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Labour leader Miliband may be forced to step down if forecasts on party losses prove accurate

By Press Association Reporter

Ed Miliband may be forced to step down as leader if exit polls suggesting that the party has lost nearly 20 seats are right, senior Labour figures have suggested.

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, and David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, both refused to back Mr Miliband's leadership when asked if he should stay on.

Lord Mandelson, the former Labour Business Secretary, suggested that it was not "conceivable" that Mr Miliband would enter Downing Street if the Tories win 316 seats and Labour just 258 seats.

He said: "On these numbers, I don't really see that (Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister). The numbers in themselves do not rule out Ed Miliband being Prime Minister. That will not come necessarily from the number that comes first."

Speaking of the exit poll result, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the BBC: "Our first thought, I'm afraid, is to be puzzled because it doesn't reflect many of the conversations, the response we've had, including the response that we've had today, which was Labour voters coming out to vote with great enthusiasm."

Asked if she had any "qualms" about Labour's campaign, or the way Ed Miliband has run it, Ms Cooper added: "No, I think Ed Miliband has led a really strong campaign across the country, with so many people out on the doorstep.

"We've seen that - so many people joining the party, being involved in our campaign, so that's why I really think we need to wait until we get those results in." Asked if he thought it was still credible that Ed Miliband could be Prime Minister in Downing Street in 24 hours, Tory chief whip Michael Gove said: "I would be amazed if anyone were to make that argument with a straight face."

He told ITV: "It appears as though if Labour have gained any seats tonight, they appear to have been a very small number.

"And the second thing is it is the sitting Prime Minister who has the first right to form a government, it's the largest party which traditionally forms a government, so I would have thought at the very least all the constitutional precedents will have suggested that, if the exit polls are anything like correct, David Cameron will in a position to lay out exactly how a stable and secure government can be formed."

"Obviously, it's a very, very clear victory for the Conservatives and a very bad night for Labour," said Tory Uxbridge candidate Boris Johnson.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock said the future of his party would be one of "fightback".

Last night Labour won the first seat to declare in the 2015 general election with an increased majority.

Bridget Phillipson held Houghton and Sunderland South, polling 21,218 votes, up 4.7% on her 2010 figure. Ukip's Richard Elvin polled 8,280, pushing Conservatives candidate Stewart Hay into third place with 7,105 votes.

Ms Phillipson said voters "have put their faith in Labour's belief that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed too.

"The Tories have failed people here and across Britain."

Officials in Sunderland have been the first in the country to declare since 1992, and ran a slick operation to retain its record.

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