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Britain’s Cameron Promises Reforms, EU Referendum After Election Win

By Bill Smith, dpa (TNS)

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron promised Friday to deliver all the economic and political reforms in his manifesto after his Conservative Party won an outright parliamentary majority in the general election.

“We will deliver that in-out referendum on our future in Europe,” Cameron said, referring to his promise to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and hold a referendum by the end of 2017.

He said five years of the Conservatives’ coalition government with the Liberal Democrats had “laid the foundations for a better future.”

“As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom,” he said outside his residence in London’s Downing Street after visiting Queen Elizabeth to inform her of his plan to form a new government.

“That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country, from north to south, from east to west,” Cameron said, adding that he plans to expand devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “as fast as I can.”

Cameron earlier hailed the “sweetest victory” of his political career, with the win giving the Conservatives around 330 seats and a clear mandate for another five years in office.

The Conservative majority in the 650-seat parliament surprised most political analysts.

The Conservatives’ main rivals, Labour, won some 230 seats, meaning it had lost about two dozen of those they had held since 2010. Their leader, Ed Miliband, resigned the party leadership after calling Cameron to congratulate him on the election result. Of his own position, he said it was “time for someone else.”

“The responsibility for the result is mine alone,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also resigned his party’s leadership, after accepting responsibility for the “catastrophic” loss of seats in the election.

The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives’ coalition partners for the last five years, lost 48 of the 57 seats they held in 2010, with several seats still to be counted.

“It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” says Clegg, who served as deputy prime minister in the coalition.

He is one of only eight members of his party to have won a seat in Thursday’s election.

The London stock exchange was up around 2 percent during mid-day trading while sterling was gaining on the dollar and the euro.

“Clearly we have a mandate to get on with the work that we started five years ago,” Chancellor George Osborne said.

Most pre-election polls had forecast no more than 285 seats for Osborne’s party.

There was a rise in support for the right-wing UK Independence Party, although it won only one seat and party leader Nigel Farage failed to get one. He later resigned the party leadership.

In his resignation speech, Farage blamed his defeat on prospective UKIP voters choosing the Conservatives because they “were so scared” of a possible coalition government between Labour and the Scottish National Party, which right-wing tabloid newspapers had presented as a “nightmare” scenario.

Farage lost out to Conservative candidate Craig Craig Mackinlay, a former UKIP deputy leader, in the South Thanet constituency.

The Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland, wiping out all but one of Labour’s seats in what party leader Nicola Sturgeon hailed as a “historic watershed.”

The election shapes Britain’s economic future and could have major implications for the country’s welfare services, its relationship with the European Union — and even the future integrity of the country.
Cameron said the country “must hold” a promised referendum on EU membership and allow greater devolution for Scotland and Wales “as fast as we can.”

Turnout in the election was about 66 percent, a similar level to the last election in 2010.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker congratulated Cameron on his victory.

The commission “stands ready to work constructively with the new British government,” said spokesman Margaritis Schinas, adding that it will examine any requests for a change in Britain’s relations with the European Union in a “polite, friendly and objective way.”

The 28-member bloc’s governments must decide on any EU treaty changes, Schinas said, warning that freedom of movement — an issue challenged by many eurosceptics in Britain — is a “non-negotiable” right that is essential to the bloc.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: The Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his victory speech at the Witney Constituency Parliamentary Count, Witney, Oxfordshire, on May 8, 2015 after winning his seat in Witney the previous night. (Andrew Parsons/i-Images/Zuma Press/TNS)

6 Lessons Drawn From Cameron’s Big Victory

By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LONDON — The British election results Thursday night took even the seasoned by surprise. A race that was supposed to be tighter than a bearskin hatband and even potentially set off a parliamentary crisis turned out to be a romp for David Cameron’s Conservatives, who according to the tally so far defeated Ed Miliband’s Labor by 327-232 seats.

The events had implications for the United Kingdom’s two major parties as ?well as many others across the spectrum. We break down the lessons from a seismic day in British politics.

LABORING.
It’s a phenomenon that shares elements with the shattering losses of Democrats in several U.S. midterm elections: A party that once bore the working-class mantle is decimated by a conservative party,? especially in blue-collar areas. Labor’s demise in ?Scotland (to the nationalist-left Scottish National Party) and Northern England (to the Conservatives) was thorough, and will occasion hand-wringing for whoever takes over the party.? (Ed Miliband, who resigned Friday, tweeted that “the responsibility for the result is mine alone.”) Of course, politics loves a comeback. Miliband’s brother David, outmaneuvered for the head of Labor in 2010 and currently in New York as the head of a humanitarian group, could well return to the U.K. to fanfare and expectation, tasked with reversing a Democrat-esque collapse. And speaking? of blue and red state divides …

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH (OR IN) SCOTLAND?
A burgeoning post-referendum movement for homegrown representation ?turned into full-blown political revolt Thursday as the Scottish National Party took 56 out of 59 seats it was running for. The Scots have been throatily endorsing the SNP, which also runs the country’s own (modestly mandated) Parliament and is led by Nicola Sturgeon, a straight-talking figure who is one of the fastest-rising stars in British politics (if also, for the right, one of its most polarizing). There’s a sense among many analysts that these are the first stirrings of another Scottish independence referendum and even eventual separation from the United Kingdom. The fact that the SNP will now be in the opposition instead ?of a Labor-led governing coalition should only boost those efforts _ members can snipe at and thwart Cameron’s agenda from the sidelines, delighting constituents, without being faulted for the government’s futility or ?unfavorable actions.

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH POLLING?
This is supposed to be the era of Big Data.? So how did all the polls _ from the BBC to the Guardian/ICM _ get it wrong? The surveys all predicted neck-and-neck races; indeed, the margin between Conservative and Labor was never more than 2 percent in nearly all the major polls dating back months.
One simple answer is the sampling methods. Pre-election polls tend to look at national sentiments, discounting the local and granular forces that make up a Parliamentary election. (After all, the House of Commons is pieced together via about 645 small local elections.) Or it’s possible that many voters who planned to vote Labor got to the booth and decided to stick with the Conservative status quo. Still, it will prompt some pollster soul-searching.

THE LIB DEM-ISE. It was just five years ago when Cleggmania gripped Britain and? the centrist-minded Liberal Democrats rode a strong election to 57 seats and a spot with the Conservatives in the governing coalition. But that time may as well have been the Tudor era ?on Thursday night_the party captured just eight seats, effectively sidelining it from the political scene, at least for now, and reversing Nick Clegg’s rocket ride, at least for now. (He narrowly won his seat Thursday night and stepped down from the party leadership Friday.) There will be much ruminating about what went so wrong for a party that not so long ago had seized the British public’s imagination.? But the coalition, and the party’s rough place in it, did it no favors.? Neither did a larger polarization of British politics.

HARD RIGHTS.
On that subject of polarization, it was hardly a big parliamentary win_just one seat. Party leader Nigel Farage couldn’t even keep his own seat. But the United Kingdom Independence Party, a hard-right anti-immigration party, still notched over 10 percent of the popular vote. The result suggests that the party’s ideology is still popular with good chunks of the British population and that the country’s own version of France’s National Front is alive and well. Farage even says he hopes to come back.

CAMERON ANGLES.
David Cameron will claim a mandate after his party’s sound victory.? And given how many seats the Conservatives won over pundit predictions, he’ll have a case. But a number of close contests with Ukip candidates means he’ll continue to face pressure from his right. And he’ll encounter new challenges ?a-plenty in his second term, not least of which on European Union membership, an issue on which Cameron pledged a referendum in 2017_and which could cause a bitter Britain-wide fight that will be hard for a prime minister to stay above?.

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times.Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
AFP Photo/Leon Neal

Surprise Lead For Conservatives In UK Election Exit Poll

London (AFP) – Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives have defied expectations to win the most seats at Britain’s general election while falling just short of the clear majority needed to govern alone, exit polls indicated Thursday.

The centre-right Conservatives were projected to win 316 seats compared to 239 for Ed Miliband’s centre-left Labour party, in a result that tore up pre-election predictions.

Opinion polls had indicated for months that the Conservatives and Labour were virtually tied.

If the results are borne out, they could put Britain on a collision course with the European Union as Cameron has promised an in-out referendum on membership.

In what would be another big shock, the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has taken 58 out of 59 seats north of the border, according to the poll issued by Britain’s main broadcasters as ballot boxes closed at 2100 GMT.

That would represent a ninefold surge in support from the six seats the SNP held in the last parliament.

While the Conservatives may not have the clear majority of 326 seats in the House of Commons, the results, if confirmed, would put Cameron in a strong permission to remain in Downing Street, potentially as leader of a minority government working with smaller parties.

“If they are right, it will mean the Conservatives have clearly won,” Michael Gove, a key ally of Cameron and chief whip in his government, told the BBC.

Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics said the exit polls indicated that Cameron “looks like he’s there for five years” — the full length of a parliamentary term in Britain.

“The paradox is David Cameron survives as prime minister but prime minister of a minority government which doesn’t have the votes to do anything radical,” he added.

City workers cheered, broke out in smiles and threw their arms up in the air at the Draft House pub near the Tower of London as they watched the exit poll on a large screen set up for election night.

“Why would you change? The economy is doing well after five years with the Conservatives,” said Grant, who works in Britain’s financial hub — a traditional stronghold of Conservative support.

If correct, the exit poll would mean the Conservatives — in power since 2010 in a coalition government — had increased their number of seats in the House of Commons by 14.

The Liberal Democrats, junior partners in Cameron’s coalition, slumped to 10 seats from 56 currently, according to the poll.

Ed Balls, one of Labour’s most senior figures and finance spokesman, insisted Cameron could still fail to build enough support to form a government, opening the door for Labour.

“The question will be, do the SNP and the Liberal Democrats support a progressive (centre-left) agenda or not?” he told the BBC.

The exit polls put Nigel Farage’s anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) on two seats, the same figure as the Greens.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists had eight, Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru were on four and other parties picked up the remainder.

The outcome of the general election could determine Britain’s future in the European Union and whether Scotland remains part of Britain.

Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if he wins, while the SNP has said it would work with Labour in return for policy concessions.

Scots rejected independence in a referendum last year but the SNP has seen its support surge since and has not ruled out pushing for a fresh referendum.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned on Twitter the exit polls should be treated with “HUGE caution”. She added: “I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!”

Most results in the election will emerge overnight but the final tally of seats will not emerge until Friday afternoon.

Under Britain’s electoral system, a party needs to be able to command a majority in the 650-seat House of Commons in order to form a government.

Strictly speaking, the Conservatives or Labour would need to have 326 seats to have a majority.

In practice, though, this figure is likely to be more like 323 because Irish nationalists Sinn Fein do not take up the seats they win and the speaker of the House of Commons does not take part in votes.

If neither the Conservatives nor Labour wins an outright majority, they will have to start negotiations with smaller parties in a bid to attract their support.

It is thought the Conservatives could again team up with the centrist Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Unionists.

Labour, meanwhile, could attract support from the SNP although they have ruled out a formal deal.

The Liberal Democrats say they could also be open to working with Labour.

The negotiations are likely to be complex and experts say they are likely to last for days or even weeks.

U.S. President Barck Obama (R) and British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2015 prior to a working dinner (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

This post has been updated.

Scottish Nationalists Set For Historic Victory

Glasgow (AFP) – Scottish nationalists were headed for sweeping gains in Britain’s general election on Thursday, with an exit poll indicating a surge in support that could increase pressure for a new independence referendum.

“My message is that we’ll stand up for Scotland,” Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), told supporters after casting her ballot in a Glasgow suburb.

“We will look to make alliances with people across the UK to make Westminster politics better,” she added as the count got underway in the city’s Emirates Arena — a giant sports complex.

An exit poll after the last ballots were cast indicated her party was on track to win 58 out of the 59 Scottish constituencies in the House of Commons — up from the SNP’s current tally of just six seats.

The result would be a stunning reversal from eight months ago when the SNP lost an independence referendum in which 55 percent of Scots voted against breaking off from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The SNP has also said it would be prepared to work with a minority government led by the main opposition Labour party, potentially handing it more leverage.

The referendum has paradoxically had the effect of invigorating the nationalist campaign, which has accused Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of breaking promises on granting Scotland more autonomy.

“The SNP has done almost a complete wipeout,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics.

Sturgeon urged caution over the exit polls, however, tweeting: “I’d treat the exit poll with HUGE caution. I’m hoping for a good night but I think 58 seats is unlikely!”

“Whatever the results, I’m very proud of our campaign,” she wrote.

Voters across Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city which was once a Labour stronghold, said that they hoped for a stronger voice for their nation in parliament.

“Whatever the outcome, whatever party wins, they are going to need to change how they see Scotland as a political entity,” said John Lyons, a retired civil servant casting his ballot.

Scotland has had a devolved government in Edinburgh since 1998, although major decisions about tax and spending, defence and foreign policy are still taken in London.

The desire for greater powers and influence is a common refrain in Glasgow, a once proud shipping and industrial hub.

“I don’t think Westminster or the central government has given Scotland enough credit or enough power,” said Sam Aaron, a 38-year-old doctor.

“I dont like the Conservative government because I don’t think they represent Scotland’s interests to be honest. I think that’s an English government,” he said.

John James Swift, a 19-year-old student, said the election was “a chance that more people will have their voices heard”.

“The biggest thing I want is independence. As soon as possible, in the next year and a half, two years. And a fairer society,” he said.

The pain of budget cuts under Cameron are keenly felt in Scotland — where memories of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who is blamed for the decline of many traditional industries, are still raw.

“We need a lot of changes regarding all the austerity. There are so many people struggling, struggling,” said Mary Johnstone, 86.

She has made clear she would seek to block the Conservatives forming a coalition or minority government and would work with Labour — but would not give even them an easy ride.

Labour is committed to continuing Cameron’s austerity programme but on a reduced scale, while the SNP wants to see increased public spending each year.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose party seems to have suffered the brunt of the SNP surge, reached out to Scottish voters during the campaign saying that he understood their “patriotism and pride”.

He promised to “hold Scotland’s interests in my heart and in my head” — an appeal that may have fallen on deaf ears.

Photo: AFP / Glyn Kirk

This post has been updated.