Jeremy Corbyn was last night still harbouring ambitions to enter Downing Street after an election that saw him confound expectations and make inroads into the Conservative lead.
Despite coming a clear second behind Theresa May, Mr Corbyn took 261 seats, an increase of 29 from two years ago and the best vote share since Tony Blair’s 2001 landslide.
Mr Corbyn’s progress was also experienced in Scotland where Kezia Dugdale’s Scottish party exceeded predictions by taking seven seats.
The left-winger’s energetic election campaign based on a popular manifesto delivered a result that will stave off threats to his leadership from critics within his own party.
At the beginning of the campaign it had been assumed Mr Corbyn was a lame duck, who would be forced to quit as leader following a humiliating defeat by the Tories.
But helped by Mrs May’s uninspiring Tory campaign, Mr Corbyn emerged from the election with his reputation enhanced, even though there remain many in the party who believe a more mainstream leader is required to actually win an election.
With the Conservatives failing to win an outright majority, Mr Corbyn yesterday declared that Labour was “ready to serve this country” and repeated his call for Mrs May to stand down.
Even though Labour took 57 fewer seats than the Conservatives, Mr Corbyn claimed victory.
“I think it’s pretty clear who won this election,” he said at Labour’s headquarters in central London.
“We are ready to do everything we can to put our programme into operation.
“There isn’t a parliamentary majority for anybody at the present time, the party that has lost in this election is the Conservative Party, the arguments the Conservative Party put forward in this election have lost. I think we need a change.”
Mr Corbyn said he would not make any coalition deals or pacts but would instead put forward Labour’s own programme for government.
Asked if there would now be another election, Mr Corbyn said: “Parliament must meet and Parliament will have to take a decision on what happens.
“When a government puts forward the Queen’s Speech, we will put forward our point of view, we are of course ready to serve.
“We have a huge mandate from a huge increase in our support to carry forward a programme that challenges austerity, that challenges poverty and challenges inequality.”
In Scotland, Ms Dugdale was delighted to return seven MPs in an election that many had thought would end up in Labour being wiped out north of the Border.
But Ian Murray comfortably held his Edinburgh South seat with anti-independence referendum voters helping him to the largest majority in Scotland of 15,514.
Defying expectations, the new Glasgow North East MP Paul Sweeney, a community worker, achieved Labour’s second biggest swing north of the Border, recapturing what was once Scotland’s safest seat from the SNP
In the other gains, all from the Nationalists, North Lanarkshire councillor Hugh Gaffney won Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill with an 8.7 per cent vote increase and an 1,586 majority.
South Lanarkshire councillor Ged Killen took Rutherglen and Hamilton West with a 265 majority and 2.3 per cent increase in the vote.
In the east, Shelter Scotland staffer Danielle Rowley, 27, who is also daughter of Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley, became the party’s youngest Scottish MP, winning Midlothian with an 885 majority and 6.2 per cent vote increase.
Primary school teacher Martin Whitfield took East Lothian with a 5.1 per cent increase and 3,083 majority.
Fife Council deputy leader Lesley Laird won Gordon Brown’s old seat of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath with a 259 majority and 3.5 per cent increase.