David Cameron and Ed Miliband delivering speeches at campaign events before the election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour concedes that Cameron is set to remain prime minister

Party close to admitting defeat as it says the Tories "will have huge task uniting country" after SNP surge.

Fewer than 50 of the UK's 650 constituencies have declared, but Labour has already all but conceded defeat. The results from Conservative-Labour marginals suggest that, if anything, the exit poll (which put the Tories on 316 seats) underestimated the performance of David Cameron's party. In too many areas, including in London, Labour has either stood still or gone backwards. A Tory majority, regarded as almost impossible before tonight, is no longer out of the question.

Having initially dismissed the exit poll as "wrong", Labour has now admitted that it is Cameron, not Ed Miliband, who will likely be prime minister. After a two hour gap, a party spokesman said: "Results in Scotland clearly very difficult – if the exit poll is right, the seats the SNP are taking off Labour will turn out to be crucial if David Cameron ends up back in No 10. Next government will have huge task uniting country." Rather than contesting the view that the Tories are likely to retain power, Labour is now warning that they will struggle to unite a divided state - a significant shift.

A source at party HQ told me: "Ed has to resign tomorrow. Everyone here accepts that." The battle to define the defeat will now begin: did Labour lose because it was too left-wing or did it lose because it wasn't left-wing enough? Andy Burnham and Chuka Umunna will be the main contenders for the leadership, with Yvette Cooper, Dan Jarvis and Liz Kendall among the other possible candidates.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.