By Ian Dunt
Britain has returned a hung parliament after the most dramatic and surprising election night in a generation.
All three main party leaders will be disappointed with a night that saw all their expectations thwarted at every turn.
David Cameron failed to secure a majority, although his party came first in the popular vote and in the number of seats.
Gordon Brown saw Labour categorically defeated by the Conservatives, although many seats which had been expected to fall to the Tories, such as Hammersmith, fought off the Tory threat.
The promised Liberal Democrat surge failed to materialise. Pollsters will be asking serious questions about the data received from members of the public in the run-up to the election, which pointed to a much stronger result from the Lib Dems.
Several high profile scalps were claimed. Peter Robinson, the leader of the DUP and first minister of Northern Ireland, lost his Westminster seat.
Two former home secretaries - Charles Clarke and Jacqui Smith - lost their seats.
For the Liberal Democrats, high-profile personality Lembit Opik and Dr Evan Harris, the party's outspoken science spokesman, both lost their seats.
The BNP completely failed to take Barking from Labour MP Margaret Hodge, and fears of a far-right surge did not transpire. Esther Rantzen's campaign as an independent also failed.
But one small party did well: the Greens saw their first ever MP elected, in the form of Caroline Lucas, party leader, in Brighton Pavilion.
Ed Balls, the children's secretary who Tories had hoped would suffer his own 'Portillo moment', survived the night. On the Tory side, prominent environmentalist Zac Goldsmith successfully wrestled Richmond Park from Lib Dem Susan Kramer.
Speaking after the count in his own constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Mr Brown said: "My duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government."
Nick Clegg said: "This has obviously been a disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats. We haven't achieved what we hoped.
Turning to negotiations over a hung parliament Mr Clegg added: "Firstly, I don't think anyone should rush into making claims or taking decisions which don't stand the test of time. I think it's best if people take a little time."
David Cameron said: "The Labour government has lost its mandate to rule our country.
"Our country wants change - that change is going to require new leadership. We will do whatever we can to bring strong, stable good governance to our country.
"What will guide me in the hours ahead - and perhaps longer than the hours ahead - will be what's best for our country."
The Liberal Democrats are now engaged in negotiations with the Conservatives in a bid to forma coalition, although the issue of electoral reform is likely to loom large over proceedings. The Tory leader is willing to make some concessions on the matter, but it is unclear whether a satisfactory middle ground exists between the two parties.
The election was marred by many people being denied the opportunity to vote, with some polling stations not having enough ballot papers and other being forced to close their doors on large queues when the clock struck 22:00 BST.
The Electoral Commission has already announced a "thorough" investigation into what happened.