So after all the political battles, intrigues, polling vagaries and mistaken projection, it’s out with Brown and in with a coalition government led by new Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The Lib Dems, after long negotiations and debates with both Labour and the Conservatives have gone in with the Tories to build a 363 seat governing majority, built on the Conservatives 306 seats and the Liberal Democrats 57. They are likely to pull the support of the 8 DUP MPs (the larger of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland) on matters of government confidence and budget.
While the marriage of Lib and Con seems rather counterintuitive at first glance, given the Lib Dems self-proclaimed center-left stances, Liberal-Conservative coalitions are quite common in European politics. In Germany, the liberal “Free Democrats” joined with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats to form the current center-right government. In France, Sarkozy’s UMP includes the centrist-liberal “Democratic Movement” party. While by no means identical in their ideologies, both of these share the Lib Dems affiliation in the European Parliament with the “Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe” (ALDE).
Of course, the first question being asked is whether the coalition can survive beyond the first crisis of political difference. While the Liberal Democrats have extracted promises of electoral reform, raising of minimum taxes, and have picked up several key cabinet posts, they have had to concede to many Tory priorities on foreign policy and immigration. While there is some room for error in the case of a Liberal MP revolt on confidence or budget issues, Labour will be working hard to undermine the legitimacy of the government.
One element that will be curious to watch will be the strategy of Labour, as the party revamps and retools. Will they go the route of the Canadian Liberals and aim to keep a snap election from occurring, in order to give David Cameron and Nick Clegg the pleasure of taking credit for the inevitable public belt-tightening that will have to take place, the swoop in with avengence in 2 or 3 years. Or will they quickly name new leadership and set to work lobbying the leftist bloc of the Liberal Democrats, who may be less than pleased to be in cahoots with the Tories.
All told, however, if the coalition manages to stay in place for some time and electoral reform empowers minor parties for future elections, many more coalition agreements and governments may be in the cards for Britain. Of course, balancing representation of public opinion and stability of government is always a tricky subject for a society to navigate. As such, it seems that the results of May 6th are not the conclusion to the story, but just the introduction to a political battle for the next few years.
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight’s international affairs columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org