David Cameron and Conservatives Get Majority in British Election – NYTimes.com
LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservatives won a resounding victory in the British general election, with complete results on Friday showing that the party had secured an overall majority in Parliament.
The vote was a stunning disappointment for the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Ed Miliband, who had shifted the party away from the more centrist strategy it pursued in the late 1990s and early 2000s under Tony Blair. Mr. Miliband stepped down on Friday, opening up a new debate over the party’s direction.
The result defied pre-election opinion polls that suggested a tight race between the Conservatives and Labour. It returns Mr. Cameron to 10 Downing Street for a second term, with enough seats in the House of Commons to act on his agenda without having to rely on support from smaller parties.
He went to Buckingham Palace on Friday for the formal step of being invited by the queen to form a new government.
In a brief speech outside his official residence, Mr. Cameron promised to govern fairly for the whole United Kingdom and said: “The government I led did important work. It laid the foundations for a better future, and now we must build on them.”
The Conservatives won 331 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, a gain of 24 seats from the last election, in 2010. Their chief rival, Labour, was nearly wiped out in Scotland by the surging Scottish National Party and did more poorly than pre-election opinion polls had suggested it would in the rest of Britain. Several of Mr. Miliband’s top lieutenants lost their seats.
“Now the results are still coming in, but this has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party,” Mr. Miliband said in a quasi concession speech after being re-elected to his seat in the House of Commons.
“We haven’t made the gains that we wanted in England and Wales,” he said, “and in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party.”
The results were also a disaster for Nick Clegg and his centrist Liberal Democrats, who have been the junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives. Mr. Clegg hung on to his seat in the House of Commons, but he resigned as party leader after results that exceeded the party’s very worst expectations.
“It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” said Mr. Clegg, who had served as deputy prime minister in the departing coalition government under Mr. Cameron.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the populist, anti-immigration, anti-European Union U.K. Independence Party, lost his bid for a seat in Parliament, and his party won only a single seat. Mr. Farage on Friday followed through on his promise to step down as the party’s leader if he failed to win his race, a step that will deprive it of much of its visibility and volume.
The final results were something of a shock to a nation that had been conditioned by months of opinion polls suggesting a near tie between the Conservatives and Labour to expect days or weeks of negotiations as the two parties would have to cobble together a viable coalition.
Asked on Friday why he thought the nation had returned the Conservatives to power, one Londoner, Peter Hamlin, 62, replied, “I think the general feeling is that maybe they had a hard job to do and they kind of did it O.K. and maybe it is time to give them a shot and maybe a shot on their own without liberals getting in the way of their policies.”
There was discouragement among Labour supporters. “I was really disappointed,” said Tom Sears, 32, who works at the London Zoo, “People like myself won’t suffer but I worry about people who suffer cuts.”
Speaking in his electoral district after his re-election, Mr. Cameron said it was “clearly a very strong night for the Conservative Party.”
With all the constituencies reporting, Labour had won 232 seats, a decline of 26 from the 2010 results. In another humiliating blow for Labour, Ed Balls, who speaks for the party on economic issues and is one of its most influential figures, lost his seat of Morley and Outwood to the Conservatives.
The campaign had centered primarily on domestic issues, including the budget austerity imposed by the Conservatives and funding for the National Health Service, but Mr. Cameron had also played up fears that a Labour government, reliant on support from the Scottish nationalists, would drive the country leftward and risk the nation being splintered.
Even if he is able to govern without a coalition partner, Mr. Cameron will start his second term facing immense challenges, not least in holding off calls from Scotland for independence and in managing pressure from inside his own party for Britain to leave the European Union.
Mr. Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate terms of Britain’s membership in the 28-nation European Union and to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain should remain in the bloc.
The results are also likely to fuel calls for a change to Britain’s electoral system, to better represent national voting patterns.
The Scottish National Party, which fielded candidates only in Scotland, benefited from the British electoral system, in which parties compete in 650 districts but the votes of those not elected count for little.
With the Scottish National Party winning 56 seats, Labour was reduced to just one in Scotland. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats also held one seat each. The Scottish party is forecast to become the third-largest in Parliament, with less than 5 percent of the nation’s votes.
“The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country,” said Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland and former leader of the Scottish National Party, after being elected to Parliament in Westminster.
The U.K. Independence Party had been expected to draw many more votes across the rest of Britain. After the party he led won just the one seat, Mr. Farage called for a reconsideration of the voting system to give more representation to supporters of smaller parties.