David Cameron was all but certain of remaining Britain’s Prime Minister early Friday after a revised exit poll predicted his Conservative party would secure a narrow majority in Britain’s 650-member House of Commons.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Friday London time, a revised projection released by the BBC predicted that the Conservative, or Tory party to win 331 seats in the next Parliament. The opposition Labour Party slumped to a projected 232 seats, while the Scottish National Party, which advocates Scottish independence from the United Kingdom won a projected 56 seats, 50 more than it garnered at the last election in 2010.
Cameron’s office said that the Prime Minister would go to Buckingham Palace later Friday to inform Queen Elizabeth II that he had enough support to form a government.
Earlier Friday, Cameron described the election as “clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party” at his constituency in Oxfordshire, northwest of London after being easily re-elected.
The Prime Minister also vowed to counter the rise of Scottish nationalism with more powers for Scotland and Wales, saying “I want my party, and I hope a government that I would like to lead, to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost — the mantle of one nation, one United Kingdom.”
The rise of the SNP was in many ways the main story of the evening, as an election once billed as the tightest in decades turned into a rout for Labour with the help of a seismic shift in its longtime bulwark north of the border. Of the 50 seats the SNP gained Thursday, 40 would have come at the expense of Labour members, including some of the party’s senior politicians.
“What we’re seeing tonight is Scotland voting to put its trust in the SNP to make Scotland’s voice heard, a clear voice for an end to austerity, better public services and more progressive politics at Westminster,” party leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC.
“The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country,” said former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who was elected in the seat of Gordon.
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy insisted he would not resign despite losing his seat but Labour leader Ed Miliband’s grip seemed more tenuous, as the party failed to make predicted gains against the Conservatives across the rest of Britain.
“This has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party,” said Miliband. “In Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overcome our party.”
Cameron’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrat party, also faced an electoral disaster, predicted to lose most of its seats as punishment for supporting a Conservative agenda since 2010.
“It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” said leader Nick Clegg, who held onto his own seat. He said he would discuss his future with colleagues later Friday.
Almost 50 million people were registered to vote in Thursday’s election, one of the most unpredictable in decades. Opinion polls during the monthlong campaign had suggested the result was too close to call.
But an exit poll released as polls closed projected that the Conservatives would be well ahead, with around 316 seats — they would need 326 for a majority.
The chief exit pollster, John Curtice of Strathclyde University, said it looked as if Conservative and Labour gains had canceled each other out across England and Wales, and that Labour had lost much of its support in Scotland to the SNP.
The survey was conducted by pollsters GfK and Ipsos MORI for Britain’s broadcasters.
The pound surged as much as 2 percent after the exit poll, as investors took that as reassurance that the country will not see days or weeks of uncertainty over the formation of a new government. The currency held onto most of those gains on Friday, trading at $1.5440. Stocks also surged, with the main FTSE 100 up 1.6 percent.
As results rolled in overnight, the Conservative Party appeared to be in a commanding position to form the next government, either alone or by seeking partners from smaller parties. One result could be a re-run of the Conservative-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats that has governed since 2010.
Votes in each constituency were counted by hand and the results followed a familiar ritual. Candidates — each wearing a bright rosette in the color of their party — line up onstage like boxers as a returning officer reads out the results.
But if the form was familiar, the results were often shocking.
Among the early Scottish National Party winners was 20-year-old student Mhairi Black, who defeated Douglas Alexander, Labour’s 47-year-old foreign policy spokesman and one of its most senior figures. Black is the youngest U.K. lawmaker since 13-year-old Christopher Monck entered Parliament in 1667.
The UK Independence Party ran third in opinion polls, but by early Friday had won only one seat because its support isn’t concentrated in specific areas. Leader Nigel Farage lost his seat to the Conservatives, and could resign later.
Britain’s economy — recovering after years of turmoil that followed the 2008 financial crisis — was at the core of many voters’ concerns. The results suggest that many heeded Cameron’s entreaties to back the Conservatives as the party of financial stability. Public questions at television debates made plain that many voters distrusted politicians’ promises to safeguard the economy, protect the National Health Service from severe cutbacks and control the number of immigrants from eastern Europe.
British voters reacted with surprise as they awoke to the news. Polls have been showing a virtual dead heat in the race, and many expected weeks of wrangling over who would be in power.
“I thought it would be closer,” said account manager Nicky Kelly-Lord, 38, who was among those startled by the result.
But some, like project manager Jonathan Heeley, 42, thought it inevitable that a country struggling to rebuild in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis would be anxious to keep the economic recovery going.
“The country’s rebuilding itself and people want to stay with that,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.