First of all, this is a poor result for the Conservative Party and for David Cameron.
Yes, I’m serious.
Had Labour got a majority it would have been for a fourth consecutive term. A fourth term has only happened three times anyway (last in ’92) – we forget how rare it is. Even a Labour third term was unprecedented in 2005. What is amazing is not that Labour lost seats, but that they had seats to lose in the first place.
And Cameron hasn’t gained enough of them.
We’re in a recession. Labour has been under attack from all sides on civil liberties, Iraq, MPs expenses (OK, everyone has been attacked on that, but it is the sort of thing that hurts incumbents particularly badly, and Labour has its share of the worst offenders). Brown is loathed by the media, and is an unpopular party leader (although ironically his personal popularity as a leader of the country in polls is quite strong – it has been above both Clegg and Cameron recently). There was a strong narrative of punishing Labour/Brown. Within the last year the Conservatives were way ahead. Cameron should have been pushing at an open door, and a very big one at that. Cameron argues that Labour has “lost its mandate to govern Britain” – but 36% of the vote is not exactly a ringing endorsement for him, either.
It should have been a walkover, and it wasn’t. The door is firmly wedged. And I am greatly relieved.
What happens next?
We wait. First of all we wait to see how the numbers will run, because they are going to matter. Then we wait for the talking. We can wait. For all the right-wing scare-mongering, the markets haven't tanked. Coalition and discussion is normal in Europe, and it looks like it might be about to become normal here. Nick Clegg would have to be out of his mind to offer any formal agreement with either Labour or the Conservatives that didn’t absolutely commit them to making immediate moves towards introducing proportional representation. Of course, one should never under-estimate the ability of people to commit political suicide.
What is really important is that whatever happens the Conservatives cannot introduce the immediate swinging cuts they were planning had they had a majority, and there will be electoral reform. It’s not what I dreamed of, but it is a hell of a lot better than a roll-back of the minimum wage and knives out for the NHS.
Now the really important question: I am feeling surprisingly chipper on three and a half hours sleep, but will I manage to stay awake during a Stoppard play tonight?