Tories 'set to be biggest party'
Conservatives were predicted to be the single biggest party in the House of Commons after an exit poll appeared to put David Cameron on track to remain in 10 Downing Street.
In what would be a disaster for both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg if borne out by results, the joint BBC/ITN/Sky poll put Conservatives on 316 - just 10 short of the magic number of 326 needed to command an absolute majority in the House of Commons.
Labour were forecast to secure just 239 - 17 fewer than their tally at the start of the election campaign - with the Scottish National Party achieving almost a clean sweep of 58 of the 59 seats north of the border.
Liberal Democrats were predicted to be reduced to a rump of just 10 seats - just enough to form a viable coalition with Tories - while Ukip were forecast to win two constituencies, securing their first ever General Election victories.
The exit poll of around 22,000 voters at 141 locations was dramatically at odds with polling during the election campaign, which suggested right up to the last day that Conservatives and Labour were heading for a dead heat.
A YouGov ballot-day poll of 6,000 people who had voted painted a much brighter picture for Mr Miliband, putting Labour and Tories tied on 34% each, Ukip on 12%, Lib Dems on 10%, the SNP and Plaid Cymru on 5% and Greens on 4%.
Tory chief whip Michael Gove said that, if the exit poll was proved correct, Mr Cameron would have won "a very handsome victory" while Labour would have "clearly lost it".
But Labour sources voiced scepticism about the result of the survey, saying: "It looks wrong to us."
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said that, even if it was accurate, the Conservative/LIberal Democrat coalition's majority in the Commons would have been slashed from 72 to zero, leaving Mr Cameron's position in question.
"If the exit poll is wrong just by 10 seats ... then suddenly David Cameron won't be able to get a majority in the House of Commons and it will fall to Ed Miliband as leader of the Opposition to then put a Queen's Speech before Parliament," said Mr Balls.
"I hope our result is going to be a lot better than that. It's really in question whether David Cameron will be able to hang on as Prime Minister when he has been set back in this way. He said success for him was a majority. Even on the exit poll, he's not going to get that."