DAVID CAMERON last night said Labour had “lost its mandate to govern” as early projections showed the Tories on course to become the largest party in Westminster.
“Nationally, we have to wait for the full results to come out. But I believe it is already clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern our country,” the Tory leader said.
He added: “What is clear from these results is that our country wants change. That change is going to require new leadership.”
Early in the night there were massive swings from Labour to the Tories, although they failed to make crucial gains in the South West and missed out on Tooting, a key target seat in London.
An Ipsos Mori exit poll said the Tories were on course to win 305 seats, with Labour on 255 and the Liberal Democrats on 61. Other parties are projected to win 29 seats.
It was a disastrous night for the Liberal Democrats, who had expected to leapfrog Labour to take the second largest share of the vote. At 4.20am last night, the Lib Dem share was 21 per cent, just one per cent higher than in 2005. Labour’s share was 28 per cent, down six points, while the Tories gained five points to 34 per cent.
The Tories said the result was “historic”, pointing out they are on course to win more seats than in any election since 1931 and more than Margaret Thatcher secured in 1979.
Lord Mandelson led a concerted campaign to woo the Liberal Democrats into a Lib-Lab coalition by offering a referendum on voting reform, but the Tories said Labour could not expect to continue in government following such a “humiliating rejection”.
A tired looking Gordon Brown hinted that he would be ready and willing to lead a coalition government.
“My duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government, able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery and able to implement our commitments to far-reaching reform to our political system,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission has launched an investigation as chaos at polling stations threatened to overshadow the election.
Thousands of voters were turned away before they got to the ballot box as understaffed and ill-prepared polling stations struggled to cope with the high turnout, which was up to 65 per cent.
Anyone issued with a ballot paper before 10pm is legally entitled to vote. However, more than 150 were turned away in Hackney South before 10pm, with some being blocked as early as 9pm. Other affected areas include Ealing, Islington, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg personally apologised to people in his Sheffield constituency who had queued for more than three hours.
Tempers flared as people demanded the right to cast their votes and police were called to ensure the scenes did not descend into violence.