LONDON — British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared poised to remain in power May 8, with early British election results and exit polls indicating his Conservatives had won a resounding victory and will return to 10 Downing Street in a stronger position than before.
Cameron’s office said he would go later to Buckingham Palace, where he is expected to tell Queen Elizabeth II that he has enough support to form a government.
That would bring the election to a much-quicker-than-expected conclusion. Polls ahead of Election Day showed 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.
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 for him than even his own party had foreseen. With 625 constituencies counted, the Conservatives had 310 seats to Labour’s 228.
The Prime Minister beamed early May 8 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, stopping just short of declaring overall victory. He would be the first Conservative prime minister to win a second term since Margaret Thatcher.
“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.
Labour, 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 overall 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,” Miliband said.
Miliband, who faced calls from within Labour to step down, said that whoever is prime minister would face the challenge of uniting the country after a divisive campaign.
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.
Leader Nick Clegg did hold on to his seat and said he would discuss his future with colleagues later May 8.
Almost 50 million people were registered to vote in Thursday’s election, one of the most unpredictable in decades. Opinion polls during the monthlong campaign had suggested the result was too close to call.
But an exit poll released as polls closed projected that the Conservatives would be well ahead, with around 316 seats — they would need 326 for a majority.
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.
The survey was conducted by pollsters GfK and Ipsos MORI for Britain’s broadcasters.
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 a re-run of the Conservative-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats that has governed since 2010.
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.
The UK Independence Party ran third in opinion polls, but by early May 8 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 like a distinct possibility.
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 have been showing 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, who was among those startled by the result.
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.
By Jill Lawless and Danica Kirka. Sylvia Hui, Paul Kelbie, Gregory Katz and Martin Benedyk contributed