May 7th, 2010
10:33 AM ET

U.K. election: What happens now?

David Cameron, left, Gordon Brown, middle and Nick Clegg will try to work out a deal as Britain faces a "hung parliament" after the general election.

After one of the most fiercely fought and close general elections in years Britain is facing a hung parliament - meaning the Conservative party won the most seats, but not enough to give them a decisive victory over Labour's Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Britain hasn't had a "hung parliament" - one with no majority since 1974.

David Cameron's Conservative party came in first, with at least 304 seats in race to get 326 seats out of the 650-seat parliament. Brown's Labour party came in second with 257. The Liberal Democrats came third, with at least 57. About two dozen seats went to smaller parties, and a handful have yet to be declared.

It's similar to a George Bush-Al Gore scenario being played out across the pond - except instead of the election ending with electoral votes being decisive over the popular vote - it will end with some closed-door meetings and attempts to form alliances to create a majority in parliament.

So what happens now?

OK, deep breath. So there's a hung parliament, and nobody has enough votes to govern decisively. Now the deal-making part comes in– and it could take a while. The leader of the majority party traditionally gets the first chance to form the government and become prime minister.

But if no party has a majority (as is currently the case), the sitting prime minister - currently Gordon Brown - has the right to stay in office and try to win a confidence motion in parliament.

Conservative leader David Cameron, who didn't win that majority, but leads the party with the most votes declared his center-right party had earned the right to govern.

So Cameron has some choices he's going to have to make on the way to potentially becoming the U.K.'s next Prime Minister.

What could the outcome be?

There are several possible outcomes for how the U.K. parliament will shake out - depending on the different types of deals that are offered. CNN's Peter Wilkinson gives an in-depth look at many paths the talks can go down and several end result possibilities.

Cameron could try to form a minority government or launch a partnership in a coalition government.

  • In a minority government a party tries to rule without a majority by winning support from other MPs on a vote-by-vote basis
  • In a coalition government two or more parties agree to an alliance that sees them top the 326 majority to a shared agenda.

Where do they stand on forming a government now?

Here's the gist of where all three leaders stand in the early stages after the election:

  • Conservative Party leader David Cameron floated the possibility of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats Friday. "The best thing for Britain now is a new government that works together in that national interest," he said. He emphasized areas where the two parties agree, including education reform and scrapping plans for national ID cards, while drawing red lines on defense and the economy.
  • Prime Minister (for now) Gordon Brown is hoping at the end of the deal making he'll still have some power. Despite his party's overall loss he wants to stay in office and is willing to work with just about anyone. For now, he's still got the bed to sleep in at Downing Street until this is all hashed out. But if Labour and the Liberal Democrats can't reach a deal then Brown would be forced to leave the prime minister's residence immediately.
  • Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, on the other hand could look to make some moves of his own. Earlier Friday he said the Conservative party "has the first right to seek to govern either on its own or by reaching out to other parties."

The upper hand lies with Cameron. But who will emerge as the leader and how the government will gel could take some time to sort out.

When will there be a defined government and what will it mean?

It depends how quickly deals are made. Our partners at take a look at why the struggle to form a government may just be in beginning stages - in other words, hang on to your seats. interviewed some Brits to get a sense on how they'd view a hung parliament. Some thought it would mean a stalemate on issues at a time when the U.K. needs decisive decisions and others hope it can bring the U.K. together to solve their problems.

That is, unless you're Arnold Schwarzenegger who has already declared "Hasta la Vista, baby" to Gordon Brown.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Adolf Makauki

    I am happy to see how elections are monitored. Third word countries should learn from these elections.

    I also commend the press including CNN for the constant coverage.

    May 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Siara Delyn

    Oh, so their law actually requires them to compromise with each other? Here in America we'd have a run off vote. If the loser lost by even 1 vote, the people he represented would lose all claim to power. They would become a hate-filled minority of $9.9999% and would proceed to eviscerate the winners in the media for the next 4 years.

    May 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Siara Delyn

    Oops... the dollar sign in the previous post should have been a "4"

    May 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. John

    I don't know where you got your information, but in the US we most certainly do not have "runoff" votes. We have a single member district PLURALITY system, what you are talking about sounds more akin to the French system which is a single member district MAJORITY system (which can lead to runoffs if no majority is reached in the first round of voting).

    On a seperate note, this is a bizarre scenario since the liberal dems. are closer ideologically to labor but also have less leverage with them (since their union would still fall short of a majority). I suppose they will tell the conservatives that they will join them as long as they are willing to have some sort of electoral reform which would increase their seat share in the future.

    May 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Also, in response to Adolf, I find that comment to be incredibly patronizing. Third world countries aren't poor because they don't have democracies. In fact, the causal arrow is quite the opposite, wealth (in general , I know some resource rich countries like Russia and Saudia Arabia are exceptions) tends to lead to democracy (ex. South Korea, Spain, etc.) since it distributes power among a larger social group.

    May 7, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    Writing as a UK voter, I think it might get more interesting.

    We all know that a budget deficit needs to be reduced and that taxes will go up and spending down. Broadly, the choices on offer are a smaller increase in taxes with larger cuts in spending, or, larger increase in tax and smaller cuts in spending. Whatever happens won't be popular.

    Usually hung parliaments do not last long. I expect another election this year.

    Would you want to be the government that did the required but unpopular surgery on the economy knowing that you will have to face re-election in six months time?

    They might not all be as eager as people think to form a government just now.

    May 7, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Owen Reed

    If it wasn't for all of the unwanted immigrants that Nu Labour have forced on the British people then the Conservatives would have won an outrighjt majority.

    May 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gennady Orlov

    It would be a delusion to regard "the hung parliament" as a problem. It might have happened if "the all-or-nothing" approach would be the only one possible. Why to regard the option as the only one? The UK as a country should be fed up with all gross mistakes having cost billions of pounds the Labour government has made. To list just a few: mismanagement of the"foot-and-mouth epidemics" in 2001, the financial mess, the recession, the Iraq war, the confrontation with Russia. Isn't it evident that Labours under G. Brown are in a "dead-end"? So, it is right time for the Conservatives with their fresh ideas and from "clean plate" to tackle the piled-up problems even in minority government.

    May 8, 2010 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. peter gill

    It seems the outcome of this election will be really symbolic. If Clegg will not deal with Cameron then it seems the U.K. will have its second Jewish Prime Minister. The first, Disraeli created Israel, the next will solve the Israel Palestine conflict or destroy Israel.Its the way it seems British politics work.

    May 9, 2010 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |