system has failed to deliver its usual clear mandate.
Although the UK isn’t used to a hung parliament, it has been on the cards for some time now. The Conservatives have been expected to receive around 35% for the past month or so, and they did achieve 36%. The final seat distribution also neatly matched the exit poll as the Conservatives were projected to achieve 308 seats in parliament and they have received 305 seats with 1 constituency’s votes yet to be returned. Although they gained 98 seats it was still disappointing for Cameron, who was hoping for an easy ride into number 10 prior to the leader’s debates. But with the hung parliament fear becoming a reality, Cameron in his speech at 2.30pm this afternoon was forced to do something previously unexpected, and announce his attempt to make a compromise with the Liberal Democrats. Cameron has said he is willing to enter into discussions with Clegg in order to try and form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to offer strength and stability for the UK. Cameron has said he will explore options for electoral reform further, offering a committee meeting on the matter and potential reforms for FPTP. Cameron will also look into lowering tax for the poorest. The areas in which the conservatives will not budge, however, lie with immigration and economic policy.
To the left of the spectrum, the result was equally near to the projected outcome, Labour getting 29% of the vote. Although Labour managed to outdo the Lib Dems in terms of seats, the votes were close, and it was a sub standard result for Labour as they lost 91 former Labour constituencies. But despite the electorate clearly illuminating their tiredness with Labour, and particularly Brown, the final decision as to who is PM remains in Gordon Brown’s hands under the constitution, as no party received an obvious mandate to govern alone. Brown did gracefully say in his speech earlier this afternoon that he would allow Cameron and Clegg to try and make negotiations, and only if they cannot do so in the national interest, he and his party will step in to try and make a coalition of their own with the Lib Dems.
The result for Liberal Democrats was the most tragic of the three main parties. After Clegg’s victories in the live debates, and ‘Clegg mania,’ it seemed that the traditional two party race could be overcome and a third party could break into the running. But alas, the voting didn’t reflect the opinion polls which placed Lib Dems on par with Labour or above by a percent or so in the high 20’s percentage mark and the Lib Dems actually lost seats, obtaining a meagre 58 seats. However, despite this saddening result, the Lib Dems are actually the party wielding the power. As no other party has a majority, both of the main parties will be seeking a coalition with them, and thus the Liberal Democrats can have a large influence on the two main parties key policy areas as they seek compromise to govern. Furthermore, the vote share for Lib Dems was dramatically higher than the seats they received, so although not the outcome Clegg was hoping for, change is still effectively on its way as greater disenchantment with the electoral system will become entrenched.
What is more, Caroline Lucas made history as the first green candidate to gain a seat in national parliament. This reiterates the fact that the electorate have an appetite to edge away from the stagnating two party politics produced under FPTP.
So how will this hung parliament be resolved over the next few days? A conservative/lib dem pact? A Lib/Lab pact? It is too early to tell, as great considerations need to be made over the next few days, or weeks, by the main parties in order to try and create a government which can govern in the ‘national interest.’ If most other European countries can govern efficiently with a coalition (e.g. Germany), there should be no reason why the UK can’t follow suit.