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Conservatives projected to win British election, but governing may elude; Brown's Labor Party lags

May 6, 2010 |  9:42 pm

British prime minister Gordon Brown and wife Sarah go to vote in Scotland 5-6-10

Editor's Note: Because of the broad global interest in Thursday's British parliamentary elections The Ticket asked our colleague Craig Howie to wrap up the results for our politics readers around the world. Here it is:

In Britain, they like nothing more than a good mystery before bed, but you can bet that millions in that politics-besotted nation will be staying up well into Friday to watch how the tangled web of political intrigue plays out.

High turnout defined a national election that the Conservatives are projected to win, with only the size of their victory remaining in question. Exit polls suggest the Conservatives will fall about 20 seats short of an overall majority, resulting in a hung parliament.

But early results show a significant swing to the Conservatives and they may yet win enough seats to get the majority they need to form a government.

Just before midnight Thursday the Conservatives had won 253 seats, a gain of 75; Labor had 194 seats, losing 68; while the Liberal Democrats had lost six, with 514 seats declared. The swing in popular vote from Labor to Conservative was 5.2%. The Conservatives needed a swing of 6.9% to gain an overall Commons majority. 

In the event of a hung parliament, the left-wing Labor party of incumbent Prime....

...Minister Gordon Brown, which has governed the UK since 1997, will lick its wounds and attempt to form a workable minority government, most likely in a pact with the centrist Liberal Democrats. The latter are staying upbeat despite disastrous exit polls and early results.

Exit polls and early results point to the largest swing in votes from one party to another, from Labor to Conservative, since 1931. 

British commentators are suggesting change is afoot and some have compared long lines at polling stations to the 2008 U.S. elections. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was among the first foreign politicians to congratulate the Conservatives. "Even though results aren't in we know the Conservatives had a great day," the governor tweeted.

Britain's Parliament

Conservative leader David Cameron says Labor has "lost its mandate to govern"  and the vote represents "change." 

Labor's Lord Mandelson said incumbent PM Brown has a right under constitutional convention to have the first try to form a minority government, but appeared a little uncertain of the outcome after the exit polls were announced. 

"It's going to be a cliffhanger," Mandelson said. But perhaps the biggest mystery at this point is what happened to rising political star Nick Clegg's Lib Dems.

One way to better unravel some of the mysteries of Britain's general election is to focus on some key swing seats.  Here are some early indicators. 

-- The first constituency to declare, Labor stronghold Houghton and Sunderland South, was won as expected by Labor but with a swing of 8.5 percent to the Conservatives -- a  bigger swing than exit polls predicted. The Conservatives need a nationwide swing of 6.9 percent to win an overall majority.

-- A Labor win in Durham indicated there was little ebb of votes to the Lib Dems.

-- Former Labor home secretary Jacqui Smith, beset by personal problems, loses her seat as expected.

-- Government minister Ed Balls survives a Michael Portillo-esque decapitation (when a high-ranking minister loses their seat) in Normanton but with a much reduced majority.

-- Kingswood becomes the first seat to swing from Labor to the Conservatives.

-- Guildford, the Lib Dems' top target, fell big-time to the Conservatives.

--  Rochdale, where Brown derailed his campaign with an unfortunate remark about a female constituent caught on a live microphone, was won by Labor.    

-- In the biggest surprise of the early results, and possibly the night's biggest shock, former First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson of the Democrat Unionist Party lost his Belfast East seat to newcomer Naomi Long.

-- Brown looked defiant among cheering supporters at his Scottish seat of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, while Cameron looked determined if a little subdued in his victory speech at his safe seat of Whitney, in Oxfordshire. Labor's share of the vote has risen in Scotland and Wales, but fallen in England.

-- Craig Howie

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Photo: David Moir / Reuters (Brown and wife Sarah vote in Scotland); EU Info Office (British Parliament).