It’s almost over. The outcome of Britain’s first December election since 1923 will be known before long, but with 650 results coming in across the United Kingdom from late Thursday evening to Friday morning, what should you be looking for on election night?
Part of what makes this contest so fascinating and unpredictable is the nature of Britain’s shifting electoral geography. To that effect, both main parties appear to be advancing in some parts of the country while performing a rearguard action elsewhere.
Boris Johnson’s path to a majority lies through the so-called ‘Red Wall,’ made up of historically Labour seats in the Midlands and the North of England which voted to leave the European Union. Some of these constituencies, such as Bolsover and Bishop Auckland, have never returned a Conservative MP.
Yet the Conservative Party is fighting on two fronts. While Labour looks set to lose seats in the North and Middle of England, Boris Johnson will be denied an overall majority if he fails to contain a Remain revolt in London, Scotland and the South, with constituencies such as Putney, Angus and Winchester critically under threat.
Plenty of big names are on the brink of losing their seats, including the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, former Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith and Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary.
As far as the polls, including YouGov’s latest MRP projections, are concerned, possible outcomes range from a minority Labour government to a Conservative landslide. That said, here are the key events to pay attention to tomorrow night:
10 PM: Broadcasters unveil the exit poll. Unlike regular voting intention surveys, this poll questions voters who have already cast their ballot. It is also designed to measure swing, as opposed to vote share.
As is custom, both sides will immediately attempt to downplay the figures, but this is still our first proper indication of how the night is likely to play out. The BBC’s exit poll has been relatively accurate for the last six general elections, however, naturally there is still a considerable margin of error. The poll had narrowly underestimated the Conservative share of seats by three in 2017 and by a far more significant fourteen seats in 2015 (when the discrepancy meant the difference between a hung parliament and a small Conservative majority). Essentially, if the projection shows Boris Johnson winning over 340 seats, it is probably safe to go to bed. Any less than that and we’re in for an interesting night.
11-12 PM: Crack open a beer and settle in. The first results should start to trickle in as a number of safe Labour seats in Sunderland and Newcastle declare around this time. None of them are remotely likely to turn blue, however, a much better than expected Conservative performance could be a sign of things to come.
12 PM – 1 AM: Time for a toilet break, as not much should happen over the next hour except results from solid Labour Halton and a couple of safe Conservative seats in the East of England. However, don’t take too long as things are about to get serious…
1-2 AM: Open another beer as we finally get results from some Conservative and Labour battlegrounds. The fabled Red Wall will get its first proper test, as Darlington and Workington declare without the hour. If Labour loses both, Boris Johnson should be on course for a majority. Long-time bellwether Nuneaton is also expected to declare before 2 am. While the incumbent Conservatives are unlikely to lose here, it will be a useful indicator of Labour’s support elsewhere in the West Midlands.
2-3 AM: We should see our first results from London marginals, with Labour defending Battersea and the Conservatives attempting to hold on to nearby Putney. Also watch out for Wrexham, a key Conservative target in North Wales. In Scotland, the SNP will have their sights on Angus, one of the shock Conservative gains north of the border in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives will launch another charge at Labour’s Red Wall as ultra-marginal Stockton South declares, alongside Wolverhampton North East and both seats in West Bromwich.
3-4 AM: This is when we should know if Boris Johnson has won a majority as the Red Wall is put through its ultimate test. Birmingham Northfield, Bishop Auckland, Bolton North East, Great Grimsby, High Peak and Newcastle Under-Lyme, all key Conservative targets, should declare before 4 am, alongside Vale of Clywd, another Conservative target in Wales. Labour will also be clinging on to dear life in Peterborough, which they narrowly held at a by-election in June.
We should also get results from two more Scottish battlegrounds. The SNP will be out for revenge in Moray, where their former Westminster leader Angus Robertson lost his seat in 2017. They will also be hoping to defeat Conservative Luke Graham in Ochil & Perthshire South.
Big beast alert! Jo Swinson will be fighting for her political survival in East Dunbartonshire, where SNP efforts to unseat the Lib Dem leader have been boosted by the help of rogue Labour activists, while Tim Farron is hanging on by a thread in Westmorland & Lonsdale. The Lib Dems will be praying for an upset in Esher and Walton, where they hope to unseat the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, and Labour should find out if it has defeated Ian Duncan Smith in Chingford & Woodford Green.
Elsewhere in London, Chuka Umunna will try to defy the odds in Cities of London and Westminster, while the Lib Dems also take a shot at the Conservatives in Wimbledon. The Green Party will have its sights on the Isle of Wight, one of its only potential gains of the night.
We’ll get a better sense if Labour is indeed making advances in the South of England as Hastings and Rye declares. The Lib Dems should be taking Sheffield Hallam while likely losing Eastbourne.
4-5 AM: Biggest beast alert! Conservative HQ will be on DEFCON 1 as Boris Johnson is defending the most marginal seat held by a Prime Minister since 1924 in Uxbridge & South Ruislip. While this certainly remains a longshot for Labour, they could be within striking distance if previous results from London and the South East have seen a swing towards Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
Elsewhere in the capital, Kensington, potentially the most unpredictable contest of the night, should also declare before 5 am. A shock Labour gain in 2017, the seat is now effectively a three-way marginal, with former Tory cabinet minister Sam Gyimah hoping to re-enter parliament as a Liberal Democrat.
Labour will come under further pressure as Reading East, Ipswitch, Weaver Vale, Stroud, Scunthorpe and Wolverhampton South West declare.
The Liberal Democrats will be looking to make further gains in Cheltenham and St Albans while fighting off the Conservatives in Carshalton & Wallington and North Norfolk. In Wales, the party will be hoping to take Ceredigion from Plaid Cymru, which the latter last held by a mere 104 votes.
If you’re still awake, now is the time to switch to caffeine.
5-6 AM: While the overall election result should be relatively clear by this point, the Conservatives will be hoping to take Dudley North, Derby North, Keightley, as well as every seat in Stoke-On-Trent. But their ultimate prize may be in Bolsover as they look to unseat Dennis Skinner in the former mining town. Labour spirits may yet be lifted with a victory in Chipping Barnet, the most marginal Conservative-held seat in London.
The Liberal Democrats will have their eyes on Cheadle, Winchester and Finchley & Golders Green. The Green Party will have its eyes set on Bristol West, where it hopes to tear down a massive Labour majority.
If Labour has had a good night up to this point, it will be hoping to take Southampton Itchen and Milton Keynes North.
6 AM onwards: The vast majority of seats would have now declared, but a few noteworthy contests will still be underway before the sun rises. Richmond Park, the Conservative seat most likely to flip towards the Liberal Democrats, should declare around 6 am. Also keep an eye out for East Devon, where Conservative incumbent Hugo Swire is under threat from Independent Claire Wright. At 8 am, the Lib Dems will be hoping to make their final gain in St. Ives.
Photo by secretlondon123 on Flickr.