UK Wakes to Hung Parliament, Political Disorder

God save British politics

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Britain wakes this morning to the prospect of a hung parliament: neither of the two main parties--the Conservatives led by David Cameron or Labour led by sitting prime minister Gordon Brown--have a majority in the country's election. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, thought to be on a roll, won startlingly few seats. Gordon Brown will remain prime minister until some party can pull together a majority. Clegg has already declared support for the Conservatives and David Cameron, which makes a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition likely. Here's analysis of the situation as it stands.

  • General Chaos  "British politics stands in its worst state of flux and doubt since February 1974, plus everyone's got a hangover," writes Andrew Roberts for The Daily Beast. "Rather like Americans in the year 2000, we are waking up after all-night election parties with no idea who is going to form the next government."
It will be up to a motley collection of minor parties to decide who becomes prime minister. These include Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, Irish republican Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist parties, and a single Green MP, Caroline Lucas who was elected for Brighton Pavilion.
  • Helped by Clegg's Declaration, says The Guardian's Julian Glover, who calls the Liberal Democrat candidate's statement in favor of the Conservatives "clear and brave," though not entirely surprising "given the failure of Labour and the Lib Dems together to win enough seats to rule with a majority together."
Yet even if, as seems probable, Cameron get into Downing Street in minority rule, it won't feel much like success. Margaret Thatcher may have only got 62 extra seats in 1979, two-thirds the Tory total last night, but she won outright. Cameron didn't. He will have to hold his nerve while his party stirs. The move won't be against him, but against the nature of his leadership, which many Tories will want to change in style, content and direction.
  • Brown Needs to Give Up  Nile Gardiner, writing at American conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, says if Brown and Labour try to "cling on to power," as they seem inclined to do, "the consequences for Britain will be dire--a sharp fall in markets, a decline in prestige on the world stage, and political paralysis in the face of a mounting economic crisis." Plus, given the lack of "popular mandate" and media opposition, "such a government would be short-lived," anyway.
  • Don't Look to Me for Optimism "By any reckoning, power is likely to prove a poisoned chalice for whoever takes over," writes The Guardian's Seumas Milne.
  • Great Victory for Conservatives, declares The Telegraph--which leans Conservative. Despite lacking a majority, the editorial board trumpets Cameron's likelihood of being "the youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812." They offer some context for their unbridled enthusiasm:
The scale of his achievement cannot be overstated. After all, let us remember where the Conservatives were 13 years ago, crushed under the wheels of Tony Blair’s New Labour juggernaut and reduced to a pitiful rump of just 165 seats.
  • And a Voting Screwup?  The editorial board of the Times of London worries the election may be seen as flawed, due to "guidelines" regarding ballots having "been applied inconsistently across the country." It looks as if some people may not have been able to vote. "At a moment when the markets are very jittery, when the country desperately needs an emphatic and legitimate verdict, the perception that the election is flawed could be hugely unsettling," the editors write.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.