Following a chaotic general election result, political horse-trading aimed at cobbling together Britain’s first coalition government for decades has begun.
The political landscape is a mess after no one party emerged with enough seats to form a majority in Parliament.
The ball, however, appears to be in the court of David Cameron, the British Conservative leader whose party won the most votes but fell short of the majority that only a few months ago was considered to be within his grasp.
Nick Clegg, whose centrist Liberal Democrats failed to shatter the Labour and Tory duopoly on power, said this morning that the Conservatives had the first right to seek to govern after winning the biggest mandate in terms of votes and seats.
"I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest," he said on the steps of his party headquarters in London today after the party lost a small number of seats rather than making its much anticipated breakthrough.
The counting of votes around Britain is still ongoing, but on the basis of projections the Tories will end up with 306 seats out of Britain’s 650-seat Parliament. Allied with the Democratic Unionists' eight seats, the party would still not have a majority.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives may claim a moral victory and seek to rule Britain as a minority government – daring other parties to risk the public’s wrath by voting it down in Parliament at a time of grave economic challenges.
Don't write off Gordon Brown
Meanwhile, don’t write off Gordon Brown, who has returned to Downing Street from his home constituency in Scotland. His party defied predictions that were made as late as last week that it was headed for an electoral wipeout.
In a statement, he showed no sign that he may be preparing to step aside, insisting that it was his "duty to play his part" in securing a strong and stable government in the next few days.
In the run-up to today’s result, Labour had been holding out the prospect of limited electoral reform that had fallen short of what the Liberal Democrats had really wanted to make it easier for a multiple party system to prosper.
“I’m sure though that what Labour had been offering is just a negotiating position, and that more may be on offer for the Lib Dems,” adds Professor Fielding.
“I’ve heard that the people who have been with Nick Clegg in the last 24 hours are very disappointed – but they have to forget that and realize that they have a unique opportunity now, if they can just grasp it.”