David Cameron is preparing for another term as Prime Minister, as the election seemed by early Friday morning to have put his Conservative Party on the brink of securing an absolute majority in the House of Commons.
A dramatic night saw the Scottish National Party sweep Labour out of almost all its strongholds north of the border, while Liberal Democrats suffered savage losses and question marks were raised about the future of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.
Mr Cameron all but declared victory in a speech after being returned as MP for Witney, in which he set out his intention to press ahead with an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union and to build on the economic foundations laid by the coalition since 2010.
“My aim remains simple - to govern on the basis of governing for everyone in our United Kingdom,” he said.
He made clear he was determined not to allow the rising tide of nationalism to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, saying: “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.
“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. That is how I will govern if I am fortunate enough to form a government in the coming days.”
A clearly crestfallen Mr Miliband came close to conceding defeat in a speech after holding his seat of Doncaster North, describing the election as “very disappointing and difficult” for Labour and saying that “the next government” would have a huge responsibility to hold the United Kingdom together.
Mr Miliband made no comment about his own position as he left for Westminster, though senior figures including veteran former minister Jack Straw said he would have to “make up his mind about his future” as party leader.
Liberal Democrats suffered painful reversals in what Mr Clegg termed a “cruel and punishing” night, with senior figures including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, Energy Secretary Ed Davey and justice minister Simon Hughes ejected from the Commons by voters.