The hung parliament will be a huge hangover, warns Eric Walberg
Britain is poised for a long period of political instability as it enters its first coalition government since WWII, when the wartime unity government was led by Winston Churchill with Labour in tow. There was an almost identical situation to the current hung parliament in February 1974, when the Conservatives tried to form a coalition with the Liberal Party, but balked at the demand for electoral reform to allow proportional representation, and Labour was able to cobble together enough votes to survive a few months and win a snap election that year, as it turned out, the last Labour government before the advent of Thatcher.
Now it is another Conservative-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a coalition in itself founded in 1988 by disaffected centrist Labourites and the remnants of the Liberal Party. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy and the Lib Dems will have five cabinet posts.
Britain's creaking first-past-the-post constituency system unfairly distributed the votes of a confused electorate, a third of whom voted for the Conservatives, slightly less for Labour and slightly less again for the Lib Dems, leaving an electoral map with 306, 258 and 57 seats respectively to the parties. While a Labour-LD coalition would have made more sense, representing well over half the people, this would have fallen short of a parliamentary majority at 315 out of 649 seats. Scottish Nationalists, Northern Ireland MPs and a lone Green could hardly be counted on. With the writing on the wall, Gordon Brown resigned and an hour later handed the reins of power to David Cameron.
A smooth, 43-year-old politician, Cameron is public school graduate and son of a stockbroker, married to the daughter of a viscount. He has distanced himself from Margaret Thatcher's ideological, divisive style, calling for a "compassionate Conservatism" and is considered a pragmatist, a traditional small "c" conservative. He inherited a party that many Britons still don't trust, as reflected in the sharp drop in its ratings as the day of voter reckoning approached, despite the deep unpopularity of Labour. His pseudo-aristocratic manner and thinking are in contrast to Thatcher, whose father was a grocer, and who shrilly turned the Conservative Party into a vehicle of neoliberalism, destroying Britain's post-WWII collectivist heritage. She was finally ousted but it was too late for her party, and after a short interregnum under the nondescript John Major, the Conservatives began their Long March, their 13 years of exile.