On May 6, 2010, British voters went to the polls to elect a new government, and the results were almost exactly as predicted by public opinion and exit polls: none of the main political parties won enough seats in the new House of Commons to secure an outright majority.
The result: a “hung parliament,” and in the aftermath of the election, there’s a lot of political posturing and potential deal-making in the works.
Here’s a brief recap of the national results of the May 6, 2010 British general election (649 of 650 constituencies declared):
Conservatives: 306 seats (gain of 98 seats) ; 36.1 percent of vote
Labour: 258 seats (loss of 91 seats) ; 29.0 percent of vote
Liberal Democrats: (loss of 5 seats); 23 percent of vote
Other Parties: 28 seats (loss of 1 seat); 11.9 percent of vote
With none of the main political parties securing the outright majority of 326 seats needed to form a government, negotiations between the parties have begun. It was widely reported on May 7, 2010, that Conservative Party leader David Cameron has made an offer to share power with the Liberal Democrats, thereby forming a Conservative-led coalition that would result in an overall Conservative-Liberal Democrat majority. It was also reported that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, with the support of his party, is seriously considering Cameron’s offer. Clegg was apparently set to meet with Cameron on Saturday, May 8, to begin negotiating a possible alliance between the two parties. However, a deal may prove difficult to make, given the philosophical differences existing between the center-right Conservatives and the more progressive Liberal Democrats.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party, which was the biggest loser in the election, continues to govern. Labour will continue to do so until a coalition of political parties is able to form a working majority in the House of Commons. Reports indicate that Labour leader Gordon Brown does not plan to resign either as Prime Minister or as leader of his party. Brown has reportedly also contacted Clegg with an offer to share power in a Labour-led minority government.
While all these negotiations are going on, the Labour Party will remain in power, with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, in accordance with British constitutional requirements. Britain’s unwritten Constitution actually gives Brown the first opportunity form a new government, but Labour’s dismal showing in the election makes that politically unrealistic, if not impossible. The more likely scenario is a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. The question is: will the Conservatives be able to make a political deal sweet enough to entice the more left-leaning Liberal Democrats to join them in governing?
If none of the main parties are able to secure enough seats by way of a coalition to gain a majority, several outcomes are possible: either the Conservatives or Labour could attempt to form a minority government, relying on ad hoc informal agreements with other parties to sustain a working majority in the House of Commons.
However, history suggests that any party attempting to govern without an actual majority would very likely be doomed to failure in the long term. The last time British voters elected a “hung parliament,” in February 1974, Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath failed within a matter of months in his attempt to govern with a minority.
The result: political chaos. A second general election was called eight months later, in October 1974. In that second election of 1974, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party won with a tiny majority of three seats and governed for the next five years.
Stay tuned for further developments…
BBC News: Election 2010 National Results
BBC News: What is a Hung Parliament?
BBC News: Lib Dems Back Clegg on Tory Talks
BBC News: The Hurdles Facing Cameron and Clegg
Wikipedia: UK General Election, February 1974
Wikipedia: UK General Election, October 1974
Associated Content: UK Election Draws Closer, Hung Parliament Likely