Prime Minister David Cameron was on track to keep the keys to Downing Street according to an exit poll that sent shockwaves through the country late last night.
The poll conducted by NOP/MORI for the major broadcasters (BBC, ITV and Sky) put Cameron’s Conservative party just shy of a majority on 316 seats, with the Labour Party trailing on 239.
Animation: How will a coalition be put together?
The SNP would claim all but one of Scotland’s 59 seats, and the Liberal Democrats would suffer a devastating drop from 57 seats in 2010 to just 10 MPs in the next parliament, according to the exit poll.
The poll came as a surprise to nearly everyone, as multiple last-minute opinion polls out Wednesday said the race was too close to call.
An ICM poll published late Wednesday night found Labour and the Tories tied, with each party having 35 per cent of the vote, while a poll by YouGov for the Sun also showed the main parties deadlocked.
Visit our General Election poll tracker to see how the polls changed in the build-up to election day.
Sterling jumped one per cent against the dollar to over $1.54. For the sixth time in a row, Houghton and Sunderland South was the first constituency to declare. Labour’s Bridget Phillipson held the seat comfortably, while Ukip leapfrogged the Tories into second place.
“We were happy, happy as Larry watching that come in,” a Ukip spokesperson told City A.M. “What we’re seeing is masses of the Labour vote coming to us.”
A Ukip spokesperson said the wins fit with the party’s so-called “2020 strategy” to win a string of second-place finishes in traditional Labour seats to build up support for a subsequent General Election.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I’d treat the exit poll with HUGE caution. I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely.”
A senior Liberal Democrat told City A.M. the exit poll did not match with their information and other opinion polls. “It’s clearly going to be a difficult night for us. It was always going to be,” they said.
Pollster YouGov was also cynical of the exit poll. A separate poll it conducted yesterday found little change, with the main parties deadlocked on 34 per cent. This gave seat predictions of the Conservatives on 284, and Labour on 263.
Results were expected to pour in throughout the night and into the morning. At 1am, only four contests had been announced, with Labour holding on to three safe seats in Sunderland with increased majorities. The Tories won the first key marginal seat of Swindon North.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson, arriving for his count in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, told reporters that if the exit poll was right, “then obviously, it’s a very, very clear victory for the Conservatives and a very bad night for Labour”.
Senior Labour figures remained defiant last night, insisting that the coalition will have failed if it does not gain a majority.