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5pm: Three party leaders resign

Union under strain as Cameron secures working majority

David CameronDavid Cameron returned to Downing Street today with a slight working majority following a night of drama which saw the SNP win all but three seats in Scotland and a number of high profile casualties across the UK.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, LibDem leader Nick Clegg and the leader of UKIP Nigel Farage, all tendered their resignations.

The Conservatives were heading for 331 seats, against the 326 required for a majority that includes the Speaker and two Sinn Fein MPs. But as the former does not vote and Sinn Fein does not send its members to the Commons the actual majority required is 323, a figure it has now achieved.

Labour will have about 232 seats, while the SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in a remarkable 39% swing from Labour whose Scottish leader Jim Murphy was among those who lost their seats. He said he would be standing for Holyrood.

However, he said the party had been “overwhelmed by history and circumstance”. Scotland “deserves a stronger Labour party” and had been beaten by a party that had claimed its heritage.

“People need a strong opposition…and Labour has been the biggest and most progressive force for change”. He said the party “will bounce back”.

The LibDems were crushed, losing more than 46 seats and their deposit in 335, leaving them with just eight seats.

Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned after saying it was a “difficult and disappointing night” for the party and declared: “Scottish nationalism overwhelmed us.”

He said the collapse in Labour’s vote was bigger than anyone predicted and the wipeout in Scotland has left the party in crisis.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls lost his seat after a recount in Morley and Outwood.

LibDem leader Nick Clegg held on to his Sheffield Hallam seat but said it had been a “cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats” and resigned after his hope of sharing power in another coalition was completely shattered.

UKIP won one seat and party leader Nigel Farage lost his fight to win Thanet South despite polling more than 16,000 votes, just 2,000 fewer than his Tory opponent. He resigned as leader. The Greens are likely to win one.

Prominent figures dumped by the voters included Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, former Business Secretary Vince Cable, treasury minister Danny Alexander, former Scottish secretary Michael Moore, Home Office minister David LawsSimon Hughes and former LibDem leader Charles Kennedy.

Former employment minister Esther McVey, energy minister Ed Davey and pensions minister Steve Webb who ushered in the recent changes in the sector, were also unseated. George Galloway, the Respect candidate in Bradford also lost.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon referred to the shifting of tectonic plates as her party almost achieved the clean sweep that seemed beyond even her wildest dreams.

Voters punished Labour in Scotland though the party gained seven seats in London. The LibDems were likely to lose 46 seats.

Among notable SNP victories, former SNP leader Alex Salmond won the Gordon seat and former Scotsman journalist George Kerevan won in East Lothian.

The figures reflect a massive difference in political loyalties north and south of the border and would probably hasten the break up of the UK or at least accelerate constitutional reform.

It will also create some soul-searching in Labour which was punished for its stance against independence in last year’s referendum.

The figures were broadly in line with an exit poll at 10pm which showed a bigger swing to the Conservatives than had been evident in previous polls.

Markets and business leaders will be encouraged by the result that will settle nerves and is more likely to bring some stability to economic planning.

Investors were alarmed by Labour plans to impose caps on utilities and banks and introduce more tax rises. The pound rose on the back of the exit poll predicting a Conservative victory.

A legislative agenda has to be pulled together by 27 May in readiness for the Queen’s Speech.

Sandy Manson, chief executive of accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael, said: “Regardless of political affiliation, this election has delivered a dramatic and decisive outcome which the international markets have welcomed and which should give the business community more certainty about the future in the short term.

“There are of course some important challenges to be faced in the future such as the EU referendum and ensuring that no part of the UK feels disenfranchised. I believe what Scottish businesses want is to see longer term certainty and stability which will help deliver sustained economic growth.”

Alasdair Humphery, lead director of property agent JLL in Scotland, said: “Only six months after the referendum result, question marks remain over the constitutional future of Scotland. Whilst the SNP have been clear that this was not a vote about independence, it’s difficult to see how a second referendum isn’t closer than it was when this election campaign began. And of course, uncertainty over the future of the Union will once again create some hesitation over investing in Scotland, especially from UK-based investors, albeit they might be attracted by softer pricing in the Scottish property market.

“This uncertainty is further compounded by the looming spectre of a planned referendum on British membership of the EU in 2017. Scottish businesses will remain committed to a strong position within the European Union and will need to engage in the reform debate to see if a referendum can be avoided.

“To avoid a repeat of the slowdown in investment and occupier activity which characterised the run-in to last year’s referendum, Scotland’s business and political community will need to focus on reassuring the market of Scotland’s excellent credentials as a place to do business and to invest in.  Edinburgh and Glasgow are generating positive interest on the back of a variety of strong key markets such as the Service Sector, Banking & Finance, Digital Technology and Bio Sciences.”

Andy Willox, Scottish Policy Convener of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “We congratulate the SNP on a truly stunning result.  We look forward to working with all those now charged with making our voices heard in Westminster.  No matter the scale of the political sea-change, though, the big issues facing the class of 2015 remain the same: sorting out the economy, securing the recovery and backing business to create jobs and raise revenue.

“On a UK level, the fact that we have a clear winner means we are spared the threatened weeks of political wrangling and horse-trading.  That means the new government can get straight on with delivering on the issues that matter most to Scotland’s small businesses: ending the scandal of late payment; developing a more competitive banking market; and ensuring that big energy firms treat our members fairly.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We would like to see the government prioritise a coherent plan to deliver increased housing supply; to follow through on the commitment to fundamentally review business rates, and take action to put in place the right infrastructure – including real estate – that will allow our country to thrive.

“The prospect of an EU Referendum will inject uncertainty into the equation, and it is important to have clarity about its parameters and timetable as soon as possible.

Alex Gosling, chief executive of online estate agents said: “Today’s General Election result is the end of months of uncertainty. The housing market will be hoping for a pick up in activity after a six month period of fairly static home sales.

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