Conservatives look to be winners in surprise UK election

Conservative Party on Target to Win U.K. General Election


LONDON (AP) - The Conservative Party surged to a surprisingly commanding lead in Britain's parliamentary election, with early returns Friday backing an exit poll's prediction that Prime Minister David Cameron would remain in his office at 10 Downing Street. The opposition Labour Party took a beating, mostly from energized Scottish nationalists who pulled off a landslide in Scotland.

With Cameron's Conservatives on the cusp of winning a majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, the election result looked to be far better than opinion pollsters, or even his own party, had foreseen. The prime minister was beaming early Friday as he as announced the winner of his Witney constituency in southern England.

"This is clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party," he said, stopping just short of declaring victory.

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UK elections - Britain's national election - polling
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Conservatives look to be winners in surprise UK election
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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"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," Cameron said, vowing to counter the rise of Scottish nationalism with more powers for Scotland and Wales.

The opposition Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband, was routed in Scotland by the Scottish National Party, which took almost all of the 59 seats in Scotland.

"What we're seeing tonight is Scotland voting to put its trust in the SNP to make Scotland's voice heard, a clear voice for an end to austerity, better public services and more progressive politics at Westminster," party leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC.

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

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy insisted he would not resign despite losing his seat but Miliband's grip on the leadership seemed more tenuous, as the party failed to make predicted gains against the Conservatives across the rest of Britain.

"This has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party," said Miliband. "In Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overcome our party."

Cameron's coalition partner, the Liberal Democrat party, faced an electoral disaster, predicted to lose most of its seats as punishment for supporting a Conservative agenda since 2010.

"It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats," said leader Nick Clegg, who held onto his own seat. He said he would discuss his future with colleagues later Friday.

The exit poll projected that the Conservatives would get 316 seats - up from 302 and far more than had been predicted - and Labour 239, down from 256. It said the Liberal Democrats would shrink from 56 seats to 10, while the Scottish nationalists would grow from six to 58. The anti-immigration, anti-Europe UK Independence Party was projected to win two seats.

Based on interviews with 22,000 voters, the poll differed strongly from opinion polls conducted during the monthlong election campaign, which had put the Conservatives and Labour neck-and-neck.

As results rolled in overnight, the Conservative Party appeared to be in a commanding position to form the next government, either alone or by seeking partners from smaller parties. One result could be re-run of the Conservative-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats that has governed since 2010.

The chief exit pollster, John Curtice of Strathclyde University, said it looked as if Conservative and Labour gains had canceled each other out across England and Wales, and that Labour had lost much of its support in Scotland to the SNP.

"We now have to take seriously the possibility the Tories could get an overall majority" in Parliament, he said.

The survey was conducted by pollsters GfK and Ipsos MORI for Britain's broadcasters and released as polling stations closed and the counting began.

Each of the 650 constituencies are counted by hand and the results follow 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 became Britain's youngest lawmaker since the 17th century by defeating Douglas Alexander, Labour's 47-year-old foreign policy spokesman and one of its most senior figures. Black is the youngest lawmaker since 13-year-old Christopher Monck entered Parliament in 1667.

The UK Independence Party ran third in opinion polls, but by early Friday had won only one seat because its support isn't concentrated in specific areas. Leader Nigel Farage said he would resign if he does not win the seat of Thanet South - an outcome that looked a distinct possibility.

Ed Miliband 'Deeply Sorry' on Disappointing Election Night for Labour

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.

In Whitechapel, one of London's poorest communities, voters struggling in the wake of the worst recession since the 1930s wanted a change in leadership.

"The first priority is the economy, the second one is creating more jobs, and the third is living expenses - they're going higher and higher," said Shariq ul-Islam, a 24-year-old student.

But just a few minutes away in the City of London, the traditional financial district where many bankers earn enormous salaries, Christopher Gardner, a 34-year-old finance industry official, put his trust in the Conservatives.

"There are some issues that have been caused by austerity previously," he said. "They're the only people that I'm confident will resolve that."

Strange polling places in the UK:

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Strange polling places in the UK, London
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Conservatives look to be winners in surprise UK election
Nuns leave after voting at a polling station at St John's Church in Paddington, London, as Britain goes to the ballot box today in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge a clear winner.
A caravan which is being used as a polling station on Grange Farm in Garthorpe, as Britain goes to the ballot box today in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge a clear winner.
Voters in Ironbridge, Shropshire, arrive to cast their vote at The Iron Bridge Tollhouse, as Britain goes to the ballot box today in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge a clear winner.
People cast their votes as a man uses a punch bag in the East Hull Boxing Academy, Hull, as Britain goes to the ballot box today in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge a clear winner.
People arrive to vote at Ush Hair studio in Hull which is being used as a polling station, as Britain goes to the ballot box in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge a clear winner.
A polling station at the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich, east London, on the day of the General Election.
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