Britons in limbo parties after knife-edge poll

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British political party animals put celebrations on ice early Friday with the result of national polls hanging in the balance, as voters who could not cast their ballot held stray protests.

At the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club in east London, punters gathered for an election comedy night, with live action on the big screen, a bar open till 6:00am (0500 GMT) and rolling comedians throughout the night.

"I'm not too unhappy because the Conservatives don't have a very clear majority," said Julie Snell, a 35-year-old lifelong Labour voter, after exit polls put the main opposition party ahead but without a clear majority.

Writer Michael Willoughby, 34, added: "My reaction is relief but I don't quite know how much dealing (Conservative leader) David Cameron's going to have to do with various smaller parties.

"I'm curious to know what that means for forming a coalition," he told AFP, as the big screen showed flashy graphics, swingometers and other poll prediction gadgets.

At the red-brick building in left-wing Bethnal Green, an area with a mixture of working class and young trendy communities, there were huge cheers as Labour won the first seat to declare, while the Liberal Democrats got a big whoop when a compere asked if anyone had voted for them.

There was a sole shout for the Conservatives -- which got a laugh.

The atmosphere was a lot more tense on the ground in a number of polling stations across the country.

Queues of people waiting to cast their ballots were locked out of polling stations when they closed their doors at 10:00 pm (2100 GMT) in London and other cities, while some places ran out of voting slips.

A number of voters, mainly students, were turned away after attempting to vote shortly before the deadline because they did not have polling cards, a Sheffield City Council source said.

"How can a polling station actually run out of ballot papers? Not to have sufficient ballot papers seems ridiculous," asked Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles.

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said some of the incidents amounted to a "scandal," adding: "These are queues of people exercising their democratic right and then being denied it."

Back in Bethnal Green, many saw the funny side of it, whatever the result.

"I voted Labour because their leaflet came through the door first. I used the first through the post system," joked one compere.

"I suggest we march to parliament and start a putsch, who's up for a revolution?" asked comedian Robin Ince.

Comedian Tom Allen said that while Britain had a reputation for political comedy, there was not enough of it nowadays in pubs and clubs.

He said the atmosphere had been fun during his slot, when he voiced over the silent live television coverage, dubbing sweary private thoughts into Home Secretary Alan Johnson's interview.

"It's really nice to be coming together with people who can vote," he told AFP of his unusual election night gig.

"There's not that many gigs where you can get political.

"Whatever happens happens and you've got to get on with it. What am I going to do otherwise, go and have a cry?"

© 2010 AFP

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