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Friday, 7 May 2010

7 May 2010

What do you mean, you still don’t know who won? It’s easy: no one did. They all lost.

The Tories didn’t get the majority they needed; Labour lost shed-loads of seats, and won only a slightly higher share of the national vote than in their disastrous election showing in 1983.

And the Lib Dems? Well, it seems Clegg-mania lasts barely longer than 24-hour flu. It looks as if they won pretty much exactly the same share of the vote as they did in 2005.

Thousands of voters lost as well – lost their opportunity to vote as long lines outside polling stations swamped the system. There were ugly scenes in some places, and there’ll be some ugly recriminations as everyone tries to shift the blame to someone else.

I’ve just got home after my all-night stint at the BBC World Service. And I don’t mind admitting that I am mightily perplexed. It was Ed Miliband who came up with that politicians’ favourite, when I spoke to him in the small hours of the morning: “The people have spoken. But we don’t know what they said.”

Here’s what I think they said. Despite all the focus on the national TV debates and the main party leaders, voters seem to have made up their minds based on their assessment of their local constituency candidates and local issues.

Except, of course, in the places where they didn’t. (I’m sorry, but it’s been that sort of night.) There’s no national picture – or at least none that I can discern – in its place, we have 649 local elections. (There was no voting in the North Yorkshire constituency of Thirsk and Malton because of the death of one of the candidates.)

All of which makes trying to predict what lies in store hugely unpredictable. This isn’t how UK elections are meant to be, is it? We’re not like other countries, with their confusing, messy, complex political systems. We like our politics neat and tidy – if we don’t like this lot, we vote for the other lot. And the removal men are in Downing Street before lunch-time.

Well, not any more, they’re not. This is politics as the rest of the world does it – and it looks as if we may have to get used to it. Or will we revert to type? If, for whatever reason, there’s another election in a matter of months, will we then scurry back to the safety of our two-and-a-bit party system?

One of my studio guests during the night was Jim Wallace, former leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland and former deputy first minister. He knows what it’s like to work in a coalition with Labour – and he says coalition politics aren’t easy, but nor do they spell the end of the world as we know it.

So, do I believe that even though the Conservatives won more votes and more seats than Labour, Gordon Brown will somehow manage to stay on in Downing Street?

Frankly, I find it hard to. On the other hand, a week ago I was still predicting an overall Conservative majority. That’s how much I know.

If you were Nick Clegg, and Gordon Brown phoned to ask for a chat, what would you say? “Sorry, Prime Minister, no deal, you’re yesterday’s man”? Or “Yes, of course, let’s talk, but just wait a moment while I answer the call on the other line”?

“Hello, David. Just hang on a moment. I’m just talking to Gordon …”

Perhaps it’ll all make more sense after I’ve had some sleep. But somehow, I doubt it.

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