After all the talk of hung Parliaments, red lines and coalition deals, the Conservative Party has achieved something that no one thought was possible. At the time of writing the party has returned 330 MPs, enough to form a slender majority in the House of Commons.
Only yesterday, we were told that the days of one party Governments were over and that a new fragmented multi party politics had become the new normal. Yet, overnight, as the dust began to settle, it became more and more clear that the Tories have pulled off one of the most surprising General Election results of a generation.
The drama started at 10pm on Thursday as the BBC’s David Dimbleby read out the result of the exit polls. To the surprise of many, the results predicted that the Conservatives would end up with 316 seats, short of a majority but, crucially, in touching distance of forming a Government if it could win the support of just a handful of other MPs.
However, as the night rolled on it became clear that they would not need to rely on the help of others in the Commons, with projections that the party would win as many as 325 seats, an effective majority, as early as 5am on Friday morning.
The result has severe ramifications for the Labour Party who have lost 26 seats and have only managed to muster 232. Ed Miliband did not take long to resign, a reminder of how quickly the careers of towering national political figures can come crashing down. In his resignation speech, Miliband said that he was “truly sorry” that he did not succeed in his bid to lead his party to power, adding that it was “time for someone else” to take over as leader. The focus will now shift to who that individual will be, with the names of Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman and Chuka Umunna already been mentioned as potential successors.
Other than the result, the other huge shock of the night was arguably Ed Balls’ defeat in Morley and Outwood to the Conservatives. Although he was defending a small majority of just over a thousand, many would not of have thought that such a prominent Labour politician would no longer be an MP by Friday morning.
Elsewhere, the Lib Dem vote crumbled. Starting the night on 57 seats, the party has returned a paltry eight MPs, a clear sign that their party brand has been poisoned by their association to their Conservative Coalition partners. Heavy weights have fallen, including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Energy Secretary Ed Davey. Moreover, whilst he held on to his seat, Nick Clegg has now stepped down as leader, decrying that the election had been a “cruel night” for his party.
The Lib Dems will be replaced as the country’s third largest party in Westminster by the SNP, who have decimated the Labour vote in Scotland, winning 56 seats of the 59 on offer. The Scottish Nationalists won a 50 per cent share of the vote, compared to Labour’s 24.3 per cent north of the border, and swept up symbolic seats including Gordon Brown’s old constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy’s Refrewshire East seat. Speaking as the result became clear, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said that the “tectonic plates of Scottish politics” had shifted, calling the result “historic”.
The slew of resignations continued in South Thanet, after UKIP leader Nigel Farage failed in his bid to become an MP, making good on his promise to step down if he was unable to win the seat. The party has picked up 12.6 per cent of the national vote share but has only returned one MP, Douglas Carswell in Clacton. In his speech after the result was read out, Farage bemoaned the first-past-the-post electoral system which had resulted in his party picking up nearly four million votes but with barely anything to show for its support.
David Cameron has already visited Buckingham Palace to formally ask the Queen for permission to form a Government, and it is expected that the Prime Minister will formally announce the makeup of the first Conservative-only Cabinet since 1997 a little later this afternoon.
The focus will now shift onto the policies and personalities that will make up the next five years of British politics. The people have spoken, and they have stuck with what they know.