UK heads for hung parliament

Early results and exit polls were suggesting the UK was heading towards a hung parliament after yesterday's general election, with no party having an absolute majority.

Members of different parties canvass outside a polling station on Brick Lane yesterday in East London.
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Britain seemed to be heading for a hung parliament after yesterday's general election, with exit polls and early results suggesting that the Conservative Party would have the largest number of seats, but not an overall majority. However, at 6am in the morning UAE time the position was still unclear, with one Labour minister, Ed Miliband, telling the television presenter Jeremy Paxman: "The people have spoken, but we don't yet know what they've said." An exit poll conducted by the three main broadcasters in the UK, the BBC, ITV and Sky, suggested that David Cameron's Conservatives, out of power for 13 years, would end up with 305 MPs, up 95 on the last election in 2005, but 21 seats short of the number required for an absolute majority.

Labour would have 255 seats, down 94, and the Liberal Democrats would have 61, down 1, meaning that the two parties together would not have an overall majority either, with the Lib Dems not making the breakthrough some were predicting. Nationalists and other small parties, the exit poll suggested would have 29 seats. However, reports early this morning suggested that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, would attempt to form a coalition with other partiers and carry on at No 10 Downing Street. The other big story of the election saw hundreds of people unable to vote at constituencies across the country as officials were apparently overwhelmed by a higher turnout of voters than they had expected. There were reports of polling stations running out of voting papers, and of long queues of people still outside polling stations when they closed at 10pm UK time last night.

The Guardian newspaper columnist Polly Toynbee told Sky News that the problems at polling stations were "an absolute scandal", reminiscent of "all the countries we're always teaching democracy to" such as Afghanistan or Iraq. Observers were saying that there could be legal challenges to the vote from candidates who have fallen a few votes short of victory in constituencies where voters had been prevented from voting, and the Electoral Commission said it would be launching an investigation. In one city, Sheffield, police were called to move people on when voters refused to move after waiting hours to vote and being turned away at 10pm. While leading figures in the Conservative Party were saying that if the exit poll was correct "Labour would have lost their legitimacy to govern", with "a clear rejection of Gordon Brown", the Labour Party was far from giving up. Lord Mandelson, the party's election mastermind, said that in the event of a hung Parliament, according to the rules Labour would have the first attempt at forming a new government. "It is not the party which has the largest number of seats which has the first go, it is the sitting government," he told BBC News, refusing to rule out trying to strike a deal with the Liberal Democrats.

In an unprecedented move the bond markets were open in the early hours if the morning in London, with bond prices staying firm and the pound up one cent against the dollar as the markets seemed to expect a Conservative government.

The most dramatic development of the day came when a light aircraft carrying Nigel Farage, who stepped down as the leader of the UK Independence Party last year to fight a seat in Northamptonshire, crashed on take-off yesterday morning. Police said it was believed that the plane was brought down when it got entangled with a "vote UKIP" banner it was towing. Mr Farage, a member of the European Parliament, suffered only minor head injuries, though the pilot was more seriously hurt.