At 9.30 this morning the BBC's Election programme waited for just one more seat to be declared to confirm that the voters of the United Kingdom had managed to elect a hung parliament with no clear party winner. Although at this time the Conservatives had won more than 36.5% of the vote and 290 seats to Labour's 246 and the Lib Dems' 51, unless the Conservatives could win all remaining 36 seats to declare, it would be impossible for them to gain an overall majority.
Although there were hundreds of people in several constituencies who turned up to vote but were still waiting to do so when the polling stations closed at 10pm last night, the Conservatives were ahead of Labour in the popular vote by more than two million. It is most unlikely that any denied their vote could have influenced the outcome of any constituency involved.
Erith and Thamesmead declaring with a Labour hold at 9.41am made the "hung" Parliament official, although it was unclear at this time whether or not Prime Minister Gordon Brown, could or would try to form a coalition with the Lib Dems in the light of the disappointing results for Nick Clegg's party.
All party leaders have much to think about. Gordon Brown has not only lost the election and his party about 100 seats, but Labour's share of the vote is equal to or possibly even less than when the party fought under Michael Foot. David Cameron can only be frustrated as although historically Labour has lost and the Conservatives have gained more seats than in any election since 1931, he is unable to form a majority government. Nick Clegg's body language was anything but confident since early this morning when it became quite obvious that his personal vote in Sheffield Hallam and general popularity in the country, was not going to be reflected throughout the country in either the Lib Dems' share of the votes or parliamentary seats.
To many people, this failure of a Lib Dem breakthrough and ending up with possibly fewer seats in a new parliament, is one of the more surprising outcomes of this election. In popular vote terms, with Labour taking some 29 per cent to the Lib Dems' 23 per cent, one can wonder whether the TV debates ever took place! Indeed Nick Clegg must be struggling to come to terms with the voters' apparent contrariness and what in his election strategy went wrong. At midday, Mr Clegg did repeat that the party which has a clear mandate by winning most seats and votes has a moral right to try to form a (minority) government though his party will be looking to cooperate with the Conservatives and not form any formal coalition.
This can only be of considerable relief to David Cameron. Gordon Brown had earlier stated in his Kirkcaldy acceptance speech and again once back in Downing Street, that it was his duty now "to form a strong, stable and principled government", to try to do this being his constitutional right and hinting for a response from the Lib Dems with whose help he would likely win any Vote of Confidence in the Queen's Speech.
Judging by what Nick Clegg has since said and what his colleague Paddy Ashdown has praised as Mr Clegg honourably standing by his word, a Labour Government propped up by the Lib Dems now seems most unlikely.
Relief too for Mr Cameron is the fact that in regards to any Vote of Confidence in a minority Conservative government, David Cameron can ignore the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists. Any deal with the Nationalists would have meant a guarantee that Scotland and Wales would be spared any funding cuts with the Welsh even demanding an extra £300 million annually from Westminster. This would imply that all future spending cuts and likely tax increases would fall totally upon the English. The Northern Irish were speaking in similar fashion. The money markets, anxious already, might well have lost confidence in the Government's resolve to tackle the deficit and bring down the UK's very large national debt.
Nationally there was a swing to the Conservatives of about five per cent but this hid wide regional fluctuations. The Conservatives were able to take Hendon from Labour with a mere 4.1 per cent swing - and a tiny majority of 106 - yet failed to unseat Ed Balls in Morley & Outwood with a swing over double this and giving Mr Balls a majority of 1,100. In Torbay, the Lib Dems increased their share of the vote against the Conservatives but lost to the Tories their Welsh Montgomery seat.
Really it was a good night for the Conservatives in Wales with them gaining five seats including Carmarthen West where they gained 41 per cent of the votes to Labour's 33 per cent. They can also be pleased with capturing Vale of Glamorgan from Labour with 42 per cent of the vote and Cardiff North, though here only by the tiny majority of 194. With 20 per cent of the Welsh vote, the Conservatives had their best night in Wales since 1918.
As for Scotland , Argyll & Bute still to declare, it could have been on a different planet with the Labour share of the vote rising over three per cent to about 44 per cent and in some areas the swing to Labour was even more pronounced. In Ochil & South Perthshire the swing to Labour from the SNP was over seven per cent and although the Conservatives got an eight per cent swing over the Lib Dem's Menzies Campbell, the former party leader still had a comfortable 9,000 majority. The Conservatives, seen as the never popular in Scotland party of Margaret Thatcher and an "English" party, can take comfort in the fact that their only MP, David Mundell did well. Representing the rural Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale constituency, he increased his majority over Labour from 1,700 to nearly 4,200.
The markets were opened at 1am this morning and so far the Bond Market is holding with Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's Economics Editor expecting the election result not to have any bearing on the UK's AAA rating, provided "some firm resolution" is taken by the (new) government soon. The FTSE 100 was fractionally down and FTSE 250, down about 2.4 per cent. Hardest hit indicator and demonstrating some market concern is sterling's fall to $1.47 and 1.15 euros, though hopefully, these indices will firm once there is more clarity in the political situation.