General Election 2019 UK Politics

How to watch Election Night

Written by Fraser Innes

The most pivotal election of a generation, which leaves us expecting the unexpected: Fraser Innes breaks down how to watch it and what to look out for as well as analysis as to what parties need to gain to tip the scales in their favour.

Opinion polls and pundit commentary mean nothing, there is only one poll that matters, and its results will be released on Thursday night. Throw care and your beauty sleep to the wind and stay up with your eyes glued to the telly all night. These moments will echo for years and to see them live is incredibly important – or is it? For most people it seems like a waste of energy, will ruin your weekend and leave you bored as Huw Edwards gets very little information out of former junior ministers. But for those politically obsessed like me, this is what we’ve been waiting for since the last election and won’t get again for the next five years (likely story). Here’s my guide for what to look out for on the night of Thursday 12th December 2019.

10pm – Exit Polls

This gives the first real picture of what is going to happen tonight. It is the first poll which asks people not how they are going to vote, but who they have voted for. This shows the extent of partisan dealignment we are facing. Brexit voters in working class areas may have said they were going to support Boris, but that’s very different from putting a cross in another box. Now as you will hear from Sir John Curtice, and other polling experts like him that are spoken to by the various news channels covering this election: this poll is only a suggestion, there have been famous examples of exit polls going horribly wrong. In 1992, the exit poll suggested a hung parliament with the potential for a Labour Government, while reality gave John Major’s Conservatives a majority, moreover in 2015, the exit poll underestimated the gains David Cameron made, again giving him a majority contrary to the exit poll’s hung parliament.

This election in particular has the potential for a large mistake from exit polling with there being large movements of voters in all directions and the idea of a national swing being long in the rear-view mirror.

10:30pm – Go to Bed

I’m not joking. There will be very little of any note actually happening in the first few hours. The first constituencies to return a result will be back in about an hour, but they have very little value to either predict the effectiveness of the poll or the result across the country as a whole. Traditionally it has been Newcastle Central against Houghton and Sunderland South to be the first to respond, both being safe Labour seats, however with their split on Brexit voting, it may be quite interesting to see how they respond differently to Corbyn’s decision to not decide on Brexit. Not interesting enough, however, to justify getting at least some sleep in.

I was talking to a friend who takes psychology and she tells me that as a sleep cycle takes ninety minutes, you feel most refreshed when you get some multiple of one and a half hours’ sleep, so I’ll be going for three hours and have an alarm set for 1:30 am.

1:30am Friday – Results

While you will have been sleeping, some results will be in. Safe seats that were never going to change will be most likely to be back, as those seats which will be close will take more care as every vote may matter, and recounts may be on the cards as close seats such as East Fife in 2017, when the third recount gave the SNP’s incumbent Stephen Gethins a two-vote win over the Liberal Democrat candidate.

However, as results in seats that matter do come in, it is worth looking out for particular types of seats.


In 2015, Ed Balls was Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and the polls suggested he could be delivering a budget speech in a few months’ time. In reality he lost his Morley and Outwood seat to Andrea Jenkyns, a Conservative who is among the most hard-line Brexiteers in parliament. These ‘Portillo movements’ (named for the Conservative Defence Secretary who lost his seat as part of Blair’s 1997 landslide) are the surprises of the campaign and give local voters a loud voice on the national campaign. A few to look out for include:

  • East Dunbartonshire. Jo Swinson lost this seat in 2015 when the Scottish Lib Dems were banished from the mainland, before winning it back last time out. A spirited campaign from the SNP and their candidate Amy Callaghan along with a lacklustre campaign from Labour has led to Swinson being on the back foot, her personal approval ratings plummeting nationwide as her voting record during the coalition comes under scrutiny. This would be my pick for the most likely major figure to lose their seat.
  • North East Somerset. Polarising figure Jacob Rees-Mogg has disappeared from the campaign after his comments on Grenfell Tower victims, and this extends further to his own constituency as he was late for his only public appearance and local news source Somerset Live went on the hunt for the missing Brexiteer. He has faced opposition from many in his constituency as “Get Mogg Out” appeared on a local slag heap, and vote Lib Dem signs being displayed in the garden across the road from his Grade-II listed manor house. However, most polling suggests that Mogg has very little to worry about and will likely remain the only MP the seat has had since its creation in 2010.
  • Uxbridge and South Ruislip. The Prime Minister’s own constituency has always been a source of opposition: Jon Harvey, who gained 249 voted as Lord Buckethead against Theresa May in 2017 is running against Johnson this year as Count Binface, alongside an unknown Official Monster Raving Looney Party candidate who has taken on the moniker used by Harvey in 2017 and Mike Lee, who challenged Thatcher and Major in 1987 and 1992 respectively. Yet there appears to be a serious challenge from the Labour party this year, as Johnson is defending the narrowest constituency majority for a Prime Minister since 1924, in a seat which sits in the shadow of an expanding Heathrow and was described as vulnerable by Conservative think tank Onward. Iranian migrant Ali Milani is Labour’s Momentum-backed candidate running against him and has received large support from the party grassroots as well as high profile campaigner and journalist Owen Jones, who has organised large campaigns in the constituency. Unfortunately for supporters of either the left wing or chaos, the withdrawal of the Brexit Party has resulted in an increased security for Boris and Jones’ Instagram feed appears to have moved elsewhere for Labour gains, yet they are still getting 5-1 odds from Ladbrokes.

Corbyn is sitting in a much more expected place for a party with his 60% majority and the 20th safest seat in the UK. Despite an energised Liberal Democrat, there will be no real trouble for Labour in a seat they haven’t lost since 1935.


In 2017, there were 51 constituencies won by less than 1,000 votes. Eleven of those had a less than 100 vote difference between the winners and the runner ups. These seats – 27 between Labour and the Conservatives – could be key in deciding the outcome this time round. These seats will likely change hands if we are to get a stable government. And each party has a different path to victory.

For Labour, seats like Pudsey in Yorkshire, which have historically voted Conservative but voted to remain in 2016, will need to turn red on Thursday night. There is precedent for this: in 2017, Labour won in Kensington for the first time in the constituency’s forty-year history. However, they must be wary of a resurgent Liberal Democrat force in such constituencies, especially when holding on to Kensington in particular, as they face a challenge from former Conservative Sam Gyimah, whose Anti-Brexit credentials may siphon away enough of Labour’s vote to open the door to the Conservatives to regain the seat.

For the Conservatives, their most likely path to victory is in working class areas which voted Brexit. Dubbed: “The Workington Man” by think-tanks, they will be critical to winning seats like Dudley North, where 71% of voters voted Leave, this will be boosted by Nigel Farage’s decision not to send a Brexit Party candidate there. However, this is not the case in all such constituencies and Boris Johnson will be hoping that Farage’s party pulls more votes away from Labour than from the Conservatives, or by the nature of First past the Post, he could be left with Farage opening the door for Corbyn to number 10.

Whatever party does get a win, there will be no big wins like Blair and Thatcher enjoyed in the past, neither will even be hoping for the 80 seat majority Theresa May aimed for last time round.

Different Parties

In arguably the most unusual parliament ever, there has been a number of MPs changing party and there are 17 MPs seeking election for parties other than who they won for in 2017. From high profile roles in the Liberal Democrats like Chuka Umunna, to the quickly irrelevant Independent Group for Change (previously known as The Independent Group and Change UK) and it will be interesting to see how they fair. However, there is an interesting group who are standing for re-election yet have not joined a national party. Dominic Grieve – who had been deselected by his local party before Boris withdrew the whip – and David Gauke – who was also not taken back into the fold after he had the whip withdrawn – were among the most Anti-Brexit voices in Parliament but are now standing as Independent candidates. Their attempts to become the first MPs elected as Independents in Britain since 2006, will be interesting to keep an eye out for come early Friday morning.

Where to watch

There are four different TV channels offering Election night coverage. BBC 1 will have coverage all night lead by Huw Edwards accompanied by the BBC’s wide range of correspondents. This has been the standard under David Dimbleby for some time and with its advert free viewing it is the provider to beat. Channel 4 have not even tried to compete directly with the BBC as their answer to Laura Kuenssburg on the “Alternative Election Night” is comedian Katherine Ryan, however if the night goes against the way I want it to, it could be the only thing that gets me through. Sky’s offering has been centred around one man: recently departed speaker of the house of commons John Bercow. This is one of the great unknowns of the coverage: will he be any good? If he turns out to have nothing of value to offer, (I wouldn’t bet against it) Sophy Ridge can support anchor Dermot Murnaghan with her ever growing reputation for cutting analysis. However ITV could be the most interesting to watch, despite its difficulties of access from Scotland, it includes Jo Johnson, brother of the Prime Minister who cited being “torn between family and national interest” when resigning and could have insight into a campaign that has featured not only his brother but his father too.

Overall, this election is probably the most pivotal in a generation and could shape the very nature of the country for decades to come. If the election coverage is too bad to handle, know that it’s okay not to watch it. This is a distressing time and getting next to no sleep may not leave you in the best place to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that Friday morning could prove to be. But as Britain prepares to write a new chapter in its history, know the first sentence will be the same regardless of whether you hear it as it’s written or six hours later.

About the author

Fraser Innes

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