Freaky Friday. There seemed little rhyme or reason to a lot of the results. The Tories clearly did quite well, but there will be huge reservations about the fact that they failed to seal the deal. If Gordon Brown is really as unpopular as they claimed, why couldn't they pick up enough seats to win an overall majority?
For Brown, the result was not nearly as bad as it might have been. Sure there were a lot of losses and there seems little credibility to his desire the hang on in there. As Guido puts it, he is looking increasingly like a squatter. But a large number of Labour MPs in vulnerable seats hung on - particularly cabinet members. And Labour - for all that they fell to one of their lowest shares of the vote in living memory - are still the second largest party.
For the Lib Dems it was hugely disappointing. Cleggmania failed to be translated into the votes that were predicted and the Party actually lost seats. But there are still huge positives. I truly believed that without Nick Clegg - and without the leadership debates - we would have been squeezed into oblivion. There were some stonking results. Take Redcar - a massive 18% (or so) swing ffrom Labour. And we picked up more than just the solitary predicted seat from the Tories too. And yet. The number of seats lost by a comparatively small number of votes is very disappointing. For ages last night whenever there was a close result we seemed to come out on the wrong side of it. Sheffield Central, Camborne Redruth, Watford and so on. In London in particular, we were on the wrong end of a number of close calls as Labour performed incredibly well. Ed Fordham came third in a true three way marginal and it was only really hanging on in the two Sutton seats and Sarah Teather's victory in Brent that were cheer points in the capital.
Overall - incumbency mattered both ways. Those tainted by the expenses scandal lost out and those cleared of any wrongdoing tended to do well.
The increase in turnout was very welcome, but how many of those who bothered to turn out, particularly younger voters, will end up confused at the less than clear cut outcome? And what will be done about so many people being denied a vote? It seems to me that a 'review' will apear to be sweeping the matter under the carpet. Only if a court case happens and is successful (dubious given the strict rules) will people feel that their being denied a vote has been taken seriously.
Nick Clegg will win plaudits from all except Gordon Brown for sticking to his promise to allow the party with the most seats and votes to have the chance to govern. Morally there should be no right for Brown to stay in Number 10 and the seat maths make any Lib Lab deal doomed to failure anyway. Such a deal may be the only real chance of full blown PR but I worry that the voter backlash at a subsequent election would be too great.
David Cameron this afternoon claimed to offer an olive branch to Nick Clegg. He said that he was prepared to govern as a minority if needs be but would like to tie up a Lib Con coalition if possible. But his terms (and I accept that these were simply an opening gambit) are simply not acceptable to the Lib Dems. He seemed to say that we would have to take the bulk of their manifesto. When it came to what we could demand, Cameron simply listed those areas where the twon parties agree in any case. And on voting reform, Cameron declared himself willing to set up a commission to review matters. That is what Blair offered back in '97. At least Blair also said that a referendum would follow, even if this promise turned out to be worthless. Whilst Cam might be prepared to offer real PR, much of his party would not. Dan Hannan was on the BBC shortly afterwards and made it clear that electoral reform does not always mean voting reform. And I suspect that the majority of Tories would want to limit reform to equalising seat size and, perhaps, a referendum on AV after another election.
There will be no response from the Lib Dems to this offer other than to note it until at least after tomorrow's Parliamentary Party and Federal Exec meetings. I suspect that Nick Clegg will be asked by the Party to talk to the Tories to see how far they will be prepared to go. But I strongly doubt that a deal will prove possible.
That, in itself, is not a bad thing. For the Lib Dems to retain credibility we need to stick up for our manifesto. If the Tories accept enough of it then a deal could be done. But if not we can simply allow them to govern as a minority. The Tory tactic will be to try to blame failures on Lib Dems unwilling to accept responsibility, but this can be countered. And, in any case, no coalition would sit more easily with the party membership.
By being clear that it is Cam who should move into Number 10, Nick Clegg has bought both the Lib Dems and the whole political establishment time. A deal does not need to be done immediately - and it should not be. What matters is that the politicians get some sleep and realise that we are living in a changed world. Just as Alex Salmond is doing in Scotland, a minority administration can survive.
A final thought - for all that the Lib Dems won some spectacular ccontests, my winner of the night has to be Naomi Long for the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland.