Results point to Conservative majority in parliament

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David Cameron is heading back to Downing Street after a dramatic election victory, with results pointing to an outright Conservative majority in parliament. But the country he leads faces unprecedented strain after a night of triumph for Scottish nationalists.

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With most results in, the Conservatives are projected to win more than the 323 seats Mr Cameron needs for an effective majority – a far better result than senior Tories had imagined possible. Early on Friday the party looked set to win the largest tally of Tory seats in nearly 20 years.

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In a conciliatory message to voters in Scotland, Mr Cameron said after winning his seat in Witney that he would work for the whole country.

“We must reclaim the mantle we should never have lost: the mandate of one nation, one United Kingdom,” he said.

The number of Tory MPs elected reflected the Conservative strategy of carefully targeting key seats, but the party’s share of the national vote with 568 seats declared was 35.5 per cent, 0.5 of a percentage point higher than in 2010.

Meanwhile Labour was predicted to win just 239 seats, putting the party on course for its worst election result since 1987 – a crushing disappointment for leader Ed Miliband, who had believed he was on the brink of power.

Labour won 31.2 per cent of the national vote with 568 seats declared, up 1.4 percentage points on the last election. The party’s huge losses in Scotland more than wiped out its modest gains in London and elsewhere.

The biggest gainer of the night in terms of vote share was the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which won 12.3 per cent of the vote. But the first-past-the-post electoral system meant the party was only likely to win two MPs.

Mr Miliband may not survive as party leader, while Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, hinted he might quit after what he called “a cruel and punishing” night for his party.

The Liberal Democrats were crushed across the country, with projections that they would lose 46 of their 56 seats and win only 7.9 per cent of the popular vote. The party’s most high-profile casualties included Vince Cable, business secretary, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and Simon Hughes, a former deputy leader.

Currency markets reacted swiftly to prospects of a Conservative government, with sterling up 1.8 per cent against the dollar to $1.5513 and gaining 2.2 per cent versus the euro.

But the other big story was the Scottish National party surge, which swept away Labour and the Lib Dems. The SNP’s strong finish could embolden it to push for a second independence referendum.

The nationalists won 56 of 59 Scottish seats, prompting Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader, to declare: “The Scottish lion has roared this morning.”

The election has exposed deep divisions in the UK, with Scotland turning to a leftwing, separatist party and England choosing Mr Cameron’s centre-right Tories. Mr Salmond said Mr Cameron no longer had “legitimacy” in Scotland.

Boris Johnson, newly elected Tory MP for Uxbridge, suggested Mr Cameron would move to create a more federal UK. “There has to be some sort of overall offer,” the London mayor said.

A desolate Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader, said his party appeared set for a “very disappointing night”, reminiscent of his own defeat in 1992 when voters declined to tell pollsters they were preparing to vote Tory.

The most vivid sign of the political landscape shifting came at 1.45am in Nuneaton, in central England – a top Labour target – where the Conservatives held on comfortably. Instead of a swing to Labour, there was a 3 per cent swing to the Tories.

A 10pm exit poll on Thursday night indicating a swing to the Tories was greeted with surprise and jubilation by the party. Michael Gove, chief whip, said that if it was borne out by results it would show that Mr Cameron had “clearly won the election”.

Mr Cameron, who returned to Downing Street early on Friday morning, is now expected to try to form a pure Conservative government, knowing it is unlikely all other parties would unite in the Commons to defeat him on any issue.

At the start of the evening Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, insisted that Mr Miliband could emerge as prime minister at the head of an anti-Tory bloc, even if her party finished a distant second. But within hours, senior Labour figures were admitting that David Cameron would end up in Downing St.

That followed a series of huge setbacks for the party, encapsulated by the defeat of Douglas Alexander, Labour’s campaign chief, at the hands of a 20-year-old SNP student.

Jim Murphy, the party’s leader in Scotland, was also swept away by the SNP tide and the nationalists also captured Kirkcaldy, previously held by Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister and chancellor.

Other big names to lose their seats included the Lib Dem ministers Danny Alexander, Treasury chief secretary, Ed Davey, energy secretary, and David Laws, schools minister.

In spite of losing the Scottish independence referendum by 55-45, the SNP surge at this election could lead to further demands for a more federal settlement in the UK, and add to pressure for a second referendum.The 2015 election could also herald a further loosening of the ties that hold the UK together, as the SNP continued to strengthen its grip on politics in Scotland. In Glenrothes, the party secured a 35 per cent swing, unprecedented in any UK general election.

The UK Independence party was on course to become the third-biggest party in Britain in terms of the popular vote, but predictions suggested Nigel Farage’s party would win only a handful of seats.

Indeed Ukip sources said Mr Farage could fail to win South Thanet, the Kent seat he is contesting. Mr Farage has said he would quit as Ukip leader if he failed to get elected, offering another potential cause for Tory celebration.

If the exit polls are correct, the national result will be a vindication of Conservative party campaign chief Lynton Crosby’s strategy of focusing on two themes in the election: economic competence and Mr Cameron’s leadership.

The leadership was criticised by MPs and even donors in recent weeks for running a sterile and negative campaign, amid growing nervousness after five weeks of deadlocked polls.

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article.  In the end, Mr Cameron and his campaign were vindicated. But with Scotland appearing to pull away from the union and with the Conservatives’ promised referendum on EU membership looming, the prime minister’s toughest work may lie ahead.
source: financial times très bon article

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