(Largely written on May 7)
Closer to final: 306 Conservative, 258 Labour, 57 Liberal Dem, 29 others. The one "small" party that might work with the Tories is the Democratic Unionists with 8 seats--still not enough to give the Tories a working majority. If the Tories get a chance to form government, rather than strike a formal deal with anyone they might simply introduce a budget with some goodies for some groups, and then go for a confidence vote, basically daring other parties to trigger another election. Many Labour members might simply stay away from a vote, as Liberals have been known to do federally in Canada.
There may be a coalition--which involves actual ministers, taking an oath of confidentiality and so on, from different parties.
In any case, small parties may be a factor.
I didn't realize until this morning that Sinn Fein has been winning seats in Northern Ireland. They are committed to a united Ireland being totally separate from the UK, and once elected, they refuse to take the oath to the Queen so as to take up their seats. I gather this means they don't draw pay cheques as MPs, and they will never collect a pension. When you compare this to the Bloc Quebecois, I think this approach has a lot of integrity.
So: Sinn Fein's 5 seats will not be a factor, except that they slightly lower the total that is needed for a working majority in the Commons.
Democratic Unionist: Northern Irish who definitely want to remain in the UK: 8 seats, likely to support the Tories.
Others might join Labour:
Scottish National: 6 seats (with only 1.7% of the vote--it helps to have your vote geographically concentrated).
Plaid Cymru: something about Welsh nationalism. 3 seats.
Social Democratic and Labour: 3 seats
Green: 1 (I'm guessing this lady might become a minister).
The Speaker: 1
UK Independence: claiming to be libertarian, wanting out of Europe, wanting to limit immigration, claiming to be non-racist: 3.1% of the vote, 0 seats. 900,000 votes makes them the fourth-most popular party--with three times as many votes as the Greens. Some are saying Cameron the Tory leader could have won some of this vote if he'd been tough on Europe and immigration, and this might have won a few more seats. Sounds pretty speculative. You'd have to have some way of working out how the seats gained by the Tories moving to the centre, saying they wanted to carry out Tony Blair's mandate, match up against the seats (arguably) lost by not being tough enough on Europe.
What might be puzzling to outsiders is the linkage between "immigration" and "Europe." It is not necessarily visible minorities from Britain's ex-colonies who are the biggest concern; it is people from Central and Eastern European countries, now entitled by European treaties to seek education and work in the UK. Skilled newcomers can get work in a new economy more easily than unskilled Brits.
BNP: Not quite as non-racist as UKIP claims to be: 1.9% of the vote.
So there wasn't really much of an anti-immigrant vote.
(Largely written on May 14)
It looks like it will be Conservatives + Liberal Democrats, in some kind of coalition with shared Cabinet seats. [Lib Dems got five Cabinet seats, including Clegg as Deputy PM]. Gordon Brown has resigned as PM, and David Cameron has been sworn in.
When a bright, politically savvy Brit worked in our branch at work, he advised me that one rule for understanding British politics is: the English hate the Scotch. (Yes, I believe that word is used over there; only in Canada do the kilt-wearing types get all upset about it). They will only take so many Scottish Prime Ministers. Tony Blair's father had been adopted by a Scotch couple; his mother was from a Northern Irish family that had originally been Scottish. Gordon Brown is 100% Scottish. Cameron, depressingly enough, is a Scotch name, but there is really nothing Scotch about David Cameron.
I'm only half joking. If there had been a Labour-Lib Dem deal, this still wouldn't have been enough for a majority. There probably would have to be a deal with the Scotch nationalist party, who are the main rivals of Labour for seats in Scotland. This would have been a "league of the losers"; there was no trend in the recent election that showed any of those groups gaining in popular support. The tiny Scottish group may have had the whip hand on some issues. There were some senior Labour people who thought 1)this would have been undemocratic, and wrong; 2) the public wouldn't stand for it; 3)it's better to let the Tories carry out spending cuts (something the Scots, Welsh etc. would have resisted) and live to fight another day.
Possibly Labour as a whole was not willing to promise any legislation that the Lib Dems wanted, other than a new electoral system. And on that, many Labourites--although probably not as many as in the case of the Tories--would have voted against change. The old Labourites tend not to take the Lib Dems seriously: if you basically favour Labour policies, why not join us?
Clegg the Lib Dem leader has apparently gone back to Cameron and said: it still may be possible for the Lib Dems to make a deal with Labour, or face an election fairly soon. So Clegg may have strengthened his bargaining position--to get actual Cabinet seats, more of what he wants on an electoral system, etc. Clegg probably has a lot of supporters who don't particularly want to join the Tories, and will expect something in return for doing so. Cameron on his side may now be able to secure two years without losing a confidence vote--maybe even longer than that. [He got five years, supposedly].
If the UK moves to a proportional system, they would probably not grant seats to any party that got less than 5%, or even 10% of the vote. Neither the Greens nor the UKIP would qualfy based on the recent result.
What's most interesting to me is that Cameron and Clegg together could build a center-right coalition that could have quite a bit of staying power.
I like reading about 19th century British politics, partly because there was so much suspense about how votes would go in the Commons--who would be in, and who would be out. Over the course of decades, the old Whig party, which had become pretty conservative, disappeared, to be replaced by a less conservative Liberal party. The Conservative party also moved to the left, although it remained the home of right-wing views on Ireland and even, occasionally, free trade. Left-wingers would say the Tories defended rich land-owners--to some extent "old money"--while the Liberals defended factory owners--"new money." Lord Palmerston for a while had a kind of one-man party which could win parliamentary majorities. Gladstone became the legendary Liberal leader, and Disraeli his Tory arch-rival; they had both been in the old Conservative party in the 1840s.