4.20AM: WHAT an election night. The early results have been all over the place. Clearly, the public has rejected the Labour government and the Tories have had more votes than anybody else; but everything else is much more murky. Swings have been hugely variable. Here are a few early thoughts about what has happened.
1) The Tories are the largest party; Labour has lost large numbers of seats. The swing from Labour to Tories has been quite strong. David Cameron’s party is now set to be the largest in the House of Commons.
2)The Lib Dem bubble has deflated spectacularly, confounding the pollsters; Cleggmania is no more.
3) There has been a very strong turnout; who said that people are not interested in politics any more? Voting has become fashionable again, perhaps because of the TV debates – and perhaps because of the general, widespread agreement that a serious change is needed.
4) Britain is facing its very own hanging chads scandal, as America infamously did a few years ago. There have been huge problems with voters queuing up in front of polling stations and being unable to vote. Some returning officers appear to have behaved stupidly; there is an urgent need for the electoral commission to take action and reform this amateurish system. We may now see legal challenges at a number of seats, a development which could delay the results of the election.
There will be much talk now of switching to proportional representation or of introducing some other kind of voting reform. This would be a very bad idea: in these difficult times, it is very important that we retain our first past the post, constituency based system. It may sometimes be unfair but it the most likely to allow strong government – and the most likely to enable the smooth transfer of power from one side to another.
All of this is preliminary. We will have a better idea of the final outcome in the morning and towards lunchtime. So I invite all our readers to pick up a copy of our special, one-off evening edition City P.M. for all the final news, results, analysis and comment – it will be distributed by our hand distributors from mid-afternoon, in time for the evening commute at all the central London stations at which our normal City A.M. edition is available, including in the City, Canary Wharf, Mayfair and all our other key central stations. See you there.