2010 United Kingdom general election

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The 2010 UK general election is widely remembered for marking the end of thirteen years of Labour rule and the start of Conservative dominance which continues to this day. It also produced the first Coalition government since 1945 and marked the start of the 'Austerity era' for British politics. This election was also notable for hosting the first 'Leader's Debates' on live television[1], featuring the first time since 1979 an 'all-new' leader slate for the three major parties, as well as the zenith for the Liberal Democrat share of the vote... and their final outing as the 'third party'.


Labour's third term was not a happy one. The feud between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown reached a point senior party figures warned it might lose them the next election,[2] the Iraq War had created a running sore with the left of the Party, creeping authoritarianism in regards to 'law and order' topics[3] was raising the ire of social liberals while some 1.5m 'EU migrants[4]' was giving the likes of UKIP and the BNP political space to nibble Labour's working-class flank. Worse, the Conservatives had chosen David Cameron as their new leader; a man who appeared fairly mainstream in social views and on his first outing mocked Blair 'for being the future, once'.[5] Not the greatest political legacy Blair left for his successor in No 10 in 2007, though not like he'd admit that[6].

But after years of increasingly impatient waiting for the top job, Brown got precious little a honeymoon – the contagion of the 'credit crunch' was already swirling, and promptly caused the first British 'bank run' since 1866 with Northern Rock[7]. Not good for a man who'd been effectively New Labour's 'economic overlord' for a decade and had put so much of his political stock of being responsible and competent – scotching hopes that the initial bounce in the polls would prove permanent. Eighteen months and several more bailouts later,[8] the Great Recession was in full force, the national debt burden was the highest since the 1960s and the Conservatives were enjoying polling margins unseen since Margaret Thatcher twenty years previous.

Other events of note included the worst terrorist attack in the UK in a generation — the '7/7 bombings'[9] a relatively minor 'Swine Flu' pandemic (with the retrospective claims it was 'over-responded to',[10] which may have have damaged the British response in the next pandemic), the assassination of FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko by Russian agents in London[11] and a pair of political scandals – 'Cash for Honours'Wikipedia[note 1] and the Parliamentary 'Expenses Scandal' both of which damaged the reputation of the political class in general. Oh, and the first climate change legislation was passed.[12]


The three main parties had rather similar manifestos; the Conservatives had 'detoxified' the brand enough that many voters didn't really know what it stood for socially, the Liberal Democrats had somewhat lurched rightwards under Nick Clegg and Labour ran a 'stay the current course' message as the incumbents. All three also agreed on governmental 'Austerity' being necessary, the only debate on 'how far', 'where' and 'when' the cuts would be (thus leaving the concept of neoliberal economics unchallenged). This led to the somewhat confusing situation of where the three main leaders spent much time apparently agreeing with each other. Yeah, it was rather dull and a little melancholic. Perhaps the only really interesting event was when Brown was caught in a 'hot mic' situation, describing an ex-Labour voter in private as 'a bigot' after she complained over immigration using talking-points pushed by a certain Mr Farage.[13]

The polls between Labour and the Conservatives closed somewhat in the final months, leading to the possibility of a 'hung Parliament'. Then the 'wild card' came into play; the Liberal Democrats shot up ten points after the first debate, predominately from the Conservatives. This, along with higher-than usual polling for minor parties meant it was more difficult than ever to predict successfully the outcome.


The exit polling was correct; Conservatives were the largest party, but were denied a 'working majority' (18 short).[note 2] The drop in Liberal Democrat support (vs. the earlier polling) was surprising to some, but the drop in seats somewhat predictable with a general surge in Conservative support (due to the fact most Liberal seats had the Conservatives as the main opponent). It was an election for reactionaries and fascists; UKIP managed to increase their vote by a third and the BNP enjoying their own zenith… of 1.9% of the national vote. Didn't score them any seats, though. On the other hand, the Greens managed to gain a single seat. Due to another boundary review, the total number of seats increased by 4 since 2005, meaning that the numbers don't exactly add up[note 3].

After a few days' discussion, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats announced a coalition agreement, formally ending thirteen years of the 'New Labour' project[14].

Seats Change Vote % Change
Conservatives 306 +108 36.1 +3.7
Labour 258 -97 29.0 -6.2
Liberal Democrats 57 -5 23.0 +1.0
Other 29 -2 15.6 +5.2

External links[edit]


  1. 'Honours' in this case referring to various titles and awards which is within the gift of the government to dole out.
  2. Though it would have been possible (though somewhat difficult) for the Conservatives to go it alone as a 'minority government' as the opposition parties were split.
  3. Every 10-15 years constituency boundaries are revised, to keep them roughly equal electorate-wise. This is not gerrymandering, as the review is done by a nonpolitical body.