The End of Strong Government?

The May 6 general election in England was one of the most eagerly contested in recent history.  At stake were 649 parliamentary seats (one vote has been postponed because of the death of a candidate) for which there were almost 4,150 candidates.  Also up for grabs were 4,222 local council seats in 164 English local authorities, and 4 mayoral seats in Greater London.

This was the first election in Britain to have featured U.S.-style televised debates between the main party leaders, and the strong performance during those debates of the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, appeared to have made the usual two-party race into a three-party affair.  There was hyperbole about “Cleggmania” and predictions that his party could wield the balance of power.  A very large number of sitting MPs were stepping down (many had been implicated in a scandal over expenses), and many constituency boundaries had been redrawn, further complicating matters.

In the event, there was a hung parliament, the first since 1974—a strangely inconclusive outcome, with no clear winner or even obvious trends.  The Conservatives won 306 seats (up 97, but considerably short of the 326 needed to form a parliamentary majority), Labour 258 (down 91), and the Liberal Democrats 57 (down 5, Cleggmania notwithstanding).  This equates to a national vote share of 36.1 percent for the Tories, 29.1 percent for Labour, 23 percent for the Liberal...

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