By Denis Campbell
The only thing missing was Simon Cowell sneering and sighing last night. Welcome to déjà vu all over again. The UK seeks to one-up Florida’s 2000 election with the spectre of a hung Parliament, charges of polling site malfeasance and strict, almost slavish adherence to procedure over common sense. Big Ben chimed 10 pm last night and, according to the rules, “polling closed”. Huge turnouts, polling stations running out of numbered paper ballots, students unsure of their address/polling station and voters standing in long queues, turned the normally orderly, polite and proper process of casting one’s vote into complete chaos.
Naturally the losing Labour Party immediately called for an investigation, the Tories, not-so-much.
UK poll math permutations are nearly impossible to fathom. The numbers are clear: 326 seats are needed to form a government. With 30 of 649 contests still undecided 16-hours after polls closed, those simple numbers have caused global financial market chaos and currency devaluation.
It seems simple enough. Get 326 seats, your party wins and you form a government. But the arcane ‘1st past the post’ system means that even though the Tories gained a stunning 90+ seats, it will not be enough to form an outright majority. So because Labour’s Mr. Brown is the sitting Prime Minister, despite horrific losses and with no clear majority himself, his party gets 1st crack at forming a coalition government.
That is likely to fail because the LibDems Clegg has said it should be the party who won the most seats that goes 1st. So breathless pundits will pontificate through at least two rounds of attempts and then as the crisis and pundits HEADS EXPLODE near the end of May, just before the Queen’s speech on the 25th, cooler heads will prevail and a coalition government will be formed.
The price will likely cost Mr. Brown his leadership of the Party (and being PM) and several key Cabinet seats will go to the LibDems and other marginal parties.
So SPIN baby SPIN will be the order of the day. Even the current 52 seats controlled by the LibDems (who spectacularly flamed out after showing huge debate promise), will not be enough to push Labour across the finish line. So a rag-tag coalition is likely with the 11 seats controlled by the Welsh and Scot national parties mean huge concessions for their countries and at current they still fall short. So say hello to Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s 1st ever MP who could really become the kingmaker in this down-is-up election.
The fact that thousands of UK students did not know their address and thus their polling location being frightening enough, this election and its quaint paper ballots was almost enough to erase the bad memories of Arizona’s busted voting machines and potential electoral fraud. These proper Brits know how to conduct a “proper” election count. The rules will be followed with checkers checking checkers. They do seem to suffer though in making sure everyone who wants to vote does indeed get the chance to vote.
In the meantime though, we get to watch an interesting mating dance of party dinosaurs. Watch this space…