UK election shock: David Cameron defies polls with clear victory

Updated 11:30 AM EDT, Fri May 8, 2015
Now playing
04:30
Cameron to form majority conservative government
Caption:The Saltire, the flag of Scotland flies above the Union flag at the site of the Auld Acquaintance cairn which is being constructed at a site on the banks of the River Sark in Gretna in Scotland, which is thought to be the historic border between Scotland and England, taken on August 17, 2014. A month to the day until Scotland votes on whether to split from Britain, opinion polls Monday showed the pro-independence camp gaining ground as First Minister Alex Salmond insisted his side had a
Caption:The Saltire, the flag of Scotland flies above the Union flag at the site of the Auld Acquaintance cairn which is being constructed at a site on the banks of the River Sark in Gretna in Scotland, which is thought to be the historic border between Scotland and England, taken on August 17, 2014. A month to the day until Scotland votes on whether to split from Britain, opinion polls Monday showed the pro-independence camp gaining ground as First Minister Alex Salmond insisted his side had a 'spring in their step'. But the polls still showed a strong lead for the 'No' camp ahead of the vote on September 18, suggesting voters are on course to reject independence. Debate in the campaign has so far focused on Scotland's economy, particularly on the currency post-independence. AFP PHOTO/ANDY BUCHANAN (Photo credit should read Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty
Now playing
02:37
Last man standing for Labour in Scotland
uk election labour leader ed miliband resigns_00002508.jpg
uk election labour leader ed miliband resigns_00002508.jpg
Now playing
05:52
Ed Miliband resigns as leader of the Labour Party
intv amanpour snp Humza Yousaf_00011817.jpg
intv amanpour snp Humza Yousaf_00011817.jpg
Now playing
03:21
SNP: UK election results not a mandate for independence
PHOTO: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
06:23
Miliband 'certainly wasn't going to win on charisma'
intv amanpour Grant Shapps_00002403.jpg
intv amanpour Grant Shapps_00002403.jpg
Now playing
07:01
Tories: Scots voted against Labour, not for independence
uk elections pkg quest big red bus_00012010.jpg
uk elections pkg quest big red bus_00012010.jpg
Now playing
01:20
Final election thoughts from the #BigRedBus
uk election pkg glass highs and lows_00000809.jpg
uk election pkg glass highs and lows_00000809.jpg
PHOTO: itn
Now playing
02:38
Highs and lows of the U.K. election
 Nicola Sturgeon waves as she gives her first key note speech as SNP party leader at the party
Nicola Sturgeon waves as she gives her first key note speech as SNP party leader at the party's annual conference on November 15, 2014 in Perth, Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon formally took over the leadership of the SNP from Alex Salmond yesterday, during her speech she urged voters to leave Labour in next May's UK election
PHOTO: Jeff Mitchell/Getty Images
Now playing
03:02
Scotland's political brawl: Nicola Sturgeon vs. Jim Murphy
Now playing
00:10
This video is no longer available
uk election london mayor boris johnson wins seat_00014417.jpg
uk election london mayor boris johnson wins seat_00014417.jpg
PHOTO: Reuters
Now playing
04:02
London mayor: 'The people of Britain have finally spoken'
Now playing
00:10
This video is no longer available
Now playing
00:10
This video is no longer available
Now playing
02:45
Britain's election night from #BigRedBus
Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, is pictured on April 1, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. Parliament has been dissolved as campaigning gets under way by the political parties ahead of the forthcoming general election on May 7th.
Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, is pictured on April 1, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. Parliament has been dissolved as campaigning gets under way by the political parties ahead of the forthcoming general election on May 7th.
PHOTO: Carl Court/Getty Images
Now playing
01:57
Exit polls indicate hung parliament in United Kingdom
 A voter enters a polling station located in the Old Post Office in the village of Brokenborough near Malmesbury on May 7, 2015 in Wiltshire, England
A voter enters a polling station located in the Old Post Office in the village of Brokenborough near Malmesbury on May 7, 2015 in Wiltshire, England
PHOTO: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Now playing
02:37
UK election: Which party leaders will quit after the vote?
 Leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband addresses business leaders and members of the media at Bloomberg LP
Leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband addresses business leaders and members of the media at Bloomberg LP's European headquarters on March 30, 2015 in London, England. Mr Miliband spoke to members of the business community today warning of the dangers of an EU referendum, a conservative party pledge. British Prime Minister David Cameron will visit Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace today as Parliament dissolves and the parties begin their campaigns ahead of the May 7 general election.
PHOTO: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Now playing
03:08
Alastair Campbell: Scotland's gone very badly for Labour
First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon (2L) poses with supporters during a UK general election campaign visit to the Cook School in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, southwest Scotland on April 27, 2015. Britain goes to the polls on May 7 to elect a new parliamnt. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, whose party is expected to win most of Scotland
First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon (2L) poses with supporters during a UK general election campaign visit to the Cook School in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, southwest Scotland on April 27, 2015. Britain goes to the polls on May 7 to elect a new parliamnt. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, whose party is expected to win most of Scotland's House of Commons seats amid surging support after last year's rejected independence referendum, wants to do a post-election deal with Labour. AFP PHOTO / ANDY BUCHANANAndy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:56
#BigRedBus: How will SNP victories impact Parliament?
Britain
Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha arrive to vote at a polling station in Spelsbury, England, as they vote in the general election, Thursday, May 7.
PHOTO: Alastair Grant/AP
Now playing
03:30
Expert: Cameron will be a hero to his party
pkg barnett uk behind the scenes election coverage_00001417.jpg
pkg barnett uk behind the scenes election coverage_00001417.jpg
Now playing
02:01
Behind the scenes of CNN's UK election coverage
Now playing
01:41
Tight U.K. race could influence U.S. economy
natpkg uk election official sketch artist_00005820.jpg
natpkg uk election official sketch artist_00005820.jpg
PHOTO: Getty/Adam Dant/Hales Gallery
Now playing
02:41
Artist captures campaign the old-fashioned way
foster british election campaign highlights_00024810.jpg
foster british election campaign highlights_00024810.jpg
Now playing
03:53
British election campaign highlights
HENDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05: Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to staff at Utility Warehouse on May 5, 2015 in Hendon, England. Campaigning has intensified in the last few days before voters go to the polls in a general election on May 7, 2015. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
HENDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05: Prime Minister David Cameron speaks to staff at Utility Warehouse on May 5, 2015 in Hendon, England. Campaigning has intensified in the last few days before voters go to the polls in a general election on May 7, 2015. (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Rob Stothard/Getty Image
Now playing
02:41
Cameron shows uncharacteristic rage before vote
Opposition Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband speaks at a campaign event in Kempston near Bedford on May 5, 2015. Britain
Opposition Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband speaks at a campaign event in Kempston near Bedford on May 5, 2015. Britain's political leaders today began a final push for votes ahead of Thursday's knife-edge election, even as they prepared for the likelihood of protracted coalition talks once polls close. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNISADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:26
Labour's Ed Miliband leads final charge before election
pkg black uk election clegg campaign_00011819.jpg
pkg black uk election clegg campaign_00011819.jpg
Now playing
02:39
UK's Deputy PM fighting for survival
Scotland
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on April 7, 2015 in Livingston, Scotland.
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
03:08
UK's breakout star not even a candidate
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a conference in which the party
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a conference in which the party's immigration policy was unveiled on March 4, 2015 in London, England. Farage stated that UKIP wants immigration to return to 'normal' levels with around 20,000 to 50,000 migrants issued with work permits.
PHOTO: Carl Court/Getty Images
Now playing
02:04
For UKIP's Nigel Farage, Thursday election is do or die
President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron following their joint press conference at Lancaster House in London, England, May 25, 2011.
President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron following their joint press conference at Lancaster House in London, England, May 25, 2011.
PHOTO: Pete Souz/White House Photo
Now playing
05:59
No politician (or TV host) safe from impressionist

Story highlights

Prime Minister David Cameron says Conservatives will form a new government

Cameron: "I truly believe we are on the brink of something special in our country"

Ed Miliband resigns as Labour Party leader, Nick Clegg as Liberal Democrat party chief

(CNN) —  

Pundits had predicted the UK election would be a close one and suggested there would be days of post-vote, backroom talk to thrash out a power-sharing deal.

Instead, it’s turned into a thumpin’.

With all the results in, British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative Party have claimed an outright majority in Parliament, with 331 seats out of 650, and can form a new government.

As the dust settled Friday, three party leaders resigned, including opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

What this means for the UK is that the Conservatives get to govern alone after five years in a coalition, though with a slender majority.

Millions in Britain cast their vote, with turnout at about 66%, but the rest of the world should also pay attention.

UK election live blog: Jump aboard CNN’s #bigredbus

The outcome of this election could reshape the country’s global role for years, most importantly in terms of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

And a strong showing by the Scottish National Party, or SNP, could fuel a fresh push for Scottish independence.

Domestically, the Conservatives have said they’ll push forward with reforms to tackle the huge UK deficit and rein in spending on the welfare state as well as hold a national referendum on continued EU membership by 2017.

Financial markets, primed for days of uncertainty, responded positively to the prospect of a clear outcome.

In a speech outside his Downing Street home, Cameron said he would now form a majority Conservative government that would lead a united nation into a “better future.”

“I truly believe we are on the brink of something special in our country,” he said. “We can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing.”

He also vowed that the process of devolving greater powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would continue as part of a strong union with a long history.

“Together, we can make Great Britain greater still,” Cameron said.

His words came after he met with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace – a formal step toward forming a government.

The losers

While the Conservative Party was the clear winner, there were plenty of losers.

Chief among them, Labour – the country’s chief opposition party.

Miliband, who retained his own seat, said he had to take “absolute and total responsibility for the result” and that he was resigning as party leader straight away.

“Britain needs a Labour Party that can rebuild after this defeat so that we can have a government that stands up for working people again,” he said. “And now it’s time for someone else to take forward the leadership of this party.”

He said Labour had been “an incredible force for progress” in recent years – and would be again.

The night’s results were a massive blow to Labour. It didn’t gain seats in the places it badly needed to. And it was blown out of the water in Scotland by the pro-independence SNP, which took 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland – traditionally a Labour stronghold.

Miliband cited a “surge of nationalism in Scotland” as having badly affected the Labour Party.

Perhaps the biggest scalp claimed by the Conservatives at Labour’s expense was that of Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor and a senior Labour Party figure, who lost his seat by just 422 votes.

Another loser was the Liberal Democrat party. It was the junior partner in the previous coalition government with the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats too had an awful night.

Party leader Clegg, who became deputy prime minister in 2010, held his seat but said he was taking responsibility for the party’s “catastrophic losses” by resigning as party leader.

He had always expected the election to be “exceptionally difficult” for the Liberal Democrats, he said.

“But clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared.”

The party lost several key figures – chief among them Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury; Vince Cable, the business secretary; and Simon Hughes, former deputy leader of the party and a former London mayoral candidate.

Menzies Campbell, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “For us we must go back and once again build up from the bottom, from the bottom up which is the only way to do it.”

The UK Independence Party, seen as a threat to the Conservatives, also had a bad night, despite increasing its overall share of the vote.

The party held only one of its two seats and charismatic leader Nigel Farage failed in his own election bid. He announced he was resigning, as he’d previously promised if he didn’t take the seat.

Speaking after the result was announced, Farage said it was time for “real, genuine, radical political change” to the British electoral system to ensure that smaller parties are represented in Parliament.

The winners

UK 2015 election results: The Conservatives swung to victory claiming an overall majority of 331 seats.
UK 2015 election results: The Conservatives swung to victory claiming an overall majority of 331 seats.
PHOTO: CNN

Cameron and his party clearly come out on top. Among those holding their seats was Chancellor George Osborne – Britain’s finance minister, who promised to “get straight back to work” on “turning Britain round.” London Mayor Boris Johnson also claimed a place in Parliament for the Conservatives.

Altogether, the party gained more than 20 seats.

In his Downing Street speech, Cameron said the new government would build on its work over the past five years to strengthen the economic recovery. It would help working people by cutting taxes, building new homes and creating jobs, he said.

He also had a kind word for the losers, paying tribute to the hard work of Clegg as his deputy prime minister in the coalition and to Miliband’s commitment to public service.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama “is proud of the strong working relationship that he’s developed with David Cameron over the years and he’s looking forward to continuing to strengthen that personal relationship, but also making sure we continue to deepen the relationship between the American people and the British people.”

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also called Cameron to offer their congratulations and invite talks on EU issues, according to his official Twitter account.

5 things we never knew about Cameron

The Scottish push

Another big winner is the SNP.

In one of the biggest shock upsets of the night, 20-year-old politics student Mhairi Black became Britain’s youngest lawmaker since 1667 – ousting one of Labour’s top figures in the process. Her victory for the SNP toppled Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election chief and a former Cabinet minister.

Mhairi Black took what should have been one of Labour
Mhairi Black took what should have been one of Labour's safest constituencies.
PHOTO: jeff j mitchell/getty

Labour’s Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, lost his parliamentary seat to Kirsten Oswald, another largely unknown challenger, while former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s old seat also went to the nationalists.

The SNP’s Alex Salmond, the party’s former leader who pushed for the unsuccessful independence referendum last year, won a seat at Westminster.

Salmond said the result was clear. “We’re seeing an electoral tsunami on a gigantic scale,” he told CNN’s UK affiliate ITN, “and that is a tide flowing with the Scottish National Party.”

A big win for the party could accelerate the resurgent momentum toward another Scottish independence referendum in the years to come.

But gaining independence for Scotland isn’t the only issue on the party’s agenda. It also wants to end Britain’s nuclear weapons program, which could have an impact on the country’s relationship with NATO.

Nicola Sturgeon, its current leader and the winner of much acclaim during the campaign, said her party’s members of Parliament had promised they “would be elected to make Scotland’s voice heard and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”

But she said they would also seek “to work with others across the UK, to try to get more progressive politics at the heart of Westminster.”

The ‘repeat rebels’

While Cameron won’t need a coalition partner this time around, governing with such a slender majority won’t be easy.

“Although people will portray this as a great Conservative victory – and against the expectations it is – Cameron’s problems now are only just beginning because, if he’s only got a very small majority, he’s going to be in hock to the extreme right wing of his party,” said professor Robert Hazell of University College London. This right wing includes 10 to 20 “repeat rebels,” Hazell said, who could cause Cameron major headaches.

For the moment, though, Cameron can heave a big sigh of relief and savor the sweet taste of victory over Labour.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark reported and wrote from London; Paul Armstrong from Hong Kong. Catherine E. Shoichet, Nic Robertson, Stephen Collinson, Tom Foreman, John Vause, Fred Pleitgen, Richard Allen Greene, Christiane Amanpour, Antonia Mortensen, Andrew Carey, Alexander Felton and Rachel Clarke contributed to this report.