The BBC forecast, with well over half of the results in, is Conservative 329, Labour 235, the Lib Dems eight, the SNP 56, Plaid Cymru three, UKIP one, the Greens one and others 19.
The Conservatives are expected to have won a 37% share of the national vote, Labour 31%, UKIP 13%, the Lib Dems 8%, the SNP 5%, the Green party 4% and Plaid Cymru 1%, despite widespread pre-election speculation that the likely result would be a minority government of more complex make-up than 2010’s.
David Cameron’s party has unseated a raft of senior political opponents including Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls, and Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable.
The Conservatives' manifesto, announced mid-April, promised to improve the lives of British workers while protecting business.
Pledges included exempting workers who earn less than £12,500 and those working 30 hours on the minimum wage from Income Tax, raising the 40p tax threshold to exempt those earning less than £50,000, and tightening rules on industrial action. This would include tougher turnout thresholds, particularly for public services, and repealing bans on hiring strike cover.
The manifesto also pledged:
• to raise the minimum wage to more than £8 an hour “by the end of the decade”
• 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds, "worth £5,000 a year"
• introduction of the new state pension (legislated for in the previous parliament)
• to reduce pension contribution tax relief for those earning in excess of £150,000
• three million more apprenticeships over the next five years
• replacing the Jobseeker’s Allowance for 18- to 21-year-olds with a Youth Allowance that will be time-limited to six months, after which jobseekers will have to accept an apprenticeship, traineeship or do daily community work to receive benefits
• to halve the disability employment gap
• abolition of the jobs tax – employers' National Insurance contributions – for apprentices under 25
• a business rate review by the end of the year
• to cut £10 billion-worth of red tape
• extra support for high-street shops by increasing the business rates retail discount to £1,500
Last night’s results also saw the SNP win a historic landslide victory in Scotland, winning 56 out of 59 seats. Labour has been left with just one MP in Scotland, with Scottish party leader Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander and among those losing their seats.
The SNP’s top manifesto priority is creating more jobs in Scotland. Policies include a small business bonus ensuring £450 million of support for SMEs, commitment to 125,000 apprenticeships over the lifetime of the parliament, and a commitment that every 16- to 19-year-old in Scotland not in work, training or education will be offered a learning or training opportunity.