Party leaders have been out early to cast their votes as the polls opened in the most uncertain General Election for decades, with no party on course to emerge as a clear winner.
David Cameron arrived with his wife Samantha at a polling station in his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire while Ed Miliband and his wife Justine voted in his Doncaster North seat in the contest which will decide which of the two men will enter No 10.
Ukip’s Nigel Farage cast his vote in his Kent constituency of Thanet South knowing that his political future is on the line having promised to step down as party leader if he is not elected.For rolling coverage of the election results, with a special focus on Courier country constituencies, visit www.thecourier.co.uk from 10pmIn contrast, Nicola Sturgeon – who is not standing for Westminster – was out voting in Glasgow East, assured of her position and confident of a nationalist surge that will see the SNP wield unprecedented influence in the UK Parliament.
I’ve just voted in Doncaster. Today isn’t a day to vote simply for Labour but to vote for yourself & for your family pic.twitter.com/SyhjnkOcls
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) May 7, 2015
But with millions of voters apparently still undecided or open to changing their minds, the likely new Westminster balance of power remains unclear.
Among the last set of polls, three showed the main parties level pegging, three had the Conservatives in front by a single point and one gave Labour a two-point advantage.
Ahead of polling, Mr Cameron said the way voters cast their ballots would “define a generation” and appealed for more time to build a better Britain, warning a Labour government would be “held to ransom” by Scottish nationalists.
Samantha & I voting Conservative this morning, so that everyone can have security whatever stage of life they are at. pic.twitter.com/rYTm0TkCQS
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) May 7, 2015
But Mr Miliband accused him of hiding the truth about deep spending cuts that posed a “real and present danger” to families’ finances and urged people to bring an end to “five years of unfairness, five years of failure”.
In one of the biggest pre-election polls, a YouGov survey of 10,000 voters for The Sun had the main parties on 34% each – but with a significant 17% saying they were yet to make up their minds – a figure put as high as 25% in a ComRes poll for ITV and the Daily Mail.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 7, 2015
In the past such a tie would have been enough to propel Mr Miliband into Downing Street but an SNP surge in Scotland threatens to rob Labour of dozens of its traditional strongholds north of the border and of the chance to govern alone.
A YouGov poll in Scotland for The Times shows Ms Sturgeon’s party – with which Mr Miliband has ruled out any formal deal – enjoying 48% of support to Labour’s 28%, putting several key figures including Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy in peril of losing their seats.
Busy at Busby Primary School this morning as I went to vote. pic.twitter.com/z8xgC7xjDe
— Jim Murphy (@GlasgowMurphy) May 7, 2015
Ms Sturgeon said her party was “within touching distance” of winning a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster for the first time and being able to make sure “the voice of Scotland is going to be heard more loudly at Westminster than it has ever been heard before”.
She has appealed to Labour to join forces to “lock out” the Conservatives but warned her MPs would vote down a future Labour budget if it failed to end “Tory austerity” – a threat that has been seized on by the Tories as a central theme of its campaign.
Nick Clegg, who faces a fight to hold on to his own Sheffield Hallam seat, urged voters to stick with the Liberal Democrats as the only party able to provide a “stable” influence on a Tory or Labour administration.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) May 7, 2015
He said his party’s performance will be the “surprise story” of polling day, dismissing predictions of an electoral mauling that has left key figures such as cabinet minister Danny Alexander vulnerable to a collapse in support after five years of governing in coalition with the Conservatives.
Mr Farage predicted many undecideds would swing behind the Eurosceptic party as it seeks to translate regular third places in national polls in to an influential Commons presence in any post-election negotiations.
“We have a feeling there are lots of people out there who are shy Ukippers who don’t tell the opinion pollsters how they will vote,” he told an eve-of-poll rally – adding he was looking forward to the established parties waking up tomorrow with a “huge hangover”.
The Green Party will also hope to increase its parliamentary presence, heavily targeting three seats in a push to underline the increasingly fractured political make-up of the electorate.
Polling stations will be open until 10pm in what will be the busiest General Election day since 1979, with nearly 10,000 council seats also up for grabs.