Victory sees Tories take seats they never thought possible
Analysis: Cameron set for Number 10 as recriminations begin in Labour and Lib Dems
Greeting the dawn, even Boris Johnson seemed, for once, lost for words, declaring that the Conservatives, by then on the verge of winning a House of Commons majority, had “won in places that we never thought we would win”
“The good sense of the British people at the last minute made the difference,” declared Johnson, as the latest prediction put the Conservatives on 329 seats - a clear Commons majority.
The likely results are even better than the 10pm exit poll, which predicted that the Conservatives would win 316 seats - though those numbers were greeted then with near-disbelief amongst the Conservatives; but with horror amongst the Labour Party.
By dawn, however, it became clear that the numbers were going to be even better than the exit poll - to the jubilation of Conservatives, who had targeted Liberal Democrats in England, particularly.
However, British Prime Minister David Cameron, though he can bask in having produced the most extraordinary victory in British politics since John Major’s win in 1992, is now faced with new challenges.
The likely result leaves him more dependent now upon his parliamentary party’s euro sceptic right-wingers, who will push Cameron to take the toughest line possible on European Union membership renegotiations.
Many of the Conservative MPs elected in 2010 have been frequently rebellious during the last parliament, and some will remain so even though the Commons’ arithmetic is tighter now.
Even though the Conservatives appear set for a majority, the Democratic Unionist Party will hope to play a significant role, offering support on a vote-by-vote basis - in return for “responsible” demands, according to the DUP leader, Peter Robinson.
Meanwhile, pressure for changes to the British first-past-the-post system will intensify, particularly in England, since Ukip received nearly 4m votes, but disappointed in terms of seats.
However, the Scottish National Party have received 56 seats with 1.5m votes. The Conservatives had no appetite for electoral reform in the last parliament and that appetite is unlikely to have grown after last night’s events.
David Cameron drove back from his Oxfordshire constituency as dawn broke, following a night of telephone calls, though he is likely to meet with Queen Elizabeth during the course of the day.
Critics within his ranks, who had grumbled ever more loudly about the quality of the party’s campaign as it went on, have been silenced, at least in terms of questioning his hold on the leadership.
Cameron’s victory will do nothing to help him in the House of Lords where he has depended upon Liberal Democrats peers to get legislation through - support that is likely to evaporate now.
However, he is going to face pressure to act quickly on agreeing a deal with the rest of the EU about the UK’s membership terms, though a quick deal has been all but ruled by many of them.
Indeed, the appetite to soothe British concerns could become even more difficult to satisfy in coming weeks if the Greek crisis leads to its departure from the euro zone.
Meanwhile, he is now going to have to heed the Scottish result, which will put pressure on him to go further on devolution to Edinburgh, though, so far, Cameron is not minded to do so.
Extra concessions, if they prove to be required over time, will be bitterly resented and opposed by many English MPs on his backbenches, who demand nothing short of “an English parliament”.
Taking the stand at his count in Doncaster moments after he was re-elected to the House of Commons, Labour leader, Ed Miliband implicitly accepted that he will not become the United Kingdom’s next prime minister.
Indeed, he may not be Labour leader for much longer, given that opponents within - who had been quietened as Miliband’s confidence rose during the campaign, are mobilising. “It has been a difficult and disappointing night,” he said.
Miliband had genuinely believed that he was going to be the next No. 10 occupant, but he is now set to leave the top political stage - perhaps joined by Labour’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, now enduring a recount in his Yorkshire constituency.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party are set to win all bar three of Scotland’s 59 seats - a result which will deny Conservative rule in the Commons legitimacy in Scotland, according to the SNP’s former leader, Alex Salmond.
“There’s a lion roaring in Scotland tonight, a Scottish Lion,” he said, adding that no government of whatever political complexion - though he accepted that it is most likely to be Labour - would be able to ignore it.
Labour’s fury towards the Scottish National Party and the Conservatives will become more evident in the hours ahead for a double-headed combination which destroyed the party in Scotland and crippled its chances of making gains in England.
Labour told Scots that a vote for the SNP would result in Conservative rule, while it was vulnerable to the Conservatives’ campaign to woo English voters worried by excessive SNP influence.
In Sheffield Hallam, the Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg has hinted that he could step down as party leader within hours, saying that he would have to say this morning.
Saying that it has been a “cruel and punishing” night for the Liberal Democrats, Clegg said: “The election has profound implications for the country. It also has profound implications for the Liberal Democrats.”
Nearly every senior figure bar Clegg in the Liberal Democrats has been culled: Vince Cable in Twickenham, Danny Alexander in Inverness, Ed Davey in Richmond. Even David Laws in Somerset with a 14,000 majority fell.
However, there is little or no prospect that the surviving rump of Liberal Democrats will have any interest in forming a coalition with the Conservatives, following the mauling they have received.
Already, the recriminations have begun. John Hemmings, who is set to lose his seat, bitterly criticised Clegg’s campaign, saying he should ruled out dealing with Labour’s “insane” economic policies.
The Liberal Democrats, he said, had already lost Labour-leaning supporters because of the decision to share power with the Conservatives five years ago. This time, Clegg’s tactics ensured that Conservative-leaning support disappeared, too.