Latest Election News :: Howard to step down as party leader
Howard will stand down as leader
Tory leader Michael Howard will stand down "sooner rather than later" to allow a younger leader to take over.
Mr Howard said he would stay as leader until the party had the opportunity to consider whether it wanted to change the rules for electing a successor.
He said the party could "hold its head up high" after its performance in the general election.
Mr Howard said there must never return to the "bickering and backstabbing of the past".
With few declarations remaining, the Tories have increased their number of seats to 196 - up 30 from 2001.
They took seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems, including Enfield Southgate from Schools Minister Stephen Twigg.
If we've achieved this much in just 18 months imagine what we can achieve in the next four or five years
Full list of Tory gains
But Mr Howard said his age meant he could not lead the party into the next general election.
"I'm 63 years old. At the time of the next election in four or five years' time I'll be 67 or 68 and I believe that's simply too old to lead a party into government.
"So as I can't fight the next election as leader of our party I believe its better for me to stand aside sooner rather than later so that the party can choose someone who can.
"I want to avoid the uncertainty of prolonged debate about the leadership of the party.
"I want the next Conservative leader to have much more time than I had to prepare our party for government.
"If we've achieved this much in just 18 months imagine what we can achieve in the next four or five years."
However, Labour adviser Alastair Campbell said the Tories remained "flat on their backs".
Former Tory education spokesman Tim Collins, narrowly beaten in Westmorland and Lonsdale by the Lib Dems, said his party could have won more seats with a more positive campaign.
"You have to engage with the other side on the most important issue - which is the economy."
With Tony Blair's troops holding much of that ground, it is certainly difficult to see the Tories moving to the overcrowded centre
What now for Tories?
The Tories enjoyed major successes in London, including notable wins in Putney, Enfield Southgate - famously lost by Michael Portillo in 1997 - and Croydon Central.
Putney provided the first Conservative win of the night, with finance manager Justine Greening overturning Tony Colman's 2,771 majority to win the seat by 1,766 votes.
The Tories unseated Constitutional Affairs Minister Chris Leslie in Shipley and Health Minister Melanie Johnson in Welwyn Hatfield.
Tory frontbenchers Theresa May, Oliver Letwin and David Davis all thwarted the Lib Dem "decapitation strategy" aimed at toppling them.
The Lib Dems also inflicted Conservative losses in Taunton and Solihull.
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324 seats needed to win
624 of 646 seats declared
The Conservatives and Mr Howard lauded the election of their first black MP, Adam Afriyie in Windsor.
The leader was also pleased to see an Asian Tory MP, as well as more Conservative women, elected.
The Conservatives have gained two toeholds in Wales by winning Monmouth and Preseli Pembrokeshire from Labour.
A surprise victory in Dumfriesshire saved the party from a complete wipe-out in Scotland.
Peter Duncan, the only Tory MP in Scotland in the last Parliament, failed to win in Dumfries and Galloway.
In Croydon Central, the Tories made a gain from Labour by just 75 votes after three recounts.
In 2001, the Conservatives won 166 seats, just one more than their showing four years earlier.
Labour Cabinet minister Margaret Beckett said she had a "horrid feeling" immigration had helped the Conservative effort in this election.
Ex-Tory Cabinet minister Ken Clarke denied immigration had featured highly in the campaign, but said he would have liked more debate from all parties on the economy, healthcare and education.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. - Confucius