First hung parliament in years, no clear election mandate

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Image courtesy of www.independent.co.uk

The United Kingdom has its first coalition government in 65 years with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats sharing power as the result of the general election failed to give any party a clear mandate.

Despite making gains on 6 May, the Conservatives only won 306 seats, short of the 326 needed to form a majority government. Labour suffered heavy losses with 258, losing more than 90 MPs, their lowest number of seats in the House of Commons since 1931. The Liberal Democrats failed to capitalise on a recent shift in support, winning only 57 seats. The result was a hung parliament, with no single party having an overall majority.

With the uncertain result, both the Conservatives and Labour reached out to the Liberal Democrats in an attempt to form a government. David Cameron, Conservative Leader, said he wanted to make a

“big open and comprehensive offer” to the party.

Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, met numerous times over the next five days whilst negotiators attempted to find common ground for a deal. Mr Clegg had stated that the election result had given the Conservatives the right to govern. He said:

“It is vital that all parties, all political leaders, act in the national interest and not out of narrow party political advantage.”

The result of their negotiations sees Mr Cameron heading up the first coalition government in Britain since the Second World War and the first power-sharing agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at Westminster.

Mr Cameron has become the youngest Prime Minister ever, with Nick Clegg as his deputy. Four other Liberal Democrats are in the new Cabinet, including Vince Cable as Business Secretary, alongside Conservatives like William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary, and George Osbourne, the new Chancellor. There will be more than 20 Liberal Democrats, over a third of their MPs, in government jobs.

Policies for the new government include a referendum on changing the electoral system to the Alternative Vote (AV), a cap on non-EU immigrants and £6bn of spending cuts this financial year. Liberal Democrat opposition to issues like Trident will be dropped, but they will be able to “make the case for alternatives.” In areas like tuition fees, they will be able to abstain from the vote, a reflection of the party’s stance on the issue.

Standing alongside Mr Clegg at their first joint press conference, Mr Cameron stressed that

“we can act for the long term and make big decisions for the future.”

Despite the Liberal Democrats also opening talks with Labour on the possibility of forming a “progressive coalition,” Tuesday 11 May saw Gordon Brown and his party concede defeat. Announcing his immediate resignation as Prime Minister and Labour Leader, Mr Brown delivered an emotional farewell of “thank you and goodbye.”

Harriet Harman takes over as Acting Labour Leader whilst a leadership election is held.

Meanwhile, an inquiry has been launched after hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations on election night. In some areas, police were called to deal with huge queues as the 10pm deadline for voting passed. There were issues in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Surrey. An official in Sheffield said that voter turnout was a 30 year high and “it had caught us out.”

The Electoral Commission announced that a “thorough review” will take place.

In Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s constituency, there were allegations of unfair treatment for student voters. Many students were unable to vote because they were put in a separate, slower queue to others at Ranmoor polling station, the National Union of Students (NUS) has claimed.

“What message does this send to first time voters whose votes will not be counted?”

said NUS president Wes Streeting.

Elsewhere, electoral history was made as Caroline Lucas became the first Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion. Ms Lucas said:

“It is the start of a new political force in Westminster.”

Notable political causalities of the night included Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson. Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Lib Dem frontbencher Lembit Opik both lost their seats to the Conservatives.

In Barking and Dagenham, BNP leader Nick Griffin was defeated by Labour’s Margaret Hodge.

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