Monday 1 May 2017

UK General Election 2015: Farage and Clegg step down as party leaders

Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), leaves after voting at his polling station in Ramsgate, southeast England. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), leaves after voting at his polling station in Ramsgate, southeast England. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
Britain's Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg walks off the stage after winning his seat in Sheffield, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron greets supporters as he arrives at the counting centre for his local constituency as ballots are tallied in Britain's general election in Witney, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The UK General Election results continues to shake up the political landscape in the UK as the Ukip leader Nigel Farage and the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg have both resigned as heads of their parties.

Farage failed to win his Thanet South constituency, and lost to the Conservatives.

Speaking afterwards, Farage said: "There were a lot of  voters so scared of that Labour and SNP coalition that they shifted towards the Conservatives.

"Ukip is now a party for younger people, particularly young working women, there is a big change going on in politics.

"On a professional note I'm disappointed, but on a personal note I've never felt happier," he added.

 

Less than an hour after the result, Farage confirmed he would be stepping down as Ukip leader.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats after admitting the results were "immeasurably more crushing" than he could have feared.

Mr Clegg's party has been reduced to a rump of just eight seats following a devastating General Election which has seen the party completely collapse even in its heartlands.

The Sheffield Hallam MP reflected on Lib Dem achievements in government and said serving his country had been a privilege.

But Mr Clegg said: "I always expected this election to be exceptionally difficult for the Liberal Democrats given the heavy responsibilities we have had to bear in government in the most challenging of circumstances.

"But clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared. For that, of course, I must take responsibility."

Clegg added: "It is simply been heartbreaking to see so many friends and colleagues who have served their constituents so diligently, over so many years, abruptly lose their seats because of forces entirely beyond their control."

Meanwhile, David Cameron was heading back to 10 Downing Street after a General Election in which the Conservatives were on track to far outperform expectations.

A dramatic night saw the Scottish National Party sweep Labour out of almost all its strongholds north of the border, while Liberal Democrats suffered savage losses and question marks were raised about the future of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

Mr Cameron all but declared victory in a speech after being returned as MP for Witney, in which he set out his intention to press ahead with an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and to build on the economic foundations laid by the coalition since 2010.

"My aim remains simple - to govern on the basis of governing for everyone in our United Kingdom," he said.

He made clear he was determined not to allow the rising tide of nationalism to lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, saying: "I want to bring our country together, our United Kingdom together, not least by implementing as fast as we can the devolution that we rightly promised and came together with other parties to agree both for Wales and for Scotland.

"In short, I want my party, and I hope a Government I would like to lead, to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost - the mantle of One Nation, One United Kingdom. That is how I will govern if I am fortunate enough to form a government in the coming days."

Prime Minister David Cameron (left) walks past a candidate man dressed as Elmo during the General Election count at the Windrush Leisure Centre in Witney. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 8, 2015. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Prime Minister David Cameron (left) walks past a candidate man dressed as Elmo during the General Election count at the Windrush Leisure Centre in Witney. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 8, 2015. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
A Conservative team member wears a David Cameron mask in Coleshill Leisure Centre in Coleshill during the General Election 2015 count. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire
Britain's Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg walks off the stage after winning his seat in Sheffield, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband at Doncaster Racecourse after retaining his seat in the General Election. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Mayor of London and prospective Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson, after winning the seat during the General Election count at Brunel University, London. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

A clearly crestfallen Mr Miliband came close to conceding defeat in a speech after holding his seat of Doncaster North, describing the election as "very disappointing and difficult" for Labour and saying that "the next government" would have a huge responsibility to hold the United Kingdom together.

Read more: Northern Ireland's Unionists are hoping for key role in Westminister

Mr Miliband made no comment about his own position as he left for Westminster, though senior figures including veteran former minister Jack Straw said he would have to "make up his mind about his future" as party leader.

Liberal Democrats suffered painful reversals in what Mr Clegg termed a "cruel and punishing" night, with senior figures including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, Energy Secretary Ed Davey and justice minister Simon Hughes ejected from the Commons by voters.

Mr Clegg held onto his seat of Sheffield Hallam, but appeared set to stand down as leader, saying he would speak to party colleagues "about the implications of this election both for the country and the party I lead and for my position in the Liberal Democrats" on his return to Westminster later this morning.

An exit poll predicted the Conservatives would win 316 seats to Labour's 239, but the academic who led the operation said that early results suggested Mr Cameron's party could reach the magic 326 number needed to command an absolute majority in the House of Commons.

Read more: Police car count centre blast: Five held

A Press Association forecast after 240 declarations suggested the Tories could win 321 seats, to Labour's 227.

As the SNP swept up one Labour stronghold after another - toppling the party's Scottish leader Jim Murphy and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and snatching the former constituency of ex-prime minister Gordon Brown - the party's former leader Alex Salmond said there had been an "electoral tsunami" north of the border.

Mr Salmond, who returned to Parliament as MP for Gordon, said: ''There's going to be a lion roaring tonight, a Scottish lion, and it's going to roar with a voice that no government of whatever political complexion is going to be able to ignore."

Read more: SNP gaining seats across Scotland, including a 20-year-old student

But the party was denied the clean sweep some had predicted north of the border, as the Liberal Democrats held Orkney and Shetland and Ian Murray held onto Edinburgh South for Labour.

Labour appeared to accept it was heading for defeat, as a party source said the seats it had lost to the SNP would be "crucial if David Cameron ends up back in No 10".

Veteran former minister Jack Straw said Ed Miliband would have to "make up his mind about his future" as party leader.

Read more: Key points from the UK General Election counts

The party's campaign vice-chair Lucy Powell said it was "premature" to discuss whether Mr Miliband should go, saying: "We have lots of results still to come. We will see how the night goes."

But there were signs of backbench disgruntlement, with John Mann tweeting: "Can't say that Labour leadership weren't warned repeatedly - those who even bothered to meet, that is. Never hurts to listen."

Former home secretary David Blunkett accepted the results - expected to leave Labour well below the 258 tally obtained by Mr Brown in 2010 - were "very, very bad" for Labour, and urged the party not to retreat to a "bunker", saying: "We must not revert to the far left. We must not allow ourselves to turn inwards. We must try to heal the hurt that people will be feeling."

Read more: Ukip wins its first election seat in General Election 2015

Conservative chief whip Michael Gove said it appeared Mr Cameron had won "a very handsome victory".

Mr Gove described the exit poll figures as "an unprecedented vote of confidence in David Cameron's leadership" and said he would have "considerable authority" to "go forward with a secure and stable government in the national interest".

And London Mayor Boris Johnson swept back into Parliament as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, saying that voters had "decisively rejected the old-fashioned and outdated policies of division" represented by Labour.

The exit poll of 22,000 voters for BBC/ITN/Sky suggested Mr Cameron would be holding on to power by his fingertips, without the luxury of a stable coalition with a comfortable majority offered by his partnership with Liberal Democrats over the past five years.

But after Tories comfortably held the key Labour target of Nuneaton, exit poll supremo Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University said: "In practice we now have to take seriously the possibility the Tories could get an overall majority."

Read more: Pressure on Miliband to decide on future

A collapse in Liberal Democrat numbers was predicted to leave Nick Clegg's party with 10 seats - down from 57 in 2010 - raising serious questions over his continued leadership. High-profile casualties included Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone, women's minister Jo Swinson and whip Jenny Willott.

With a sharply reduced presence on the green benches, the Lib Dems will have far less clout as a possible coalition partner, particularly if they are dominated by left-of-centre figures such as former president Tim Farron. The battered party may prefer to remain in opposition to lick its wounds.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said he was "not going to pretend the Liberal Democrats are going to have anything other than a bad night".

Read more: Clegg expected to step down as leader

Although a tally of 316 is below the 326 threshold for an absolute majority, it is very close to the lower figure of 321-322 needed for all practical purposes, assuming Sinn Fein MPs do not take up their seats.

A minority Tory government might hope to get its legislation through with the support of Democratic Unionists, who are likely to win around eight or nine seats in Northern Ireland.

But Mr Cameron would face a battle to impose discipline on 30-40 right-wing Tory backbenchers on issues such as Europe and the family, where they have already established a rebellious record in the 2010 parliament.

The arithmetic could even hand the balance of power in key votes to Ukip MPs, who could be expected to use any leverage this gives them to put pressure on the Prime Minister to bring forward his planned in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, currently scheduled for 2017.

Read more: Labour stone mad over slip-up

The exit poll was starkly at odds with polling during the election campaign, as well as two large-scale conventional surveys conducted after people had voted, one of which had Labour and Tories tied on 34% while the other put Labour on 31% to the Conservatives 34%.

The pound rose by around two cents against the dollar in the wake of the release of the exit poll, with IG senior market analyst Chris Beauchamp saying: "A strong Conservative element to the next government sends the message that the economic policies of the past five years will continue, removing concerns about an early end to austerity."

Green leader Natalie Bennett said it would represent success for her party if it did get the two MPs projected.

"If we have doubled our parliamentary representation and we are sending perhaps Darren Hall in Bristol West to join the brilliant Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion as a strong group of Green MPs in Parliament, then that will be a good result for the Green Party," she said.

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