LONDON, U.K. — Britons are flocking to the polls today to cast their ballots in the most unpredictable election in at least three decades. Early morning turnout was brisk with London voters waiting in queues for 25 minutes and longer before getting to the voting booth.
According to opinion polls, the election remains very close but some trends were becoming noticeable in the final days. First, the Conservative Party is likely to win the most votes and seats, but not a majority of either. The Liberal Democrats, who for a while had pushed Labour into third place, have been slowly losing ground. The Lib Dems are likely to increase their share of the vote from the last election in 2005 by more than 25 percent, but it won't be enough to push them past Labour.
The best summary of the polling data can be found at electoralcalculus.co.uk. This aggregator projects the Conservative party winning but still being 29 seats short of a majority. If that is the case then things will start to get really interesting.
The best bet about what will happen if that is the case is that the party's leader, David Cameron, will start playing hardball. There are strong hints that Cameron will claim victory and form a minority government, saying that he can count on the votes of the Unionist (Protestant) parties in Northern Ireland to help push his legislative program through parliament.
But if Labour wins nearly as many seats as the Conservatives, Labour leader Gordon Brown might demand the prime minister's prerogative to have the first crack at forming a government. He would then start negotiations with Nick Clegg leader of the Liberal Democrats. Cameron will fight that. Like the Duke of Wellington, Cameron is a graduate of Eton, the exclusive "public" school.
The Duke claimed the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton and it may end up that the British election of 2010 was won there as well.
With so much uncertain it is no wonder that the internet is humming with friends sending guides to tactical voting around.
Meanwhile, I hope Shepard Fairey, the graphic designer who created the iconic Obama Hope poster for the 2008 election campaign, gets royalties. Rupert Murdoch's tabloid newspaper The Sun, Britain's biggest seller, appropriated the image for David Cameron.
Cameron has tried to bring his party towards the center from the far right but identifying the probable next prime minister with the American president might be going too far. Somebody from Fox News might want to straighten their fellow Murdoch employees out about that.
The polls close tonight at 10 p.m. local time (5 p.m. East Coast) and the counting will begin. A few more hours of uncertainty will follow. It will probably not be until close to sunrise on Friday before it is clear what the result is.