We have the first big surprise of general election night – and it’s the BBC exit poll. It shows the Tories doing far better than almost anyone expected on 316 seats (up from 303), Labour on just 239 (down from 257), the SNP on 58 (up from six and just one away from a clean sweep), the Lib Dems on just 10 (down from 56), Plaid Cymru on four, Ukip on two and the Greens on two.
If the exit poll is right (and it has been at every recent general election) then it is fantastic for the Conservatives, disastrous for Labour, sensational for the SNP and apocalyptic for the Lib Dems. The Tories are predicted to have made huge gains from their coalition partners and to have held up remarkably well against Labour in England.
With these numbers, David Cameron would be able to secure a majority in the Commons and remain Prime Minister with the support of the Lib Dems (who take the Tories to 326 – a majority of one) and the DUP (who are expected to win nine seats). Even if the Tories perform less well than expected, the betting is on Cameron to remain PM. As in 1992, it looks as if the “shy Tories” have come to the Conservatives’ rescue. Here’s what Neil Kinnock told me when I interviewed him in this week’s NS: “That’s always a danger … There’s a superstition that somehow a Tory government will look after your pocket, it’s a triumph of propaganda over reality and people who tell pollsters that they’re not sure or they’re not going to vote Conservative will, in the privacy of the ballot booth, say: ‘To hell with it, I’ll stick with what I know because they say they’re going to cut my taxes’ – even when their record is of course to have put taxes up.'”
A separate YouGov survey has less unexpected numbers, with the Tories on 284, Labour on 263, the SNP on 48, the Lib Dems on 31, Plaid Cymru on three, Ukip on two and the Greens on one. The long wait to discover who is right now begins.
A Labour source told The Staggers: “It’s been close all the way through – and exit polls have been wrong in the past. YouGov is very different from the BBC’s. The coalition came into the election with a majority of 73 and even if the BBC exit poll is right, that has been all-but wiped out. Who forms the next government is who can carry the confidence of the House of Commons.”