A UK election exit poll is predicting Conservatives will be largest party in a hung parliament, with 316 seats to Labour’s 239, according to the BBC.
And as the party leaders can only watch and wait as the election results roll in, the BBC has also been reflecting on how their campaigns went and what’s at stake for them.
Job: Conservative Party leader since 2005
Electoral history: MP for Witney since 2001. Led Conservatives to gain 97 seats in 2010 and become the largest party in the House of Commons with 307 seats. However the party had hoped to get a majority (at least 325 seats) – swift talks to form a tradition-busting coalition with the Lib Dems led to him becoming prime minister.
How’s his campaign gone? Along with his fellow leader, David Cameron had what was widely described as a safety-first campaign, with the core messages of sticking with the Conservatives to ensure economic recovery and warning that a Labour government propped up by the SNP would cause chaos. In the final week he rolled up his sleeves and said he was “pumped up” after critics suggested a lack of passion. As John Major said last month, the verdict on campaigns often seem to be influenced by the result.
What’s at stake for David Cameron? After 10 years as leader David Cameron knows that making progress and being clearly the largest party at Westminster is a must. It’s hard to see him continuing as party leader if he does not stay in No 10, with or without a coalition. Unlike some of his rivals Mr Cameron has a safe seat so there’s no element of suspense over whether he will be re-elected as an MP, but if the night fails to deliver enough Conservative MPs to return him to Downing Street all eyes will swiftly switch to potential successors as leader – notably Boris Johnson, Theresa May and George Osborne.
Job: Labour leader since 2010
Electoral history: MP for Doncaster North since 2005. This is his first general election as Labour leader.
How’s his campaign gone? Ed Miliband went into the campaign facing questions about his character from political rivals and questions about how he would stand up to the relentless pressure and scrutiny of the campaign. He has been widely seen to have exceeded (admittedly low) expectations during the campaign, coining one of the phrases of the past month with his defiant “Hell, yes” response to a Jeremy Paxman question.
What’s at stake for Ed Miliband? After five years as Labour leader Mr Miliband has managed to move on from questions about the way he defeated his brother to win the Labour leadership. Although the goal remains an overall majority, the rise of the SNP and the likely decimation of Labour MPs in Scotland makes that almost certainly beyond reach. His goal instead will be to have enough MPs to be able to put together a deal with the Lib Dems and/or the SNP to ensure that a Labour Party Queen’s Speech can get through the Commons. Mr Miliband has a safe seat so is certain to be re-elected as an MP but if he fails to take the party back into No 10, and the party does as badly as predicted in Scotland, it is hard to see him surviving a further five years without at least having to fight off leadership challenges.
Job: Lib Dem leader since 2007
Electoral history: MP for Sheffield Hallam since 2005. He led the Lib Dems into the 2010 election when the party got nearly one in four votes cast, but just 57 out of 650 MPs. The party, which for decades had been out of power, sprung a surprise by going into coalition with the Conservatives. Its poll ratings almost immediately fell and have never recovered
How’s his campaign gone? Nick Clegg has spent much of the past five years as the most unpopular of the UK’s senior politicians, with his party slumping in the polls and his personal ratings in huge negative territory even before his U-turn on student tuition fees. This campaign has gone pretty well, from that low base, but with none of the “Cleggmania” seen in 2010. He again did OK in the TV debates and has seemed to enjoy the chance to defend, unrestricted, his decision to go into coalition.
What’s at stake for Nick Clegg? Expectations this time round are about as low as they can go. The first hurdle Mr Clegg faces is to hang on to his Sheffield seat – if he manages that then it is a question of how many other Lib Dems manage to defy the national polls to retain their seats. Anything over 30 would be seen as a relative success. Anything below 20 would be a dramatic decline. The numbers could prove vital for Mr Clegg’s future – much of his campaign has been focusing on his role as a coalition partner, holding the Conservatives or Labour the centre ground. It seems hard to imagine him staying on as leader of a much smaller Lib Dem party if they are not part of government – there are plenty in the party still unhappy with the decision to sign up to government with the Conservatives last time around.
Job: UKIP leader since 2010 (and between 2006 and 2009)
Electoral history: MEP First elected to the European Parliament in 1999, representing the south-east of England. A failed attempt to unseat the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, in Buckingham at the 2010 general election was followed by UKIP victory in the 2014 European elections, which Mr Farage called a political “earthquake”. More was to come when two Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, resigned their seats and won the resulting by-elections for UKIP.
How’s his campaign gone? Nigel Farage has had to balance UKIP’s national drive for votes with his personal battle to get elected in South Thanet, Kent. UKIP’s campaign, which was expected to loom large over the election, at times appeared more muted than expected, and Mr Farage revealed he had been receiving hospital treatment for a chronic back condition in the early stages.
What’s at stake for Nigel Farage? The UKIP leader has said he would be “for the chop” and that it will be “curtains for Nigel” if he fails to get elected in South Thanet. The party is hoping for an increase on the two MPs it had at the end of the last parliament, and has predicted “four or five” seats as it targets Labour, as well as Conservative-held seats. His party will be looking to use whatever influence it has at Westminster to push for an early EU referendum where it would campaign for the UK to leave the union.
Job: SNP leader since 2014
Electoral history: Elected to the new Holyrood parliament in 1999 aged 29 as a Glasgow regional MSP. When the SNP won the Scottish elections in 2007, she became Scotland’s deputy first minister and health secretary. After Scotland voted No to independence in September, she took over the SNP leadership from Alex Salmond and became Scotland’s first minister.
How’s her campaign gone? Nicola Sturgeon has been seen as the success story of the election campaign. The SNP soared in the opinion polls, threatening Labour seats throughout Scotland and triggering a Conservative attack on Ed Miliband’s party, which faced repeated questions on how it would work with the nationalists in government. An attention-grabbing display in the first television debate boosted Ms Sturgeon’s profile outside Scotland, and she followed it up by joining forces with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to offer the Labour leader support to keep David Cameron out of Downing Street. Fearing a loss of support in England, Mr Miliband responded by ruling out any coalition or deals with the SNP.
What’s at stake for Nicola Sturgeon? Expectations are sky-high for the SNP based on the pre-election opinion polls – there were even predictions of it taking every seat in Scotland. The party did not look to lower the bar, speaking of wielding “enormous influence” at Westminster with its new crop of MPs. Ms Sturgeon is not seeking election herself, but former leader Alex Salmond is running as a candidate. The party has faced repeated questions about whether it will push for a second independence referendum, and will have one eye on the 2016 Scottish elections.
Job: Plaid Cymru leader since 2012
Electoral history: First elected to the Welsh Assembly in 2003, she has also held sustainability, environment, social justice, and housing portfolios. Her party had three MPs in the last parliament, and has 11 members of the Welsh assembly and one member of the European Parliament. The party promotes a left wing politics aimed at increasing economic prosperity and social justice, and securing an independent Wales.
How’s her campaign gone? With opinion polls suggesting only modest support for independence, much of Plaid’s campaign has been focused on alternatives to austerity. Along with Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett, the televised debates gave her a new platform and her profile rose as she vowed to use her influence at Westminster to oppose Trident renewal and keep the Conservatives out of Downing Street. She has also called for funding parity with Scotland, securing the backing of Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.
What’s at stake for Leanne Wood? As the leader of a small party that is not in government, the stakes are perhaps lower for Ms Wood than some of the other leaders. But after predicting a bounce for her party after the election debates, the Plaid Cymru leader will be hoping to translate her higher profile into electoral success. She will be expected to deliver on her promise to make Welsh causes heard at Westminster, and to deliver the increased funding she has called for. There will also be expectations on Plaid, the Green Party and the SNP to create the “progressive alliance” they have touted during the campaign.
Job: Green Party leader since 2012
Electoral history: Ms Bennett is one of the candidates for the London seat of Holborn and St Pancras. Under her leadership, the Greens outpolled the Liberal Democrats at the 2014 European Elections, with three MEPs, and has seen a large rise in membership this year.
How’s her campaign gone? The Greens have sought to portray themselves as a fresh voice in British politics, and Ms Bennett has formed an anti-austerity alliance with the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Her party was successful in its call to be included in the televised election debates, where Ms Bennett offered “an alternative to the politics of austerity”. On the down side, there was a self-confessed “brain fade” in a radio interview when she failed to explain a key policy on house-building. The party’s policies – including a universal “citizen’s income” and an end to the banning of extremist groups – have also come under increased scrutiny.
What’s at stake for Natalie Bennett? After talking up the “Green surge”, Ms Bennett will be expected to deliver improvements at the ballot box. As a minimum, the party will be looking to hold on to the Brighton Pavilion seat won by her predecessor, Caroline Lucas, last time around. Its influence in a hung parliament will be limited unless it can add to that total with other targets including in Bristol and Norwich.