Cameron's Conservatives win in surprise UK election

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LONDON (AP) -- The Conservative Party swept to power Friday in Britain's parliamentary elections, winning an unexpected majority that returns Prime Minister David Cameron to 10 Downing Street in a stronger position than before.

After meeting with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday afternoon, Cameron returned to his office to announce he would form a majority Conservative government.

In remarks outside, he signaled a conciliatory tone, congratulating his former coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Both resigned as leaders Friday after disappointing election results for their parties.

"We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing," he said.

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Cameron's Conservatives win in surprise UK election
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron returns to 10 Downing Street in London after attending a VE Day service at the Cenotaph, Friday, May 8, 2015. Cameron's Conservative Party swept to power Friday in Britain's Parliamentary elections winning an unexpected majority. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha smile from the steps of 10 Downing Street in London Friday, May 8, 2015, after meeting with Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in a traditional formality, where he informed her that he has enough support to form a government. Cameron's Conservative Party swept to power Friday in Britain's Parliamentary General Elections, winning an unexpected majority. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 08: (L-R) Labour leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron attend a tribute at the Cenotaph to begin three days of national commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day May 8, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. Both Miliband and Clegg said they will resign their posts as party leaders after they were soundly beaten by Cameron and his Conservative Party in yesterday's general election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron and his wife Samantha are applauded by staff upon entering 10 Downing Street in London on May 8, 2015, after visiting Queen Elizabeth II, a day after the British general election. British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party on Friday won a majority in the House of Commons in the general election, results showed. AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEFAN ROUSSEAU (Photo credit should read STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, at at U.N. headquarters. Members of the Security Council were expected to adopt a resolution that would require all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of would-be foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
British Prime Minister David Cameron attends a meeting of the United Nations Security Council regarding the threat of foreign terrorist fighters during the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the UN during the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Timothy A. Clary, Pool)
President Barack Obama speaks at the UN Security Council summit on foreign terrorist, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, at UN headquarters. Front row, from left are, British Prime Minister David Cameron, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the president. Behind are Secretary of State John Kerry and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
British Prime Minister David Cameron greets President Paul Kagame of Rwanda before a meeting of the United Nations Security Council regarding the threat of foreign terrorist fighters during the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a high-level meeting at the Ford Foundation on post-2015 anti-poverty goals, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, Pool)
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during the United Nation Climate Summit at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves after giving a statement to the media about Scotland's referendum results, outside his official residence at 10 Downing Street in central London, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Scottish voters have rejected independence, deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom after a historic referendum that shook the country to its core. The decision prevented a rupture of a 307-year union with England, bringing a huge sigh of relief to the British political establishment. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the Unityed Nations during the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly September 24, 2014 in New York City. World leaders, activists and protesters have converged on New York City for the annual UN event that brings together the nations for a week of meetings and conferences. This year's General Assembly has highlighted the problem of global warming and how countries need to strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary-Pool/Getty Images)
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Cameron promised to govern as the party of "one nation, one United Kingdom," bringing the election to a much-quicker-than-expected conclusion. Polls ahead of Election Day had shown Conservatives locked in a tight race with the opposition Labour Party, raising the possibility of days or weeks of negotiations to form a government.

Labour took a beating, mostly from energized Scottish nationalists who pulled off a landslide in Scotland.

"I'm truly sorry I did not succeed," Miliband said. "We've come back before and this party will come back again."

With the Conservatives winning an outright majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, the election result looked to be far better for him than even his own party had foreseen. With 643 constituencies counted, the Conservatives had 326 seats to Labour's 230.

The prime minister beamed early Friday as he was announced the winner of his Witney constituency in southern England.

"This is clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party," he said.

Cameron, who would be the first Conservative prime minister to win a second term since Margaret Thatcher, vowed to counter the rise of Scottish nationalism with more powers for Scotland and Wales.

"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," he said.

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Cameron's Conservatives win in surprise UK election
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha leave a voting station in Spelsbury, England, as protesters demonstrate outside after they voted in the general election, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Voters arrive at a polling station in the Borough of Islington on May 7, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. 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. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) poses for the media as he leaves after casting his vote at a polling station in Ramsgate, south east England, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Nuns leave a polling station after voting in London on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine leave the polling station after voting at Sutton Village Hall, Doncaster, England, Thursday May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
A man leaves a polling station in Rotherwick, southern England after voting on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
First Minister of Scotland and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon smiles as she poses for photographers after casting her ballot in the general election at Broomhouse Community Hall in Broomhouse, Scotland, Britain, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
A candidate's supporters parade in front of the polling station where Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha will vote in Spelsbury, England, in the general election, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron gets in his official car after voting at a polling station in Spelsbury, England, in the general election, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
DONCASTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: Labour Party leader Ed Miliband leaves the polling station at Sutton Village Hall in Sutton after casting his vote in the 2015 general election on May 7, 2015 in Doncaster, 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. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walk to the polling station before voting at Sutton Village Hall, Doncaster, England, Thursday May 7, 2015, as Britain takes to the polls in a General election. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
A presiding officer arranges papers at a polling station set up in a launderette in Headington outside Oxford on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
RAMSGATE, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives to cast his vote for the South Thanet constituency on May 7, 2015 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. 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. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
First Minister of Scotland and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon speaks to the media after casting her ballot at Broomhouse Community Hall in Broomhouse, Scotland, Thursday, May 7, 2015. Polls have opened in Britain's national election, a contest that is expected to produce an ambiguous result, a period of frantic political horse-trading and a bout of national soul-searching. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
A voter leaves after casting his vote at the Hove Museum and Art Gallery in Brighton, southern England on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened Thursday in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
GUISBOROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A man walks from a polling station at Sunnyfield House Community Centre on May 7, 2015 in Guisborough, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
ESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: Voting booths are ready inside a scout hut used as a polling station on May 7, 2015 in Eston, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Scotland's First Minister and Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Nicola Sturgeon (L) waves as she and her husband Peter Murrell cast their votes at the Broomhoouse Community Hall in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened Thursday in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / ANDY BUCHANAN (Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)
ESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A woman walks into a polling station situated in a scout hut on May 7, 2015 in Eston, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party David Cameron arrives with his wife Samantha to vote at a polling station in Spelsbury on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman carrying a dog leaves a polling station in Islington, north London after voting on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ELLON, SCOTLAND MAY 07 : A voter makes his way to the Polling Station in the tiny fishing village of Collieston on May 07, 2015 near Ellon, Scotland. 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. 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. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
A sign for the Crown pub in South Moreton which doubles as a polling station on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the public vote in the Fox and Hounds pub which doubles as a polling station on May 7, 2015 in Christmas Common as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
SALTBURN, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A woman walks from a polling station situated in Saltburn Methodist Church on May 7, 2015 in Saltburn, 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. 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. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
BROTTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: St Margaret's Church in Brotton was used as a polling station on May 7, 2015 in Brotton, 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. 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. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
SALTBURN, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A woman walks from a polling station situated in the local cricket club on May 7, 2015 in Saltburn, 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. 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. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A funeral home converted into a temporary polling station in Sheffield on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
FARLEIGH HUNGERFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A voter leaves a polling station located in the converted coach house in the village of Farleigh Hungerford on May 7, 2015 in Somerset, 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. 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. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
MELLS, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A voter leaves a polling station located in the Tithe Barn in the village of Mells on May 7, 2015 in Somerset, 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. 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. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
A woman pushes a trolley at a garden centre in Chessington, used as a polling station on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 7: DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds (R) arrives at Seaview Presbyterian church polling station to cast his vote on May 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. 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. 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. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 7: A woman casts her vote as polling gets under way at the Glen Road polling station on May 7, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. 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. 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. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
A member (R) boxes as the public vote at East Hull Amateur Boxing Club which is being used as a polling station in Hull, Northern England on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A sign directs voters to the Ush Hair hairdressing salon which is being used as a polling station in Hull, Northern England on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Deputy Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and candidate for north Belfast, Nigel Dodds gestures as he waits to greet voters outside Seaview polling station in Belfast on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened Thursday in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITH (Photo credit should read PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Leader of the Liberal Democrat party Nick Clegg (R) and his wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez arrive to vote at Hall Park centre polling station in Sheffield, England on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the public arrive to cast their votes at a polling station in Chipping Norton town hall on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
ELLON, SCOTLAND - MAY 07: SNP candidate for the Gordon constituency and Former First Minister Alex Salmond gives the thumbs up with first time voter Nicki Falconer, and her family, (L-R) Mackenzie, Nicki, Skye, Alex Salmond and Keiran at their local polling station in the Gordon constituency on May 07, 2015 in Ellon, Scotland. 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. 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. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 07: Leader of the Scottish Labour Party Jim Murphy gestures at a polling station to cast his vote on May 7, 2015 in Glasgow, Scotland. People across Scotland have begun casting their votes in the UK general election, with fifty nine Scottish seats up for grabs. 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. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Members of the public arrive to cast their votes at a polling station at a lifeboat station in Dungeness, southern England on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
REDCAR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A polling station is situated in a hairdressers salon on May 7, 2015 in Redcar, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Nuns leave a polling station after voting in London on May 7, 2015 as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A woman walks into a polling station situated in a scout hut on May 7, 2015 in Eston, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
GUISBOROUGH, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07: A sign is attached to a wall at a polling station situated in Guisborough Town Football Club on May 7, 2015 in Guisborough, England. The nation goes to the polls today to vote on what is said to be one of the closest General Elections in decades. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Debbie Carpenter, an equestrian groom, rides back to Three Oaks, a residential house where a polling station is set up in Bramshill in southern England, on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened today in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Returning Officer Ahmed Jamee, prepares to open a polling station at the West Blatchington Windmill near Brighton in southern England on May 7, 2015, as Britain holds a general election. Polls opened Thursday in Britain's closest general election for decades with voters set to decide between the Conservatives of Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband's Labour and a host of smaller parties. AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRK (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)
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Labour was routed in Scotland by the Scottish National Party, which took almost all of the 59 seats. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC that the vote represented "a clear voice for an end to austerity, better public services and more progressive politics at Westminster."

"The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country," said former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who was elected in the seat of Gordon.

Cameron's coalition partner, the Liberal Democrat party, faced electoral disaster, losing most of its seats as punishment for supporting a Conservative-led agenda since 2010. Clegg did hold onto his seat.

Almost 50 million people were registered to vote in Thursday's election. 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.

One of the big losers of the day was U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who resigned after losing his race. His party ran third in opinion polls, but by early Friday had won only one seat because its support is spread out geographically.

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 had shown 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.

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 pound surged as much as 2 percent after exit poll results were released, as investors took that as reassurance that the country will not see days or weeks of uncertainty over the formation of a new government.

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Associated Press writers Sylvia Hui, Gregory Katz and Martin Benedyk in London, and Paul Kelbie in Glasgow, Scotland, contributed to this story.

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