Business fears over a hung parliament have now materialised as too few seats remain undeclared for the Conservatives to claim an overall majority at the polls.
The UK will now have a hung parliament for the first time since 1974 – leading to employers’ concerns about the potential for an unclear mandate regarding the economy.
With less than 10 seats yet to be declared, the Conservatives have gained the largest majority of votes at the polls, with a forecast 36% share of the vote and a gain of 94 seats since 2005.
Labour has become the second largest party with a 29% share of the vote – having so far lost 88 seats – and the Liberal Democrats have the third largest share with a forecast 23% share of the vote and a loss of five seats.
Last month, a British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) study found 65% of 300 firms were “concerned” or “very concerned” about the potential for a hung parliament. Just 13% thought that the outcome would be a “good thing”.
David Frost, BCC director-general, said at the time: “Instinctively, companies prefer a clear mandate to lead and govern. With our economy still fragile and the public finances in a dire state, the overwhelming concern is whether a hung Parliament will provide decisive action around the UK’s unsustainable deficit.
“Whatever the outcome of the election, whether we have a coalition government or not, we must see a credible plan to reduce the deficit and restore confidence within 90 days.”
Political rules state that where voters choose no decisive party, the current government has the first right to try to form a coalition with other parties. However, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has previously stated he believes it is the right of the party with the largest number of seats and votes to try to form a government.
Speaking outside Number 10, Gordon Brown said he was “willing to see any of the party leaders” to talk about forming a coalition government, and he has asked the Civil Service to provide support to parties engaged in talks on the formation of a government.
He added if talks failed between the Lib Dems and Tories, he was “willing to discuss with Mr Clegg areas of agreement between the two parties”, including the continued protection of the economy and electoral reform. Brown said he understood and respected the Lib Dem leader’s decision to talk to the Tories about a coalition first.
Conservative leader David Cameron has now volunteered “an open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats”, saying it was “reasonable to expect the bulk of policies in our manifesto to be implemented” but there were areas of common ground between the two parties.
Cameron insisted the party would stick by its policies to reduce the national deficit this year and to reverse the planned national insurance increase.