Updated exit polls in the UK general election, which have factored in the results declared so far, indicate that the Conservative Party have won the largest number of seats in Parliament, and are within range of the 326 seats needed to form a majority.
The polling indicates that the Conservative Party has won 325 parliamentary seats to the Labour Party's 232. The polling, conducted by NOP/MORI for the BBC, ITV and Sky, also suggests that the Liberal Democrats will get 12 Members of Parliament (MPs), the Scottish National Party (SNP) 56, Plaid Cymru three, the UK Independence party (UKIP) will win two and the Green Party will have one MP.
The Conservative Party is just one seat shy of forming outright government, if the projections are accurate, and current UK Prime Minister David Cameron may find he is able to govern without entering into a coalition with minor parties.
"Some people say there's only one opinion poll that counts and that's the one on election day, and I don't think that's ever been truer than tonight," Cameron said from his constituency of Witney, as his party looked set to win an increased number of seats in an election that was predicted to be historically close by opinion polls conducted only days ago.
"This has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party," Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, said as he accepted his own election in the seat of Doncaster North. "We haven't made the gains we wanted in England, and in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party."
Even if the Conservative Party do retain government, the make-up of the Parliament is set to be dramatically altered by this election.
The party projected to make the largest gains is the SNP. Last year, the left-wing Scottish nationalists were narrowly defeated in their campaign for Scottish independence, but look set to go from the six seats they won in UK Parliament in 2010, to 56 seats at this election. The only seats in Scotland not to fall to the SNP so far are, Edinburgh South, which was held by the Labour Party, and the seat of Orkney and Shetland which was retained by the Liberal Democrats. Scotland had formerly been strong Labour Party territory.
In one of the biggest results of the night, a 20-year-old student from Glasgow University, Mhairi Black, defeated the Labour Party's Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander with a 34 percent swing to the SNP in the seat of Paisley & Renfrewshire South. The result makes Black the youngest Member of Parliament since 1667.
The leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, ruled out an immediate push for another independence referendum despite the huge gains. "No matter how many seats we win tonight, it's not a mandate for independence or another referendum," she said in an interview with the BBC. "What it is a mandate for is a strong voice for Scotland in Westminster and more progressive politics."
Ed Miliband said he was "deeply sorry" to his colleagues in Scotland who had lost their seats to the SNP, during his remarks at the Doncaster North tally room.
Meanwhile, the centrist Liberal Democrats are facing huge losses, having won 57 seats in 2010 they could win as few as 10 seats at this election, according to exit polling. The party had been the kingmakers in 2010 when they helped bring the Conservative Party into government by forming a coalition. Significant losses for the party included Liberal Democrats Business Secretary Vince Cable, who had held the seat of Twickenham since 1997 and was a major figure in the coalition government.
Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, hinted that he could resign as leader later on Friday as he announced victory in his own seat of Sheffield Hallam.
"It is now painfully clear that it has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats," he said. "I will be seeking to make further remarks about the implications of this election both for the country and for the party that I lead and for my position in the Liberal Democrats."
Minor parties like the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Greens captured an increased proportion of the national popular vote but failed to secure an increase in seats. UKIP, which had targeted winning up to 10 seats in the lead up to the election, will now be lucky to hold the two seats they already had in the Parliament. Douglas Carswell has held the seat of Clacton for the party, while leader Nigel Farage is facing a tough battle to win the seat of South Thanet.
Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas held onto to the Greens single seat of Brighton Pavilion with a strong 11 percent swing to the party.
As millions of British citizens and UK residents headed to to the polls Thursday, they did so knowing the results in a few dozen swing seats could determine the final outcome — and will impact their lives for the next five years.
The race between the ruling Conservative party and the opposition Labour party was neck and neck for weeks, with neither party on course to win the 326 parliamentary seats it would need for a majority and outright victory. As both fought to win enough seats to be able to form a government — with the support of smaller parties — a string of seats where the difference between Tory and Labour is on a knife-edge have became key battlegrounds.
Each of these marginal seats could make the crucial difference, providing more leverage for each party to engage in the posturing and maneuvering that creating a new coalition, or an informal support arrangement, requires. As the results start to come in, which way those seats go could provide early clues as to how the overall picture might look in the days to come.
As the overt campaigning calmed down and the broadcast media fell silent, VICE News visited two of the constituencies being most closely-fought in London, to ask what voters identified as the key issues and how democratic they felt the UK system was.
In Brentford and Isleworth, Labour held the parliamentary seat from 1997 to 2010, when Conservative candidate Mary Macleod won it by less than 2,000 votes. The constituency's home to around 80,000 people — a tiny 1.8 percent swing would hand it back to Labour this time around.
Parvina, 33, and Ben, 34, told VICE News they believed the constituency was marginal because Brentford was a very "mixed" area. "There's good and rough housing," Ben said, "with quite a big divide." There were plenty of people on both sides of an "extreme" divide between rich and poor, meaning its political colors were split down the middle, he said.
Anthony Ilesanmi has lived in Brentford for seven years and is a union leader in the London City branch of ASLEF. "Around here there are lots of working class people; as you can see this is a working class area," he told VICE News. He did believe the outcome of this referendum would have tangible implications for the community.
Linda Butler, 63, told VICE News while she recognized that her vote carried more weight than a ballot cast in a traditionally "safe seat," any focus on individual constituencies was unnecessarily distracting. "This election is not about what's best for Brentford, it's about what's best for the whole country," she said. "What happens to a small place like this is unimportant."
An 82-year-old man who only wanted to be referred to as Frost said he'd lived in Brentford for 20 years. He told VICE News the first major issue that had informed his decision was immigration.
"I'm firm believer that England is for the English," he said, adding: "I disagree with as well all these forms you get that ask: 'Are you white, British?' No, I'm white English. Anyone can be British," he stated: "You've got to be born in England to be English."
Over the last two decades, Frost declared that Brentford had not changed for the better. "Where are the affordable houses?" he asked.
Frost was also strongly against British membership of the European Union.
"Get out of Europe. England doesn't need Europe, Europe needs England," he said. "What happened when we had a Commonwealth? We ruled the world. We stabbed our Commonwealth in the back."
Most voters visited the polling station alone. One young man rushed out of the building looking confused before asking VICE News for directions. He had arrived at the wrong place. An elderly man emerged after casting his vote singing and swinging a blue plastic bag. "I'm pretending I won the lottery," he told VICE News.
Rory, 22, smiled as he told VICE News he was voting for the first time. "Just broke my virginity," he quipped. Not all of his friends were doing likewise. "A lot of people I know haven't registered," he said. He was disappointed there was so much apathy."
"People say the youth are disenfranchised but as much as it has ever been for young people it's just about getting registered and just voting," he added.
When asked how young people could be encouraged more to participate in the process, he said it might be too late.
"They might already be lost and it's the next generation that need to get engaged," he said. "That sounds really defeatist but if they're already lost I think you need to teach it in schools. Not politics as a subject but the principles surrounding it — like maybe philosophy as a core subject might get people understanding that rights are important."
Four miles away, outside the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Hammersmith, a 74-year-old woman who asked not to be named said she had based her vote on her hope for a "more caring society." She told VICE News the UK system was less democratic than it could be, and she was a strong advocate of a change to proportional representation. "Neither of the main parties are getting a full vote or a full mandate, so it would be good to see some of the others getting a chance," she said.
She added that she thought the opportunities for young people were getting worse, and that she "wanted them to have something to look forward to."
The voting difference in Hammersmith is slightly larger at just under 4,000, but local council Hammersmith and Fulham has been labeled "David Cameron's favorite council."
Looking concerned outside the station was 32-year-old Mina Rzouki, who said she had lived in Hammersmith all her life. She told VICE News her father had hidden her polling card because she was planning to vote for a different party to him.
When deciding who to vote for she said, "for me things like NHS are important as well as women's rights, equal pay, things like that. I'm really into NHS, so that was one of the main things. And of course immigration."
While admitting that a lot of the electioneering appeared quite stage-managed, Rzouki said the UK system was better than other countries, including the US.
"I certainly don't want a hung parliament but I do think it's the most fair," she said. "And out of everything I've seen I much prefer that to the US."
Around lunch time the Hammersmith candidate for UKIP, a smaller party campaigning on an anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, paid a visit to the polling station with a Greek friend. Richard Wood told VICE News that he was still hopeful he could win the constituency, and joked that he was running on "high-speed electric gas." Wood added that his reason for running for parliament his exhaustion with the "lies the professional politicians are saying."
Terence Brown, 76, leant on a wall outside the church as he told VICE News that he thought the main general election issue was poverty. "Quite a number of people haven't got any money. Some — if they're lucky enough to have it — that's fine, but the others need help, and that sort of problem will increase."
He elaborated on what could be done about that. "It's quite a small island and it needs to be run quite well and not overwhelmed," he said. He was worried, he said that the resentment and disenfranchisement British people are currently feeling "could lead to an eruption."
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All photos by Sally Hayden