Newspaper headlines: Cameron hails 'sweetest victory' in election

The Conservatives defied the polls and their own expectations to secure a majority government in the general election and many papers choose to highlight David Cameron's proclamation that the win was the party's "sweetest victory".

The Times describes the election as one of the most extraordinary days of recent political history.

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It says the prime minister returned to Downing Street triumphant and lauded results that forced his three main rivals in the campaign - Labour's Ed Miliband, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and UKIP's Nigel Farage - to quit.

Mr Cameron swept back into power leaving a trail of political corpses in his wake after an election which sent shockwaves through Westminster, says the Daily Mirror.

The Sun reports that "Britain defied all the pollsters" to bring about the most stunning election turnaround, while the Daily Express says Tory MPs struggled to believe the extent of their success.

The Guardian says Britain's political landscape was transformed as Mr Cameron defied his critics and saw his vanquished rival party leaders resign in the space of two hours.

But it says while "stunning", the win "paradoxically, means Cameron is more reliant on the support of his backbenchers than in the last government, when the combined strength of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition meant he enjoyed a stronger majority in the Commons".

The Independent says the triumphant Tories also put Britain's liberal left in shock raising his rivals' fears his election win would allow the party to return to a Thatcherite agenda.

The Daily Mail's front page headline tells its readers "This was your victory".

The paper says the "roar of the voters of Middle England" rejected Labour's left-wing policy pledges on the most dizzying day of political drama for a generation.

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Meanwhile, photographs of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg standing together at the VE Day 70th anniversary commemoration at the Cenotaph in London are featured widely on the front pages.

The event took place just hours after the Labour and Lib Dem leaders announced their resignations and Mr Cameron had visited Buckingham Palace to confirm his second term.

The Daily Telegraph notes the "cruel quirk of timing" while the Sun simply sums up the moment with the front page headline "Awkward".

But in the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts writes even in their "private turmoil" Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg "dutifully marked a graver, greater sacrifice".


'No longer scary'

The SNP's landslide victory in Scotland where it took 56 out of 59 seats - most at the expense of Labour - prompts the Daily Mirror to ask "will this Kingdom ever be united again?"

"The independence genie is out of the bottle," writes the Mirror's Brian Reade. "Labour are dead in Scotland, likewise the Lib Dems. The Tories were buried long ago."

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The Daily Telegraph agrees the "unprecedented result" has put the future of the UK in serious doubt.

But it says Mr Cameron acted swiftly to extend the hand of friendship to Scots Nationalists by promising to govern as a "one nation" and respect the nearly 1.5 million people who voted for Nicola Sturgeon's party, with the promise of more devolved powers.

The Financial Times takes up the same theme. Mr Cameron, it says, was attempting to "heal the wounds" after he fuelled tensions during the election campaign by railing against the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

But the FT's Philip Stephens says the SNP is celebrating Mr Cameron's return to Downing Street. "Nothing could better fit Ms Sturgeon's insidious narrative of a progressive Scotland forever shackled by a Tory-led England," he writes.

In the Times, Magnus Linklater examines how the SNP was able to carry the momentum it built during last year's Scottish independence referendum through to polling day.

"It's not just the political shape of the nation that has changed, it is the way it sees itself," he adds.

The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill would seem to agree, contending a "psychological change has taken place... the thought of independence is no longer scary".


Personal triumph

The challenge posed by the SNP - as well as Mr Cameron's promise to hold an in-out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union - provides a common focus for the leader writers.

The Daily Express says there are many major issues to be hammered out with the SNP.

The Financial Times says the Tory victory opens a "new and uncertain chapter" for the UK. While the prime minister's stock of political capital will never be higher, he will be judged ultimately on how he resolves the great questions that overhang the UK, it says.

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In an editorial titled the "disunited kingdom", the Independent sees Mr Cameron's election success as a "watershed moment". But it says his victory was "hollow", suggesting there is now an inevitability about Scottish independence, as well as "equally grave risks" if Britain does quit the EU.

The Guardian believes the UK's redrawn political map will take some time to get used to. It says Mr Cameron won a decisive, but still "very narrow victory", and his deepest challenge is to bring a "divided country" back together economically.

The Daily Telegraph sees the future of the Union as the new government's most pressing problem. Mr Cameron's win was a "great personal triumph and one he is entitled to savour this weekend, not least because the next five years are likely to prove far more onerous than the last".

The Daily Mail welcomes Mr Cameron's "tremendous victory". But it says it is no occasion for crowing or triumphalism and he must work on building bridges with Scotland, while delivering on his promise to deliver English votes for English laws.

The Times says Mr Cameron's task is not only to reunify England and Scotland but the UK's "dangerously divergent demographics". He must also defy doubters in Tories by renegotiating Britain's relationship with Brussels.

The Sun congratulates Mr Cameron on his "stonking win" but says the task facing the Tories is forbidding. It adds the Tories are right to continue to cut the welfare bill, but must be careful not to hurt the vulnerable.

The Daily Mirror also addresses the proposed cuts. The Tories unexpected outright majority has created a steamroller that threatens millions of decent Britons, leaving Mr Cameron in a position to complete his "compassionless revolution", it says. It adds the EU referendum is a "most dangerous act" and could threaten the UK economy.


New leaders

The resignations of Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage are examined in some detail.

The Daily Mirror says Mr Miliband did his best as party leader - nobody could fault his commitment or question his values - but it "proved not good enough". His successor must quickly show voters why life would be better under Labour.

Rachel Sylvester in the Times says Labour does not just need a new leader, it needs a new political direction. The experiment in shifting to the left has failed and it is time to return to the centre ground.

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The Sun too believes Labour's "only hope" is a centrist leader who sees business and wealth creation as friends, while Macer Hall in the Daily Express says Mr Miliband led his party up a "left-wing dead end".

The Guardian says Labour needs to speak to the whole country again and "unfold the intelligible story that Mr Miliband was not in the end able to tell".

The loss of 49 out of the Liberal Democrat's 57 seats was described by party leader Nick Clegg as "crushing" and several headline writers believe the party now has a mountain to climb.

Writing in the Times, Alice Thomson says no one should gloat over Mr Clegg's demise - he did the "decent thing" by going into coalition with the Tories after the 2010 election and "whatever your party allegiance you have to feel sorry for him".

The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup also believes history will "eventually judge Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats much more kindly than the British electorate has done".

"A lot of people think politicians are entirely self-serving creatures who just do things to win votes, score points and advance their own careers. The Lib Dem decision to go into government in 2010 is at least a partial challenge to that notion."

But Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail rejects such an argument, saying the Lib Dems betrayed everything they were believed to stand for by joining the coalition and voters tired of the sanctimony and moral superiority.

In the Independent, Sean O'Grady wonders whether the Lib Dems would have done better to have "played their politics smarter, more cynically" in 2010. The paper's leader column suggests the Lib Dems and Labour now "would do well to start thinking about a truly progressive coalition".

UKIP leader Nigel Farage's appeal for a reform of the first-past-the-post voting system as he announced he was standing down after failing to win the Thanet South seat gains some sympathy.

His party took a 13% share of the vote but only has one MP, and the Sun says the result "raises questions" about the democratic process.

The Daily Star, whose owner Richard Desmond donated more than £1m to UKIP, highlights the issue on its front page with the headline "stitched up like a Ukipper".

Mr Desmond's other paper, the Daily Express, reports the calls from both UKIP and the Greens for changes, while the Times says the two parties found "common ground in electoral reform".

Daily Mirror columnist Kevin Maguire says the first-past-the-post system was designed for just two rivals and not the "multi-party dogfights" of 2015.

A proportional electoral system "remains key to nurturing the new politics rooted in co-operation and optimism", he says. "Millions should now be bitterly regretting voting No or not turning up for the 2011 referendum that rejected electoral reform."

However, Leo McKinstry in the Daily Mail suggests UKIP's share of the vote shows they have captured the imagination of a large section of the British public and will remain a powerful force in politics.


Making people click

Daily Mirror: David and Samantha Cameron celebrate his crushing election victory with meal at posh London club

Times: There's a sting in the tail of this Tory triumph

Guardian: When that Question Time audience turned on Ed Miliband, the die was cast

Financial Times: Result marks miserable denouement of Clegg's ambition

Daily Telegraph: New Commons boundaries top Conservative government agenda