David Cameron: Tory leader on cusp of power
David Cameron positioned himself as Britain's next prime minister Friday after his Conservative Party won the most seats in the general election, but he faces huge hurdles before he can form a government.
"We have to wait for the full results to come out, but I believe it is already clear that the Labour government has lost its mandate to govern our country," Cameron said after winning his seat in parliament for Witney, southern England.
Results later confirmed the Tories as the largest party in the House of Commons, although crucially they cannot win the absolute majority they needed to be able to rule alone.
They are likely to try to join with smaller parties in a bid to return to power after a 13-year absence.
But there was also the possibility that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will try to hold on with a coalition of his Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, who came third, and days of negotiations are likely to follow.
It is far from the outright victory the Conservatives were hoping for several months ago, when they had a double-digit lead over Labour.
Since then it has been a rocky ride.
Battling a dwindling poll lead, 43-year-old Cameron's performance in the first ever televised leaders' debates failed to provide the expected boost after being overshadowed by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Clegg stole the show for much of the campaign, seizing the Tories' message of change after a scandal over lawmakers' expenses and a deep recession.
But the Tories pulled ahead in the final straight, the Lib Dems' support collapsed and Cameron has found himself within grasp of power, five years after he took over as the party's leader with a promise to modernise it.
Cameron was educated at the elite Eton College, Princes William and Harry's old school, and Oxford University, where he was a member of rowdy student dining society the Bullingdon Club alongside Boris Johnson, now London's mayor.
His background -- he is also reportedly a descendant of King William IV -- has led to accusations that he is too privileged to understand the problems of ordinary Britons.
Cameron earned a top degree and got a job with the Conservative Party, where he rose to become an adviser to finance minister Norman Lamont.
He was by Lamont's side when he announced Britain was leaving the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on "Black Wednesday" in 1992, one of the most damaging moments in recent Conservative history.
Cameron left politics to spend seven years working as communications chief for media company Carlton but in 2001 won the safe parliament seat for Witney, near Oxford in southern England.
Cameron swiftly rose to the top and became party leader in 2005 after the Tories slumped to their third straight election defeat since 1997 at the hands of Tony Blair's Labour.
His first task as leader was to "detoxify" what one Tory frontbencher once labelled the "nasty party", known for its strong views on issues such as immigration control and seen as unwelcoming to women and ethnic minorities.
Despite resistance from the old guard, Cameron was determined to make the Tories more centrist and populist, coining the phrase "compassionate Conservatism" to describe his outlook.
His emphasis on environmentalism and fixing social problems in what he called "broken Britain" was among the clear breaks with the past.
He also managed to smooth over historic Tory splits on Europe -- a running sore since Margaret Thatcher's time -- notably by pulling out of the main centre-right group in the European Parliament and allying with fringe parties.
Although this decision caused consternation in Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said this week he believed Cameron will be forced to abandon his euroscepticism if elected.
Cameron has also used his own family to show voters the party has changed.
He was joined by his glamorous wife Samantha on the campaign trail and regularly talks about his disabled son Ivan, who died last year aged six, saying the boy shaped his support for the state-run National Health Service.
© 2010 AFP