The polls had put this election at a dead heat with the potential for Labour to form a minority government if not a coalition with the Lib Dems and SNP. However once Big Ben struck 10pm to signal the closure of the polls, the exit poll took pundits, politicians and the electorate by surprise.
The exit poll, based on a sample of 22,000 people, had the Conservatives predicted to win 10 short of an absolute majority at 316. Labour were set to lose 19 seats down to 239. The Lib Dems were set to be nearly wiped out with a prediction of 10 seats, down 14 from the polls throughout the campaign. The SNP were set to gain 58 with UKIP and the Greens both polling at two seats.
The exit poll, however, was roundly criticised. If the exit poll proved right, Lord Ashdown of the Lib Dems would, he said, ‘Eat his hat live on TV.’ Yougov announced their exit poll of a smaller sample of 6,000 people which showed a different prediction.
The night was never going to be smooth for Labour and the Lib Dems, but it soon became a disaster for both parties.
The big casualties started in Scotland with the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander (Labour) losing his seat of Paisley and Renfrewshire South to 20-year old SNP candidate Mhairi Black.
This was followed by Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphey, who also lost his seat to the SNP.
Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander lost his seat of Inverness to the SNP. Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy – who has represented Ross, Skye and Lochaber for 30 years – was also beaten.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s safe seat of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath was also lost to the SNP. The SNP had a very good night, winning all but three seats in Scotland – an increase of 50 seats.
The exit poll started to look like reality when it became clear the Conservatives were gaining from both Labour and the Lib Dems in England. The highest profile loss was Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who lost his seat of Morley and Outwood by 422 votes. His wife Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, comfortably retained her seat.
Business Secretary Vince Cable of the Lib Dems was a shock defeat in my opinion. He had respect across the isles but emotionally he lost his seat of Twickenham by a margin of 2,017 to the Tories.
Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey lost his seat of Kingston and Surbiton to the Tories. Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who has served in Parliament for 32 years, was also beaten by Labour.
The one Tory ministerial casualty was Employment Minister Esther Mcvey, who lost her seat of Wirral West to Labour by 417 seats.
As the seats came through it was clear that the exit poll was a little off. The Tory prediction was revised to one seat short of an absolute majority with Labour losing more seats and Lib Dems looking like they would be in single figures.
At around lunchtime today on 8 May, Cameron had secured a majority in the Commons and would not need to form a coalition. The question then became how many seats over 324 Cameron would get.
Cameron still has rebels in his party, of course. Shipley MP Phillip Davies is renowned for defying the party whip and voting against the Prime Minister, as does Wellingborough MP Peter Bone.
The final count was Conservatives 331, Labour 232, SNP 56, Lib Dems 8, Democratic Unionist Party 8, Sinn Fein 4, Plaid Cymru 3, Social Democratic & Labour Party 3, Ulster Unionist Party 2, UKIP 1, Greens 1 and Independent 1.
UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage lost his fight to take South Thanet from the Tories, leaving UKIP with only one MP in Douglas Carswell for Clacton – UKIP’s first general election victory. Interestingly UKIP came second in 120 seats and third in 364 seats with 3.9 million votes nationally.
Respect’s George Galloway – who took Bradford West in a 2012 by-election with a majority of 10,140 – lost to Labour’s Naz Shah, who took the seat with a majority of 11,420. It is the one Labour victory described as a beaming light in a very dark night.
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage all resigned as leaders of their parties, however Farage hasn’t ruled out a comeback. Nicola Stugeon faces a challenge with such a high increase in seats.
Once the seats were all declared, Cameron began forming his cabinet.
George Osborne will stay in Number 11 as Chancellor and adds the title of First Secretary of State (effectively Deputy Prime Minister) with his priority being the Northern Power House.
Theresa May remains as Home Secretary. Phillip Hammond remains as Foreign Secretary, with the task of negotiating a deal with the EU and Michael Fallon stays as Defence Secretary.
That concludes the Cabinet announcements for today with no change at the top of Government.