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Winners, losers and confusion in British election

“Messy, messy, messy” wrote the Daily Telegraph at 2.48 a.m. GMT. It’s hard to argue with that assessment: The most exciting British election in recent memory has produced a riot of confusing statistics and contradictory results. The Tories appear to have won the most parliamentary seats, but not a majority. Huge numbers of voters swung against Labour in traditionally “safe” constituencies, but the party unexpectedly picked up some new seats elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg proved to be the man you flirt with but never marry: Having given the Liberal Democrat leader a huge surge in the opinion polls, the British public failed to vote for his party on election night. Despite their best campaign in memory, the LibDems now have fewer seats than before.

As a result of all this, I cannot tell you, as of 1:23 p.m. GMT, who will be the next prime minister of Britain, and that might not be crystal clear for some time. There were, however, a few clear winners and losers last night:

The Winners:

Pundits. Decades have passed since Britain’s last hung parliament. Practically nobody knows the rules and procedures. Everyone who does know them will now emerge from nowhere to remind us what happened in 1910 or 1923. Those who actually remember what happened in 1974 -- when Labour leader Harold Wilson formed the most recent (and notably disastrous) minority government -- will have a field day.

The Queen. Technically speaking, she appoints new prime ministers and accepts the resignations of retiring ones. Usually these are formal duties, but if any squabbling ensues, she may have to play referee. In the event that the parties are unable to form a government, she has the right to call a new election. Suddenly, she matters again.

The Tory “modernizers.” The Conservatives didn’t get a clear victory, but they did win the most seats for the first time since 1997. And there is absolutely no evidence that a more “old-fashioned” Conservative leader would have done any better -- on the contrary, the result might have been far worse. (And congratulations to my friend Nick Boles, one of the first openly gay Tories, who easily won his Grantham and Stamford seat.)

The Losers:

Sterling. Britain faces the biggest budget crisis in living memory, and it isn’t clear that there is going to be a government strong enough to cope with it. The pound fell rapidly against the dollar this morning, and is still wobbly. Time to take that vacation in London?

The late evening voters. A Florida scenario looms in some British constituencies, where unusually high turnouts led to a shortage of ballot papers. Some last-minute voters wound up being shut out of polling booths too.

The anti-establishment, “throw-the-bums-out” voters, (I called them British tea partiers, to many readers’ disgust) who kept telling pollsters they were sick of everybody, and who gave Clegg those high pre-election ratings. Instead of a clear change, they now find themselves in a foggy twilight zone. They might even get Gordon Brown back as prime minister again, if he forms a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Imagine Gordon Brown, the Sequel: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water....

By Anne Applebaum  | May 7, 2010; 8:23 AM ET
Categories:  Applebaum  | Tags:  Anne Applebaum  
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read between the line, applebaum is upset because Nick Clegg is against apartheid israel ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinian civilians.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | May 7, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

read between the line, applebaum is upset because Nick Clegg is against apartheid israel ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinian civilians.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | May 7, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

applebaum is upset because Nick Clegg is against apartheid israel ongoing ethnic cleansing of palestinian civilians.

Posted by: MumboJumboo | May 7, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Interesting, but how does Roman Polanski feel about the results?

Posted by: scotpowell | May 7, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

The UK is so undemocratic it is astonishing. The Liberal Democratic Party won 23% of the popular vote but achieved only 9% of the votes in parliament.

The surge of the LD support shows that citizens of the UK support a hard shift left. But all they're going to get is austerity.

The UK is banana republic, and its financial situation is worse than that of Greece.

Posted by: blasmaic | May 7, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse


Welcome to the parlamentary system, British style! Two things in the British election process. (1) No proportional seating in Parliment (2) most seats are contested by three or more parties but a plurality wins the seat-so if Lib-Dem lost a lot of seats by increased second place vote (came close)and won their "safe" seats by increased majority you get the results that you decry. As for "hard left", the British voting public has become less idealogical since the Harold Wilson-M. Thatcher era as seen by the changes in both major parties since then.

Posted by: adhardwick | May 7, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"They might even get Gordon Brown back as prime minister again, if he forms a coalition with the Liberal Democrats."

Umm... Anne, they would still be short of a majority (only 315 seats) if Lib Dems and Labour form a coalition. I think you need to throw another party into the coalition for your scenario to work.

Posted by: VAreader | May 7, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

perhaps her next column can address how all the various "minor" parties stack up as potential coalition partners, in terms of their parliamentary seat #s and their preferred coalition partners. for example, where would the Scot or Welsh nationalist party members in Parliament go? what about the Ulster Protestants? are their #s enough to make any significant difference,or are they too small to matter? also, in some respects, the US is not a perfect democracy of One Person One Vote. Wyoming and Vermont, population 500,000 residents each, or so, have two US senators, the same as CA, NY or TX. a president can be elected if he gets more electoral votes than the opponent, even if the opponent wins more of the national popular vote (this has happened two or 3 times since the civil war). and in US presidential elections, third party candidates can really throw things asunder: Bill Clinto can probably thank his first win of the white house to Ross Perot, who took enough votes in States that Bush I would have normally received. and, probably George Wallace was the one reason why Nixon was elected in 68 rather than Humphrey since Wallace took enough votes from Humphrey so that HHH lost Missouri and Ohio, espeically blue collar working class Democratic votes that normally would have gone to HHH.

Posted by: RoguesPalace | May 7, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

How would the results have changed, if Britain had Approval Voting? In other words, if you were, say LibDem, but in a district where there are few LibDem voters, and your District is on a knife-edge between Conservative and Labour, you could (if you feel that way) check BOTH Conservative and LibDem, OR, if your wish, Labour and LibDem. Under Approval Voting, whichever candidate achieves the most votes, wins. I strongly advocate this for the UK, but also for USA, and indeed for everywhere. Let's face it: Approval Voting strengthens middle of the road candidates over fanatical nut-cases of the left, or of the right. Such as too many of our current House members!

Posted by: henry6 | May 7, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

"Those who actually remember what happened in 1974 -- when Labour leader Harold Wilson formed the most recent (and notably disastrous) minority government"

Well, that won't include Ms Applebaum, then, if her grasp of 1970s British political history is to be deduced from that sentence.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | May 7, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"...Because of this, I CANNOT TELL YOU...."

I cannot tell you? Does anyone go to silly arrogant Annie's droppings for news?

"I" cannot tell you.

Posted by: whistling | May 7, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Tory vote total 2010: 36 percent
Tory vote total 2005: 32 percent

Anne, the Conservatives didn't do anywhere near as well as everyone expected them to do only five weeks ago. With 36 percent of the vote they just barely carried their own base, if even. Let's face the facts in the UK: about 64 percent of the UK electorate voted for parties other than the Conservatives, and most of those other parties( SNP, PC, Lib Dems, Labour, Alliance, SF, SDLP) and their supporters hold view that are totally antithetical to Tory positions on spending and taxes and social issues. If the Conservatives can't do better than this, after 13 years of a tired and exhausted and (post-Iraq) discredited Labour government with a very unpopular, untelegenic, and politically inept leader and the worst economic crisis in recent memory, then they clearly have learned very little from their 13 years in the wilderness. I assume if David Davis or Ken Clarke had been the leader, they'd have a 30 seat majority, but the Party base wanted David Cameron, and he really turned off many voters with his elitist background, shallow political style, and empty neo-Blairite rhetoric about being a "modernizer." The Tories now face a huge dilemma: the Lib Dems want serious electoral reform and the Tories can't grant it because the dysfunctional electoral system has been the only thing midwifing their governments (Churchill actually "lost" big to Labour in 1951 -- by 200,000 votes -- but got in because of "electoral dysfunction"; and voter opposition to Maggie Thatcher was always at 66-68 percent of the electorate (she never crossed 44 percent in any election). The Conservatives won their base vote Thursday, but nothing more than that. They got 32 percent in a losing effort in 2005 and 36 percent yesterday. Hardly world beating.

Posted by: osullivanc1 | May 7, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Now that EJ Dionne is wrong and it's documented in print for the millionth time, he owes the WaPo reading public an explanation as to how one man can be so wrong so often.

- Before the Massachusetts race for Kennedy's seat all I read about was how the Democratic primary was going to choose the seat because, well, the Republicans don't have a chance. BUZZZZZZZ. Wrong.

- Now before this British election, all I heard about was how the Lib Dems were going to clean up. Buzzzzzzzzz. Wrong again.

I deserve an explanation as to how such an editorial writer, whose opinion I'm supposed to trust, can provide such a wrong opinion so often and still write in a National (albeit fading) daily paper.

Posted by: d-35 | May 7, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Let's put it this way and we can figure out what will happened with Gordon Brown and his worthless party;

French government got way too close with George Bush and supported him on almost every aspect. Well French people didn't like that. In fact no European nation likes their government kiising American, you know what. Now, British have given a chamce to Labour Party twice, and they kept same politics, in fact England became same as U.S.A., not in agood way, but with same problems mainly.

Posted by: BOBSTERII | May 8, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The British are lucky that they can form coalition government; we get stuck with filibusters!

Posted by: risejugger | May 10, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

Dearie me! Gordon Brown was the media whipping boy. Not at all photogenic - rough as bags, it seemed. Hung up like a pinata from the lychgate. And Glam Cam still couldn't knock him off. Most of the country - outside of England - voted for anyone but the Tories. And not enough of the English voted for Cameron to get him home. If you don't get more than half the seats in the Commons (say it together) you do not win! You are a loser - like all the others. Especially like the Lib-Dems. So the hate Gordon Brown story goes on running - for no real reason. He is just the not-very-pretty Wicker Man who is being trashed in revenge for the financial crisis. Aided and abetted by the very Tory supporting bankers in the City. I am not so sure the Tories don't deserve this poisoned chalice. Drink it down. See what it does to their complexion!

Posted by: WilliamTell | May 10, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

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