Labour has been plunged deeper into crisis as some of the party’s most senior figures warned that they would be out of power until at least 2025 or even 2035/45 by other opinions.
• Dan Hodges: Labour forgot the golden rules of politics
The Labour peer said the party is facing its worst challenge since the 1980s, when it spent 18 years out of power: “We were sent out and told to say we’re for the poor and hate the rich, ignoring the vast swathe of the population who exist in between.”
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on BBC One, he described Mr Miliband’s campaign as a “giant political experiment” which had ended in the public “ripping stripes off our shoulders”.
Mr Prescott also unleashed a blistering attack on the Labour campaign, pouring scorn on Mr Miliband’s “Hell yes, I’m tough” claim and accusing him of failing to defend the previous Labour government’s record on the economy.
• Tony Blair: Labour must reclaim centre
• Lord Mandelson delivers excorating verdict on Miliband
• John Prescott launches bilstering attack on failed campaign
In its worst election night for 30 years, Labour finished with just 232 MPs – 99 behind the Conservatives and 26 fewer seats than Gordon Brown won in 2010.
Blame quickly fell on a series of strategic blunders, including “gimmicks” such as Mr Miliband’s courtship of Russell Brand, the comedian, and his decision to engrave his manifesto pledges into an 8ft slab of limestone.
Ed Miliband appears on camera with Communist Marxist Russell Brand
Mr Miliband’s own standing as leader was also seen as “a personal drag” on the party’s prospects which candidates had to overcome on the doorstep, shadow cabinet ministers said.
But in a display of public recriminations, some of the party’s most prominent MPs clashed openly over whether Labour’s “old-school, socialist” anti-business agenda had put voters off – or whether the party had not been Left-wing enough to win.
One shadow cabinet minister said the pledge stone – which became ridiculed as the “Edstone” – was “a disastrous gimmick” that cost the party credibility.
In truth, however, the Labour leadership had known for months that winning a majority was going to be all but impossible.
Since the turn of the year, when all the major parties moved to an election footing, some of Mr Miliband’s closest advisers have been planning to rule as a minority government. Yet even this limited ambition came to nothing.
• David Cameron’s new Cabinet
• Dan Hodges: The fight is on for the soul of the Labour Party
On Saturday Ben Bradshaw, Labour’s Blairite former culture secretary, pleaded with his party not to lurch even further to the Left when choosing a new leader and a fresh strategy.
“Please, colleagues in the Labour movement and outside commentators, don’t try to claim we lost because Labour wasn’t radical, Left-wing or distinctive enough,” he said after retaining his seat in Exeter.
“Ed and his team bet on the British people moving to the Left in response to the global financial crisis. The whole of our strategy was based on this. But it was not true.”
In a damning critique of Mr Miliband’s anti-business agenda, he called for Labour to choose a leader who will “celebrate our entrepreneurs and wealth creators and not leave the impression they are part of the problem”.
Mr Bradshaw’s lament was echoed by members of Mr Miliband’s inner circle, as the profound disappointment at the results exposed deep divisions within what had previously been a united team.
• Liam Byrne admits being ‘burnt with shame’ at ‘no money’ letter
One shadow cabinet minister said: “We failed to connect with aspirational voters who want to know how we are going to make their lives better. We must speak to the whole of Britain, not just sections of Britain. There was too much fear and not enough hope.”
Diane Abbott, one of Labour’s most strangest MPs, disagreed and urged her party to adopt an even more radical, pro-immigration agenda. She wrote on Twitter: “Alarming that myth is taking hold that Ed Miliband lost because he was too ‘Left wing’. We have news for you Diane, he was too left wing, and so are you !
Blairites, however, warned that the party must return to the centre ground.
Some people we spoke to just want the Party gone altogether.
Lord Hutton of Furness, a former business secretary, said Labour should choose a leader from a new generation.
“We’re back to where we were 30 years ago. Few of us after the Nineties success [under Tony Blair] thought we’d ever be in this position again. There’s a limited appetite for the old-school socialist menu which we had on offer,” he said.
Alan Johnson, a former home secretary, said: “This is a 10-year task. This is a job for the future.” He said the party had lost the ability to appeal to people’s “aspirations”, which Mr Blair had done in 1997. “That was one of the big successes that won us three elections.”
As Mr Miliband – who resigned – and his advisers sought to console themselves in private, attention turned to who could take over and lead a party ravaged by a second devastating defeat.
• Ed Miliband ‘sorry’ as he resigns as Labour leader
Within hours of the result being announced, as many as 10 senior MPs began testing support at Westminster for potential leadership bids. Others were contemplating running for deputy leader after Harriet Harman announced she would also stand down.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, and Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, quickly emerged as favourites to stand for leader, with both keeping a notably low profile as they considered their options.
But the two front-runners are both New Labour figures who served in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and both have been key figures during Mr Miliband’s doomed election campaign.
Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, is seen as the leading “modernising” candidate and, at 36, would be young enough to build support in opposition and gain experience while appealing to a new generation.
However, speaking on condition of anonymity, some of Labour’s leading figures – whose endorsement will be fervently courted by the candidates – warned that none of the contenders seemed capable of steering the party back to power.
They complained that Miss Cooper is “too technocratic” and does not seem to embody the right “values”, while Mr Burnham would be too Left-wing and vulnerable to claims that he was a puppet of the unions.
One member of Labour’s front-bench team said the party was bracing itself for being out of office until at least 2025. “We have a massive task. We are 100 seats behind. This is a 10-year job,” the source said.
“Anybody involved in the Blair-Brown wars cannot be chosen, but I don’t think anybody else has emerged yet,” the figure said. Another leading Labour figure, and former minister, said the next leader must be a “moderniser”, which would rule out both front-runners.
Mr Burnham “is not a modernising candidate at all. Ed believed in things and he was prepared to stand by them, like Europe, whereas Andy is a Left-wing populist,” the source said. “Yvette? I think her moment has past. She is too much the Blair-Brown
On Saturday night there were growing calls for Labour to turn to a younger generation of so-called “clean skins” who did not serve in the New Labour governments, with Mr Umunna, the shadow business secretary the clear favourite.
Other fresh faces believed to be plotting their campaigns include Tristram Hunt, the education spokesman and a television historian, Liz Kendall, a health and care spokesman, and Dan Jarvis, a former soldier.
Stella Creasy, who has fought popular campaigns against payday lenders, and Mary Creagh, the shadow international development secretary, are also being urged to run.
One Labour MP, who was close to the Miliband leadership, dismissed them all: “None of them is very convincing.”
Key events in the 2015 General Election campaign
David Cameron our Prime Minister and the British People now rejoice in victory.
David Cameron informs the Queen of the dissolution of Parliament and fires the starting gun of the election. Returning to No 10, he says: “Together we are turning our country around and for the sake of you, your family, and your children’s future, we have got to see this through.”
More than 100 of the country’s most senior business figures warn that a Labour government would “threaten jobs and deter investment” in the UK. In a letter to The Telegraph, they praise Conservative economic policies and warn that a “change in course” would “put the recovery at risk”.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, fails to break through in the first election debate since the dissolution of Parliament, with minority parties emerging as the winners of the contest. Mr Cameron finishes the debate as voters’ overwhelming choice to lead the country, according to a snap poll. The Prime Minister urges voters not to send the UK back to “square one” by electing Mr Miliband.
A leaked memo seen by the Telegraph claims that Nicola Sturgeon, privately said she would “rather see” Mr Cameron win the general election because Mr Miliband is not “prime minister material”. The official account of a discussion between the SNP leader and the French ambassador appears to confirm that her party would privately favour another Tory-led government because it might help to stoke up anti-English sentiment. Both the French ambassador and Ms Sturgeon deny she made the comment.
Mr Miliband announces that Labour will scrap the non-dom tax status enjoyed by those who are British citizens but do not pay tax on earnings made outside the UK. He claims that the 200-year-old scheme costs hundreds of millions of pounds a year and has made Britain “an offshore tax haven for a few”. Duncan Bannatyne, the entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star, above, says the policy “gets my vote”, having previously backed the Tories’ economic plans.
One of the most memorable images of the election campaign emerges when Mr Cameron visits the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary School in Westhoughton, Bolton. Six-year-old Lucy Haworth, sitting next to the Prime Minister, becomes overcome with shyness when he asks if she will read aloud from a book. “Why don’t I do a line and you do a line, is that fair?” he asks, prompting her to rest her face on the desk.
Mr Miliband publishes Labour’s election manifesto, which focuses on economic competence. Measures include a £2.5?billion NHS Time to Care fund in the early years of the next parliament, 25 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four-year-olds, and smaller class sizes for five, six, and seven-year-olds.
The Conservatives launch their manifesto. It includes a pledge that working families with three or four-year-old children will get 30 hours of free childcare a week. The manifesto also includes plans to revive Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy to enable 1.3?million families in housing association properties to own their home.
Nicola Sturgeon delivers a strong performance in a live BBC debate in which she sets out the terms of a deal to work with Ed Miliband and “lock David Cameron out of Downing Street”. Pledging to “make Labour bolder”, the SNP leader dominates the debate.
Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister, suggests the party’s campaign lacks passion. At a question-and-answer session with Tory activists he says: “Behind this sloganising of economics, about growth and matters like that [are] lives, people that really matter. We should focus on people, people, people.”
David Cameron accidentally jokes that he wishes everyone supported West Ham — a Premier League rival of the team he is meant to back, Aston Villa.
The Prime Minister makes a speech aimed at rejecting claims that his campaign has lacked energy and passion. Mr Cameron says that he is “pumped up” and has more desire to win this election than he did in 2010. “If I’m getting lively about it, it’s because I feel bloody lively about it,” he said.
Russell Brand releases an interview with Ed Miliband in which the Labour leader says he wants to confront “the richest and most powerful” in Britain. The video, filmed for the comedian’s YouTube channel, is uploaded after Mr Miliband was pictured leaving Brand’s home at night. Brand praises Mr Miliband for “understanding how the country feels”.
Mr Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg appear separately in a BBC Question Time Leaders’ special during which the Labour leader is lambasted by a business owner over his party’s record on the economy. Catherine Shuttleworth, 48, from Leeds, says Ed Miliband should fire Ed Balls, after the shadow chancellor claimed that a note stating there is “no money left” was nothing more than a joke. Mr Miliband is widely mocked on social media when he trips in the studio.
Ed Miliband is accused of suffering his “Neil Kinnock moment” after pledging to install an eight-foot limestone monument to his manifesto in the Downing Street garden. Critics dub it a “policy cenotaph” and “the heaviest suicide note in history”. In an embarrassing gaffe, Lucy Powell, Labour’s campaign vice-chairman, later suggests Mr Miliband could still break the pledges.
A bombshell exit poll released as voting finishes at 10pm suggests David Cameron is on course to sweep back into Downing Street with 316 seats — a far greater number than his party expected. Labour insist the results are likely to be wrong: they show a very different picture from the party’s private polling. However, over the next 12 hours it will become clear that the Conservatives have gained more seats than even the poll suggested.
David Cameron announces he is forming the first Conservative majority government for 23 years, after winning 329 seats by early afternoon yesterday. Nigel Farage, left, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband resign as leaders of their parties within the space of around an hour. Mr Clegg describes the result as “the most crushing blow to the Liberal Democrats since our party was founded”.