Finnegan's Take

Welcome to the EurActiv/Blogactiv UK Election Live Blog.
We’ll be keeping you up to date with major news, results and reaction as voters choose a new parliament.

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Party leaders have cast their vote

16.00 As things stand, the ball is in Nick Clegg’s court. He is, despite not performing as he had hoped, king-maker. Who and how he will support a government remains to be seen.

Supporting a Conservative minority from the sidelines might be a wise move. Let Cameron make the cuts and go back to the electorate in two years or less.

Lib Dem MPs meet tomorrow to weigh up their options. Expect Labour and the Tories to spend the next few hours offering various cominations of goodies to Clegg & co.

15.50 Cameron didn’t use the word ‘coalition’ but he was open to ‘more stable’ options than simply a minority government with quiet support from the Lib Dems from outside.

15.42 Conservative policies should be at heart of any Tory-Lib Dem alliance, says Cameron, but he is willing to compromise.

Reform of the political system is urgently needed, including the electoral system. All seats should be of equal size in first-past-the-post system. An all-party committee of inquiry would be set up, says Cameron.

You can read that as Cameron says he’s open to reform, but not the kind of reform (proportional representative) that Nick Clegg so badly wants.

15.40 ‘One option’ is a minority government, says Cameron. ‘A big, open and comprehensive offer to Liberal Democrats on the economy and restoring faith in the electoral system’.

“I do not believe any government can give more power to the European Union,” says Cameron.

15.30 Cameron due to make a statement within minutes. We’ve heard from Clegg. We’ve heard from Brown. What has he got up his sleeve?

Talks are going on behind the scenes but Cameron will be speaking to rank-and-file Tories as well as Lib Dem supporters. Lib Dem bloggers are getting cold feet about supporter Cameron, not least because Brown is dangling electoral reform in front of Clegg.

15.13 Some reaction just in from a CEPS briefing in Brussels in the last hour or so: [Hat tip to my colleague Paul Hutchison who was on the spot]

15.12 Time Bale, University of Sussex: UK is in “about as big a mess as it could possibly be”. Electoral is “tired of Labour but not yet fully confidence in Tory alternative”. It will be difficult to form a lasting government, he added, although the fact that Cameron hasn’t got a majority might be some relieft to Europeans who feared a strong eurosceptic government.

15.11 David Rennie, The Economist, noted that the euro and Europe were hardly discussed during the debate. “This is moment of sullen, low-trust, recessionary politics in the UK,” he said.

15.10 David Harley, Burson-Marsteller, said there’s nothing to be feared from a eurosceptic Cameron government but there is a danger it could slide into a europhobia.

“The last thing the UK needs right now is Brit-bashing from Brussels,” he said.

Harley reckons whoever comes to power will last around six months.

15.05 Nigel Farage’s luck has run out – the UKIP MEP has lost his election bid. On the up side, he has survived a plane crash so he shouldn’t feel too hard done by when he reflects on the week.

14.50 Gordon Brown offers Lib Dems an quick referendum to change how parliament is elected. This will have hearts a flutter in Lib Dem HQ. Can they put Cameron in Downing Street if the Conservatives are cold on electoral reform?

14.45 Brown wooing Clegg: If Clegg/Cameron talks come to nothing, I’m willing to talk about radical electoral reform and ‘substantial common ground’ on economic stability.

14.44 Brown: Offers a little context, mentions Eurogroup meeting and conference call between G7 finance leaders. Message: Get this sorted fast – there’s an economic storm out there.

14.43 An illustration of how bizarre the UK electoral system is: Labour won 30% and got 254 seats; the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote and won 54 seats.

14.34 Of the three main parties – Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems – the Conservatives are the most sceptical of Europe while the Lib Dems are broadly pro-Europe (and led by a former Commission official).

What would their cooperation in forming a government mean for Europe?

14.30 Conservatives are saying it would be “irresponsible” to talk about electoral reform when there are such pressing issues as the economy to deal with. That’s code for “Tell the Lib Dems they can forget about radically overhauling the electoral system”.

14.22 Half a hint on BBC that Labour spin doctors are opening the door to an anti-Conservative coalition led by someone other than Gordon Brown.

14.20 Brown will make a statement soon outside 10 Downing Street (how very Prime Ministerial) ahead of David Cameron’s planned speech at 15.30.

14.18 The Scottish National Party confirms that Labour has made overtures with a view to being part of a coalition. Labour needs almost everyone except the Conservatives to this could be the first stripes of a ‘rainbow coalition’.

14.05 A new Facebook group has been set up urging everyone to take a breath, refelect, and think about governing tomorrow.

They say the 24-hour news cycle is putting pressure on politicians to rush into a decision. Personally, I blame the live bloggers…

14.00 There has been very little reaction in Brussels to the UK election result. This is partly because the outcome is unclear but mostly because there are much bigger things happening – not least the meeting of Eurozone leaders here tonight.

CEPS are holding a briefing right now and we’ll have comments from there in an hour or so.

13.50 The main discussion has now turned to reform of the electoral system.

The Lib Dems were actually pretty close to Labour in terms of proportion of the vote but are miles behind in terms of seats.

However, a proportional representation system would be good for all smaller parties and almost certainly lead to coalition governments. That’s not a problem in most European countries but the UK is in a heap this morning because the result is not clear-cut.

13.30 Not much change but the electoral map continues to fill up.
Conservatives 294
Labour 252
Lib Dems 52
Others 27

12.45 Richard Lamig of the UK-based europhile lobby the European Movement has told EurActiv that a Conservative government will be “even less enthusiastic about Europe than before”.

Europe barely featured in the campaign, he noted, adding that “the British people do not yet understand that their interests are more closely alligned with those of the people in other European countries than in the recent past”.

12.33 Cameron has made a statement borrowing Nick Clegg’s language on the need for a government “in the national interest”.

This is an overture to the Lib Dems but the consensus is that the Conservatives don’t want the kind of electoral reform that Clegg is demanding because it would cost them dozens of seats in the next election.

12.31 This is a bit of a dilemma for Nick Clegg. He has failed to make a breakthrough and must now choose whether to put Conservatives in power (despite major policy differences); or Labour who the electorate have rejected.

For Clegg, he could take the long-term view and back Labour in return for electoral reform – something that will boost the number of seats for the Lib Dems.

So, is it democractic to fix the skewed electoral system if the price is something that looks to be against the will of the people?

And how will the markets (to which we are all slaves, apparently) react if the deal involves a fixed-term (maybe one or two years) government?

12.30 Cameron is due to make a statement at 15.30 (Brussels time

12.15 Rumour has it that Labour have wasted no time in putting together a package of goodies – a short-term government and electoral reform – to entice the Lib Dems. Will Cameron try to match that?

12.10 Nick Clegg’s words are being chewed over by analysts and journalists. Is the line about Cameron having to show he can “rule in the national interest” designed to wring concessions from the Conservatives?

Is he saying he’ll deal with David Cameron first, but if Cameron can’t compromise on electoral reform, the way is open to a coalition with Labour?

11.48 A minority Conservative Party government looks like a good bet now. A coalition is not a runner, but the Lib Dems could agree to back – or abstain – from a vote on urgent legislation such as an emergency budget.

In return, the Lib Dems wants progress on electoral reform – something Cameron had previously been cold to.

11.46 Clegg, arriving back in London, demands electoral reform, hints that Cameron has the moral right to try to form a government.

11.45 Nick Clegg: “Last night was a disappointment even though more people voted for us than ever before, even though we had a higher proportion than ever before.”

He acknowledges that, at a great economic uncertainty, some people opted for the big parties. Clegg described the current situation as “very fluid”. “…vital that all political leaders act in national interest…”.

“I’ve also said that whoever gets the most votes has the natural right to form a government. It seems this morning that it’s the Conservative party.”

11.40 Senior Labour figures are floating the idea of a Lab-Lib Dem coalition with a leader other than Gordon Brown. Peter Mandelson would certainly like to cling to power as it may be the last chance for his generation to run the UK.

Younger Labour MPs might prefer to sit on the opposition benches for a couple of years, let Cameron make deep cuts, and sweep back into power around 2012/2013.

11.25 Sterling is down against the dollar in early trading, and UK shares are also on the slide. Leaders may be sleep-deprived but the pressure is on.

11.20 Gordon Brown expected to formally trigger talks on forming a new government, facilitated by (impartial) civil servants.

11.10 It would be bizarre if the DUP demanded more money for Northern Ireland in return for supporting a Cameron government which will have to make cuts in just about every area of public spending.

It would also make it tricky for Cameron to play the ‘honest broker’ in dealing with Belfast given that he’ll be formally alligned with one of the parties.

11.08 The last time the UK had a hung parliament was 1974. I wasn’t born. That government lasted two years.

11.00 There’s an odd feeling right now that everyone feels a bit disappointed. Brown has been battered; Cameron didn’t get the overall majority he wanted; Clegg peaked too soon and failed to make a breakthrough.

The turnout was up but this led to chaos at the polls. And in the end the people don’t have a government.

10.55 Here’s how things stand:
Conservative: 290
Labour: 247
Liberal Democrats: 51

No party can win enough seats to declare an overall majority. The weekend be a time for frantic horse-trading in an effort to give a clear signal as to who might be the next Prime Minister. If that’s not sorted when the markets open on Monday morning there will be trouble.

10.48 The Charlemagne blog on The Economist website puts the UK election in a global context, linking it to popular outrage in Greece and the US. Worth a look, as usual.

10.41 The UK officially has a hung parliament

Mathematically, no party will be able to form a government without support. Welcome to uncharted territory.

10.40 Angry scenes from London to Sheffield and elsewhere as people were refused the right to vote.

Students seem to be complaining loudest because they were forced to queue separately.

Some waited three hours. Others got to the top of the line to find the polling station had run out of ballot papers.

10.30 The result in Scotland is a carbon copy of the last election. No winners or losers – which is something of a victory for Labour given their losses in England.

10.15 (I think) I’m a fairly neutral observer but I can’t contain my glee at seeing the British National Party win no seats. The good people of Barking have spoken.

10.09 The Conservaties picked up a few seats in Wales, although the map shows their victory is in England, even if the northern regions are still mostly red (Labour).

10.08 All the talk now is about ‘moral victory’. With Labour and the Lib Dems losing seats, can they credibly form a stable government capable of making the difficult decisions that lie ahead?

10.07 Gordon Brown is back in Downing Street this morning. Is he battening down the hatches or tidying his desk?

10.05 An inquiry will be held into the conduct of the election. Some seats were settled by as few as 90 votes – if hundreds were turned away that could give rise to legal challenges.

10.00 Amid all the questions about what the result means for Britain, the story of voting irregularities will be what politicos are talking about when the dust settles.
Voters turned away at some polling stations, others saying open longer than planned. It was chaos, by all accounts. Send in EU electoral observers?!

9.55 On the economy, the question has been whether to make spending cuts now or later. Brown says it’s too soon to withdraw ‘stimulus’; Cameron says cut now. The election (and the fact that Britain is not in the Euro) has been a distraction from the deficit, but the week’s events in Greek and global markets put all of this political jousting in a sobering context.

Whispers from Belfast: the DUP could be convinced to back Cameron but in return for an increase in the ‘block grant’ for Nothern Ireland. Not a popular idea for voters in England but it’s just the normal kind of political horse-trading that happens in most countries after elections – a minority group demands a sweetheart deal to back a much bigger party.

9.40 The BBC has a What Happens Now? feature as analysts struggle to work out what happens now.

9.30 Colourful Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik is now colourful ex-Lib Dem MP, having had his seat swiped by a Tory.

9.20 It’s a wonder anyone would be desperate to cling to power right now given the deficit that will have to be tackled. And, whether it’s Cameron or someone else who gets the keys to 10 Downing Street, it’s going to be very difficult to make the necessary cuts.

9.15 Labour big-wigs continue push the idea of this result as an “anti-Conservative majority”. Peter Hain, Welsh Secretary, says Labour, the Lib Dems and others should band together to form a government.

9.00 The UK is waking up to a hung parliament – and a falling stock market.

8.30 Note: The incumbent prime minister remains in charge until a new government is formed and he/she (in this case, Gordon Brown) has the right to make the first attempt to form a government. Presumably this would mean an approach from Brown to Clegg to see if a deal can be done. If this cannot be done, it’s over to Cameron. The question is whether Clegg would put a beaten Labour into power in return for electoral reform.

8.00 Bit of a shock in Northern Ireland where Peter Robinson, the First Minister (head of N.I. assembly) has lost his seat. The DUP leader is still head of the mini-parliament in Belfast but his authority – already weakened by a bizarre scandal in his personal life – is undermined.

7.45 The big question remains who will be the next prime minister. But the most fascinating story of the night has been the Lib Dem result: a disaster for Nick Clegg despite surging in the polls after the first TV debate three weeks ago. A dramatic rise, followed by a dramatic fall.

7.40 Nick Clegg says he’s disappointed with the result and he urged everyone to take a deep breath before working out how to form a government.

7.30 Good morning. As things stand, it’s still hanging in the balance. With 83 seats to declare, the Conservatives are 55 seats short of an overall majority.

Conservatives 272

Labour 223

Lib Dem 47

Other 27

1.00am Well, it’s going to be a very long night. Answers to the question “Who won the UK election?” still seem to vary from moment to moment. Join us again in the morning and throughout the day for ongoing reaction to results as they come in.

00.55 Green MEP Caroline Lucas is on course to be the first Green member of parliament in the UK. To most of Europe it probably seems bizarre that the Greens have never been elected but it’s a quirk of the UK electoral system.

00.53 All manner of electoral ‘irregularities’ being reported. Polling stations running out of ballot papers, people turned away because queues were too long, and others staying open later than 10pm. As BBC has just noted, this means people were voting after the exit poll had been published. This kind of thing could lead to legal challenges, particularly if the final result is close.

00.43 Third seat of the night goes to Labour but, yet again, it’s in noth-east England and with a shift towards the Tories, albeit not as big as in the first two results. On the basis of this, we’re back in hung parliament territory.

00.39 Based on the swing towards the Tories in the first two results, Cameron may actually form a government on his own. (No doubt we’ll have kind of speculative drama as the results roll in)

00.28 Second constituency to declare: Another Labour win in a safe Labour stronghold. Again, of more significance is the comparision with last time – it’s another swing to the Conservatives (up 7%).

00.08 The swing to the Conservatives evident in the first official result suggests David Cameron could actually squeeze an overal majority…

23.59 Interesting situation in Northern Ireland: David Cameron teamed up with the moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) which, in many election battles, was up against the more hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). It looks quite possible the the DUP could win 8 or 9 seats, with the UUP ending up with either 1 or none.

Now what? Well, Cameron could well need support from the DUP who will be miffed that he publicly supported their opponents (including a trip to Belfast this week). Nonetheless, everyone has a price but this is one to watch.

23.55 In the first constituency to declare, Labour is down 12%, Conservative up 5%, Lib Dem down 1%.

More or less in line with exit poll. Very early days but this must be making Clegg-loving Europhiles weep.

23.52 Consituency of Houghton & Sunderland South result: Labour wins, as expected. But it’s the change since last time that is of interest.

Labour: 19,137

Conservative: 8,147

Lib Dem: 5,292

23.45 Sunderland is desperate to be the first constituency to declare and looks set to announce its result before midnight (Brussels time). It hasn’t managed to break its own record for being the quickest ever count (43 minutes) – because the number of votes cast is higher than last time.

23.40 Major scepticism doing the rounds on the exit poll – particularly the Lib Dem result. The theory is that the Lib Dem’s are strong in some areas and non-existent in others, ergo their seats are underestimated.

23.30 Could we see a Labour-Lib Dem coalition with ‘Anyone-but-Brown’ installed as Prime Minister in an effort to deliver ‘change’? How about David Miliband for the top job? (You might recall that Miliband turned down Catherine Ashton’s post as EU High Rep for Foreign Affairs – could that turn out to be a shrewd move?)

23.25 Labour big wig (and former EU Trade Commissioner) Peter Mandelson left the door wide open to a coalition with the Lib Dems. He also hinted that he was open to electoral reform…the price Clegg may well demand.

23.23 BBC reporting that voters in a number of constituencies have been turned away from polling centres due to overcrowding.

23.20 The hung parliament ‘problem’ has been discussed in the run-up to the vote. The Institute for Government have issued a paper. The Cabinet Office have also had a go.

23.17 Maths time: Conservatives have won. They have the most seats. But Labour + Liberal Democrats > Conservatives. Brown is in situ so he, technically, can make the first attempt at forming a government. This really puts the spotlight on Clegg. Does he back Labour or let let Cameron’s Conservatives take power for the first time since Tony Blair swept to power in 1997.

23.15 The exit poll is grim news for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats given the apparently strong form they showed in polls. Cue calls for electoral reform to change the first-past-the-post system which tends to favour bigger parties.

23.05 If the exit poll is accurate – and it may not be – Cameron would need help. But from where? Unionists in Nothern Ireland? A ragbag of other minority parties and independents? If the poll underestimates the Conservate vote only slightly, Cameron could yet have a majority. If it overestimates the results, there’s still an outside chance that Labour/Lib Dems could form a government. Nonetheless, the momentum is clearly with Cameron and Nick Clegg may prefer not to put Brown back into power after he has taken a hammering.

23.01 Hung parliament with Conservatives as largest party:

Cons: 307

Lab: 255

Lib Dems: 59

Others: 29

23.00 The polls are closed. Stand by for exit polls…

22.30 There’s now just half an hour until polls close across the UK – but there are reports of long queues at voting stations as turnout continues to be the ‘story so far’. But that’s just a sideshow while we wait for the 10 o’clock news to tell us who they think has won this election.

22.00 Twitter and Facebook have played a role in this campaign and are now doing their bit to leak exit poll results. It’s like sitting next to half a million touch-typing gossips. The consensus seems to be that, depending on a dozen or so swing seats, Cameron could have enough to form a government on his own.

21.30 With just 90 minutes before the polls close, the indications are the private exit polls by the political parties are pointing to a slim Conservative majority. But it’s wafer thin and exit polls are notoriously unreliable. Recall, if you can, the evening TV stations told Neil Kinnock he was on his way to Downing Street only for the results to return John Major to no. 10.

The Financial Times gives 7 reasons to be way of exit polls.

21.00 The Tories are already spreading rumours of an overall majority. It’s very early days yet – the polls are still open – but the Cameron camp sounds confidence. A Labour source suggests Gordon Brown’s gang will be between 30 and 40 seats behind the Conservatives.

20.00 Apparently turnout could be as high as 71% – high by any standard. Was it the TV debates that got people talking? Was it the perilous state of the economy? And will this mean younger (and maybe liberal-leaning) voters will have a bigger influence than normal? We’ll find out in a few hours…

18.00 BBC has a great list of things you can and cannot do in a polling booth in the UK.
You can bring your dog but not your horse; you can be drunk but should not discuss politics; you can wear pyjamas but not “big rosettes”.

17.00 The Freedom and Democracy Group, of which UKIP is a member, has just released a statement on the condition of Nigel Farage MEP (whose plane crashed earlier today). He’s injured but he’s alright.

Their headline is: ‘Mr Invincible’ Nigel Farage and pilot injured in plane crash

They go on to remind readers that Farage has previously survived cancer and being knocked down by a speeding car – all of which is detailed in his autobiography ‘Fighting Bull‘. This crash might not win him a seat in Westminster but maybe he’ll sell a few books…

16.00 The Greek crisis has turned the spotlight on other EU countries with mounting deficits, primarily Spain and Portugal, but also Ireland and Italy. The UK has escaped attention because it has its own currency – until today when Moody’s wagged its finger at London and warned the next government will faced into a double-dip recession.

Worth recalling that the governor of the Bank of England has said whoever wins will have to make savage cuts – plunging them into chronic unpopularity which will make them unelectable for a generation.

15.30 The British press have made their allegiances clear this morning with The Sun depicts Cameron as a Barack Obama figure while The Mirror paints him as a privileged elitist. This election is not about Brown, the incumbent – or Nick Clegg, the outsider. It’s about Cameron. This election was his to lose. Has he done enough?

15.00 Early reports suggest a high turnout in the first half of the day. Polls close at 10pm London time. [NB: I’m using Brussels time for the blog]

14.00 A bad start to the day with the news that Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage has been in a plane crash. We wish him well.

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