Here are the main people and parties involved:
Gordon Brown, dour Scotsman, Prime Minister and Leader of The Labour Party
Nick Clegg, surprise challenger and Leader of The Liberal Democrats
Caroline Lucas, leader of The Green Party
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have significant nationalist and unionist parties which tend only to think about their local patches until someone in London wants their votes. More on that in a while.
There are other parties involved too, including UKIP, which wants the UK to leave the European Union, the British National Party, which wants everyone to leave Britain unless they can prove a genetic link between themselves and Iron Age Britons, and the Wessex Regionalist Party, which wants Home Rule for Wessex.
Then there is the terrifying bunch of right-wing nutters led by David Cameron, old Etonian Leader of the Official Opposition, the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Their policies include turning back the clock to a time when most people thought the earth was flat, compulsory frontal lobotomies for anyone who doesn’t drink Pimms, a special Maggie Day to celebrate their heroine’s life, the building of a large wall around the UK, and the return of fox hunting. “Sensible policies for a happier Britain”, is how I recall the unhinged Prince George summing it up in Blackadder III.
That’s the background. So what happens today and will we get a result?
Over 40 million people have the chance to vote. Only about 28 million will actually bother. Most of the votes in the 650 seats will go to Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Conservative and Unionist Party.
The winner tends to be the party which has the highest number of Members of Parliament, not the largest number of votes cast. So anyone with 326 seats or more has a majority. Below 326 and we are in coalition territory.
However, and this is important, a sitting Prime Minister who doesn’t have the highest number of MPs is entitled to try to form a coalition with other parties in order to secure a majority.
So, hypothetically speaking, Gordon Brown could end up with 250 MPs, David Cameron 300 and the Lib Dems 85. Constitutional convention says Brown must be allowed to try to form a coalition with the Lib Dems. Add the two together (250 + 85) and you get a majority.
If they are unable to agree the terms of a coalition, Brown would be expected to resign. At this point David Cameron would be invited to try to establish a majority of his own.
This would almost certainly involve a deal with Ulster Unionists and probably threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Here’s my point: Cameron cannot insist that he forms a new government just because he has the most seats. That’s not how our system works, although if, as still seems possible, the result is a hung parliament, the free and independent Conservative supporting press will tell us otherwise. They are liars.
Intriguingly, one paper this morning is already testing this line on its readers. It’s worth quoting in full, because it sounds like a briefing from Buckingham Palace and because we might hear more about this tomorrow:
“If Labour has won the most seats, Gordon Brown would be asked to try to form a government and could seek a deal with the Liberal Democrats. Mr Brown would be in a position to do a similar deal if he has only narrowly lost to the Tories.
“However, if Mr Cameron has clearly ‘won’, Mr Brown would be under extreme pressure to concede and allow the Tory leader to try to form a government coalition or, more probably, lead a minority administration.
“In the event of a close result, only after 1pm will the Queen consider seeing the politician who is likely to form the next government rather than holding the traditional morning meeting when there is an outright winner.”
Obviously The Telegraph doesn’t define what “clearly won” or “close result” means, leaving it and the powers that be considerable scope when deciding who to invite to the Palace. That should prove convenient.
Before I forget, David Cameron apparently supports Aston Villa, probably because his uncle was once its chairman. If this doesn’t disqualify him from holding high office, I don’t know what does.