With just a week to go until polling day, the Freshwater Public Affairs team shares its guide to the runners and riders on election night…
In 2010, at the age of 71, David Dimbleby presented election coverage for 18 hours straight. But we’re not all David Dimbleby - we don’t all possess his near superhuman energy for election coverage. For the less hardy, this guide should help you navigate through the night of what is almost certain to be one of the closest elections in a generation.
The exit polls
Polls shut at 10pm on May 7th so the first thing to do on Election Day is to make sure you vote – after that you can relax and fortify yourself for the night ahead.
Then, just after the polls close, the results of exit polls should be announced. Joint exit polls commissioned by major UK broadcasters have been very accurate in the last two elections – so when this joint poll comes out in 2015, we should have a reasonable initial impression of how the night might progress. After the exit poll is out, take some time to digest ahead of the first constituency results.
The fight for the first declaration
The efforts of Sunderland City Council to be the first to declare a constituency result have become something of a tradition - it’s been successful in every election since 1992. The Council will be keen to maintain this winning record, with Houghton and Sunderland South likely to be the first of its constituencies to declare at around 11pm. The incumbent MP there, Labour’s Bridget Phillipson, is also likely to enjoy a successful night.
At 1am the results will start coming in in earnest – the first one of these to keep an eye out for is Nuneaton, which in 2010 was won by Marcus Jones of the Conservatives with a small 4.6% majority. Before that, the seat had been held by Labour since 1992. This kind of marginal is absolutely the kind of seat that Labour should be winning if it wants to be the largest party – so look out for this result at around 1am.
One of the earliest high-profile contests is expected to be announced at around 3.30am: Loughborough is both a bellwether seat, having elected a MP from the winning party since 1974, and the seat of Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan. Her majority is 7.1%, meaning the Labour challenger requires a 3.6% swing to win it back. Could Labour win themselves a big early scalp here?
Some other possible bellwether seats include Dartford, the longest-running bellwether seat, declaring at around 4am, Hove, declaring at 5am, and, at 6am, Watford and Reading West. Labour may not be expecting to win all of these, but it will need to pick up a healthy number if it is to become the largest party.
Seismic shifts in Scotland?
On the topic of scalps, look out for the announcement in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, expected half an hour before Loughborough at 3am. Will the 20-year-old SNP candidate Mhairi Black be able to overcome Douglas Alexander’s massive 41.54% majority? Lord Ashcroft’s snapshot constituency polling suggests an 11-point SNP lead, so this could be one of 2015’s “Portillo Moments” - Douglas Alexander is shadow foreign secretary and Labour’s campaign co-ordinator. What’s more, as well causing a major upset - and winning a seat in the first general election in which she has been eligible to vote - Mhairi Black also has the chance to become the youngest MP since before the Treaty of Union.
At around the same time, Jim Murphy’s East Renfrewshire seat is expected to declare. Ashcroft polls show the Scottish Labour leader losing ground to the SNP, who led by nine points as of April. This potential deposition would be a seismic shock, and a mark of the existential crisis facing Scottish Labour at this election.
Elsewhere in Scotland, the rise of the SNP could cause some further big-name casualties. Charles Kennedy, who was himself the youngest MP in the Commons in 1983 following his election at 23, could also be at risk. Despite his decades of service and 37.5% majority, an Ashcroft snapshot poll recorded a 15-point lead for the SNP. You’ll have to wait for the sun to come up to find out whether it has set on Charles Kennedy’s career in the Commons: Ross, Skye and Lochaber is not expected to declare until around 7am.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Nick Clegg’s deputy in the coalition, could also fall: he was trailing the SNP by 29 points in an Ashcroft snapshot in January. 5am is the expected declaration time.
Major casualties in England?
Other than Nicky Morgan in Loughborough, another potential casualty in England is Esther McVey, the Conservative employment minister who won a majority of just 6.2% over Labour in her Wirral West constituency in 2010. McVey, who recently admitted to ITV’s Loose Women that she’d one day like to become prime minister, faces a nervous wait until 5am to find out whether that ambition will survive the election. An Ashcroft snapshot from March this year showed Labour leading by five points, up from one point in October.
Also around this time, Sheffield Hallam is expected to declare, where what should have been a routine win for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, with a majority of 29.9%, has been made more complicated. Despite finishing in third place in 2010, Labour is now looking strong in Sheffield Hallam where a large student population is looking to inflict some retribution on Nick Clegg after his coalition-forced about-turn on tuition fees. An Ashcroft poll in March had Labour leading the Lib Dems by two points, though the Lib Dems insist its private polling is far better. Stay up until around 4.30am and you could be rewarded with a stunning electoral twist that could put the Liberal Democrats in disarray and force them to rapidly put in place a new leadership structure for any ensuing coalition negotiations.
The small hours
By around this time we should have an idea of the performance of Ukip, as many of its target seats, or seats where it has been making gains, will have declared. Castle Point, Thurrock, Eastleigh, Portsmouth South and Dudley North are among those seats that are expected to have declared by 4.30am, when Clacton is also expected to announce its result, and expected to return Douglas Carswell as Ukip MP. But it’s a long night for Nigel Farage, who has to wait until around 6am to find out if he has won his contest in South Thanet.
At around 4am half of the results should have been announced, and by around 5am most constituencies will have declared. At this point we will know a great deal about the make-up of the new parliament. But across the country, a few candidates will face an anxious wait to find out the results from their constituencies, and the overall result of the general election will not be finalised until the ballots from the constituency of St Ives can return its Member at around 1pm on 8 May.
The morning after the night before
So, in one of the tightest and most unpredictable contests that most can remember, general election night should be full of drama and intrigue. But it is also very likely to deliver a result where Labour and the Conservatives are separated by only a handful of seats - if any at all. This means we can expect a different kind of drama to ensue: what took five days to negotiate in 2010 could take twice as long this year. While general election night may have ended, a long-running saga may just be starting.
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