British election: LIVE REPORT

14:50 GMT – AFP is closing its live report on the British general election after David Cameron’s Conservatives emerged victorious, defying opinion polls to win a clear majority. Here’s a brief summary of the political drama:

– nationalists win a historic landslide in Scotland, delivering a crushing blow to the opposition Labour party in its former stronghold. Nicola Sturgeon’s party takes 56 out of 59 seats.

– the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) all step down after suffering major losses

– Cameron pledges to form a majority government in Westminster and give Scotland “the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world”

– nationwide predictions of a close contest between Labour and the Conservatives turn out to be wide of the mark, prompting an inquiry into polling

– Cameron confirms his intention to deliver an in-out referendum on Britain’s future in Europe, as the election leaves Britain’s future in the EU wide open.

14:29 GMT – Last seat – The final seat in the election is declared: the Conservatives complete their nationwide victory with a win in the Cornish constituency of St Ives. It brings the final tally to: Conservatives 331; Labour 232; SNP 56; Lib Dems 8; DUP 8, and other parties 15.

14:23 GMT – Danish PM – Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt congratulates her husband Stephen Kinnock on winning a Labour seat in Britain’s election.

“I’m so happy on Stephen’s behalf. He’s done so well and the result is really great for him. All the work he has put into it has paid off,” she tells Danish daily Berlingske.

Kinnock, the 45-year-old son of Britain’s 1980s Labour Party leader and longtime European Commissioner Neil Kinnock, won a seat representing the coal-mining town of Aberavon in south Wales.

14:20 GMT – Polling inquiry – The British Polling Council says it is setting up an independent inquiry into “apparent bias” in the final opinion polls which were wide of the mark.

“The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation,” the council said in a statement.

14:14 GMT – VE Day – Away from political events, Britain is marking the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), with Cameron heading from Downing Street to the Cenotaph for the commemorations. He is flanked by outgoing party leaders Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband as the trio lay wreaths at the war memorial.

14:01 GMT – Tusk – President of the European Council Donald Tusk congratulates Cameron and stresses the importance of Britain’s role in Europe in ensuring a “common sense agenda”.

“I count on the new British government making the case for the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union. In that I stand ready to help,” he says. “I am deeply convinced that there is no better life outside the European Union, for any country.”

– Europe –

13:55 GMT – EU reaction – Here’s more on the reaction of the EU, which earlier said key principles in talks with Britain were “non-negotiable”:

Margaritis Schinas, a spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, says the European Commission is “ready to work constructively” with the new British government.

He ruled out any altering of the four key treaty principles of free movement of goods, services, capital and people, adding: “First we want to see and receive the UK proposals on reform, and of course in the spirit of openness, friendliness and constructive spirit… we are ready to discuss those in our quest for a fair deal with Britain.”

13:45 GMT – Independence – Malcolm Harvey, of Aberdeen University, thinks it unlikely the SNP will push for another quick referendum on independence.

He says their priority will be to push for increased spending powers, adding: “This is a chance for them just to chip away at that so that when it comes eventually the step to independence would be that bit smaller”.

13:33 GMT – System ‘under pressure’? – Nick Anstead, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, says this election highlights the “fundamental nature of the British election system”:

“Vote doesn’t necessarily equal seat. It’s about where those votes are. UKIP got a lot of votes and one seat, the SNP got a lot of votes but because they were geographically distributed in their favour they won a lot of seats.

“This raises the question of whether or not the election system will come under pressure. I think probably not now. because the Conservative party, which is strongly in favour of our kind of election system, has a majority.”

13:24 GMT – Scottish referendum? – Murray Pittock, a professor at the University of Glasgow, believes there is “a big appetite” among SNP members and supporters for another independence referendum, but says: “The figures show that once again it would be very tight and that the ‘yes’ vote would probably lose marginally, or might lose marginally.”

He adds: “The SNP will keep an eye on changing political circumstances. If the Conservative party, for example, impose austerity on Scotland and don’t give Scotland the powers and the ability to draw on its own resources to meet its different domestic policies then that might be a reason for (Nicola Sturgeon’s) attitude to change about the referendum.”

– Scotland –

13:08 GMT – SNP advantage – Malcolm Harvey of Aberdeen University says the SNP will be looking to take full advantage of their stunning election win in Scotland.

“The SNP will obviously play on that they have won the election in Scotland — the Conservatives only have one seat — that on that basis the government doesn’t have any legitimacy in Scotland,” he predicts.

“That said the size of the Conservative majority is potentially going to be quite important… when you get midway through a parliament, you get by-elections, you have got the Tory awkward squad, Europe which can divide the Conservatives. If the Conservative party starts to fracture then you could see the SNP try and take advantage of that”.

13:01 GMT – EU issue – Christopher Howarth, a senior political analyst with Open Europe, says Cameron now faces three tests: securing the reforms he wants, persuading his MPs, and persuading the public.

He is optimistic Cameron can persuade European partners of the need for reform as long as the PM doesn’t go in “banging the table for UK exceptionalism”. But: “If he asks for too much, he might not get what he wants and look like a failure. If he asks for too little, it may be written off by some”.

12:55 GMT – World reacts – Several world leaders have jumped on Twitter to congratulate Cameron. Indian PM Narendra Modi tweets: “Congratulations @David Cameron As you rightly pointed out- its “Phir Ek Baar, Cameron Sarkar!” My best wishes.”

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu posts: “Congrats to @David Cameron on impressive victory & renewed mandate. I look forward to working with you on shared goals of peace & prosperity”.

12:44 GMT – Harman steps up – Labour’s Harriet Harman confirms she is stepping down as deputy party leader to become interim leader. In a statement she says: “On the resignation of Ed Miliband as Leader of the Labour Party I, as his deputy, am stepping forward to be acting leader until a new leader is elected by the party.

“It is not my intention to stay on as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when the new leader is elected.”

12:36 GMT – US ties – Across the pond, the White House says President Barack Obama is “proud” of the relationship he has forged with Cameron, and looks to continue close ties.

“This is a testament to the strength of a vibrant democracy,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest tells CNN. “The president is proud of the strong working relationship that he’s developed with David Cameron over the years, and he’s looking forward to continuing to strengthen that personal relationship.”

12:29 GMT – ‘Good life’ – Cameron says Britain is “so much stronger” five years on from the start of the coalition but “the real opportunities lie ahead”. “We are on the brink of something special,” he tells voters.

“We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who’s willing to work and do the right thing,” he adds.

12:25 GMT – EU referendum – The re-elected PM promises to deliver an in-out referendum on Europe and says “I will stay true to my word” by implementing devolution in Scotland.

“In Scotland our plans are to create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world with important powers over taxation,” he says.

12:20 GMT – PM’s address – David Cameron promises to govern as a “party of one nation” as he addresses the country outside 10 Downing Street.

He says his programme is a “manifesto for working people” and promises that “as a majority government we will be able to deliver all of it”.

– Cameron returns as PM –

12:12 GMT – Brexit – Patrick Dunleavy predicts that a “Brexit” referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU is likely in summer 2016.

“The previous idea of delaying until 2017 to give Cameron time to rack up some concessions from other EU countries threatened too long a deadening effect on the UK economy and inward investment to any longer be practical,” he adds. “So 2016 it has to be, even though in May that year there will also be a potentially epoch-making Scottish Parliament election.”

12:09 GMT – ‘Rocky road’ – Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics says it will be a rocky road ahead for Cameron who would serve a maximum of three years.

“If he sticks to his promise not to contest the 2020 election as Tory leader, he must step down by mid 2018 at the latest to allow his successor a decent run up to the polls,” writes Dunleavy in an LSE blog. “In the interim some bleak challenges will have to be faced by a government with a newly fragile majority.”

12:03 GMT – No. 10 – Cameron and his wife Samantha enter the PM’s 10 Downing Street residence as media watch expectantly. But cameras are left waiting. Statement expected to follow soon.

11:59 GMT – Queen – David Cameron has left Buckingham Palace after an audience with the queen, aerial BBC footage shows. Nation awaits an announcement confirming the PM’s position as his car pulls up at Downing Street.

11:53 GMT – Business reaction – John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), says: “With the votes counted, businesses will be relieved that the clouds of uncertainty around the possibility of a hung parliament have dispersed.”

But he warns the government will have “hurdles to overcome” with a slim majority and says the PM must focus on getting the deficit down. He adds: “With an EU referendum now likely, business will now want to see an ambitious, achievable reform agenda that will make both the UK and Europe more competitive and prosperous for all.”

11:45 GMT – Tory majority – Cameron’s Conservative party has won a majority in the House of Commons, results show. With seven seats still to declare, the Tories secured the 326 required for a majority in the 650-seat chamber, allowing the party to form a government without the need for a coalition.

11:36 GMT – CONSERVATIVES WIN MAJORITY IN BRITISH ELECTION: RESULTS

11:33 GMT – Buckingham Palace – David Cameron arrives at Buckingham Palace where he is expected to meet Queen Elizabeth to confirm his second term as Prime Minister.

11:28 GMT – ‘Truly sorry’ – Wrapping up, Miliband adds: “I joined this party aged 17, I never dreamed I’d lead it. It will be a force for progress and change once again. I am truly sorry I did not succeed, I have done my best for five years.

“We’ve come back before and this party will come back again. The course of progress and social justice is never straightforward. When we see injustice we must tackle it. “

11:27 GMT – Selfies – In a lighter moment, Miliband thanks voters for their selfies and “the most unlikely cult of the 21st century, Milifandom”.

But he adds: “Today will feel bleak. The fight goes on. Labour will keep making the case for working people.”

11:22 GMT – Labour leadership – Miliband says he is sorry for all those colleagues who lost their seats: “friends colleagues and standard bearers” for their party.

He says deputy leader Harriet Harman will take over until a new leader is voted in, hailing her as “the best deputy leader anyone could have hoped for”.

11:18 GMT – Miliband resignation – “This is not the speech I wanted to give,” Miliband says as he announces his resignation. “I believe Britain needed a Labour government and I still do. But the public voted otherwise last night.”

He says he takes “absolute and total responsibility for the result” and for Labour’s defeat.

11:16 GMT – ED MILIBAND STEPS DOWN AS OPPOSITION LEADER

11:02 GMT – EU SAYS KEY PRINCIPLES ‘NON-NEGOTIABLE’ IN TALKS WITH BRITAIN

The EU says it is ready to work with Britain’s re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron on his reform demands but key principles including the freedom of movement are “non-negotiable”.

“The four freedoms in the (EU) treaty are not negotiable,” Margartis Schinas, a spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, tells a daily briefing.

10:55 GMT – Fighting back – However Clegg confirms a leadership contest will follow and insists there is a “way back” pledging the party will “would win again”. The Lib Dems had been left with just eight seats following a devastating night for the party.

“For the last seven years it has been a privilege, a huge privilege, an unlimited honour to lead a party of the most resilient, courageous and remarkable people,” he adds.

10:52 GMT – ‘Dark hour’ – Striking a sombre tone, Clegg adds: “Fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost. It is the most crushing blow since the party was founded. It is a very dark hour for our party. We will not allow decent liberal values to be extinguished overnight.”

10:52 GMT – ‘Perilous point’ – Reflecting on his party’s five years as the junior coalition partner in government, Clegg says: “We will never know how many lives we changed for the better.

“The history books will judge our party kindly. To have served my country at a time of crisis is an honour that will stay with me forever.

“This brings our country to a very perilous point in our history. I hope our leaders realise the disastrous consequences if they continue to appeal to grievance rather than generosity.”

10:39 GMT – ‘Crushing’ loss – “Clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared,” Clegg says as he steps down after his Liberal Democrat party’s vote plunged.

He says it was “simply heartbreaking” to see so many of his colleagues and friends lose their seats.

10:35 GMT – NICK CLEGG RESIGNS AS LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER

10:32 GMT – Farage resigns – Nigel Farage confirms he is stepping down as UKIP leader as promised, having lost South Thanet. He says: “I’m a man of my word”.

But he raises the possibility of running for the job again when a leadership contest is held in September. He recommends Suzanne Evans, the deputy chairman, to stand in as leader in the interim.

10:17 GMT – Miliband tweet – Still awaiting an announcement from Ed Miliband over his future position. Giving no clues, the Labour leader tweets: “Defeats are hard, but we’re a party that will never stop fighting for the working people of this country.”

10:11 GMT – UKIP consolation – UKIP members are keen to stress that while only claiming one parliamentary seat, the party came second in 188 constituencies.

The party’s deputy chairman Suzanne Evans says on Twitter she is “devastated” for Farage but adds: “Nearly 4m votes, 118 2nd places, 1 MP, the new 3rd party in British politics. As leader Nigel Farage has been a resounding success.”

10:04 GMT – Nation of Ooog – Incidentally, the other losers in Thanet South were Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah with his Al-Zebabist Nation of Ooog Party and stand-up comedian Al Murray with his Free United Kingdom Party.

09:56 GMT – ‘Strong hand’ – Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt tweets: “With meltdown of Nigel Farage and his own success David Cameron should have a strong hand in forging a constructive UK policy of EU reforms.”

09:50 GMT – ‘Never happier’ – Speaking after his defeat Farage, who had promised to step down if he did not win, says: “I think the time has come for real genuine radical political reform”. He notes that UKIP scored the same number of votes as the SNP but only won one seat.

Despite a series of setbacks for his party, the 51-year-old adds: “I feel an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I’ve never felt happier.”

09:42 GMT – UKIP leader Nigel Farage loses Thanet South seat to Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay by more than 2,000 votes.

09:35 GMT – UKIP LEADER NIGEL FARAGE FAILS TO WIN PARLIAMENT SEAT

– UKIP leader defeated –

09:24 GMT – Farage arrival – UKIP leader Nigel Farage has arrived at the counting centre in Margate, southern England, where results are expected to be announced soon for the Thanet South seat.

Earlier a Labour source said the first boxes to be opened at the count indicated Farage in third place. The UKIP leader has said he will resign the party leadership immediately if he fails to gain the seat.

09:18 GMT – Sarkozy tweet – Former French PM Nicloas Sarkozy has congratulated Cameron on Twitter. @NicloasSarkozy tweets: “Heartfelt congratulations to you @David Cameron on your impressive victory -NS.”

09:09 GMT – YouGov – Peter Kellner, president of pollster YouGov, tells the Daily Telegraph: “What seems to have gone wrong is that people have said one thing and they did something else in the ballot box. We are not as far out as we were in 1992, not that that is a great commendation.”

09:07 GMT – ‘I’ll eat my hat’ – Former Liberal Democrat leader and campaign chief Paddy Ashdown sheepishly admits he will never challenge an exit poll again.

With the Lib Dems predicted late Thursday to win 10 seats, he said he would “publicly eat his hat” if the results were correct.

Latest projections show the party set to get eight seats. When challenged to actually eat a hat, Ashdown declined.

08:59 GMT – Boris slams polls – Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson is among those to lambast polling organisations. He says: “The pollsters need to go off and interrogate themselves and poll each other to find who has been telling porkies to whom. It’s extraordinary that 11 polls on the eve of the election should get it so wrong.”

For months, the main survey-takers had the two parties neck-and-neck, flatlining at around 35 percent each.

08:52 GMT – Staying or going? – Labour leader Ed Miliband gives a weak smile and waves as he arrives at party HQ in London amid now widespread reports that he will stand down.

08:36 GMT – ‘Soul-searching’ – Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alistair Campbell says one problem was allowing the Tories to frame the narrative about the economy while Labour squabbled over a new leader in 2010. But he suggests the party may need to take even longer this time around to discuss how they have done so badly.

“After a result as awful as this, there has to be real deep soul-searching, and honest analysis about how and we have gone from being a party identified as the dominant force across UK politics over a decade and more, to where we are today,” Campbell writes in his blog.

08:31 GMT – Labour leadership – Talk is already turning to a possible successor for Ed Miliband, with pundits noting the absence of an obvious contender. Ed Balls, the party’s most senior figure after Miliband, is out of the mix after losing his seat.

Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to ex-PM Tony Blair, says he would like to see a woman lead the Labour party but tells the BBC there is “no obvious successor”.

08:18 GMT – Miliband’s future – Pressure is mounting for Labour leader Ed Miliband to resign, with the BBC reporting he is expected to do so in a speech late morning.

Former minister Gerry Sutcliffe says it is “time for someone else to take over” while the left-leaning New Statesman magazine cites a source at Labour headquarters as saying: “Ed has to resign tomorrow. Everyone here accepts that.”

– Labour leadership in doubt –

08:11 GMT – Poll shock – The shock election results, although still ongoing, are already raising questions about the validity of Britain’s opinion polls, which were far off the mark.

BBC correspondent Gavin Hewitt tweets: “Bad night for pollsters – already some saying there will have to be complete re-examination of methods used#ge2015”.

08:02 GMT – Sturgeon success – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says her election campaign was not about winning a mandate for another independence referendum. But she says her party’s success at the polls was a “vote for Scotland” and “against austerity”.

Earlier she hailed an “historic watershed” for the party. “The political firmament, the tectonic plates in Scottish politics have shifted.”

07:53 GMT – PM to palace – Prime Minister David Cameron will leave Downing Street to meet Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace at 1130 GMT where she is expected to formally invite him to form a new government, officials say.

Cameron is on track to win a slim majority against Labour rival Ed Miliband, defying opinion polls which had predicted a close result and weeks of haggling.

07:40 GMT – CAMERON TO SEE QUEEN AT 1130 GMT FOR EXPECTED PM NOMINATION: OFFICIAL

07:31 GMT – Labour’s Balls out – Former shadow finance minister Ed Balls loses his seat in Morley and Outwood by 422 votes to Conservative Andrea Jenkyns, becoming the most high-profile Labour figure to be ousted.

He says his personal disappointment is “nothing compared to the sense of sorrow I have” at Labour’s overall result.

07:24 GMT – UKIP loss – UKIP candidate Mark Reckless, who defected from the Conservatives, fails to win in Rochester and Stroud, losing the southern English seat to his former party.

The future of the anti-EU party’s leader, Nigel Farage, now hangs in the balance, with his South Thanet seat still to be declared.

07:17 GMT – FTSE rallies – London’s stock market surges at the start of trading as the Conservatives look set for a surprise election victory. The FTSE 100 index rallied 2.0 percent in initial deals to 7,024.37 points.

07:09 GMT – LONDON STOCK MARKET OPENS UP OVER 1.0% ON ELECTION RESULTS

– Markets cheer polls –

07:08 GMT – UKIP vote – UKIP claims it is now the third largest party in Britain in terms of nationwide vote, despite only winning one seat so far.

“UKIP have scored a phenomenal number of second places – at least 90 and many more to come later in this morning – proving that we’ve become the only voice of opposition to the establishment,” the party states.

“This is backed-up by an estimated 2.5 million votes right across the UK making UKIP the third largest party. However, the country’s undemocratic voting system means 2.5 million votes for UKIP translates into a minimal number of seats.”

06:58 GMT – ‘Mandate’ to rule – Senior Conservative MP George Osborne, finance minister for the last five years, says his party has “a clear mandate to get on with the work that we started”. He says this will help secure a “good deal” for a referendum on Europe – which the Tories have pledged for 2017.

06:45 GMT – Resignation calls – Following Labour’s shattering defeat by the SNP in Scotland – its former stronghold – Britain’s left-leaning tabloid The Mirror says party leader Ed Miliband must go.

“Ed Miliband has two choices: resign later today or tomorrow,” the paper’s associate editor Kevin Maguire writes. “The soon to be ex-leader of Labour is humiliated by a crushing defeat for the party.”

06:38 GMT – SNP triumph – The Scottish Nationalist Party @theSNP tweets: “Congratulations to our 56 MPs and thank you to everyone who has put their faith in the #SNP #GE15.”

The final result for Scotland sees the nationalists increase their number of MPs ninefold from their current total of six.

– Scottish nationalists triumph –

06:34 GMT – Last Scots seat – The last seat to declare in Scotland goes to the SNP, completing an astonishing night for the nationalist party. It brings the total of Nichola Sturgeon’s party to 56 out of 59 seats.

The Liberal Democrat’s Michael Moore lost his Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat, on the border with England, to the SNP’s Calum Kerr.

06:24 GMT – Expert opinion – John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, predicts a small but clear majority for Cameron’s Conservatives. He tells the BBC: “Certainly taking the results in so far, we’ve now got over 550 of them, our best guess is now that the Conservatives will get around 329 seats.

“It’s been pretty clear for most of the night that David Cameron was certainly going to remain as prime minister but it now looks as though he won’t even have to rely on the DUP. That said, however, we should bear in mind that he will have a very small majority.”

06:15 GMT – Majority – Earlier we reported that the Conservative party is forecast to be one seat short of a clear majority, with a predicted 325 seats.

To have an absolute majority in Britain’s parliament a party needs to gain 326 seats, but in practise, since Ireland’s Sinn Fein don’t take up their seats in Westminster, this red line can fall lower.

06:08 GMT – Home Secretary wary – Despite predictions of a Conservative majority Home Secretary Theresa May urges caution on the partial results. She says it is “early days” and will not discuss “hypotheticals”.

Following a sweeping victory in Scotland by the SNP, May told the BBC that Britain must stay together, but said relationships between England, Scotland and Wales will change.

05:56 GMT – Markets react – As markets open, the expectation of a Conservative win appears to be cheered by investors.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist with IHS Global Insight, says: “The election result with the Conservatives seemingly set to have an effective small majority is being very well received by the markets. Sterling has surged and other markets are likely to follow suit.

“The fact that the election has seemingly delivered a government that could well survive for a full term – and crucially avoided the need for another general election later this year – is good for stability which should be supportive to economic activity.”

05:46 GMT – Cameron tweets – PM David Cameron has tweeted a picture of himself embracing wife Samantha, looking elated, with the caption “Here’s to a brighter future for everyone”.

With his Conservative party looking set for victory, earlier he tweeted: “One nation, one United Kingdom – that is how I hope to govern if I am fortunate enough to continue as Prime Minister.”

05:42 GMT – Lib Dem crushed – It has been a disastrous night for the Liberal Democrats; while leader Nick Clegg held his constituency, all the party’s cabinet ministers have lost their seats.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, a key figure in the coalition government, was defeated in Scotland’s Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency by the SNP’s Drew Hendry.

– Lib Dem disaster –

05:37 GMT – ‘Near collapse’ – “Britain’s Liberal Democrats had hoped that entering government for the first time five years ago would recast their image as a party that meant business. Instead, it has brought them to the brink of collapse,” writes AFP’s Katherine Haddon.

“Their leader Nick Clegg, Prime Minister David Cameron’s deputy, hinted Friday he could resign after a “cruel and punishing night” in which the party is forecast to retain only 10 of its 57 seats in the House of Commons.”

As well as Danny Alexander, party stalwarts Vince Cable – the former Business Secretary – and former leader Charles Kennedy have been ousted.

05:30 GMT – ‘Wave of nationalism’ – Reacting to his defeat Lib Democrat Danny Alexander says: “It’s been a very tough election and a lot of us have been swept away by this tidal wave of nationalism that has taken over many constituencies in Scotland. We all have to reflect on that.”

He adds: “I’m grateful for the support I received, but it wasn’t enough. Drew Hendry has been elected and good luck to him.”

05:20 GMT – Latest count – With more than 160 seats still to be declared, the count currently stands at Conservatives on 210 seats, Labour on 195, SNP on 55, DUP on 8, Lib Dems with 6 and other parties holding 14.

05:08 GMT – The Conservative party is one seat short of a clear majority after the general election, a new BBC forecast says.

The forecast gives the Conservatives 325 seats, Labour 232 and the SNP 56. That would put Cameron’s party just one seat shy of being able to govern without the support of smaller parties.

05:04 GMT – CONSERVATIVES ONE SEAT SHORT OF MAJORITY: BBC

04:18 GMT – Handing over – I’m signing off after a marathon live-blogging session, and leaving you in the highly capable hands of colleague Ruth Holmes.

04:18 GMT – Conservatives ahead – The Conservatives on 191 seats have now pulled ahead of Labour, on 185.

04:17 GMT – Party leader cull? – With disappointing results for Labour, a catastrophic night for the Lib Dems and UKIP leader Nigel Farage threatening to quit if he doesn’t win in South Thanet, three parties could soon have new leaders.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has already hinted he will step down later this morning.

04:17 GMT – SENIOR LIB DEM DANNY ALEXANDER LOSES PARLIAMENTARY SEAT –

04:16 GMT – Europe referendum – Cameron reiterates his commitment to holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union:

“We should never in politics duck the big issues, whether it’s dealing with our deficit, whether it’s holding that referendum that it was right to hold on the future of Scotland in the United Kingdom or indeed in the future that referendum we must hold to decide Britain’s future in Europe.”

04:14 GMT – Cameron retains seat – No surprises as Conservative leader David Cameron comfortably retains his Witney seat in Oxfordshire.

“This is clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party,” he said, adding: “It is too early to say exactly what sort of result there will be at the end of this night.”

04:09 GMT – “Disappointing and difficult” – Calm but ashen, Labour leader Ed Miliband told voters nationalism had overwhelmed his party.

“The results are still coming in but this has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour party. We haven’t made the gains we wanted in England and Wales, and in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party.”

04:01 GMT – Highlights so far – * Lib Dem support collapses, with several of the party’s big beasts brought low, including Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, Lynne Featherstone and Ed Davey. Nick Clegg hints he will resign as party leader.

* The Conservatives are doing better than expected, with pundits predicting they will hold onto power.

* The SNP has nearly swept the board in Scotland, and one of its candidates, 20-year-old student Mhairi Black, ousted seasoned Labour lawmaker and foreign policy spokesman Douglas Alexander.

03:43 GMT – Story so far – A bigger Conservative mandate than expected, Labour wipeout in Scotland, Lib Dem support collapses, and the SNP “lion roars” as it gobbles up almost every seat north of the border.

In figures: Conservatives on 138 seats, Labour on 149 seats, Lib Dems on 6 seats, SNP on 52 seats and UKIP with one seat.

Turnout: 65.3 percent, 1.6 percent higher than in 2010.

03:43 GMT – No more Nick? – Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg hints that he will step down as party leader:

“The election has profound implications for the country, (and) also obviously has profound implications for the Liberal Democrats and I will be seeking to make further remarks about the implications of this election both for the country and for the party that I lead, and for my position in the Liberal Democrats when I make remarks to my colleagues to by colleagues in the Liberal democrats later this morning.”

03:42 GMT – Cruel and punishing – “It is now painfully clear that it has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” Lib Dem leader Clegg says after holding onto his seat of Sheffield Hallam.

03:40 GMT – Conservative trumpet – Sebastian Payne, writer at the right-leaning Spectator magazine, says the Conservatives’ campaign supremo, Australian Lynton Crosby, is tooting his own horn.

“I’m hearing that the mood at Conservative HQ this morning is jubilant. Apparently, every time a good result for the Tories is announced, Lynton Crosby bangs on a wine glass and plays the trumpet upon the declaration.”

03:35 GMT – LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER NICK CLEGG HOLDS SEAT IN UK VOTE –

03:27 GMT – Cable cut – Former business secretary Vince Cable has become the latest high-profile Lib Dem to lose his parliamentary seat in what has been a catastrophic night for his party.

“The fact is we were hit by a very well organised national campaign based on people’s fears of a Labour government and the Scottish nationalists, and we will see in the days to follow what are the implications of that.”

“Unfortunately this has been a terrible night for our party all over,” he added, after losing his seat to a Conservative candidate.

03:10 GMT – Boris buoyant – London mayor Boris Johnson, who is back in parliament after winning the safe seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, said the Conservatives’ economic plan won the day.

“It is clear to me that the people of this country want us to go forward with sensible moderate policies that the Conservative Party has produced for the last five years and that have led to a sustained economic recovery.

“I think the people of this country want to go forward with that long term economic plan for the benefit of everybody in this constituency and across this country,” Boris said in his acceptance speech.

– Joy and devastation –

03:08 GMT – LIB DEMS’ VINCE CABLE LOSES SEAT –

02:56 GMT – LONDON MAYOR BORIS JOHNSON WINS PARLIAMENTARY SEAT –

02:39 GMT – SNP avalanche – “This is devastating for us in Scotland, where an avalanche happened and swept us aside,” Labour’s Peter Hain told the BBC.

02:30 GMT – Cameron constrained – Conservative leader David Cameron may be on course for a bigger than expected mandate at the British general election but could ultimately end up a more constrained prime minister, experts say.

Without the Lib Dems — whose support has collapsed — and the coalition’s comfortable majority, Cameron could struggle to push through significant legislation, AFP’s Robin Millard reports.

02:22 GMT – Lock David out – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon reiterates her plan to block the Conservatives in parliament.

“When the parliamentary arithmetic finally becomes known later this morning if there is any opportunity of an anti-Tory majority to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street then I will want to work with Ed Miliband to do that.

“If that’s not possible, then it’s down to Labour’s failure to beat the Tories in England,” Sturgeon told the BBC, struggling to be heard over the cheers of SNP supporters in the counting station behind her.

02:05 GMT – National disunity – With all results so far pointing to SNP dominance in Scotland and the Conservatives with the most seats in parliament, but shy of a majority, questions arise about the efficiency of any future government.

The SNP has vowed never to prop up a Conservative-led government, and had campaigned to get party leader Prime Minister David Cameron out of office.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem unlikely to work with the SNP. They relentlessly attacked Labour by accusing it of being prepared to do a post-election deal with the SNP.

– Picture clearer –

02:05 GMT – SNP surprise loss – The beleaguered Lib Dems have managed to check the SNP’s seemingly relentless sweep of Scotland by holding on in Orkney and Shetland.

The constituency is the first seat in Scotland the SNP has not won so far.

02:05 GMT – “Can’t hear you!” – After several false starts, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s interview with the BBC had to aborted due to noise from supporters.

“There’s too many SNP activists cheering at the moment, and I’m about to join them,” she said.

02:05 GMT – Story so far – Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives looks on course for a surprise victory in Britain’s general election that could herald more economic austerity and redefine the country’s future in Europe.

Exit polls upended pre-election forecasts of a knife-edge contest between the Conservatives and Labour, and also pointed to a landslide for Scottish nationalists that will reopen the question of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom.

The Lib Dems meanwhile, has seen their support collapse and senior lawmakers lose their seat.

02:04 GMT – Lib Dem shock – Senior Lib Dem lawmaker and member of the government Simon Hughes has lost his seat of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, which he has held since 1983 (although the constituency’s borders have changed in that time).

The election was hard-fought, and is a bitter blow to the Lib Dems given their long history in the London constituency.

02:03 GMT – Murphy’s farewell – Scots Labour leader Jim Murphy bows out graciously.

“I wholeheartedly congratulate you. I wish you every success in your parliamentary career in standing up for the people of East Renfrewshire,” he said to his SNP opponent Kirsten Oswald.

“This is of course an enormous moment for the SNP. No one can deny that.”

02:01 GMT – Labour “screwed” – AFP’s indefatigable Patrice Novotny reports from a London pub:

Paul, a Labour supporter, is devastated by Scots Labour leader Jim Murphy’s loss to the SNP.

“Labour is screwed, it’s a disaster!”

01:56 GMT – Labour’s loss – Labour supporters are stunned by is being annihilated in Scotland by SNP, AFP’s Edouard Guihaire reports.

“Obviously its a very very bad night for Labour across the UK. We had genuinely a very radical manifesto, the most radical in 20-25 years,” said Labour councillor Matt Kerr in Glasgow.

“Unfortunately for us, particularly in Scotland, it has been rejected for reasons that had nothing to do with the manifesto … We have to get back in our feet and start again.”

01:47 GMT – SCOTTISH LABOUR LEADER JIM MURPHY LOSES SEAT TO SNP –

01:28 GMT – Broken swingometer – The BBC’s Jeremy Vine underlines the SNP’s annihilation of Labour in Scotland, demonstrated by the network’s graphic of a swinging needle of shifting electoral fortunes.

“That may be one of our images of the night, we almost broke the swingometer.”

01:25 GMT – Gordon’s seat – Former prime minister and former Labour party leader Gordon Brown has lost his former seat, Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath, to the SNP with a 35 percent swing.

The constituency was once Labour’s safest seat in Scotland.

01:18 GMT – Scottish lion – Former SNP leader and parliamentary candidate Alex Salmond:

“There’s a lion roaring in Scotland tonight, a Scottish lion, and I don’t think any government of any political complexion is going to be able to ignore it,” he told the BBC.

– Tartan triumph –

01:06 GMT – Sensational swings – Results from Scotland are coming in thick and fast, each featuring stunning swings from Labour to the SNP.

The swing from Labour to the SNP in Falkirk was 24 percent, and in Paisley — where 20-year-old Mhairi Black won a stunning victory — the swing was a staggering 34 percent.

00:41 GMT – Wonder woman – At 20 years of age, Mhairi Black is the youngest person to win a parliamentary seat since 1667.

00:40 GMT – Deafening roar – Labour’s foreign policy spokesman Douglas Alexander, a seasoned politician at the heart of the party’s campaign strategy, has just lost to a 20-year-old student and SNP candidate Mhairi Black.

The room erupted into a deafening roar. Black said she hoped Alexander would continue in politics, once he “recovers from the results”.

– SNP stuns –

00:39 GMT – Huge swing – In a huge turnaround that will dismay Labour, the SNP has just won Kilmarnock and Loudoun with a staggering 30 percent increase vote share.

That represents around a 26 percent swing from Labour. That will hurt, and bodes ill for its chances elsewhere in Scotland.

00:37 GMT – Ray of hope – A glimmer of hope the Lib Dems. They just held onto Ceredigion in Wales.

00:34 GMT – Labour blow – The Conservatives have held onto Nuneaton in central England, and even increased their majority, despite Labour’s fierce campaign there.

Earlier polls had suggested Labour could win, lending credence to the television networks’ exit poll showing a large national Conservative lead.

00:26 GMT – Kiss of death – While analysts may have different takes on the various permutations of coalition government possible, one thing is clear: joining forces with a large party could be lethal for a smaller one.

The Lib Dems were riding high after the 2010 election, but their partnership with the centre-right Conservatives has proven poisonous, with voters accusing the left-leaning party of betrayal.

00:11 GMT – Labour’s lament – Labour party grandee and former party leader Neil Kinnock was dismayed by the early exit poll:

“If it continues like this, it’s one of great disappointment. Not so much for the party, but for what it means.

“Millions of people in Britain needed a government that would be committed to housing, to the health service to jobs and fresh opportunities for the youngsters.

“And if that government is not at the end of the day formed, then I think that Britain will pay a very severe price for the division in our society and the weakness in our economy.”

00:07 GMT – Tooting toots – Tooting has declared, and Labour’s Sadiq Khan has held on.

In what is turning out to be a theme for this election, the Lib Dems were down 11 percent of their haul in 2010.

00:00 GMT – Story so far – Eight constituencies have declared, and so far there have been no big surprises among the winners.

However, the big shock has been the collapse in Lib Dem support. The party has haemorrhaged votes and even suffered the ignominy of losing its deposit in two constituencies.

An early exit poll put the Conservatives on 316 seats, just shy of a majority, and Labour on 239 seats.

23:46 GMT – Lib Dem collapse – Newcastle upon Tyne has just declared, and while Labour’s hold on the constituency is not surprising, the Lib Dem result will bitterly disappoint the party.

The party’s share of the vote fell 22 percent, pushing it to fourth place. It came second in 2010.

23:42 GMT – Lib Dem blow – In a huge embarrassment to the Lib Dems, which for the last five years have ruled in coalition government with the Conservatives, the party has lost its deposit in at least two constituencies.

The deposit for UK parliamentary elections is currently 500 pounds, which must be returned if a candidate fails to win five percent of the vote — usually the fate of smaller, fringe parties.

23:39 GMT – – Lib Dems tumble – –

23:35 GMT – Second Conservative win – Justine Greening has just won in Putney, the first London seat.

What is striking is the collapse in support for the Lib Dems there, down about 11 percent.

23:21 GMT – Fragmented politics 2 – A corollary of the success of smaller parties is the likelihood of renewed calls for a proportional representation (PR) voting system.

The current system is first past the post, which tends to favour larger parties. The British public rejected changing to the PR system in a 2011 referendum, but attitudes may have changed since then.

22:52 GMT – Fragmented politics – A key feature of the this election is the expected success of smaller parties, particularly the SNP and UKIP.

That makes coalition governments, once a rarity in Britain, more likely in future. Depending on which analysts you read, that could result in more consensual politics, or more unstable, fractious rule.

22:52 GMT – First Conservative win – Officials have just declared the first win for the Conservatives, Justin Tomlinson in Swindon North. Big cheers and a big smile.

Four results through so far: three for Labour and one for the Conservatives.

22:51 GMT – Voter anger – Reports have come in that voting in some constituencies could be inaccurate due to problems with voter registration and ballot papers, AFP’s Naomi O’Leary reports.

Freya a 27-year-old TV producer voting in Hackney South and Shoreditch, arrived to the polling station to be told someone else had already voted in her name.

“I showed up with my polling card and they already had a pencil mark next to my name. They said that someone had voted under my name so they didn’t know what to do,” she said.

22:50 GMT – Newspaper front pages – Some initial front pages have come through and, as expected, the right-leaning Sun is gloating over forecasts of a Conservative win, while the left-leaning Mirror laments.

The Sun has splashed the slogan “Swinging the blues,” over a picture of a smiling David Cameron, standing next to his wife Samantha. The Conservative party colour is blue.

“Cameron will hold on to power, say exit polls” read the pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph, with a photograph showing a smiling Cameron.

The left-leaning Mirror’s front page is totally black, apart of from the following question in white typeface: “Five more damned years?”

22:48 GMT – Sterling ticks higher – The pound has strengthened somewhat, a move pundits put down to increased certainty after an initial exit poll put the Conservatives — generally favoured by business — ahead with 316 seats.

22:44 GMT – First election scalp? – Reports say senior Liberal Democrat lawmaker and chief secretary to the treasury has lost his seat.

Watch this space …

22:35 GMT – Question of legitimacy – With an exit poll pointing to no party with a clear majority, there is already talk that a party with fewer seats could seize power through forming the largest voting bloc in parliament.

That has already raised questions of legitimacy – should a party with fewer seats hold sway over a larger party?

22:17 GMT – Cameron knife-edge – Labour finance spokesman Ed Balls says the BBC/Sky/ITV exit polls is a “big surprise” and is sceptical about its accuracy.

“Even if the exit poll is right, that means the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition majority has gone from 72 to zero.

“David Cameron’s ability to hang on in Downing Street is on a knife edge.”

22:16 GMT – Swings for UKIP – Although Labour may have won in the three seats declared so far, these were safe seats where the incumbents already had large majorities.

However, the big news is the swing to UKIP in two of the three seats, where the party came second ahead of the Conservatives.

22:12 GMT – Two more for Labour – The next two seats have been declared, and they’re both for Labour: one in Sunderland Central and the other in Sunderland West, both in northeast England.

22:04 GMT – Story so far – Polling has closed about 90 minutes, and initial exit polls suggest a huge lead for the Conservatives. Here’s the story so far:

– A BBC/Sky/ITV exit polls puts the Conservatives way ahead on 316 seats and Labour on 239 seats. That leaves the Conservatives within touching distance of 326, the number needed for majority rule.

– The same exit poll forecasts electoral catastrophe for the Lib Dems, putting them on only 10 seats, down from 57.

– The poll also confirms widely forecasted huge gains for the Scottish National Party. It says the party is set for 58 seats, all but one of Scotland’s 59 seats.

– A different poll, this time by pollster YouGov, puts the Conservatives on 284 seats, Labour on 263 seats, SNP on 48 seats, and Lib Dems on 31 seats.

21:48 GMT – City workers celebrate – Workers in the City, London’s financial hub, cheered exit polls showing the Conservatives as the largest party.

“Why would you change? The economy is doing well after five years with the Conservatives,” said City worker Grant, laughing.

However, others are reserving judgement: “It’s still too close to call!”, said Chamary, a female City worker, pointing out that the Conservatives are likely to fall short of a majority on their own.

21:48 GMT – Hat and kilt eating – Lib Dem grandee Paddy Ashdown, looking at an exit poll that forecasts his party losing 47 seats, tells the BBC’s Andrew Neil: “If this exit poll is right Andrew, I will publicly eat my hat on your programme.”

Meanwhile, Alastair Campbell, former communications chief for Labour leader Tony Blair, says he’ll eat his kilt if the first exit polls are correct.

21:47 GMT – Different poll – Another poll, this one by pollster YouGov, puts the Conservatives on 284 seats, Labour on 263 seats, SNP on 48 seats, and Lib Dems on 31 seats.

The earlier poll was by television networks BBC, Sky and ITV.

21:47 GMT – Huge caution – SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says on Twitter the exit polls should be treated with “HUGE caution”.

She added: “I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!”

21:45 GMT – First result through – Huge cheers for Labour’s Bridget Phillipson as the first constituency result comes through in Sunderland. Phillipson won comfortably with 21,218 votes in the safe Labour seat of Houghton and Sunderland South, way ahead of her nearest challenger on 8,280 votes.

21:43 GMT – Voting hiccups – Several local councils are under pressure due to mistakes in the voting process, AFP’s Naomi O’Leary reports.

Darlington council had to apologise after the name of a UKIP candidate was left off 89 ballot papers. Scores of people were unable to vote in Hackney after they registered to vote close to the deadline, and a technical error meant their forms could not be processed.

21:15 GMT – Clegg finished? – Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science of the London School of Economics, told reporters:

“The coalition has proved existentially dangerous for the Liberal Democrats. Their whole existence as a party is now in severe jeopardy.

“If the exit poll is right, Clegg is finished as the Liberal Democrat leader, that’s for sure. If you were a 10-MP party, there would be no way you could realistically negotiate with the Conservatives on 316. There’s just no possibility of a coalition there.”

21:03 GMT – Lib Dem disaster? – If initial exit polls are to be believed, the Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, face electoral disaster and are forecast to lose 47 seats.

21:00 GMT – SNP tremors – With a forecast of 58 seats after the first exit polls of today’s election, the SNP volcano does indeed seem set to erupt.

The party won only six seats in 2010, but now it seems set to make an almost clean sweep of Scotland’s 59 seats, mostly at Labour’s expense.

– Exit poll analysis –

20:55 GMT – Truly knife-edge – Parties need 326 out of parliament’s 650 seats to be able to pass laws without being defeated by their opponents.

If the exit polls are correct, then the Conservatives on 316 seats and the Lib Dems on 10 seats could allow them to repeat the coalition that has ruled for the last five years. But only just….

20:45 GMT – Exit poll in – The first exit poll after polling stations closed puts the Conservatives on 316 seats, Labour on 239 seats, the SNP on 58, the Lib Dems on 10 seats and UKIP on 2 seats.

20:45 GMT – EXIT POLLS PUT CONSERVATIVES AS LARGEST PARTY WITH 316 SEATS

– Exit poll! –

19:01 GMT – Exit polls due soon – Polls close in a few minutes, so sit tight for the first exit polls due soon after.

17:17 GMT – High stakes – The election could claim some major scalps, with even some big name politicians at risk of losing their posts.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, whose jocular every-man persona has helped propel his anti-Europe, anti-immigration party from obscurity to a national contender, says he will quit if he does not win in South Thanet.

Senior Liberal Democrat and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander is in danger of losing his seat, as is fellow Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice.

17:08 GMT – Financiers fret – In London’s financial hub near the Tower of London, business men and women sip drinks and watch election coverage on a large-screen TV, AFP’s Patrice Novotny reports.

The Conservatives have traditionally been friendlier to big business than left-leaning Labour, but some firms fear that a Conservative win could herald Britain’s exit from the European Union, a vital marketplace for British exports.

The Conservative Party has struggled to reconcile and its pro and anti-Europe wings, and has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017.

– Election jitters –

16:48 GMT – Separate Scotland? – The SNP won six seats in the last parliamentary election, and forecasters say that number could increase almost tenfold after polling ends today.

The party’s main aim is for an independent Scotland, and analysts say a strong parliamentary presence could give it enough clout to push for another vote on the issue in future.

16:08 GMT – The Scottish question – Scotland has loomed large over this election, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) expected to all but obliterate Labour in what was once its stronghold.

The SNP has long campaigned for independence, but last year Scottish voters decided to stay within the United Kingdom after a bitter referendum. However, the party has since seen its popularity and membership surge.

Some views from Scottish voters on AFP’s YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cTrh3LNW8c

– Scots vote –

14:49 GMT – Make or break – This general election has been derided as sterile and boring by many pundits as party leaders and their aides carefully control public appearances to avoid gaffes.

However, the ballot could have huge repercussions for Britain’s place in Europe, given the Conservatives have pledged to hold a referendum on whether to leave the European Union in 2017.

14:49 GMT – Weird polling stations – More than 45 million Britons are eligible to vote at polling stations located everywhere from shipping containers to churches, funeral parlours to pubs, a school bus, a windmill, a lido and a football ground.

14:49 GMT – Haggling looms…. – The end of voting is hardly the end of the story, with days or even weeks of negotiations expected after the polls close.

Neither of the two main parties is expected to win a clear majority in Britain’s 650-seat House of Commons, so a period of horse-trading is likely to begin as they try to form coalitions with smaller parties.

14:49 GMT – Final countdown – With less than two hours to go until polls close, competing parties aren’t wasting a minute.

The Labour party has tweeted an image of a clock counting down, while the Conservatives have tweeted a message touting their economic credentials. The Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) leader Nick Clegg has tweeted about a “Final last push”.

14:49 GMT – Neck and neck – Despite weeks of campaigning, television debates, radio interviews, and a slew of slogans and promises, the latest polls before today’s election have refused to budge.

Britain’s two main parties, the Conservative Party and Labour were still virtually tied with around a third of the vote. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives’ coalition partners, and the insurgent UK Independence Party were within spitting distance of each other, but both were barely breaking into double digits.

14:48 GMT – WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on Britain’s knife-edge general election, which could put the country’s membership of the European Union in doubt and could have profound implications for Scotland’s future.

Voters face a choice between Prime Minister David Cameron’s centre-right Conservatives and Ed Miliband’s centre-left Labour in the closest vote in decades.

But while the leaders of both main parties insist they can win a clear majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, they will almost certainly have to work with smaller parties to form a government.

Stay with AFP for all the latest news as the results come in.

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