Scottish National Party supporters celebrate election results at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.(Robert Perry / European Pressphoto Agency)
A newspaper vendor sets out his stall in central London, a day after the British general election. British Prime Minister
British Prime Minister and Conservative party leader David Cameron leaves Number 10 Downing Street to attend a service to mark Victory Day day at the Cenotaph in London. Cameron hailed the ‘sweetest victory’ of his political career in the general elections.(Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA)
People peer through a security fence at the end of Downing Street in London hoping to catch a glimpse of the prime minister.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
A newspaper vendor gives out free newspapers showing election victory for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s
Nigel Farage heads to his car after resigning as the leader of the U.K Independence Party in Broadstairs, south east England. The
A pile of newspapers shows election victory for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s
Opposition Labor party leader Ed Miliband and his wife arrive at party headquarters in London.(Justin Tallis / AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron, with his wife Samatha, greets reporters outside conservative headquarters in London.(Facundo Arrizabalaga / European Pressphoto Agency)
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez leave after winning his Sheffield Hallam seat.(Lynne Cameron / Associated Press)
Voters wait to cast their votes at a polling station in southern England, as Britain holds a general election.(ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister David Cameron with his wife Samantha arrive at a polling station to cast their votes in the general election in Spelsbury, England.(Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)
Labor Party leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walk to the polling station before voting at Sutton Village Hall, Doncaster, England.(Jon Super / Associated Press)
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage leaves after casting his vote for the South Thanet constituency in Ramsgate, England. The United Kingdom has gone to the polls to vote for a new government in one of the most closely fought general elections in recent history.(Carl Court / Getty Images)
A man walks past a polling station set up in London.(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez arrive to vote in Sheffield, England.(Jon Super / Associated Press)
Voters enter a polling station located in a public house in Wiltshire, England. With the result too close to call it is anticipated that there will be no overall clear majority winner and a coalition government will have to be formed once again.(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)
Voters exit a polling station in central England.(ANDY RAIN / EPA)
Debbie Carpenter, an equestrian groom, rides back to Three Oaks, a residential house in southern England where a polling station was set up.(ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP/Getty Images)
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon after casting her vote in Broomhouse, Glasgow.(Robert Perry / European Pressphoto Agency)
Two Chelsea pensioners emerge from a polling station in Chelsea, London.(Will Oliver / European Pressphoto Agency)
Britain’s Prime Minister and
(Facundo Arrizabalaga / European Pressphoto Agency)
Voters arrive at a portacabin set up as a polling station near the Pantmawr Inn pub in Cardiff, South Wales.(Geoff Caddick / AFP/Getty Images)
Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at an election rally in St Ives, England. Campaigning is intensifying as the election enters its last few days before voting begins May 7.(Toby Melville / Getty Images)
Alex Donohue from Ladbrokes displays election betting odds on a blackboard near Parliament in London. Britain’s political leaders are campaigning on the last day of what is predicted to be the closest general election for a generation.(Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images)
Labor leader Ed Miliband leaves after speaking during a campaign rally at the Muni Theatre in Colne, England.(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, center right, is watched by the media while he meets supporters including first elected UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, second from left, canvassing for support in Sandwich, England.(Gareth Fuller / Associated Press)
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, center, and deputy party leader Amelia Womack, second from left, walk down Firth Street in the center of London’s gay community while campaigning.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
An audience member takes a smartphone photo as Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to party supporters gathered in Cornwall, England.(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)
Labor leader Ed Miliband has pictures taken with party supporters after speaking at a rally at the Addison Centre in Bedford, England.(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)
(Oli Scarff / AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron goes to hug a member of the public as he arrives to watch the Tour de Yorkshire cycle race pass through Addingham during general election campaigning.(Jon Super / Associated Press)
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party unexpectedly surged ahead of Ed Miliband’s Labor Party in national elections Thursday, as early returns backed up exit polls suggesting that Cameron will have the votes needed to form a government and remain in power.
The Conservatives may have captured 325 seats in Parliament, enough for a slender majority, according to exit polls and early returns compiled by the BBC.
Coming on the heels of an election campaign in which polls had suggested a much closer result, the Guardian newspaper said the outcome “probably represents the biggest surprise in a general election since 1945.”
Cameron stopped short of declaring victory but sounded optimistic as he reclaimed his own seat in the House of Commons.
“I want to bring our country together, our United Kingdom together, not least by implementing as fast as we can the devolution that we rightly promised and came together with other parties to agree both for Wales and for Scotland,” Cameron said.
“In short, 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,” Cameron said. “That is how I will govern if I am fortunate enough to form a government in the coming days.”
The Labor Party, apparently suffering crippling losses in Scotland, was poised to win 232 seats, according to BBC forecasts.
“Clearly this has been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labor Party,” Miliband said.
“We haven’t made the gains we wanted in England and Wales and in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelming our party,” he said.
In one of the most significant upsets, powerful Labor Party politician Ed Balls lost his seat after a quick recount by just 422 votes, to Conservative Andrea Jenkyns.
“I am confident Labour will be back,” Balls, who has acted as shadow chancellor, said in a concession speech.
The Liberal Democrats were forecast to win just 12 seats -- an outcome party leader Nick Clegg called “a cruel and punishing night.”
A near-certain winner was Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party, which exit polls indicated will take 58 of a possible 59 seats, up from six in 2010. Even if the exit polls prove to be generous, it is a striking comeback, with the party taking nearly all of Labor’s 41 seats in the northern region.
Its victories also set up the possibility that nearly 60 members of Parliament will be with a party of Scottish separatism, operating in a government fiercely opposed to those ambitions.
Leading up to election day, neither the Conservative Party nor the Labor Party was forecast to garner much more than one-third of the 650 seats in Parliament, meaning leaders would need to form a coalition to run the country. The election was considered among the most important in decades, with issues that include austerity policies, healthcare funding, as well as matters such as Britain’s relationship with the United States and the European Union.
Experts said exit polling is far from conclusive; indeed, though it was highly accurate in 2010, it missed the mark in the 1992 election.
“There’s still some room for doubt,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a politics professor at the London School of Economics. “But it certainly looks as if some voters shied away from the thought of change at the last minute.”
He said that if the numbers are correct, Cameron would not need any other major party to form a government, instead allying with several smaller pro-Conservative Irish parties to get the few additional seats.
A decisive Tory victory would be a remarkable turnaround for the prime minister, who many thought would be facing a messy postelection period, seeking to remain in power despite few available coalition partners. It could also spell doom for Miliband, who struggled to connect with voters.
During the campaign, Cameron said Labor would be held hostage by the SNP in a coalition scenario, and Miliband took Cameron to task over his plan for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Economic concerns also figured into the campaign.
Miliband positioned himself as a candidate of the middle and working classes, despite charges that Labor had abandoned its blue-collar roots.
His line of thinking resonated with some voters.
“I’ve voted for somebody I hope will make a difference,” Claudine Thomas, 43, said Thursday. She voted for Miliband in her South London constituency because, she said, “I’d like to see somebody making changes that make sense for people like myself. I’m not rich, I’m not massively poor, I’m somewhere in between.”
Cameron, however, had said that relatively low unemployment meant his leadership had served working people, an argument that worked for Sheila Burns, who voted Conservative.
“I think perhaps [Cameron] needs another five years to sort us out,” said Burns, a retiree. “He hasn’t done that bad ... I just think, give him another try.”
Boyle is a special correspondent.