It was labeled as the closest British election in decades, but the result in the United Kingdom's general election has been surprisingly decisive. The Conservative Party has won 331 of 650 seats, giving them an overall majority with which to form a government.
Speaking to staff members in Westminster, visibly delighted Conservative Party leader David Cameron called the result "the sweetest victory of them all."
Meanwhile, three opposition leaders stepped down from their positions within an hour of each other. These are Labour leader Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, and UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage.
The results of all 650 seats have now been declared. While it was a shocking night for Labour and the Liberal Democrats — who formed a ruling coalition with the Conservatives in the last government — the left-leaning Scottish National Party (SNP) are celebrating after claiming a landslide victory in Scotland.
Labour leader Miliband announced his resignation by addressing the assembled audience as "friends," adding: "This is not the speech I wanted to give today."
He continued: "I take absolute and total responsibility for the result and our defeat at the election." Miliband added that he had phoned Cameron earlier in the morning to congratulate him. "Britain needs a strong Labour party," Miliband said. "Now it's time for someone else to take leadership of the party."
Clegg said earlier that the party had experienced a "cruel and punishing night," and in his resignation speech added that this was: "The most crushing blow to the Liberal Democrats since our party was founded."
UKIP's Nigel Farage was another leader to resign, though he said he would consider leadership again in the future.
Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour party, also announced that she would leave her position once a new leader is elected.
In a short speech at the entrance to 10 Downing Street — following a meeting with the Queen in Buckingham Palace — Cameron declared that he was ready to form a majority Conservative government. "We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom," he said.
He claimed that the Conservatives would be able to meet all the pledges in their manifesto and mentioned issues around devolution, saying Scotland would become the "strongest devolved government anywhere in the world." Before he entered the door of the prime minister's residence with his wife, Samantha, Cameron added: "When I stood here five years ago Britain was in the brink of an economic crisis." Five years later, he said, the UK is "so much stronger."
Citizens and pundits stayed awake late into Thursday night as the verdicts began to trickle in, increasing in speed as the hours progressed.
Houghton and Sunderland South was the first constituency to declare its results. It announced a Labour win shortly before 11pm — less than an hour after polling stations closed. It voted strongly in favor of Labour, with the UK Independence Party (UKIP) coming a distant second. The Conservatives then won their first seat in Swindon North, and as more seats were announced it became slowly clear what a good night it had been for the Tory party and the SNP.
Mhairi Black, 20, of the SNP, became the youngest MP elected in 350 years, her win symbolic of the huge increases her party made in Scotland, with the majority of those seats snatched away from Labour. In total, the SNP won 56 out of 59 possible seats.
Following his own win in Gordon, former Scottish First Minister Salmond jubilantly exclaimed: "The Scottish lion has roared this morning across the country." Salmond resigned from his position as head of the party the morning after last September's independence referendum failed to pass.
Labour Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, lost his seat in West Yorkshire on Friday morning. UKIP leader Nigel Farage also failed to win the seat he contested in Thanet South.
The Liberal Democrats — who had campaigned by offering to be a "heart" to a Conservative government or a "head" to a Labour one — instead suffered a crushing defeat, with their share of the vote plummeting from 23 percent in 2010 to less than 8 percent.
Paddy Ashdown, head of the Liberal Democrat campaign, joked to the BBC that he'd "eat his hat" before anticipating that result and called it "humiliating, humbling, pain beyond our imagination." However, Ashdown said he remained proud of the campaign. When questioned on the huge amount of seats lost he declared: "Every one of them is a painful stab in my heart."
He added: "Last night fear won… I think Cameron is now faced with a more divided country than he had before."
Ashdown also said that he thought the United Kingdom was more in danger of breaking up than it previously had been. "He has used the fear of Scottish nationalism to drive people into the polls," he said.
While waiting to find out whether he himself was reelected, UKIP leader Nigel Farage told BBC's Today program: "Obviously the exact figure for number of MPs is a bit of a disappointment," though he pointed out that UKIP came a "solid second" in at least 70 seats.
"We're building the infrastructure on the ground on the basis of which a long-term future for the party can be developed," he said.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd