The United Kingdom’s first general election in five years on Thursday produced a stunning result: Not only did Prime Minister David Cameron‘s Conservative Party come out on top, but his party gained enough seats for an outright majority.
Here is what you need to know about the election that polls originally suggested would be one of the closest — and most difficult to predict — in British history.
CAMERON HEADS BACK TO 10 DOWNING STREET
Conservatives took more than 326 seats in the House of Commons, Britain’s Parliament. That keeps Cameron in power as prime minister without a hung Parliament or having to enter into a coalition as he needed to in 2010.
Five years ago, Britain formed the first formal coalition government since World War II: an alliance between the right of center Conservative Party and centrist Liberal Democrats.
THE OUTCOME TRUMPED POLLSTERS
All the polls leading up to Thursday’s election showed an extremely tight race and a statistical dead heat between the Labour Party’s Ed Miliband and Cameron. Neither party was expected to win a majority, meaning the party with the most seats might have been unable to form the next government.
The process of trying to form a coalition with smaller, minority parties was expected to take days, if not weeks. Experts were even saying negotiations could run until May 27, when Queen Elizabeth II is required to give a speech reflecting the new government’s legislative priorities.
LEADERS OF THREE PARTIES RESIGN
Miliband joined United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, who both gave up the leadership of their respective parties as it became apparent that Cameron was once again headed for 10 Downing Street.
In his resignation speech, Miliband said: “I take absolute and total responsibility for the result and our defeat at this election.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, 48, who served as deputy prime minister in the previous coalition government with the Conservatives, narrowly avoided being unseated in Sheffield, northern England. The centrist group won just eight seats throughout the kingdom when it previously held 57.
VOTERS DIDN’T ELECT THE PRIME MINISTER DIRECTLY
Britain has an electoral system with each of its 650 geographical areas containing about 60,000 voters. Each elects its own Member of Parliament, much like U.S. congressional elections.
Under Britain’s parliamentary system, voters don’t choose the prime minister directly. The leader of the next government is chosen by themembers of Parliament. However, the influence of U.S.-style elections with its focus on personalities often prompts voters to elect a local candidate representing the party whose leader the voters prefer.
The Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum on whether Britain should exit the European Union, a move opposed by business leaders.
Despite not becoming part of a coalition government, the Scottish National Party’s gains mean it could again seek independence for Scotland despite last year’s vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. The party took 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland. Voters outside Scotland could not vote for the party.
THERE WILL BE LITTLE IMPACT ON U.S. RELATIONS
Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States is not likely to change. The close economic, military and political ties between the two allies across the Atlantic have been durable for two centuries.
One possible change, however, is that Britain may become a less active U.S. partner in military operations around the world as it continues to make deep cuts in its defense budget that have taken place under Cameron‘s prior tenure.
Stocks markets in the the United Kingdom and across Europe surged Friday on news that Cameron had been granted a second term. The blue-chip FTSE 100 index rose 1.9% and the British pound was up against the U.S. dollar by nearly 2 cents.
Although the Conservative Party is seen as most business-friendly, its commitment to hold a referendum on European Union membership had unsettled the business community, which sees value in being part of the world‘s largest single common market.