05.07.10

'No One Has Won'

The U.K.’s electoral confusion would almost be amusing, were it not for the looming debt crisis. Venetia Thompson on Britain’s morning after.

It’s 6 a.m., the morning after Election Day, and Britain is really no closer to finding a new leader than it was 24 hours ago. There are a couple of cold vegetarian sausage sandwiches in front of me, several baffled political correspondents, a comedian and a historian. The suspense clearly became too much for some: One guest was suddenly escorted off the premises for calling Lord Ashcroft a four-letter word and another commentator was so drunk he had to be carried safely ashore. Everyone that remains is thoroughly confused. It’s been a long night on the Thames—I’ve been aboard the BBC’s election night boat for hours: the political and literary glitterati have all gone home to bed, and it’s slowly becoming apparent that those of us who are still awake are going to have to finally get to grips with the concept of a hung Parliament—for the first time in 36 years.

I never thought that I would say this, but I actually no longer care who takes control as long as someone does. Decisively and soon: It’s going to be a very long weekend.

More Daily Beast writers weigh in on the U.K. electionIt’s game over for Gordon Brown, unless he can somehow cobble together something vaguely resembling a majority. Whilst the Tories have won the most seats, and will now be the U.K.’s largest political party, they simply don’t quite have enough for an overall majority—which has resulted in widespread confusion: will Labour hop into bed with the Lib Dems? Will Clegg stand by his vow to support the party with the biggest electoral mandate? Has Gordon just entered Number 10 for the last time? Only one thing is clear: The British people have no idea what they want. As Clegg helpfully stated this morning, "No one has won…"

This bout of British indecision would perhaps be vaguely amusing if the Eurozone’s debt crisis wasn’t simultaneously spiralling completely out of control, and sterling wasn’t well on its way to becoming entirely worthless (tumbling last night to its lowest in a year at $1.4712). While  Cameron, Brown and Clegg decide what to do, futures point to the FTSE being likely to be down by at least 160 points (around 3%) when the markets open today on the back of last night’s manic U.S. stock sell-off. When I checked in with trading desks this morning, sterling was off 3-4 points against pretty much every other currency and gilt yields had soared. Spain and Portugal are expected to follow Greece, and there is no end in sight to the contagion. Surprise, surprise: turns out Ken Clarke may have had a point when he warned the markets weren’t too fond of political uncertainty, despite protestations from the Lib Dems and Labour who accused the Tories of scaremongering. As one broker put it, “the market has been puking hard all week and just got a hell of a lot worse.”

The U.K. election has been eclipsed by something far greater than Clegg, Brown or Cameron: further economic doom. Whoever is prime pinister (in theory Cameron, but it might as well be any of them—oh the joys of a hung Parliament), and whatever mess of a government they manage to throw together, they will have to call a crisis meeting immediately. The British public may be able to handle a period of uncertainty, but our economy cannot: it needs a firm hand immediately. I never thought that I would say this, but I actually no longer care who takes control as long as someone does. Decisively and soon: It’s going to be a very long weekend.

The last few weeks, full of Labour bluster, Tory posturing, Nazi uniforms, WAGS and the Dead Clegg Bounce now seem rather trivial. Our obsession with the suits, the ties, the schools, the wives and the debates now leaves a bad taste. It’s all irrelevant: We don’t have a leader. As Julian Fellowes quipped as the results started coming in, “We’re looking for a leader, not someone to invite to dinner. Who cares whether they’re pleasant or not.”

I fear it is perhaps too late. While we can claim that our electoral system needs reforming and that it is “wickedly undemocratic” as Richard Dawkins described it, we can’t escape the fact that the British electorate—after the horrors of the expenses scandal—is totally disenchanted and doesn’t know which way to turn. Electoral reform cannot solve this political identity crisis. Labour voters turned Tory, Tories turned Lib Dem, a load of people voted Green out of desperation and even the BNP gained votes as a result of some perverted “protest” against the other main parties—a sort of, “I hate you all so much I’m going to vote for a party that will punish us all.” Baffling.

As I walked home along the South Bank and crossed Westminster bridge this morning, I expected to look up at Big Ben and maybe feel something: the end of an era? Perhaps the dawn of an exciting new government? Nope: I just felt sick. And it wasn’t just the vegetarian sausage sandwich.

Venetia Thompson is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Spectator. Her memoir Gross Misconduct was published in April by Simon and Schuster UK. She lives in London.