British prime minister David Cameron has confirmed his Conservative Party will form a new government following its election victory and his meeting with the Queen.
The shock election result has left pollsters scratching their heads wondering how they got it so wrong.
Pre-election polls predicted a hung parliament, which would have resulted in a minority government fighting for every piece of legislation.
But in the end voters opted to stick with what they knew, returning the incumbent Conservative Party to power. The Tories have secured the required majority in the 650-seat chamber, allowing the party to form a government without the need for a coalition.
This puts Cameron’s Conservatives in a much stronger position than they enjoyed in their first term, where they only secured a majority by forming an uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Labour’s result was disastrously below expectations. The main culprit was the loss of 40 seats in Scotland, as Scottish voters swung away from Labour towards the Scottish National Party.
In response, Labour leader Ed Miliband wasted no time in resigning.
But it was the Lib Dems, traditionally the nation’s third party, who were the headline casualty of the night. They haemorrhaged 46 seats, in one of their worst results since the party was founded 30 years ago.
As it became clear he would win, Mr Cameron was euphoric:
“This is the sweetest victory of all,” he told his campaign staff.
“We are going to get the opportunity to serve our country again … we are on the brink of something so exciting.”
He put the win down to a “brilliant, positive, upbeat manifesto”.
Earlier, he had emphasised the need for unity.
“I want my party, and I hope a government I would like to lead, to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost – the mantle of One Nation, One United Kingdom. That is how I will govern if I am fortunate enough to form a government in the coming days.”
Labour’s Ed Miliband made little attempt to put a positive spin on the catastrophic result.
“This has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party,” he said.
“We haven’t made the gains we wanted in England and Wales, and in Scotland we’ve seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party.
“I want to say to all the dedicated and decent colleagues in Scotland who have lost their seats that I am deeply sorry for what has happened.
“And I also want to say that the next government has a huge responsibility. It has a huge responsibility in facing the very difficult task of keeping our country together.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also resigned. He said: “It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats.”
What this result means for Britain
With a majority, the Conservatives will now have a free hand to implement the policies laid out in their manifesto.
Their headline vote-winning policies are:
– to eliminate the budget deficit and return to surplus by 2020
– to provide an extra £8 billion above inflation to the National Health Service by 2020
– to make it easier for housing commission tenants to buy their homes
– to grant more tax breaks for people on the minimum wage
– to provide 30 hours of free childcare per week for working parents of three- and four-year-olds
– and to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of European Union.
But beyond these popular polices, there is likely to be plenty of pain.
Welfare recipients will likely be big losers. The Conservatives plan £12 billion of cuts to welfare, including a two-year freeze on working-age benefits and a £3000 cut in the household benefit cap.
The other big losers will be immigrants.
Immigrants from the European Union will have to wait four years before they can claim certain benefits or social housing. They will also clamp down on out-of-work benefits for migrants or child benefit for dependents living outside UK.
The Tories’ promises on employment are ambitious. They have pledged to use the money saved in reducing the benefits cap to fund 3 million apprenticeships. They also promise to triple the number of start-up loans to businesses to 75,000.
The party’s pledges on the environmental, on the other hand, are meagre. The two key polices are to spend more than £3 billion to 2020 “improving the environment”, and a promise to invest £500 million over the next five years towards making most cars and vans zero emission vehicles by 2050.