It was a night of shocks and – for a number of well-known political faces – particularly painful defeats, as Labour was crushed in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats lost some of their star players across the UK, alongside other high-profile surprises.
As a number of big beasts bade farewell to Westminster, however, there were plenty of new faces too.
Ed Balls, Labour
The shadow chancellor’s shock defeat is likely to become one of the enduring images of Labour’s night.
A fixture on Labour’s frontbench since 2007, Balls finished third in the 2010 leadership election in which Ed Miliband took over the helm, and would potentially have thrown his hat in the ring again had he kept his seat.
As Gordon Brown’s closest economic adviser for 10 years, Balls was nicknamed the deputy chancellor. But for all his abilities he has often been seen as a divisive figure. As Brown’s attack dog, he helped to fan the then chancellor’s feud with Tony Blair, which blighted the Labour party for years.
It was Brown who gave Balls his first cabinet post, after Brown succeeded Blair as prime minister in 2007, promoting him from economics secretary to secretary of state for children, schools and families. Miliband appointed Balls as shadow home secretary after the 2010 leadership election. Given his economic expertise it was something of a surprise he was not chosen to be shadow chancellor, but a year later he stepped into the role after Alan Johnson stood down from the post.
Balls, who has been an MP since 2005, is one half of a Labour power couple, being married to fellow frontbencher and potential leadership candidate Yvette Cooper.
He has been relentlessly targeted by the Tories, with David Cameron describing him in 2011 as “the most annoying person in modern politics”.
After, his defeat by 422 votes in Morley and Outwood, defending a majority of 1,101, he will have to reflect on his future in politics.
He looked suitably grim-faced following his defeat, the result of a stealth Tory ground campaign, but gave a gracious speech, saying he was more hurt by Labour’s overall performance than his personal disappointment.
Jim Murphy, Labour
If the election has delivered a spectacular result for the Scottish National party, few victories will bring it more satisfaction than its defenestration of Murphy, the Scottish Labour leader who was also a key figure in the no campaign.
A charismatic native Glaswegian who was Scotland secretary under Brown and became leader of the party in Scotland after the referendum, he brought undeniable energy to Scottish Labour after years in which, according to the previous leader, Johann Lamont, it had been treated as a “branch office” of the party.
But Murphy also attracted particular vitriol from some nationalists after alleging the SNP had sent “organised mobs” to referendum campaign meetings, with police forced to step up their presence at general election rallies to prevent them being disrupted by protesters.
Earlier this week the SNP suspended a number of members following ugly scuffles at a Murphy campaign event in Glasgow at which he was greeted with shouts of “Judas” and “warmongering scum”.
He has not been universally loved by his own colleagues either, with one Scottish Labour MP, Ian Davidson, saying that Murphy’s victory in the party leadership was a result of a “whispering campaign” he had orchestrated against Lamont, and claiming Murphy had staged a coup against her.
The son of a builder, Murphy grew up in Glasgow’s southside housing projects before his father, who had moved the family around the UK in search of work, emigrated to South Africa when his son was 12. Murphy returned when he was 18. It was growing up poor in Scotland and growing up white in South Africa, he has said, that first sparked his interest in politics.
He was elected to represent East Renfrewshire as part of Labour’s 1997 sweep to victory, and in his concession speech acknowledged to Kirsten Oswald, the new MP, that he knew what it was like to come from behind to triumph in the seat. In the end his defeat was comprehensive, with Oswald taking 23,013 votes to Murphy’s 19,250. The battle to rebuild Labour in Scotland, he said, would begin immediately.
Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat
The business secretary, one of the Lib Dems’ most popular and recognisable characters, became one of the highest profile scalps of the night with his defeat in Twickenham. In a night of dreadful losses for the party, Cable’s departure will be a huge blow for the Lib Dems and for Cable personally – he had held the seat since 2007 and was one of a very small number of Lib Dems to win more than 50% of the vote in the two previous elections.
Clegg, visiting the constituency in the dying days of the campaign, called Cable a “legend of a man”. But the Tories rallied in the final days to support their candidate, Tania Mathias.
Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat
Simon Hughes, an MP for 31 years, served as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats from 2010-14, and had been minister of state at the Ministry of Justice since 2013, but he lost his Bermondsey and Old Southwark seat to Labour’s Neil Coyle, formerly policy director at the Disability Alliance.
Hughes got almost 50% of the vote in 2010, and has served the constituency for three decades. He looked crushed as the result came through, another victim of dislike of the coalition and student anger at Nick Clegg’s broken promise over tuition fees.
Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat
Ed Davey became the first ministerial scalp of the evening as he lost his Kingston and Surbiton seat to the Conservatives. The energy secretary, who had been tipped as a possible future party leader, lost to the Tory candidate, James Berry – who got the support of several Tory big hitters in the runup to polling day, hosting David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in the last few weeks.
It will come as a huge blow to Davey, who has represented the seat since 1997, and was defending a majority of 7,560. He became energy secretary in 2012 after the resignation of Chris Huhne after his prosecution for perverting the course of justice. The same year, reports emerged that Davey was preparing to challenge for the party leadership if Nick Clegg was deposed – a feat he will now find significantly more difficult.
Douglas Alexander, Labour
In any other election, the ejection of Labour’s election strategist – with his huge majority of 16,614 in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, claimed on a 60% vote share – would have been almost inconceivable. The fact that Alexander, who has been shadow foreign secretary since 2010 and was a minister under both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, has been undone by a 20-year-old student makes his defeat unquestionably one of the biggest scalps of the night for the SNP. When Black was born in 1994, Alexander was already working for Brown as a speechwriter.
The former solicitor’s defeat, while shocking, is not unexpected – the polls have been showing him trailing the SNP since February, with the nationalists painting him as a “career politician” in contrast with the confident and outspoken Black’s fresh face. Like Brown, Alexander is a son of the manse; his sister Wendy Alexander was an MSP, serving for a time as the Labour leader in the Scottish parliament.
In his concession speech, Alexander said Scotland had “chosen to oppose this Conservative government but not place its trust in the Labour party. It will be our responsibility to re-win that trust in the months and years ahead.”
He “could not be more proud” of his local campaign team, he said, but added it had been a “very difficult night” for Labour.
Nigel Farage, Ukip
Further good news for the Conservatives came in the form of Nigel Farage failing to gain a seat in the coastal Kent constituency of South Thanet – and then resigned as Ukip’s leader. He lost to the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay by 2,812 votes, despite Ukip becoming the third largest party in the polls.
Farage smiled before the delayed result, which came at about 10:30am, but appeared increasingly red-faced as the results were announced. He said the outcome was a disappointment for his party but said he believed it would trigger demands for electoral reform.
“I saw a shift in this election, Ukip, is suddenly the party for the under-30s and young working women. There is a big change going on in politics. We believe that Britain needs to get back its democracy,” he said.
Ukip picked up 12% of the national vote and came second in at least 90 seats, but it failed to win key target constituencies. Prediction polls had given Farage a 50-50 chance of winning in Thanet South, in a campaign that remained close for several weeks leading up to the election.
Farage had previously said he would stand down as leader of his party should he lose. As pledged, he surrendered his position less than an hour after the results were announced. He added, however, that he would take the summer to decide whether to take part in the party’s leadership contest in September, giving rise to doubts that he’s genuinely sticking to his word.
A former commodity broker, Farage became a founding member of Ukip after he left the Conservative party in 1992 owing to its signing of the Maastricht treaty. He became leader of Ukip from 2006-2009 and took up the helm again in 2010 following the resignation of Lord Pearson of Rannoch.
The Dulwich College graduate has been a member of the European parliament for South East England since 1999 and co-chairs the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group. His influence in the political sphere has been significant, and has led to a rightward shift within the Conservative party, which attempted to match him on key issues such as an EU referendum and controls on immigration.
His opinions have often been controversial. During the challenger’s debate on the BBC, he was booed by the audience after he claimed they did not represent the electorate, as well as for for his views on barring HIV-positive immigrants from entering the country and using the NHS.
In his speech on Friday, Farage added that he had “never felt happier” and a “huge weight has been lifted” from his shoulders. “I do congratulate the prime minister. He did secure a Tory majority, something that no one thought would be possible,” he said.
Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat
Jo Swinson first took up a seat in the House of Commons as a fresh-faced 25-year-old, becoming MP for East Dunbartonshire in the Glasgow suburbs. But after a decade that saw her rise from being Nick Clegg’s private secretary to become junior minister for employment relations and equality, she has been unseated by the rampant SNP.
Swinson first won the seat with a majority of 4,061, but in 2010 her majority was only 2,184. That was swept away by John Nicolson of the SNP on Thursday night. A long way from being the biggest shock of the evening – the Lord Ashcroft poll closest to the general election had the SNP on 40% and Swinson on 29% – but Swinson was seen as a strong local campaigner and a well-liked MP.
George Galloway, Respect party
Another late result saw the surprise defeat of George Galloway in Bradford West following an ill-tempered, highly divisive campaign that saw him accuse his Labour opponent and eventual successor, Naz Shah, of lying about her forced marriage and saw both campaigns complain to police about the other breaking electoral law.
The 60-year-old Respect party leader, who won the seat in 2012 in a landslide he dubbed the Bradford Spring, was outspoken in defeat, however, saying: “The hyena can bounce on the lion’s grave but it can never be a lion”, and vowing that he was already preparing for his next campaign. The Scot has previously said he would run as mayor of London if defeated as an MP.
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat
Despite her diminutive stature, Lynne Featherstone has been one of the biggest Lib Dem figures in the coalition. As a Home Office minister, then as parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for International Development, and then back at the Home Office again, she played a key role in pushing the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act and was one of the leading figures behind government policies to end female genital mutilation.
But her constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green has been a key battleground during the 2015 campaign – it was No 94 on Labour’s hit list, with the party hoping to overturn Featherstone’s 6,875 majority. The Labour party was defeated there in 2005 when voters punished their MP Barbara Roche for her support of the Iraq war and switched to Featherstone, but Catherine West – formerly the leader of Islington council in north London – has taken her place.
Naomi Long, Alliance
The structural engineer and former Lord Mayor of Belfast was able to capitalise on personal and financial scandals dogging Robinson, and her election reflected what many hoped was the stirrings of post-sectarian politics in Northern Ireland.
The 2012-13 unrest over the flying of the union flag in Belfast badly damaged Alliance in the constituency – the party had supported the city council vote to stop flying the flag every day. But it was the decision by the two main unionist parties to stand a single candidate, uniting their votes, that ended her chances of retaining her seat – though the result, in the end, was closer than many expected.
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat
The former Home Office minister Norman Baker – who resigned from the role last year after he compared working with the home secretary, Theresa May, to “walking through mud” – had a comfortable majority in Lewes of 7,647 in 2010.
But the parliamentarian, who had represented Lewes since 1997, was forced to admit his political career was over after he lost to the Conservative Maria Caulfield by 1,083 votes.
“There is no question this has been a terrible night for the Liberal Democrats nationally,” he said. “We have paid the price for the courageous decision we took in 2010 to enter a coalition with the Conservatives. We have also paid the price for the genuine concerns people have about the Scottish National party and their influence in the way ahead and I do fear frankly for the union if we now have a Conservative government in London and the SNP have taken almost all of the seats north of the border.
“And personally as someone who is from Aberdeen and supports the union, I fear it is doomed unless something dramatic changes in the future.”
Esther McVey, Conservative
It was a tight and dirty fight in Wirral West, but when it came down to it, Esther McVey, the only scouse Tory in the Westminster village, lost her seat to Labour challenger Margaret Greenwood.
In the end there were only 417 votes in it, Greenwood taking 18,898 to McVey’s 18,481. As employment minister working alongside Iain Duncan Smith, she became a figure of hate to many of the poorest in her constituency who blamed McVey for the part she played in sweeping cuts.
Mhairi Black, SNP
Mhairi Black, a third-year politics student at Glasgow University, has prepared for her finals next month in the most extraordinary way – by defeating the man who planned Labour’s entire election campaign, the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander. In doing so Black, who is 20, has become the youngest MP since 1667.
Her earliest political memory, she has said, is of being taken to the anti-Iraq war rally as a child and given a large lollipop. Her campaign was not without controversy – she told a rally she had fantasised about “putting the nut” into Labour councillors, and she described no voters in the independence referendum as “selfish”. It made no difference to her prospects – she has turned his 16,000-plus majority into a 5,684 lead of her own.
Her victory speech was delivered with a confidence beyond her years. “The people of Scotland are speaking and it’s time for their voice to be heard at Westminster,” she said. “I make this promise … that is exactly what I plan to do.”
Hardly a new face to anyone in the UK, the election of Boris Johnson to the parliamentary seat of Uxbridge and Ruislip South nonetheless makes flesh a fantasy that has convulsed Conservative MPs for years, and will only intensify speculation about his possible leadership of the party as the date of David Cameron’s departure draws nearer in the coming term.
In a muted campaign, the new MP’s charisma generated rare enthusiasm on the campaign trail, which many colleagues will hope he can sprinkle over the party more widely. He remains mayor of London for the time being, however – a double-jobbing arrangement which has attracted criticism.
Kirsten Oswald, SNP
In a sign of the SNP’s astonishing recent surge, the woman who will serve as its MP for East Renfrewshire has been a member of the party for less than a year, having joined in June 2014.
Oswald, an HR professional, became active in the party during the independence referendum, serving on the committee of her local Women for Independence group where she was responsible for local food bank collections. She is originally from Dundee, but has lived in East Renfrewshire since 2008 with her husband and two sons.
According to her biography, she is a community councillor, parent councillor, and runs community social media sites, as well as being a keen sports fan in her spare time. “I’m SNP because I believe that the people in Scotland deserve better than the Westminster austerity agenda,” she has said.
Stephen Kinnock, Labour
Stephen Kinnock’s surname makes his election to parliament for the Welsh seat of Aberavon a big story, but it is not simply as the son of Neil and Glenys that the 45-year-old will make a remarkable addition to parliament. The new MP for Aberavon also happens to be the husband of Denmark’s prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, with whom he has two daughters.
A former director at the British Council and World Economic Forum, he is at least used to living apart from his wife, commuting at weekends to Denmark from Switzerland and later London where he worked. “I don’t have anything else to compare it with,” he has said of his unconventional marriage. “It works for us.”
Having not lived in Wales for decades, Kinnock attracted some criticism for his decision to stand just 25 miles from Islwyn and Bedwellty, which his father represented, and was selected for the seat last year only by the narrowest of margins. His victory, however, was emphatic.
Keir Starmer, Labour
Once the former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer, who inherited the safe seat of Holborn and St Pancras vacated by the retiring Frank Dobson, takes up his seat it is likely his every move will be watched to see how quickly he can can rise up the ranks.
Of enviable Labour pedigree – he was named after founder of the Independent Labour party, went to a state grammar school and studied law at Leeds, before Oxford – the former human rights barrister has long been considered shoo-in for a key party role.
• This article was amended on 18 May 2015. An earlier version said that Lynne Featherstone won Hornsey and Wood Green from Labour in 2010. She won the seat in 2005.
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