It was an election that ended in disarray; it became the result that everyone had feared. The first hung parliament in the UK since 1874 had been heralded as a disaster in the making and it was evident very few people seemed enthused with the concept before the results came in and converted theory into reality.
When it became clear that neither Labour nor the Conservatives were to get a majority, it was the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s turn to make what would ultimately become the most important decision of the election. Whatever choice he made, he would end up making enemies from at least one side of the political spectrum.
In the end, though, his choice was practically made for him. Although Gordon Brown stepped down as Prime Minister – one of the key caveats for any Lib-Lab deal – Labour would not have been able to offer a majority coalition without gathering a large number of minority parties and independent MPs to join them. At the same time, some in the Labour party were unwilling to consider a coalition under any circumstances. Besides, the Liberal Democrats could not be seen to be propping up a government which had been comprehensively voted out of power – it would have been political suicide.
With only two real options available, it was inevitable that Clegg would choose as he did. The offer of a coalition deal with David Cameron was an offer that the Liberal Democrat leader had been secretly hoping for throughout the election; to refuse a partial share of power in favour of remaining the second opposition party would have been insanity and would no doubt have resulted in his removal as party leader in the long run. Clegg had no choice but to accept.
Now Nick Clegg has been granted his opportunity to assert a liberal stamp upon the Conservative manifesto, leaving the new incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron in a slight predicament. He has already faced criticism both within and outside his party for not winning outright an election which perhaps could have been a walkover for the Conservative party. He should have sidelined the Liberal Democrats completely, yet his party failed to make the gains which were expected and now he must contemplate sharing power and conceding on some of his policies in favour of a more centralised agenda. Whether the Conservative party will be able to remain united is a different matter. In power for the first time in thirteen years, the Conservative party will have high expectations that Cameron will bring in radical right-leaning reform. A coalition with the Liberal Democrats, many think, will prevent them from doing so.
The Liberal Democrats will, by and large, simply be happy to be in government for the first time since the merger between the Liberal party and the Social Democrat party in 1988. Clegg must use this opportunity to implement the Liberal Democrat policies that are most beneficial to the country whilst keeping an eye on the election ahead, which will potentially be make or break for the party. If Clegg and company cannot prove that they are worthy of government by the time the elections next come around, they risk being marginalised on the fringes of the politics once more. It’s show time for Nick Clegg. Now we’ll find out if he’s ready to govern.