LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservatives won a resounding victory in the British general election, with complete results on Friday showing that the party had secured an overall majority in Parliament.
The vote was a stunning disappointment for the opposition Labour Party and its leader, Ed Miliband, who had shifted the party away from the more centrist strategy it pursued in the late 1990s and early 2000s under Tony Blair. Mr. Miliband stepped down on Friday, opening up a new debate over the party’s direction.
The result defied pre-election opinion polls that suggested a tight race between the Conservatives and Labour. It returns Mr. Cameron to 10 Downing Street for a second term, with enough seats in the House of Commons to act on his agenda without having to rely on support from smaller parties.
He went to Buckingham Palace on Friday for the formal step of being invited by the queen to form a new government.
In a brief speech outside his official residence, Mr. Cameron promised to govern fairly for the whole United Kingdom and said: “The government I led did important work. It laid the foundations for a better future, and now we must build on them.”
The Conservatives won 331 of 650 seats in the House of Commons, a gain of 24 seats from the last election, in 2010. Their chief rival, Labour, was nearly wiped out in Scotland by the surging Scottish National Party and did more poorly than pre-election opinion polls had suggested it would in the rest of Britain. Several of Mr. Miliband’s top lieutenants lost their seats.
“Now the results are still coming in, but this has clearly been a very disappointing and difficult night for the Labour Party,” Mr. Miliband said in a quasi concession speech after being re-elected to his seat in the House of Commons.
“We haven’t made the gains that we wanted in England and Wales,” he said, “and in Scotland we have seen a surge of nationalism overwhelm our party.”
The results were also a disaster for Nick Clegg and his centrist Liberal Democrats, who have been the junior partner in a coalition with the Conservatives. Mr. Clegg hung on to his seat in the House of Commons, but he resigned as party leader after results that exceeded the party’s very worst expectations.
“It is now painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats,” said Mr. Clegg, who had served as deputy prime minister in the departing coalition government under Mr. Cameron.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the populist, anti-immigration, anti-European Union U.K. Independence Party, lost his bid for a seat in Parliament, and his party won only a single seat. Mr. Farage on Friday followed through on his promise to step down as the party’s leader if he failed to win his race, a step that will deprive it of much of its visibility and volume.