Election: how it looks on Friday morning
It’s 1030am on Friday 7 May, the morning after the night before. Enough results are in to make it arithmetically impossible for any one party to win an overall majority in parliament. As expected, the Conservatives will be the biggest party and will have won the biggest share of the vote. Labour will be the second biggest party in the House of Commons, almost certainly with the second biggest share of the vote. Cleggmania has failed to deliver the big advance in the LibDem results that we all expected: his party has actually won fewer seats than in the last parliament. Labour has lost more than 80 seats and a corresponding share of the vote, historically a very substantial defeat.
The main factors worth noting as pointers to what happens now seem to be:
1. Gordon Brown has the right, as the incumbent prime minister, to remain in Downing Street until parliament meets in two weeks’ time, submit his policy programme to the House of Commons, and see if he can win majority support for it.
2. Brown also has the duty, as distinct from the right, not to resign, even if it becomes clear that he can’t muster a majority for his programme, until there is an available successor who can demonstrate beyond doubt that he can form a government that will have the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons. As of now, no such successor exists: Cameron can’t demonstrate this morning that he could get majority support in the House, although he might be able to do so after negotiations with the other party leaders.
3. Even if the LibDems were to promise to support a continuing Labour government, the combined strength of the two parties won’t give them an overall majority. They would need additional support, e.g. from the left-of-centre Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh nationalists, all of whom would try to extort a heavy price in terms of continued or increased budgetary support for their respective countries — a price that no new government is likely to be able to afford to pay.
4. The Conservatives, with a convincing lead over Labour in both seats and (especially) in votes, have the better claim to form a government, but even with the support of the right-of-centre smaller parties (Ulster Unionists, DUP — but who else?) they will struggle to muster an overall majority in the House of Commons unless they can persuade the LibDems to give them provisional and perhaps conditional support.
5. It will be very difficult for the LibDems to refuse to allow a Conservative government to take office, or to cause it to lose the vote on their Queen’s Speech, since if they do, it could well be impossible for any other government to be formed, and it’s axiomatic that the country’s government must be carried on — especially in the midst of a major global financial and economic crisis demanding very early decisions by whichever British government is in office.
6. There is very little common ground shared by the Conservatives’ and LibDems’ policies, but probably enough to justify LibDem support to enable Cameron to govern, at any rate for a reasonable period of time. The joker in the pack will be a referendum on a change in the electoral system, which the Tories have hitherto strongly opposed but which has been a central plank in the LibDem platform. There might have to be some kind of compromise on this: perhaps reluctant Conservative agreement to a referendum in which the Conservatives would campaign for a No vote. Or the Conservatives might refuse to compromise on the issue and challenge the LibDems to prevent any kind of government from being formed. The LibDems will also try to exact other policy compromises by the Conservatives as the price of their support, but it’s far from certain that they will succeed. LibDem options are limited.
The inevitable outcome seems almost certain to be a minority Conservative government under David Cameron with reluctant and provisional support from the LibDems. Once that outcome is assured, Gordon Brown will have no alternative but to resign. My gloomy guess is that this will happen before we all go to bed tonight.
The news which ought to dominate today’s front pages (but doesn’t) is nothing to do with our elections: it should be the maelstrom in world markets and exchanges, including Wall Street and the Eurozone, as they are swept by panic over the prospects for the survival of the Greek economy and even doubts about the future survivability of the Euro. Billions are being wiped off share prices and currency values while our party leaders, haggard from lack of sleep, embark on a process of haggling whose outcome is not really in doubt. But the reality is that in most of Britain, all eyes are focused on the complexities of the election results.
Here’s how I saw it developing last night and in the small hours of this morning:
Midnight, 6/7 May: If the exit polls even roughly predict the eventual result, there’s a clear anti-Tory, centre-left majority that would justify a Labour government with LibDem support. But the real results may be very different. The few results declared so far suggest wildly different swings even in neighbouring constituencies.
Watch this space!
0015am 7 May: Exit poll figures suggest Con 305, Lab 255, LibDem 61. If eventual results were the same, Lab plus LibDem (316) still wouldn’t have the magic score of 326 that represents an overall majority. But they could probably rely on support from Plaid Cymru and perhaps the SNP (? plus any Greens and Respect) to put them over the top (326 minus unoccupied Sinn Fein seats). Alternatively the Conservatives plus Ulster Unionists plus DUP might get to 326. Still seems possible that Brown could stay in No. 10, offer parliament a Queen’s Speech including referendum on PR, and challenge the LibDems to vote against it.
0030am: Swings from Labour to Tory in the few results so far begin to suggest an overall Tory majority some time later on Friday. I’m sticking to my long established prediction that Brown will resign later today and Cameron will be commissioned to form a government. But I still hope against hope that I’m wrong!
Now to bed with the laptop….
2am Friday 7 May: on the laptop
At last some good news: our excellent MP for Tooting, the Labour Transport minister, Sadiq Khan, has been re-elected. The Tories spent a fortune in the effort to unseat him but he won with a 1% increase in the Labour vote. Bravo, Sadiq.
The swings around the country are now all over the place and it’s anyone’s guess whether the Tories, with or without support from the Ulster Unionists and the DUP (who have already lost one seat, that of the Chief Minister of Northern Ireland!), will have won an overall majority in the House of Commons. In case they don’t, Labour leaders on television are valiantly keeping open the option of submitting a Queen’s Speech to the House which the LibDems would find it difficult to defeat. They must have been reading my blog!
But whatever happened to Cleggmania? The results for the LibDems so far are appalling.