Now what? That’s the question everyone is asking today as the election results reveal a hung parliament.
All three of the main parties suffered a bruised eye and a bloodied nose. Labour lost its majority and, with it, its clear mandate to govern. The Conservatives, while they won the most seats, failed to get a majority, which left the party without a clear mandate to take office.
On paper, the Liberal Democrats had a disaster. Despite opinion polls putting them in second place prior to the Election on around 28%, they will end on fewer seats than last time, with just a 1% improvement in their share of the vote at 23%. They stay firmly in third place on both counts.
However, they could still end up having the ultimate say in who becomes the next Government with possible places in the cabinet.
Both the Labour and Lib Dem leaders spoke of taking stock and deciding what would be best for the country. However, a coalition is looking less likely even if the two parties can agree on key policies. One of those is proportion representation, or PR.
However, the two parties combined would still leave them short of an overall majority.
Conservatives leader David Cameron, talking this afternoon, has also not ruled out electoral reform as he attempts to tee up his own deal with the Lib Dems. And that would result in a majority coalition.
Pundits reckon 2010 will be the last time we have a ‘first past the post’ style of voting. Even Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, conceded today that some form of PR, where the government is decided by the most votes, was now very likely.
Although Labour, according to the constitution, has around 12 days to determine whether it can find a way to retain its governance, expect a decision to happen much sooner.
If it’s a Labour-Lib Dem coalition, expect another Election within a 18 months due to the lack of stability of operting a minority coalition, but this time based on PR.
If the Conservatives link up with the Lib Dems, the next election could be more than two years away, but again based on PR.
Alternatively, the Conservatives could seek a deal with one of the minority parties but that is unlikely to give it the majority it needs to follow its manifesto pledges.
Either way, the next few days and weeks spell uncertainty at a time when strong Government is needed to tackle the national debt and ensure the country continues along the road to recovery.
Share of the vote/No of seats so far:
Lib Dem 23%/57
Democratic Unionist Party 0.6%/8
Scottish National Party 1.7%/6
Sinn Fein 0.5%/4
Plaid Cymru 0.6%/3
Author: Stephen Briers, Fleet News editor