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What does a hung parliament feel like?

May 7, 2010

Considering that something like the General Election is such a massive, all-encompassing and perhaps even overwhelming experience, perhaps it’s little wonder of the effect it has on the individual. Especially those of us for whom documenting everything is second nature.

I can’t think of anyone I know who is nonplussed about this election. That might be because I’ve consumed my Election mutterings from Twitter having got the core facts from TV, radio and the internet.

I’m the worst kind of news junkie. I’m an addict. I’ve had the radio on all day. The TV’s been on in the lounge. Looking out for declarations and keeping an eye on the final tally. Making calculations on bits of paper (my brain can’t do swift calculations – I was shit at maths).This has never happened before. I’ve never had such an interest in politics or indeed the general election before now. I’ve never followed something from beginning to end. It’s a bit weird. I can’t account for it.

During the aftermath of the poll and as the results trickle in however, I found myself becoming accustomed to a different way of thinking. Something I have no personal experience of.

A hung parliament. What does it ‘feel like’?

I know. It’s a bit of a naval-gazing question, isn’t it? But that’s me.

I’m inexplicably obsessed by those periods of time when one era comes to an end and a new one begins. I always want to pinpoint the moment. The moment when someone walks over the threshold. Inside 10 Downing Street one second, the next outside the front door blinking in the daylight never to return again. It is the moment of closure I fantasize about – romanticise even. And when that moment isn’t there, I’m left flailing around not quite sure how to process things.

Every other election I’ve experienced has followed a pattern.  At some point in the early hours of an election result programme there’s a shaky camera fixed on a party leader who stands up to conceding defeat as he conceals his disappointment. From that moment on the story is over. The rest is academic. We can go to bed and wake up in the morning ready for the new era.

It’s not the case this time around. In media terms the lack of a workable majority meant waiting for every single result to come in. This made election results nothing short of appointment TV in a way they’ve never been before. I couldn’t go anywhere. Bathroom visits were kept to a minimum. Focus was squarely on what was going on somewhere in central London. I’m not normally this glued to matters of politics.

And, as the day wore on it was apparent that the traditional end to the story wasn’t going to come today. This particular story wasn’t going to reach it’s conclusion until the end of the weekend. We had a Prime Minister still in number 10 – was he clinging on to power or merely adhering to his responsibility as PM? – as we were constantly being reminded that merely having the most seats in Parliament didn’t mean there was a clear winner.

Would the Liberal Democrats get enough seats to offer a possible coalition opportunity? Would the Liberal Democrats nuzzle up with David Cameron and the Conservatives or Gordon Brown? What would the outcome be? As voters should we really expect that much-sought after closure today? Was waiting such a hardship?

A couple of people on Twitter pointed something out to me which helped ease my impatience.

The relatively unnerving experience of an emerging hung parliament meant one important thing: politicians from all parties were talking to each other. Instead of it being a race with a winner and a loser, here was a situation where our contribution – the vote – was only one part of the process. And, not only that, this wasn’t unusual. Taking time to establish stable governments was a common experience across Europe.

So, at the end of a bizarre – if hardly surprising – day, I’m wondering something.

As unsettling an experience as getting used to the idea of a hung parliament is, does it actually mean that we’re all being a bit more grown up and sensible now? Could this turn out to be a watershed moment in terms of electoral reform? Are we doing things like a lot of others people in the world do or heading in that direction?

Have we become just that little bit more modern in the space of 24 hours?


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  1. It feels pretty much as it felt in 1974! And I strongly suspect that us news junkies will get to do the election vigil all over again very soon …

  2. I was 2 years old in 1974. 😉

    • I was already working at Pebble Mill. And that’s where Election Fever first struck me. Have always either worked or watched through the night every election since then. Would, of course, rather work … something very special about election nights.

  3. Nickie Philbin permalink

    Good over-view.It is like being in suspended animation now, awaiting the runes…

  4. Merlin Sibley permalink

    I’m not sure the outcome was so uncertain as I’d assumed when the exit poll came out at 10pm last night, that if that was accurate – which by and large in turned out to be, the only likely resolution would be a Con/Lib Dem deal. I guess we have got accustomed though to having a clear and quick outcome as far as elections go although I seem to recall the 2000 US presidential when it took a week or two before they knew who was going to be president.

  5. Kirsty permalink

    I have found the whole election fascinating – although a tad frightening – I’m no fan of Tories regardless of how “new” they try to paint themselves. Watching from the US was bizarre … I went to bed not knowing the outcome and we are six hours behind the UK!!! Crazy! I too have found it all very reminiscent of the US 2000 elections. From the prospect of a coalition government there must be some debate – do the Tories with more seats deserve to govern or do the Lib Dems and Labour with 53% of the vote that said no to a Tory government. I think the only truly clear thing is that Britain needs electoral reform.

    The other thing I’ve found interesting is the absence of discussion of the other coalition governments already at work in the UK – the Scottish government and Welsh assembly – both govern very successfully!! It’s also interesting that both Wales and Scotland most definitely did not vote for change of any kind. I think if there is a Tory government, in coalition or not, then there is a very strong probability that the UK is going to be pulled apart. This may not be a bad thing.

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