On the evening of Tuesday, 11 May, Prime Minister Gordon Brown pulled off a brilliant piece of political upstaging by resigning his office without forewarning David Cameron, his Conservative Party rival and winner of most seats in the recent election, that he was about to have an audience with the Queen.
Protocol normally outlines a set routine by which the outgoing Prime Minister goes to Buckingham Palace to inform Her Majesty that he will no longer be her First Minister and leaves through a different exit whilst the incoming Prime Minister meets the Queen and answers in the affirmative when asked by her if he can form a government.
Although talks had ended between the teams of David Cameron's Conservatives and Nick Clegg's Lib Dems, the details of any coalition agreement between the two parties had still to be outlined to and approved by the Lib Dems federal voting body. It was probably assumed, at least by the Conservatives, that Gordon Brown's formal resignation would not take place until the following day, given the lateness of the hour and although in a telephone conversation Gordon Brown had told Nick Clegg that he and his Lib Dems had to decide immediately to join Labour or he would go to the Palace, no doubt Nick Clegg shared the Conservatives expectation on timing.
Wrong! The Conservatives, at least, could not have been watching the news broadcasts and a cut to Downing Street where a microphone had been set up outside No 10 a little after 7pm. At 19.17, Mr Brown with his wife Sarah by his side, announced that talks with the Lib Dems had failed and that he was to resign as Prime Minister with immediate effect. However, it was only when the news camera from the helicopter above followed the Prime Minister's car for a couple of minutes did it become obvious that he wasn't just going "round the block" but to Buckingham Palace, without further ado.
At 19.45 Mr Brown in an audience with the Queen tendered his resignation but it wasn't until 20.35 that Her Majesty confirmed David Cameron as the new Prime Minister. I believe I am right in saying that for fifty minutes the UK had no Prime Minister but still had a Government and once David Cameron was confirmed as First Lord of The Treasury, had a Prime Minister but no Government!
All this was a culmination of an election which had resulted in no one party emerging as a clear winner with an absolute majority in the House of Commons. Though widely predicted in the polls before the election, and with remarkable accuracy on the part of the BBC's exit poll once voting had ended at 10pm on 06 May, it was a most unsatisfactory result for both of the major UK parties, Labour and Conservative, despite what was on offer to the Lib Dems by Labour before the election and subsequently by both major parties, after.
With 306 seats, 307 if the delayed election in Thirsk & Malton goes to the Conservatives as expected, the Conservatives fell 20 short of an overall majority and really, about 35 short of a comfortable working majority ensuring a full five year term in office. Despite this, the Conservatives were the undoubted winners and Labour the undoubted losers by any reasonable measure. Not simply had Labour lost more and the Conservatives gained more seats than in any election since 1931 but their share of the vote had fallen to match the appalling 1983 result under Michael Foot when their manifesto was described by one of their senior politicians shortly afterwards as the longest suicide note in history.
Polling 2.1 million votes less than the Conservatives should have put the fact of their defeat beyond doubt and combined with the aforementioned, their position could not be truly compared to the February 1974 election when Ted Heath failed by four seats to get an overall majority but winning a larger popular vote.
What made this election so special was the fact that the smallest of the major political parties, the Lib Dems with 57 seats and fewer seats than in the previous Parliament, was being courted by both Conservatives and Labour, so becoming a winner afterall!
The big carrot from Labour was their "deathbed conversion" about a month before the election to the alternative vote method of proportional representation (PR) a major goal of Liberal Democracy and very high on the Party's "must haves" and one issue which the rank and file were not letting their political representatives to forget.
With a considerable degree of disquiet discreetly expressed regarding any form of PR by Labour supporters both inside and outside Parliament before the election, dissent became more vociferous when, as a final bid to take the Lib Dems on board, the Labour leadership said they would introduce the alternative vote method of PR by way of a Bill in the new Parliament with a three-line whip. This means that every Labour MP would be compelled to vote in favour without abstention. A fuller form of PR would also be put to a referendum in due course. A measure of desperation? However there was no mention of Cabinet seats being offered and especially any of the top Cabinet posts where the real power lies in the British parliamentary system.
In contrast, the Conservatives offered precisely this road to power-sharing. There would be a proper coalition, albeit with the Lib Dems as a junior partner and the Conservatives were willing to adjust (and possibly discard) parts of their manifesto and election campaign pledges by adopting Lib Dem measures in whole or in part.
Even with full Lib Dem support, Labour and Lib Dems combined could not have an overall majority and Gordon Brown suggested, despite considerable unease in Labour ranks, that a "progressive coalition" could be formed, taking in the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, Irish MPs and the one Green Party member. This coalition of all losers, or "the damned", was not going to be a cheap option with the three Welsh Nationalists wanting an annual £300 million from Westminster and the six Scots, looking for £700 million to £750 million. The Irish were good enough to simply want a blank cheque. With hard times ahead in the form of tax increases and spending cuts, the Celtic fringe implied that none of this was to affect them. Only the English were to pay. Cheers for that, Gordon!
Britain is very lucky that the delay between the election results and the final formation of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government, coincided with much greater turmoil in Greece and the Euro-zone countries, with the money markets having pretty much discounted sterling to its current level in anticipation of a hung parliament.
Evan Harris, former Lib Dem MP for Oxford West was quoted as saying on Tuesday that Labour had "offered nothing except what was in their manifesto and it was not clear if they could deliver their whole party on what would be very tight arithmetic for the whole programme" and this wasn't the stable government which Nick Clegg said was his priority.
I also think that the Lib Dems discerned that the Labour team was simply going through the motions, there was no enthusiasm for a coalition of losers from either Labour or Lib Dems and many senior Labour Party figures were saying to the media that the Leadership should accept that they had lost the election.
And of the coalition? Nick Clegg on 21 September 2009, told the BBC that there would need to be "savage and bold" spending cuts and that the politicians would have to treat the voters "like grown-ups". The "enormity of the problem" had to be faced.
Well Nick Clegg and his band have had their wish granted and will no longer be observers above the fray between the two major parties. Like Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, their hands are about to be well and truly bloodied.