LONDON (TIP): David Cameron has returned to Downing Street as Prime Minister, after an extraordinary election night in which the Tories outperformed even their own expectations and Labour and the Liberal Democrats suffered painful losses.
As results continued to come in Friday, 8th May morning, Mr. Cameron appeared within striking distance of a working majority in the House of Commons
Even if he ends up leading a minority government, it would be strong enough to survive a no-confidence motion, and likely to pass most, if not all of his legislative program, according to BBC predictions of how the last few seats would fall on Friday.
Mr. Cameron would also have the option of forming a stable majority coalition, or a confidence-and-supply deal with the Northern Irish DUP.
As results came in on Friday morning, they confirmed a shock exit poll that predicted a strong Conservative showing as the largest party.
The Tories gained seats mainly by eviscerating their former coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, who lost several senior MPs and now face an existential crisis and a near-certain change of leadership. Labour failed to win most of its target seats, and was stunned by a surge of support for the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland. The party will likely be looking for a new leader as well, after its worst performance since 1987.
An ashen-faced Ed Miliband, speaking after retaining his own seat, said it had “clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party. In Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party.”
He said he was “very sorry” for the losses in Scotland, and the next government had a “huge responsibility in facing the difficult task of keeping our country together”.
He will now travel to London to face his colleagues. He did not indicate whether he would offer his resignation as leader.
The Scottish Nationalist Party wins -going from 6 to 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs in Westminster – leave the union politically fractured, and threaten a renewed push for the northern nation’s independence.
On Friday morning David Cameron said it had clearly been a strong night for the Conservatives, though it was too early to know the final result. He said there had been “a positive response to a positive campaign” and now his government would have a chance to build on the foundation laid in the last five years.
In a nod to the political change in Scotland, he said his aim was “to govern for everyone in the United Kingdom”. The government he would like to lead was that of “one nation, one United Kingdom”, he said.
Pre-election polls had predicted a tight race. However exit polls, and early results, suggested either a big failure in polling methodology, or a change of heart at the last minute as British electors stood in the polling booths.
One seat in particular told the story of the night. In Scotland, the man in charge of his party’s campaign, Labour shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, was defeated by a 20 year-old student for the SNP. Mhairi Black will reportedly be the youngest MP to sit in the House of Commons since 1667. She was only two when Tony Blair won power in 1997. In the same seat, the Lib Dems received their lowest number of votes in any seat since 1859.
Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy also lost their seats to the SNP.
“The Scottish lion has roared,” the SNP’s Alex Salmond said after winning his own seat of Gordon from the Lib Dems. He called the result in Scotland an “extraordinary statement of intent” that no government would be able to ignore.
In the south, senior Lib Dem minister, business secretary Vince Cable, lost his seat to the Conservatives.
Party leader Nick Clegg survived. Mr Clegg said it had been “a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats”. He said he would have more to say about the party, and whether he would continue as leader, later on Friday.
The result would technically be enough to give the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, together, a return to government.
However political scientist Professor Patrick Dunleavy said it would be very unlikely the Liberal Democrats would agree to a coalition after taking such a drubbing.
Shadow treasurer Ed Balls said the result meant “David Cameron’s ability to hang on in Downing Street is on a knife edge… the right of centre majority has disappeared”.
Another of the night’s big losers – in terms of seats – was Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party. Despite gathering more than 3 million votes, more than twice that of the SNP, and a million more than the Lib Dems, at the time of writing UKIP could claim only one seat.
The election result could trigger years of uncertainty over Britain’s position in Europe and the world – and its own identity.
David Cameron will be under pressure to deliver on his promise for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, as early as next year.
But a vote to leave the EU would likely trigger a new referendum In Scotland, one the nationalists would be in a very strong position to win.
Even if Britain votes to stay in the EU, a Scottish electorate so significantly at odds with the rest of the country could increase calls for a new independence referendum.
There were indications on Friday that Mr Cameron would have to quickly make a “significant gesture” towards Scotland in order to keep the peace.
Newly-elected MP Boris Johnson, a possible future Tory leader, predicted “some kind of federal offer”.
If no party commands a clear majority of to 650 MPs, then Mr Cameron would stay on as a prime minister.
The firm political convention is that the Queen will choose a prime minister who is most likely to command the confidence (that is, a majority of support) in the House of Commons.
The command of the house will be tested, if necessary, after the Queen’s Speech on May 27, traditionally a ceremonial event in which the Queen sets out her government’s program for office. The program is then debated over several days, then voted upon.