GE2010: 10 years on – hung parliament

To mark ten years since the 2010 general election, I will be looking back at the election campaign as it happened 10 years ago to the day. Each week I will be doing a recap of the campaign as it happened, including the pivotal moments that decided the victors and the vanquished.

In this blog, I’ll be taking a look at the events that made up the last few days of the general election campaign.

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After an election that became a three horse race by the end and with the prospect of the Liberal Democrats being able to crown either party victor, the voters delivered the UK’s first hung parliament since 1974.

The Conservatives gained 96 seats with 36.1 percent of the vote, winning a total of 306 – twenty short of the 326 needed for an overall majority. Labour lost 97 seats on 29 percent of the vote – their 258 seats mark the party’s worst result since 1987.

The Liberal Democrats, however, did not have the great surge initially predicted. Whilst their vote share increased by one percent to 23 percent nationally, the party actually lost five seats – winning 57. However, the result still puts the Liberal Democrats in a position to enter government – the first time a ‘liberal’ party has been in office since 1922.

2005 election result (based on 2010 boundaries)
2010 election result

Whilst the Conservatives won many of the 116 seats needed for them to win a majority, including Gillingham, Crawley, Stevenage and Waveney, many others remained outside their reach. Labour clung on to seats like Birmingham Edgbaston, Dumfries and Galloway, Halifax and Bolton. Likewise, the Liberal Democrats saw off the Conservatives in seats like Torbay, Cheadle and Bedford.

Labour saw the loss of some of its big names, such as former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (implicated in the expenses scandal), former Communities Minister Shahid Malik, Minister of State for Health Mike O’Brien, and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke. Solicitor General Vera Baird also lost her seat following job losses at the nearby steel works, with the constituency of Redcar being won by the Liberal Democrats. However, Education Secretary Ed Balls clung on to his seat of Morley and Outwood by just over 1,000 votes against the Conservatives.

Unlike elections since, almost all age demographics backed the Conservatives – with the only exception being 18-24 year olds, where a plurality backed Labour with a one percent lead over the Tories.

Meanwhile, the SNP leader Alex Salmond hailed the party’s performance at the election – winning close to one percent of the national vote. However, the party made no gains – let alone winning the 20 seats Salmond had claimed could be achieved in 2009. In Wales, Plaid Cymru made a gain from Labour in Ynys Mon.

One of the biggest scalps of election night took place in Northern Ireland, where DUP leader Peter Robinson, who had been plagued by scandal, lost his constituency to the Alliance Party – winning their first seat in parliament. The UUP, meanwhile, lost all representation in Westminster, as their former candidate Lady Hermon wins in North Down as an independent.

For smaller UK-wide parties, the 2010 election was a mixed bag. Although UKIP gained over 900,000 votes across the country, their main target of Buckingham with candidate Nigel Farage failed to bring the party their first parliamentary seat. Farage came third, behind Speaker John Bercow and independent candidate John Stevens, with 17.4 percent of the vote.

For the BNP, their 1.9 percent of the national vote also resulted in no parliamentary presence. Party leader Nick Griffin’s attempt to win the seat of Barking from Labour’s Margaret Hodge resulted in him placing third, with a smaller share of the vote than the 2005 election. In her victory speech, Hodge tells the party to “get out and stay out”. The party also lost all of its representation on Barking and Dagenham Council. 2010 would mark the high point for the BNP – Griffin would later be forced out of the party and subsequent elections would push them into irrelevancy.

The anti-war Respect Party lost its only seat of Bethnal Green and Bow, won by ex-Labour MP George Galloway in the 2005 general election. Respect’s candidate Abjol Miah was pushed to third place behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats, losing almost 20 percent of its vote share. Galloway, who contested the neighbouring Popular and Limehouse constituency, also placed third behind Labour and the Conservatives.

However, for the Green Party, their efforts to win the constituency of Brighton Pavilion paid off. Party leader and MEP Caroline Lucas beat Labour’s candidate Nancy Platts by just over 1,200 votes, becoming the first Green MP. Lucas has increased her majority in the city in each election since, but the Green Party has yet to gain a second seat.

Coalition talks

As soon as the exit poll came in which projected a hung parliament, overtures to the Liberal Democrats were already underway. On the BBC’s election night show, Labour’s Harriet Harman referenced a need to change the voting system – clearly a message timed to appeal to the Liberal Democrats.

However, the actual result suggested that the numbers would not allow for a Labour-Liberal coalition, with such an arrangement falling 11 seats short of a majority. Any sort of Labour-led government would also need the backing of nationalist parties in Scotland or Wales, as well as the support of the SDLP in Northern Ireland. Even then, such a government would have a majority of just two.

After the national picture became clear, both Gordon Brown and David Cameron appealed to the Liberal Democrats to begin talks with them to form a government.

Brown, in a speech outside Downing Street, said he had a constitutional duty to form a strong and stable government, adding there needs to be a fairer voting system for future elections.

Meanwhile, Cameron offered a “big open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats”, explaining the two parties share common ground and offered to give ground to form an “open and trusting partnership”. This included electoral reform, but did not in the speech go as far as changing the country’s voting system. Cameron also set out red lines on offering more powers to the European Union, controlling immigration and protecting the country’s defences.

In response, Nick Clegg said that he believed the party with the most votes and most seats had the right to form a government, and said he would see whether the Conservatives are able to “prove it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest”. He again emphasised the need for voting reform, describing it as “broken” as the party saw its seats reduced despite an increase in vote share.

Coalition talks would take place over the following five days, leading to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats forming the first coalition government in the UK since the 1970s.

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