It was to prove something of a bitter-sweet evening for Tony Blair. Late last night, it was clear he was heading for an historic third term in office. But as results began to flow in the early hours, it was clear that Labour's Commons majority would be drastically reduced. Could it be that Gordon Brown's supporters were, even then, beginning to wonder how quickly their man might replace Mr Blair at the helm of Government?
A moment of real drama. Even before the sounds of the great bell of Big Ben have faded, David Dimbleby announces the results of the exit poll. The BBC and ITV have jointly commissioned an NOP/MORI poll of 16,000 voters as they left 120 polling stations across the country.
The prediction is a drastically reduced majority for Labour down from 160 seats to just 66, and a very disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats who are forecast to increase their tally by just two seats. The Tories, it hazarded, would gain 44 seats to give them 209 MPs. It is looking a lot worse for Labour than most people have assumed. But it is early days and the exit polls have been wrong before.
Inside Conservative party HQ the party's Australian campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, is talking about taking 50 seats. There are smiles, if not smirks, on Tory faces. But the party co-chairman Liam Fox, who helped run the Tory campaign, admits that his party has "an enormous mountain to climb".
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, says there was "no doubt" Labour will be returned for a historic third term in office.
The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, says results in marginal seats around the country may contradict the exit poll findings. "Our own people are telling us that in the target seats we have been going like a bomb and there's a great deal of confidence."
Turn-out is hugely up in Torbay. The Liberal Democrats are claiming they take Birmingham Perry Bar which is 74th on their target list. That would be a real blow for Labour.
Clare Short, the former cabinet minister who quit over the Iraq war, says that a much-reduced majority will be good for the Labour Government. Labour could live "very happily" with a majority of 66. "If there was a little bit more discussion, and respect for Parliament and all the different opinions in the Labour party it might improve the quality of the Government. So, a reduction in the majority that might be good for our Government." She hints that a leadership battle may be imminent. "I think everyone agrees, we would have done better with a different leader."
Foreign Office minister Chris Mullin holds Sunderland South with a reduced majority. Tony Blair should be a bit nervous. It looks as if the Labour vote is crumbly. On the basis of this result, projected nationally, however, Labour would still have a majority of 88. Alarmingly, the British National Party vote is up 3.8 per cent at 1,166 votes.
Mullin puts a brave face on the reduction in his majority. "Small swing, not many killed," he says. A national result of this order would give Blair the mandate to remain as leader for a full term.
The sitting Labour candidate Oona King is very worried in Bethnal Green & Bow where the anti-war candidate George Galloway, the former Labour maverick, is doing well, reports say.
Tory former cabinet minister and leadership contender Michael Portillo says the results look to be "at the lower end of Labour's expectations. It may be at the higher end of Tory expectations." Even so, if Blair wins by 66 seats "this makes Tony Blair actually a bigger winner in aggregate than Margaret Thatcher" and yet they would show that "the key factor was that this time Tony Blair was not an electoral asset. He was becoming a liability."
Labour holds Sunderland North, with a similar 5 per cent swing to the Tories as in the neighbouring constituency. Labour holds Houghton & Washington East. Similar pattern to other results.
Lord Strathclyde, Tory leader in the Lords, says: "It's going to be much closer than people imagine. There's no good news here for Labour. It's cutting Blair down to size."
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly says the results so far are "a real vote of confidence in our programme since 1997". Asked how long Tony Blair would remain Prime Minister in a third term, she replies: "It's a little premature to speculate on the future Labour leadership when the votes aren't yet counted."
Tory MP Boris Johnson says results reflect the "slow, sad political extinction of Tony Blair". For the first time in three elections there is not a landslide for Labour.
Former home secretary David Blunkett says a reduced majority must be seen in the context of two previous "avalanche victories" for Labour.
Labour hold Barnsley central with an 8.5 per cent loss. Bad result for Labour. BNP result is 4.9 per cent, a whisker away from saving their deposit.
Labour holds Rotherham. BNP saves its deposit, and does better than UKIP
First London seat. Kate Hoey holds Vauxhall for Labour but with a 6 per cent swing to Liberal Democrats. Shows much the same pattern as in northern England.
Tories take Putney from Labour which takes a 9 per cent drop in its vote.
Results to date: Labour 12, Conservative 1, Liberal Democrat 0
Disappointment for Liberal Democrats as Labour holds Newcastle Central despite big swing to Lib Dems.
Labour maverick Bob Marshall-Andrews says he has lost Medway to Tories. On this swing they could lose 12 seats in London.
Lib Dems hold Southport against the prospect of a Tory surge there. Lab 29, Con 2, Lib Dem 1.
John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, wins Hull East but on just a 48 per cent turnout and with a 6 per cent swing to the Lib Dems.
David Blunkett wins, but suffers 6 per cent swing to Lib Dems. "We need to hear the voice of the British public," he says.
Lab 38, Con 2 , Lib Dem 1.
Gordon Brown holds Kirkcaldy. Against the trend his majority is up by 2,000. Mixed result for Brown; Labour's reduced majority may mean he becomes PM sooner, but leading a weakened party. "I promise that we will listen and we will learn," he says.
Tory veteran Malcolm Rifkind says: "We're smiling and Labour are not".
Liberal Democrats hold Torbay but with a reduced majority. UKIP achieve 5 per cent of the vote.
Jack Straw holds Blackburn, but his majority has been cut by over 4,000. The Liberal Democrat vote is up substantially. Conservatives and UKIP votes fall. 2,082 votes for BNP.
It emerges that the size of the Torbay swing would lose the Lib Dems 5 or 6 seats if it is replicated elsewhere. The pattern is emerging that the Lib Dems are doing well where they attack Labour, less well where they take on the Tories.
Conservatives take Peterborough from Labour with a significant swing of 7 per cent .
Rock-solid Labour seat, Manchester Withington, is having a recount after Liberal Democrats claimed to have won it on a 16.4 per cent swing.
Recount in Shipley.
Second recount in Battersea.
Alan Milburn tells the Prime Minister that he does not want a cabinet job. Once again he wants to spend more time with his family. Did he jump before he was pushed?
What is emerging is that the pattern of results is more complicated than in many previous polls. This confirms that this has been one of the most difficult elections to predict in recent times, with all the standard issues complicated by the wild card of Iraq which brought a more intense triangulation to the voting. The average swing after 61 results out of 646 is: Lab to Con 2.57 per cent; Con to Lib Dem 2.69 per cent; and Lab to Lib Dem 5.26 per cent.
On his 52nd birthday, Tony Blair, accompanied by his wife, Cherie, arrives at his count at Sedgefiled. His look? Determinedly cheerful.
The BBC predicts, on the basis of existing results, rather than exit polls, that Tony Blair will eventually secure a Labour majority of 68.
Lib Dems take Hornsey from Labour with 15 per cent swing. Theresa May holds Maidenhead for the Tories with a 6 per cent swing from Labour.
Ann Cryer holds Keighley. Nick Griffin, BNP leader, gets 9 per cent with 4,240 votes.
Independent wins Blawnau Gwent from Labour in local row over the imposition of an all-woman shortlist.
Lib Dems take Cardiff Central with 5,593 majority and 9 per cent swing. Tuition fees and Iraq were key factors.
Conservatives gain Wimbledon from Labour on 7 per cent swing. Lib Dems take Manchester Withington. Two significant blows for Labour.
A chastened Tony Blair is elected with increased majority. But he acknowledges that Iraq has been a divisive issue "but I hope now we can unite again and look to the future". He pledges to take note of the message that the electorate wanted a Labour government with a reduced majority. Reg Keys, whose son was killed in Iraq, gets 4,252 votes and makes a moving speech in the Prime Minister's presence.
Tories retake Enfield South, the seat Michael Portillo lost in 1997. Ruth Kelly holds Bolton West despite a swing to Tories of 4 per cent. Lorna Fitzsimmons loses Rochdale to Lib Dems on 8 per cent swing. Lab 219, Con 37, Lib Dem 23.
The Conservatives win Monmouth from Labour and gain their first Welsh MP since 1997.
Conservative gain from Labour in Harwich.
Charles Kennedy re-elected with greatly increased majority. Lib Dems gain Inverness. But all their wins are from Labour, not the Tories.
Tony Blair makes provisional victory speech at Trimdon Labour Club
Liberal Democrats gain Bristol West, another student seat but fail to take Dorset West from Oliver Letwin who slightly increases his majority. Still counting in Bethnal Green and Bow when the former Labour anti-war maverick George Galloway threatens to oust Labour's Blair loyalist Oona King. The war keeps coming back to bite the Government.
Today is the Prime Minister's 52nd birthday. The nation has given him the present of a third term, but not perhaps with the personal validation he wanted. The Chancellor Gordon Brown's supporters have begun wondering how quickly they can move Mr Blair out of Downing Street.
What they said
"What is clear, and has been all the time Labour is going to be the next government"
John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister
"Our own people are telling us that in target seats we have been going like a bomb. There's a great deal of confidence"
Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat deputy leader
"It's going to be much closer than people imagine. There's no good news here for Labour. It's cutting Blair down to size"
Lord Strathclyde, Conservative leader in the Lords
"I think everyone agrees, we would have done better with a different leader"
Clare Short, ex-cabinet minister
[The Conservative Party] ran a pretty nasty right-wing campaign. It used to be a one nation party, it turned into a one-issue party. That issue was immigration"
Alan Milburn, Labour's general election co-ordinator
"It's certainly on the up. The question is how much on the up"
Lord Steel, former Liberal leader on his party's fortunes
"A lot of people who won't admit to having voted Tory actually have"
Ian Hislop, Private Eye editor and broadcaster
"On a dark night I have no doubt that this will be a ray of light for the Prime Minister"
Bob Marshall-Andrews, veteran Labour reflects on the impact of his defeat in MedwayReuse content