The BBC is demanding that various British pols comment on what seems to be a rather squirrely* exit-poll result, showing the Tories 17 seats short of an absolute majority, Labour and the Lib-Dems between them without enough seats to form a coalition, and – this is the squirrely part – the Lib-Dems actually down three seats after what seemed to have been their strongest campaign since 1924.
The Labour talking point is “a strong, stable government.” But both Mandelstam and another minister explicitly criticized “first past the post” and talked about “electoral reform.” That, of course, would be the key Lib-Dem demand in any coalition negotiations. Since the Tories seem incapable of cracking 40% of the vote, “electoral reform” could lead to a semi-permanent Labour/Lib-Dem coalition. Of course, Labour could have figured that out any time in the last thirteen years, but I suppose a Shawshank redemption is better than none.
Update* Not so much. Looks like the Lib Dems left their game in the training room, making essentially no gain even in popular votes. The ‘hung Parliament” prediction looks right: about 305 Tory, a little more than that, but still well short of the magic 325, for labour and the Lib Dems combined, the other thirty or so various minor parties. The Tories may be able to do a deal with, e.g., the various flavors of Ulster bigotry to form a government. Labour and the Lib Dems would need the votes of the Scots and Welsh Nationalists, the Alliance and SDLP from Northern Ireland, and the lone Green MP. (Sinn Fein does not take the seats it wins at Westminster.)
The Beeb commentators seem to have swallowed the Tory idea that it would be outrageous for Labour to cling to power after an electoral defeat, but just peachy-keen to have 37% of the voters choose a Tory government. But they’re agreeing with one another that tonight’s result wrecks what had been the sole argument for the undemocratic first-past-the-post system: that it tends to produce strong majority governments rather than “horse-trading.” All three parties seem to have lost the election tonight, and electoral reform has won.
Second update Nick Clegg, having finally won his own seat (with a huge swing) has now spoken out about the horse-trading to come: in coded language of course. With the Tories rushing to declare Gordon Brown defeated, Clegg called for patience and an avoidance of haste, and warned about rushing to make decisions or claims “that do not stand the test of time.” Seems pretty clear to me: he wants a deal with Labour.
Third update Clegg says Cameron has the right to try to form a government. Cameron says he’s willing to form a minority government if he gets a promise that he won’t have to face constant motions of confidence, but would rather have a more “comprehensive” deal with the Lib Dems. But he then goes on to say that Europe, immigration, and defense are all off the table, that he wants an “all-party committee of inquiry” to kick electoral reform down the road, and that he’s still intent on cutting the deficit (i.e., to a contractionary fiscal policy) as an urgent matter in the face of a recession. If this is the best he can do, even under the gun, one can only hope that the deal doesn’t come off.