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That was the night that was.

That was the night that was.

🕔08.May 2015

Politics, eh? The election that was going to be a close fight between the Conservatives and Labour turned out to be nothing of the sort thanks to a late, late show by ‘shy’ Tory voters, writes Paul Dale.

Even in his worst nightmares, Ed Miliband could hardly have envisaged virtual Labour wipeout in Scotland alongside a strong Tory fightback in England, where supposedly marginal Midland seats like Nuneaton and North Warwickshire actually saw a swing from Labour to the Conservatives.

Within the space of a few hours it appeared highly likely that three party leaders would pay heavily for defeat. Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage are all expected to quit later today.

An extraordinary exit poll set the scene for the night, predicting 316 seats for the Conservatives, 239 for Labour, 58 for the SNP and only 10 for the Liberal Democrats. The forecast was so unexpected that the figures were, unwisely, dismissed by Labour politicians at the ICC election count as fantasy.

But as constituencies began to declare it became clear that weeks of opinion polls forecasting a neck and neck contest between Conservative and Labour were simply wrong – or, perhaps there really was an unprecedented change of voting intention in the hours before polling day.

By the early hours of Friday morning there was little doubt that David Cameron would be heading back to Downing Street in the biggest electoral shock since 1992 when the Tories also came from behind to record a stunning victory.

Equally, it became obvious that Mr Miliband’s grip on the Labour leadership is now extremely tenuous. An official statement regretted the party “has not made the progress we would have liked”, but having presided over the loss of all of the party’s Scottish seats, the smart money is on him not surviving past Friday lunchtime.

David Cameron’s biggest problem was with whom could he stitch together a coalition if he did not win enough Commons seats for an outright majority? A deal with just 10 Lib Dem MPs might not get him over the line, leaving him relying on the Ulster Unionists to shore up a Tory administration.

But his problem seemed to ease as the projected number of Tory seats rose steadily towards the 320 mark.

The first challenge for a new Tory government will be how to handle the SNP triumph. It seems inevitable that Nicola Sturgeon will be demanding at least a further independence referendum.

By 2.30am with 23 of the 632 seats reported the final seat projection was Con 280-309 Lab 238-266 SNP 50-58 LD 19-29, and those figures were quickly adjusted to suggest the Conservatives could even win an overall majority.

The parties’ spin machines went straight into action minutes after the exit poll was published.

Senior Tories Michael Gove and Boris Johnson immediately called the election for David Cameron, who they said had clearly won as he would undoubtedly end the night with the largest party in the Commons, albeit short of an overall majority.

Unsurprisingly, Labour took a different view.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “If the exit poll is right, David Cameron has lost the 73-seat majority his coalition had.”

She pointed out that the Tory gains were most likely to come at the expense of their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, not Labour.

But her attempt to put a brave face on events could not disguise the fact that this was a pretty awful night for Labour. Who could have forecast net Labour losses on the night and net Tory gains?

David Blunkett, the former Labour cabinet member, took a more realistic view: “The opinion polls were wrong, the exit poll is right, and this is a very, very bad night for us.”

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw told the Press Association it was a “grim” night for Labour and urged Mr Miliband to make his mind up about his future.

The Lib Dems were hoping against hope for a miracle.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven told journalists at the Sheffield count that the exit polls were’ completely rogue.

But the polls were spot on. The Lib Dems lost seat after seat including those of cabinet members Ed Davey and Vince Cable. Birmingham Yardley Lib Dem John Hemming announced to the press that he had lost his seat several hours before the declaration. He was right. Labour’s Jess Phillips won with a majority of more than 6,000.

Nick Clegg held on in Sheffield, but described the night as “cruel and brutal” for his party and strongly hinted that he will stand down as Lib Dem leader.

Labour could not win in Nuneaton, a key Midland marginal, where Marcus Jones held on against Vicky Fowler. The constituency was chosen by Ed Miliband to launch his ‘save the NHS’ posters. The seat was the 38th on the Labour target list, but there was a three per cent swing to Labour.

In Warwickshire North, the most marginal Tory seat in the Midlands, the Conservatives won with an increased majority putting paid to the hopes of Labour candidate Mike O’Brien who lost the seat in 2010. There was a 14 per cent swing to UKIP in the seat.

In Birmingham, Richard Burden was returned in Northfield for Labour, but with a reduced majority. Tory candidate Rachel Maclean failed to win the seat targeted by her party, owing in part to a strong showing by UKIP.

Tory hopes of a breakthrough in Edgbaston were dashed. Gisela Stuart won again for Labour, but with a reduced majority.

Jack Dromey won easily enough for Labour in Birmingham Erdington, while in Hodge Hill Liam Byrne came home with a much increased majority

Mr Byrne, former Treasury Chief Secretary, whose note declaring “I’m afraid there is no money” after the 2010 election caused severe embarrassment for Labour issued a public apology. He said he was sorry for his mistakes and for “hurting the party I love”.

Labour held on to all of its seats in the Black Country, but so did the Conservatives.

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