Election Night Viewing Guide

Election Night is one of the most remarkable pieces of television coverage around. It is an attempt by broadcasters to hold viewers attention for almost ten hours and depriving them and themselves of any good sleep.

The task is made even more difficult considering for most of the first two hours nothing actually happens. After that, they’ve got to try make a sports hall in Crewe at 2.30am the epicentre of British politics.

But it is an big part of our television history with the BBC broadcasting every election since 1955. Hats off to David Dimbleby how will be presenting his tenth successive election on the BBC, having kicked off in 1979. 

It’s also one of the best parts of our political culture and democracy. In almost no other country in the world are results counted so openly and transparently. In most countries results are announced via some anonymous government agency, often through data projections. In the UK politicians have to actually endure the public humiliation of hearing how many people actively dislike them not just locally but on national television as well.

But election night can be pretty bloody bizarre.  It can be hard to get your head around and make sense of all the results and phrases. In this guide we look at what to expect and don’t forget the glossary to bust some of that jargon.


First you have to pick which broadcaster to to tune into.

Sky News has the earliest kick off at 9pm. It is unclear why has legislation heavily constrains broadcasting of elections before polls close at 10pm. You’ll be treated to a lot of Adam Boulton then. Unless that includes an argument with Alastair Campbell, no thanks. On the flip side, they do have elections guru Michael Thrasher for analysis.

Channel 4 also start at 9pm with their Alternative Election Night. There is less focus on results here, more on offbeat takes in an apparently “all-night feast of comedy”. With Jeremy Paxman onboard it’s difficult to see how that works. They have, however, poached Pointless’s Richard Osman as the numbers bod.

ITV have a more traditional start time of 9.55pm. Led out by Tom Bradby (now used to late nights) their coverage will also see BBC defector Robert Peston providing analysis. ITV always feels a little underwhelming, but they’ve managed to sign Ed Balls and even more interestingly, George Osborne as pundits.

But the king of them all has to be the BBC. Election night just isn’t the same without Dimbleby and this is likely to be his last. With its extensive local news coverage, the BBC also tends to offer the most insight and up to date information for local contests. Viewers are also treated to the bizarre graphics of Jeremy Vine. His feature of “Menzie’s (Pronounced Ming’s) Bling” to describe the 2007 Liberal Democrat local election performance is a personal favourite.

No contest.



“Hi I’m David, and I have a problem.”

The atmospheric music will set in alongside those patriotic sweeping shots of Westminster. They will fade into a terse Dimbleby, clutching a raft of papers.

He’ll tease us with an overview as to who will be depriving themselves of sleep for the evening. We’ll have quick shots to each member of the team in what seems to be the world’s largest studio with several different flaws. We’ll be introduced to Jeremy Vine’s creative graphics this year – let’s hope for something like this.

Time to strap in.



Not this time lads. 

The exit poll will be released on the stroke of ten, it is actually illegal for it to be released before. The exit poll will be be the first good indicator of what we could expect for the night.

The exit polls surveys around 20,000 voters leaving polling stations at key electoral wards. It’s much bigger than your typical exit poll and there’s no need to factor in likelihood to turn out. The poll is also done by secret ballot, meaning there is no need to factor in ‘shy tories’ or whatnot.

Exit polls have an excellent record in predicting outcomes for 40 years and in 2010 it creepily almost spot on. The only real cock up was 1987, where the exit poll predicted a slashing of Thatcher’s majority, she went on to win in a landslide. In 2015 a lot of pundits claimed that 1992 showed exit polls can be wrong. That was actually bollocks. The 1992 exit poll showed the Tories as by far the largest party in a hung parliament, they went on to win a small majority.

2200-2245 HOURS: DEAD AIR

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Last time, Jeremy Vine got so bored during this bit he starting playing solitaire.

This is akin to that bit of Eurovision where they are counting the votes and trying to come up with something to cling on to viewers. Party hacks will provide the most banal of responses to the exit poll. (“Look, it’s early in the night let’s see some actual votes come in” “This small majority is proof that Theresa May should be our new supreme overlord” “I’m from UKIP – why are you still asking me on here?”) Andrew Neill will already be shouting at someone though.

At this point Laura Kuenssberg et al will be giving feedback to Dimbleby about what they’re hearing from around the country (“There’s a lot of glum Labour faces in x/I’ve got a text from a Tory from the back and beyond sounding very confident”). 

It is easy to mock that speculation but often a lot of it holds true. In 2015 early twitter speculation of Ed Balls losing his seat was bang on. Party sources no longer have to put on brave faces and will share their canvassing returns, how the ballot papers are piling up and the feelings in their waters.



By night election volunteers, by day snooker referees. 

For some strange reason Sunderland Council put a lot of resources into making sure their seats declare first. Look out for a lot of sixth formers running around a leisure centre. The first seat is expected to be the Labour stronghold of Houghton and Sunderland South, followed by two other Labour safe seats of Washington and Sunderland West and Sunderland Central. 

Though not hugely representative the swings here will give an indication of how accurate the exit poll is. These seats will also give hints as to how the UKIP vote is doing, and how well the Tories might be doing in Leave voting areas.



Then it was the dressing up box.

The results will have given more flesh to the exit poll, and one party will be looking increasingly buoyant and the other putting an even more ludicrous brave face. The Lib Dems will still be happy to be there. But after a brief flurry inactivity resumes.

Dimbleby desperately tries to find something to amuse himself whilst Andrew Neill will be giving someone an even bigger bollocking.



“Please don’t make me redundant.”

Used to be a marginal seat, Swindon North is now firmly in the Tory column. However, if Labour want to do well nationally they will want to see a swing towards them here.

The Tory safe seat of Battersea will also declare at the same time. The result here will give a good indication of the result in London and how the Tory vote holds up in Remain areas. Labour will also need to take this, or come very close, if they are in with a shout of forming an overall majority.



“Quick Jeremy, put away your Risk set, we’ve results to analyse!”

Things start to get interesting and Dimbleby will begin to remember why he keeps doing it after all. A four point swing would see Darlington fall to the Tories and would suggest they are on course for a majority of about 80. Wrexham is a three pointer, and will see how the Welsh Labour firewall is faring.



You don’t want to make him angry.

Bury North with a swing of under 0.5% required is number five on the Labour target list. They will need to win this if they want to rob Theresa May of her majority.

We will also get a pretty full picture of what is happening outside England. Scottish seats will begin to declare and the Tories will be looking eagerly at Angus and the Lib Dems and Fife North East. Swathes of Wales will declare, with the Tories looking to capture Clwyd South in particular.

The picture in Northern Ireland will also begin to come clearer. This may be important if the night is looking tight.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd will be the first big hitter to get a result in Hastings and Rye. Labour need a four point swing to take it, but they’ll need to if they want to be the largest party.



As his poll ratings increase, do does his arm length.

Jeremy Corbyn’s seat will have a result. He will hold comfortably, but his speech will provide an indication of what he intends to do based on the results. His speech will be tempered a great deal by the simultaneous results in the ultra Tory marginal of Warwickshire North and Labour’s leave and UKIP leaning Hartlepool. 



“So I told them to shove their referendum up their arses!”

The skirmish is over, the battle really begins and blood will split

The results will be coming in thick and fast now. Dimbleby’s eye’s wont move from the bottom of the screen, Kuenssberg’s Twitter will have broken and Neill will be incandescent with rage. In the deluge particular seats to look out for are Chorley where a Tory capture would signal a majority for them of over 100.

Another is Tim Farron’s Westmoreland and Lonsdale. He should be ok here, but there has been a big Tory effort in a seat that historically has been theirs. Regardless, his speech will be interesting to see how the Lib Dems are faring.



The worst thing about this photo is really that coffee and chips are a completely unacceptable combination.

Theresa May’s Maidenhead seat will declare and no doubt declare her victor again. If she is having a good night, her speech may indicate what her immediate priorities will be. If it’s a bad night, her approach to a possible coalition/minority government or resignation.

We will know the broad outcome of the election by now, but it wont be until now the Lib Dems will be competitive. Top targets like Bath, Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Twickenham will declare. Some of their vulnerable defences will be too, like Carshalton and Wallington and perhaps even, Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam?


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“I will be resigning the UKIP leadership to pursue a different career as a 1920s Birmingham gangster.”

The rural seats will start to come in now, and these are Tory heartlands. If they are on course for a majority the seat that takes them over the edge (326) should come around now.

Paul Nutall’s Boston and Skegness will also come in around now. He is very unlikely to win here but his speech will be at the very least interesting to hear as to the future direction of UKIP.

Labour’s Clive Lewis is also locked in an interesting three-way battle between the Greens and Tories in Norwich South. He’s been seen as a possible Labour leader and a defeat here could be 2017’s Portillo Moment. Elsewhere in Norfolk, Norman Lamb will also be in a difficult battle to hold Norfolk North for the Lib Dems.


Caroline at Westminster 169.jpg

Lucas certainly raises eyebrows.

The Greens haven’t had much to cheer this election, but there could be a saving grace here. Caroline Lucas looks set to win her third successive election here, but she will have to see of a not insignificant Tory and Labour challenge.

As the results are almost over, Jeremy Vine’s graphics will make the outcome clear now for everyone. Fingers will be pointed, the knives will come out and Dimbleby will be egging them on. Campaigns will be criticised, the party was too left wing, the party was too right wing etc. etc.



The Young Pretender

Congratulations if you made this far, Dimbleby probably thought long and hard about stepping out for a kip long ago. He will perhaps now be passing on the baton to his protegee, Huw Edwards for the last time.

The declarations will be finishing off, almost entirely in rural Tory seats. Though the results may not be fully declared until 12.

The results will be over though, and the sweeping generalisations and analysis will begin about this is a ‘defining election’ as almost every other one has been. At this point though it will be clear what is happening with party leaders, and whether any of them will resign.

So ready the snacks and strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy one.

We have seen a dramatic narrowing in the polls in this campaign. Perhaps it is no longer the foregone conclusion we were expecting at the beginning. Next time we will take a final look at the polls at make out what is likely to happen on Thursday…



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