After two hours’ sleep, I would be lying if I said I was at my sharpest at this moment, but let me try and work out what’s happened since I went offline at 4am.
The consensus opinion appears to be that we are heading for a hung Parliament in which the Conservatives will have the most seats, but not necessarily the keys to the kingdom. Forecasts project that David Cameron will fall around 20 seats short of being able to form a majority Conservative government. But such are the vagaries of the British electoral system that Cameron may find himself frozen out of Number 10 by a potential Labour/Lib Dem coalition. Whether Gordon Brown would stay as Prime Minister in such a scenario remains to be seen – the possibility of a palace coup should not be ignored.
While it hasn’t quite been a bloodbath, there have been a number of high-profile casualties. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson was an early victim, as was Lembit Opik. The public paid for Jacqui Smith’s husband to watch two porn films on expenses, but the former Home Secretary has ultimately paid with her seat. Other Labour ministers and senior names have also been removed by the Tories’ ‘decapitation’ strategy, although Schools’ Secretary Ed Balls survived by the skin of his teeth to hold onto his seat in Morley & Outwood, denying writers a plethora of pithy headlines such as “Labour loses its Balls” and “Balls castrated”. (His wife, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions Yvette Cooper, retained a large majority in the neighbouring constituency of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford despite a double-digit swing to the Tories.)
As became clear early on, the Lib Dems’ opinion poll gains from the three televised debates largely dissipated when push came to shove at the ballot box, with just a 23% share of the popular vote, and as many – in fact slightly more – losses as gains in what has been a topsy-turvy and largely disappointing night for Clegg’s party. Opik is gone. So too Evan Harris in Oxford West & Abingdon – a safe 7,683 majority over the Tories being overturned as he failed to gain re-election by the narrow margin of 176.
The Green Party will be celebrating as leader Caroline Lucas earned their first ever seat in the House of Commons with her win at Brighton Pavilion. However, BNP leader Nick Griffin flopped in Barking, seeing his party’s share of the vote in that seat fall compared to the 2005 election. I’m not shedding too many tears about that one, I have to say.
Okay, I think I’ve caught up on the headlines. Over to the live coverage.
6:33am: At long last Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s seat, finally declares its result after a long, chaotic and controversial night, returning the Lib Dem leader to Parliament. With 85 seats still to declare, the running score is: Con 271, Lab 220, Lib Dem 47, Others 27.
6.40am: Clegg talked about patience and the need to get the ‘right’ government in his acceptance speech. From that, I’m assuming there will now be several days of behind-the-scenes negotiations as Clegg angles for Cabinet seats and promises of electoral reform. It’s beginning to look like we may not know the final outcome of this election until next week, and there is no guarantee that we will not require a second general election in short order if the situation cannot resolve itself.
7.04am: Gordon Brown arrives at Downing Street looking somewhat the worse for wear, and is immediately bombarded with the question “Are you going to resign, Mr Brown?” The Prime Minister, who is staring at projections of having two million fewer votes and 46 fewer seats than the Conservatives, chooses not to answer. Can’t imagine why.
7.15am: I wonder how the series of conversations between Clegg and Cameron and Clegg and Brown might go. “Hi, Gordon, Nick here. I think Home Secretary would suit me well, don’t you? And then I want half a dozen other Cabinet posts for Lib Dems, I get to pick out the curtains, and for God’s sake try to smile a bit. No? Hang on a minute, I’ve got David on the other line – I’ll get back to you.”
7.30am: Update on my watch-list:
– Newbury: Conservative hold, with increased majority
– Oxford West & Abingdon: As mentioned above, shock gain by the Conservatives from the Lib Dems
– Corby: Labour majority of 1,517 overturned by the Tories’ Louise Bagshawe, who becomes the new MP for Corby with a majority of nearly two thousand
– Brent North: Safe Labour seat, not expected to declare until at least 9.30am (evidently everyone fancied a bit of a lie-in)
7.37am: Okay, bored now. Paxman talking to Michael Gove, Shadow Schools’ Secretary, who is trotting out the Tory party line of thinly-veiled disgust – actually, make that not at all veiled disgust – at the notion that Gordon Brown has the constitutional right to attempt to form a coalition government, despite being roundly thrashed in the parliamentary vote and being forced to sit in the corner wearing a conical hat with a big ‘D’ on it. Many viewers waking up to this will be wondering how the bloke who finished second gets first dibs ahead of the chap who beat him. To be honest, even those of us who have some working knowledge of parliamentary politics are pretty confused.
7.49am: And now it’s the turn of Mandelson, Prince of Darkness to peddle the Labour position. Paxman is exercising his full repertoire of eye-rolling, grimaces and eyebrow-raising – impressive stamina at the fag end of a very long night. Mind you, the over-the-shoulder shot that shows Jezza’s expanding bald spot does him no favours at all.
7.58am: Zac has just marched into the living room and demanded that he be allowed to watch ZingZillas. Who am I to say no? Not much is going to happen over the next few hours in terms of resolving the big picture, so I guess it’s time for a cold shower, some coffee and then drag myself into work. As I switch over to CBeebies, the current state of the parties is: Con 286, Lab 235, Lib Dem 50, Others 27. Byeee!