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Labour grabs majority; John Major concedes
Major: 'We have been comprehensively defeated'
LONDON (CNN) -- The Labour Party overwhelmed the incumbent Conservatives in Britain's general election, surging past the 330 seats needed to gain a clear majority early Friday.
Conservative Prime Minister John Major, who held onto his own seat of Huntingdonshire, conceded defeat for his party about 3:30 a.m. (0230 GMT), shortly after Labour passed the 330-seat mark.
"We have been comprehensively defeated," Major admitted.
As he claimed victory in his home district, Labour Party leader Tony Blair sounded every bit the winner of the national race Friday.
"We are a great country. The British people are a great people," Blair told cheering supporters at a local gym. "There is no greater honor than to serve them, and serve them we will."
Blair, 43, will become Britain's youngest prime minister in 185 years. He first became a member of Parliament in 1983.
As Blair thanked his constituency in Sedgefield, Blair spoke of the country's future and Labour's "vision of renewal." But he stopped short of a full-scale acceptance speech.
Labour's dominance was obvious early; as the party hit the magic number of 330, the Conservatives lagged at 52; the Liberal Democrats had 26.
"If we have done well, then I know what this is a vote for: it is a vote for the future," Blair said. "It is not a vote for outdated dogma or ideology of any kind.
"It is a vote for an end to divisions, an end to looking backwards, a desire to apply the basic British values of common sense and imagination to the problems we all know we face as a country today."
Blair won his seat with 33,526 votes to the Conservative candidate's 8,383; the voter swing from Conservative to Labour in Sedgefield, a solid Labour seat, was 9.6 percent, according to the initial count. Such swings -- even within Labour strongholds -- cropped up throughout early results.
After thanking his constituency, Blair and his wife Cherie headed for the Labour Party celebration in London.
Conservative losses hit top ranks
Several members of Major's cabinet were counted among the Conservatives' casualties, including Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind and Defense Secretary Michael Portillo.
Even the seat once held by the Conservative Margaret Thatcher went over to Labour.
Liberal Democrats in on the action
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the third party Liberal Democrats, handily held onto his seat in Yeovil with 26,349 votes to the Conservatives 14,946, and Labour's 8,053. The swing from Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats was 3.2 percent.
"I believe that there will be a very substantial, perhaps even a two-thirds majority, for constitutional change and the modernization of our system of government in the next Parliament," Ashdown told supporters.
The Liberal Democrats, penalized as the third party by Britain's winner-take-all system, advocate proportional representation. Ashdown referred to a deal with Labour to push for constitutional reform.
"I believe that can deliver a new era for our country, an era of politics which is more in touch with people, and an era in particular where more power is in the hands of the voter, and perhaps less in the hands of the political establishment and the elites.
Exit polls provide first hints
Independent Television News forecast early that Labour would win with a majority of 159 seats in the 659-seat House of Commons, based on results of the MORI exit poll it sponsored.
ITN projected Labour would win 409 seats, Conservatives 177 and Liberal Democrats 45, with the remainder uncalled. Those results were based on the answers of 15,000 people questioned as they exited ballot boxes.
Separately, an exit poll for the British Broadcasting Corp. gave Labour 47 percent of the vote, the Conservatives 29 percent, and the Liberal Democrats 18 percent. That could make for the poorest Conservative showing in 165 years.
Labour, which has moved toward the political center under Blair's guidance, led consistently and comfortably in pre-election polls.
All 659 seats in the House of Commons were open. Britain's 45,000 polling stations closed at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT). Nearly 44 million people were eligible to vote, and turnout -- with the blessing of warm sunshine -- was reported to be around 70 percent.
Nationwide, there were more than 3,700 candidates. Voters do not vote for the prime minister directly.
The new Parliament convenes on Wednesday, and the government
will lay out its program a week later in a speech to Lords and Commoners by Queen Elizabeth II.
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