The United Kingdom was hit by a political earthquake last week, with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives winning an unexpected majority in the House of Commons.
While the names of the Prime Minister and several senior cabinet ministers remain the same, much else has changed.
The UK is headed for a vote on whether to leave the European Union in 2017, and Scotland looks closer to another vote on leaving the UK.
Meanwhile, some of the most prominent names in British politics are looking for work. Although in the case of UK Independence Party Leader Nigel Farage – who resigned on Friday with great ceremony and then announced on Monday he had been "persuaded" to un-resign – the stint in the unemployment queue lasted less than 72 hours.
Q. Explain that bit to me.
Mr. Farage had promised to resign as leader of the radical right UKIP movement if he lost his run for office in the constituency of South Thanet, his seventh stab at a seat in the House of Commons. Mr. Farage lost, and within hours announced he was standing down as UKIP leader.
It amounted to a weekend off the job – by Monday, Mr. Farage announced (via his Facebook page) that the UKIP national executive committee had "unanimously rejected" his resignation, and had "persuaded" him to remain.
Q. Why would UKIP bring back a leader who can't even win his own seat?
Quick, name another UKIP politician.
Time's up. (The party won only one seat on Thursday, despite capturing 13 per cent of the popular vote.)
Oh, and a referendum is ahead on whether Britain should remain in the European Union, which is the party's raison d'être, pardon my Europhilic use of French.
Q. Moving on. So what is David Cameron going to do with his majority?
Well, first and foremost, he is going to hold that in-or-out vote on Britain's membership in the European Union. Mr. Cameron has promised the referendum by 2017.
The rest of the Conservatives' campaign manifesto promised all sorts of new spending – notably £8-billion ($15-billion Cdn) extra for the National Health Service, and a doubling of the number of hours per week parents can leave their children in state-funded childcare – plus tax cuts for middle-income families. All while saying the government will turn a £60-billion ($113-billion Cdn) deficit into a budget surplus by 2018 and start paying down Britain's £1.56-trillion ($2.94-trillion) national debt.
What is not as clearly laid out is what publicly funded services the Conservatives will cut to make all of that happen. Welfare programs are expected to be one target, and the BBC – which was accused during the campaign of stacking a television audience against the Conservatives – looks set to be another.
Q. Wait. The Conservative government is holding an EU referendum anyway? Why would they do that if UKIP won one only seat?
The right wing of the Conservative Party has railed against growing integration with Europe since the Margaret Thatcher years (the revered Iron Lady was opposed to most things emanating from Brussels). Mr. Cameron needs to have this referendum not just to hold off the UKIP surge, but to appease the restless right wing of his own party, which still reveres Ms. Thatcher.
Q. So is Britain going to leave the EU?
It will be close. Some polls show a slim majority in favour of leaving the EU, while others show broad support for remaining in the 28-nation bloc.
Much will depend on what kind of deal Mr. Cameron can get from Brussels between now and 2017.
If he can win key concessions on labour movement (many English voters feel the country has too many EU immigrants taking jobs from Britons), then Mr. Cameron has promised to campaign for Britain to accept the new terms, and stay in the bloc. But if the EU refuses to budge, then the Thatcherist wing of the Conservatives could join UKIP in pushing for a "Brexit."
Q. I thought David Cameron was a lame-duck leader and Boris Johnson was going to take his job?
That's what Mr. Johnson thought too. He was looking at the same opinion polls we all were, which suggested Britain was headed for a hung parliament, and that Mr. Cameron was probably on his way out of Downing Street.
Despite his transparent desire to have Mr. Cameron's job, the headline-grabbing London mayor can actually claim to have played the good Conservative soldier during the campaign, when he frequently appeared by Mr. Cameron's side. Mr. Johnson was not in the new cabinet unveiled on Monday (although Mr. Cameron invited him to start attending meetings of the political cabinet). Mr. Johnson has another 12 months in his term as mayor. When that ends, expect him to get a prominent spot.
Mr. Cameron has already said he does not plan to seek a third term in 2020. He told an interviewer that he expects Mr. Johnson to be in the race to succeed him, along with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Home Secretary Theresa May, who were both reappointed to their old posts after the election.
Expect cabinet meetings to get particularly feisty from about 2018 on.
Q. And what about the Labour Party?
The election went terribly for Labour. Leader Ed Miliband wasted no time in accepting the blame and quitting. Even his brother piled on Monday, criticizing the way Labour's campaign was run.
David Miliband – a Tony Blair era cabinet minister who narrowly lost a fratricidal leadership race in 2010 – said the electorate "didn't want what was being offered" by the Labour Party under the leadership of either his brother or his predecessor, Gordon Brown.
Q. So will the other Miliband brother be Labour's next leader?
No, David Miliband ruled himself out of the running. He would be ineligible anyway, since he's not a sitting MP.
There are no announced candidates at this point, although half a dozen names have popped up in the media. The party is bracing for a drawn-out fight between the powerful, left-leaning trade unions that helped elect Ed Miliband to the leadership five years ago, and the centrist (Blairite) wing of the party. Mr. Blair is already writing editorials reminding the party of the electoral success it had when he made nice with big business.
Q. Okay, fine. But where is the Edstone?
The "Edstone" – the 2.5-metre stone tablet engraved with vaguely worded Labour campaign promises – was supposed to go in the Rose Garden at No. 10 Downing Street if Mr. Miliband became prime minister. He did not, and some believe the implied hubris of the Edstone was part of the reason Labour did so much worse than the polls were predicting.
Now the Edstone is missing. The Daily Mail is offering a case of champagne to any reader who comes forward with information on its whereabouts. Ed Miliband reportedly left London for the Spanish resort of Ibiza, where he is trying to "get away from it all."
Q. Oh my. And what was that about Scotland?
Last year's referendum was billed as a "once in a lifetime opportunity," but the Scottish National Party's near-sweep of Scotland's 59 seats – paired with the coming EU referendum (Scots are broadly more pro-European than the rest of the UK) – might tempt First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to roll the dice and ask for a mandate to hold another referendum when she and the SNP run in Scottish elections next year.
Q. I thought Scotland always voted Labour?
Not any more. Just ask Labour heavyweight Douglas Alexander, who lost his constituency of Paisley and Renfrewshire South after 18 years as an MP. He was defeated by a 20-year-old SNP candidate named Mhairi Black.
While Mr. Alexander was serving as shadow foreign secretary, Ms. Black was a teenager having what seems like a very good time. "Smirnoff Ice is the drink of gods!" is one of the tamer proclamations she made on Twitter during that era. Many of her other thoughts were laced with unprintable expletives.
Q. Ms. Black should be ready to debate George Galloway, then.
We'll never get to see that show. Mr. Galloway – who gained fame as Saddam Hussein's best friend in the House of Commons before becoming an unofficial spokesman for Vladimir Putin's Kremlin – lost his Bradford West constituency to Naseem Shah of Labour.
The always-combative Mr. Galloway, who represented and led something called the Respect Party, is not accepting defeat graciously. Despite losing by more than 11,000 votes, he is challenging the result in court.
Mr. Galloway blamed "the racists and the Zionists" for his defeat, which is interesting because he lost to a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent.