Britain's election: Conservative party appears to have secured another term

Mr David Cameron, British prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, center right, and Mrs Samantha Cameron, his wife, leave after casting their votes in the general election at a polling station in Spelsbury on Thursday. Cameron's Con
Mr David Cameron, British prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, center right, and Mrs Samantha Cameron, his wife, leave after casting their votes in the general election at a polling station in Spelsbury on Thursday. Cameron's Conservatives are on course to be the biggest party in the next British parliament, according to an exit poll showing them winning far more seats than had been expected. -- PHOTO: AFP

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his ruling Conservatives appear to have confounded all predictions from pollsters and seasoned political observers by narrowly winning another five-year term in office.

Exit polls released soon after balloting ended predict that the Conservatives have secured 316 seats in Britain’s 650-seat parliament - short of an overall majority but enough to remain in office.

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The number of their parliamentary seats appears to have increased from 307 to 316 - the first time this has happened for any party in power since 1983. But they are still short of the 326 parliamentary seats they need to govern.

Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats - their potential government coalition partners - appear to have been decimated: the BBC exit poll predicts that they will cling to only 10 parliamentary seats, just enough to give the Conservatives the slimmest hold on power.

Counting staff sort ballot papers at a vote counting centre in Margate, southeast England on Thursday. -- PHOTO: AFP 

The main opposition Labour appears to have elected only 239 Members of Parliament, 19 less than what the party currently has. The result, if confirmed, is almost certain to put an end to the political career of party leader Ed Miliband, who only earlier this week still entertained high hopes of becoming Britain’s next Prime Minister.

The real winner of the election is the Scottish National Party (SNP) which advocates Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. The party appears to have obliterated Labour and secured all but one of Scotland’s 59 seats. Should this result be confirmed by the counting, it will place a big question mark over the survival of the UK in its current shape.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is devoted to pulling Britain out of the European Union and restricting immigration, is unlikely to elect more than 2 MPs, but appears to have done very well nationwide, at the expense of both Labour and the Conservatives.

In terms of votes cast, UKIP has polled third nationally, a triumph which will allow the party to survive in the years to come. So although Mr Cameron has seen off the UKIP challenge, he has not deflected a substantial anti-European and anti-immigrant vote, which attracts around 15 per cent of the British electorate.

The prime minister and his Conservatives are likely to decide to govern on their own as a minority administration, banking on the fact that their opponents are too divided and too reluctant to face the electorate again by pulling down the government.

That will provide Britain with continuity, but not with political stability.

Jonathan.eyal@gmail.com