With Jim and Alex on frontline duties, Kiran Stacey, a fellow political hack, will man this live blog. Jim, Alex and others will contribute. Follow the news, drama and tension of election night here.
The page should update automatically every few minutes, although it may take longer for those reading on a mobile.
8.01 KS: This post is entitled “The home stretch?” I’m glad I included that question mark, because right now I am going to close this post down and open a new one. If you’re still with us or just joining us this morning, please stay with the Westminster Blog – the new post will be up in a jiffy.
7.52 KS: Whatever you think of Mandelson, he is a joy to watch. He so gently bats away questioning by Jeremy Paxman and Nick Robinson that they can only laugh helplessly. “I am not ruling anything out or anything in, quite deliberately, Jeremy,” he says soothingly to attempts to get him to spell out what might happen in a hung parliament. When Nick Robinson suggests some predictions of his own, he says, “I love and respect Nick Robinson. But he will always be the first out of the trap to draw some conclusions.”
And what of constitutional historian Vernon Bogdanor, who also engaged in some speculation? Mandelson says simply, “Vernon is a very wise man with many historical insights.” End of interview. Beautifully done.
7.49 KS: Peter Mandelson tells Paxman there are no talks yet between Labour and the Lib Dems. He might be right – even politicians need to rest sometimes after all. But it could be significant that while waiting for the count, Nick Clegg spent a long, long time locked away in a room well away from any reporters.
7.39 KS: Michael Gove has proved one of the quickest interviewees around during this entire campaign, although opinion is divided on whether he comes across as smart or smug. He came up with a great back-handed compliment to John Humphrys a few days ago, praising him for asking “elegant questions”. He’s proving it again tonight, batting away questions about parliamentary deals by telling David Dimbleby:
It’s because I have a quaint attachment to this thing called democracy that I want to wait to see who has won what seats.
7.34 KS: An interesting factoid from the Beeb. Ian Stewart, who has just won Milton Keynes South on a 6.2% swing for the Tories, was actually christened by Gordon Brown’s father. Kudos to the researcher who dug that one up.
7.33 KS: Tessa Jowell has been re-elected in Dulwich and West Norwood, increasing her majority.
7.31 KS: Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, is apparently facing a second recount in Oldham East and Saddleworth.
7.28 KS: Jack Dromey earlier kept hold of Birmingham Erdington for Labour. (In my best broadcaster voice) Dan Pimlott filed this report:
Jack Dromey, Mr Harriet Harman, won Erdington for Labour with a much reduced majority of 3,200. He was parachuted into the seat, and saw the majority cut from more than 9,000. Mr Dromey is Labour Party treasurer and deputy general secretary of Unite.
He delivered a strong speech pointing out that the Tories are struggling to win the election despite 13 years of Labour government and the worst recession in a generation. “The biggest loser tonight nationwide is the Conservative Party,” he said to jeers from the opposition. “This is not a Conservative country, the country does not want a Conservative government.”
7.25 KS: Lib Dem Simon Hughes has just told Paxman that the incumbent prime minister has “the right of first reply”. That doesn’t sound quite like what Nick Clegg was saying about the party with the most number of votes and seats having the right to try and form a government. But (see 6.24) those remarks were very carefully nuanced.
7.20 KS: Politics in the east end of London can be a messy affair, and two of the biggest battles for Labour, in Poplar & Limehouse and Bethnal Green & Bow, are still some way off announcing. These contests were marred by allegations of voting fraud and violence: see here and here. Whether that will have affected the results though is unclear – they haven’t even started counting the votes in Poplar and Limehouse, where George Galloway is hoping to take the seat from the sitting Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick.
7.18 KS: Two bright spots for the Lib Dems. They have taken Bradford East from Labour on a 7.6% swing, and Solihull from the Tories on a 0.3% swing. Labour have held onto Chorley, meanwhile- not hugely surprising given it would have taken an 8% swing for the Tories to take it.
7.14 KS: I missed this earlier from Morley and Outwood, the biggest story that never was tonight. Alistair Gray tells us Ed Balls told his supporters: “New labour is renewed tonight and we will fight on.” Bullish, even by Balls’ standards.
7.09 KS: As David Oakley’s post (7.03) shows, it will be very difficult for anyone to interpret the market’s reaction to the increasingly certain outcome of a hung parliament due to the ongoing soveriegn-debt-related turmoil. Of course, that won’t stop politicians, especially Tories, claiming that any drop is proof of their claims that the markets would punish a hung parliament.
7.06 KS: Conservatives gain Harrow East, where Tony McNulty, the former Labour minister, has lost his seat on a 7% swing. He was embarrassed by the expenses row when he was shown to have claimed expenses on his parents’ house.
7.05 KS: Another update from the tireless Andy Bounds in Sheffield:
Bizarre scenes as mass partying by Labour activists as they hold on to Sheffield Central by 165 votes. Never mind what happened in the rest of the country.
7.03 KS: David Oakley, our capital markets correspondent, has some news for us from the markets:
Gilt futures, traded overnight for the first time during an election, started to fall during early morning trading. Analysts were unsure whether this was because of worries about a hung parliament or broader turmoil in the financial markets. Sterling also fell against the dollar.
7.00 KS: Sheffield was looking good for the Lib Dems earlier, with a 7% swing to Nick Clegg in his safe seat of Sheffield Hallam. But in neighbouring Sheffield Central, where Lib Dem council leader Paul scriven thought he was in with a real shout, helped by boundary changes, they appear to have failed, says Andy Bounds. He reports:
Final kick in the teeth for the Lib Dems in Sheffield. The Labour party has clung on to Sheffield Central after a recount, judging from their celebrations.
6.57 KS: Julia Goldsworthy has lost her Camborne and Redruth seat to the Tories. George Eustice, their candidate, used to be a press secretary to David Cameron. His majority is a minute 66, from a 5.2% swing.
6.53 KS: Several pundits have remarked on how the Tories will benefit from the backing of the Tory-supporting papers in the next few days if Brown tries to stay on. There are signs of that in The Sun – possibly the most aggressive Cameron supporter of them all – which says in its top story:
There was uproar when Gordon Brown astonishingly signalled he would stay on as PM.
6.52 KS: Nick Clegg marched out of his count followed by a media scrum. “He’s off to London to prepare for negotiations,” says Andy Bounds, who has heroically stayed at the count until now to bring us the result live.
6.46 KS: Some welcome good news for the Lib Dems from Wells, where they have taken the seat from David Heathcoat-Amory on a 3.6% swing. Heathcoat-Amory was famous for claiming bags of manure for his garden on expenses. It wasn’t expensive, but it was memorable.
6.43 KS: Zac Goldsmith refuses to say how much of his own (considerable) wealth he has put into his campaign, although says it is “considerably less” than his rival put into hers.
6.39 KS: Clegg is visibly dejected, declaring it a “disappointing” night. His party is now on course to win fewer seats than in 2005, a terrible and completely unexpected result. He says “over the next weeks and months we will be guided by the principles on which we fought this election”. He advises against “rushing into any decisions”. Notice that phrase “weeks and months” – first thing is for him to get agreement from his party on Saturday on negotiating lines. I don’t suppose the markets will like that – investors will want to see decisions made rather more quickly than the complex Lib Dem machinery might allow.
6.37 KS: Nick Clegg has won a 7% swing from the Tories in his Sheffield Hallam seat. This used to be safe Tory, incidentally, but Clegg and his predecessor, Richard Allen, have done an impressive job turning it into a solid Lib Dem seat since Allen first won it in 1997.
6.28 KS: Time for a roundup of this morning’s newspapers. The Guardian’s headline suggests Brown still has a chance of clinging onto power: “David Cameron and Gordon Brown tug of war for No 10″. Other broadsheets are similarly equivocal. The Telegraph says the queen has ordered a “cooling-off” period with no politician allowed to visit her at the palace until 1pm.
The tabloids, unsurprisingly, are less uncertain and more bombastic. The Daily Mail quotes David Cameron in saying “Labour has lost its mandate to govern”, while The Sun goes further, claiming: “Britain rejects Brown”.
The Mirror – the only Labour supporting paper left – makes an extraordinary claim of a “Brown win”. But it’s ok – they don’t know something we don’t – they’re talking about his own constituency, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.
6.24 KS: Nick Robinson is pointing out that Nick Clegg didn’t say the winning party would have the right to form a government, but the right to seek to form a government. He claims this is important because it could mean the Lib Dems go into discussions with the Tories, but decide they are going nowhere and then back out. It is a very, very fine distinction, but not impossible to draw.
6.23 KS: Tories gain Portsmouth North
6.17 KS: Caroline Lucas says she will deal with other parties in Westminster on a “case by case basis”, but says “we have more in common with the borader left of the spectrum”. Her vote could be crucial in such a finely balanced parliament.
6.15 KS: Labour holds Dagenham and Rainham, so Jon Cruddas remains a possible leadership candidate. The swing to the Tories was 4.9%.
6.14 KS: The 5am edition of the FT is out. The headline is “Cameron stakes claim to No10″, but George Parker’s first lines runs thus: “David Cameron’s hopes of becoming prime minister were in the balance this morning”. This was not supposed to be uncertain at this point!
6.12 KS: As lots of people have been pointing out, Nick Clegg said that whoever won the election in terms of percentage of the vote and seats won would get to form the next government. So for all the warm words from Labour ministers, it is difficult to see how he could now justify a Lib-Lab pact.
6.09 KS: The BBC now forecasts the Tories to win 308 seats and Sky has them with 309, so it looks like they will break the 300 barrier, but unlikely to make it to the all important 326 seats.
6.02 KS: A quick preview of the markets, which open in London in two hours. Our markets guru David Oakley, who has stuck it out all night, expects the FTSE to open lower following the tumble the US markets took in late trading last night. Traders will be eagerly eyeing the results to get a better idea of the state of play, especially those trading gilts and sterling.
5.57 KS: Barking coming in. Nick Griffin gets 6,620, way, way below Margaret Hodge’s figure of 24,628. The Tories beat the BNP into second place. We are entirely neutral on this blog, but I think we can all agree this is a very pleasing result.
5.56 KS: Tories gain Ipswich.
5.55 KS: Goldsmith was a bit of a surprise. His non-dom status and the Clegg debate performance both suggested he might trip up in spite of this being a top Tory target.
5.52 KS: The Tories have won Richmond Park. Zac Goldsmith is in. He wins it on an unexpectedly high 7% swing and a 77% turnout.
5.50 KS: Caroline Lucas wins. The Greens have their first MP. She says this is a victory for “the politics of hope” over “the politics of fear”. I’m sure the Lib Dems were using a similar line…
5.48 KS: Tories gain Gillingham and Rainham and Gloucester. Brighton Pavilion just coming in.
5.46 KS: Vince Cable holds onto Twickenham with a tiny swing to the Lib Dems. But he’s giving little away about Lib Dem bargaining positions, saying: “The results (nationally) are all over the place… I won’t make any passionate outpourings of thought.”
5.45 KS: The Tories have picked up Cardiff North. They’ve done very well in Wales tonight.
5.43 KS: Andrew Adonis tells us that there are no negotiations going on between Labour and the Lib Dems. I would doubt if there has been no contact at all – perhaps this hinges on the definition of “negotiation”.
5.42 KS: Tories gain Waveney on a 6.8% swing and South Dorset. But they fail to take Sefton Central from Labour, which is the seat that would on a uniform swing have taken them to a majority.
5.40 KS: Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert tells us that, in a way, every party has lost tonight. Perhaps that’s exactly what voters wanted?
5.39 KS: Roger Blitz tells us the result is due shortly from Richmond Park, and that the Tories “look very happy”. Make of that what you will.
5.37 KS:David Blunkett is still being far more outspoken than the Labour leadership would like him to be. Andy Bounds in Sheffield tells us:
David Blunkett says all talk of a Lib-Lab coalition is “nonsense” as they do not have enough seats to form a majority. “We have lost the general election. We should be proud of what we have done.”
Andy also says there is a recount in Sheffield Central. This used to be a safe Labour seat, but boundary changes have put it within Lib Dem range.
5.36 KS: Alok Sharma wins Reading West for the Tories on a 12% swing.
5.35 KS: Tories gain Brighton Kemptown, but still no word from Brighton Pavilion, where it is thought Caroline Lucas will become the first Green MP.
5.33 KS: Labour are doing well in London – much better than they might have expected. The BBC is forecasting a hung parliament.
5.30 KS: Another great black hope for the Tories, Wilfred Emmanuel Jones, has failed to take Chippenham despite only needing a 2.35% swing. And more bad news for the Tory A-List from Joanne Cash, the candidate who had to get the backing of David Cameron to defeat her own local party’s attempts to deselect her, has failed to gain Westminster North.
5.28 KS: Current vote share for Labour is 28.1%, worse than the 28.3% they got in 1983 under Michael Foot.
5.25 KS: Shaun Bailey is the kind of Tory candidate David Cameron is very keen to see in parliament. A black inner city youth worker, he should have easily overturned a 4.2 per cent swing in Hammersmith, especially with the resources the Tories spent there. But Labour have held it.
5.23 KS: Jeremy Vine tells us the “pivot point” where the Tories are making serious gains is currently at 6.9%. The problem for them is that Labour has held on to several seats below that point.
5.18 KS: Jason McCartney, former RAF officer and local TV presenter, has gained Colne Valey for the Conservatives.
5.16 KS: Nick Clegg has been keeping a very low profile in Sheffield Hallam, refusing to give interviews. Andy Bounds there tells us he is currently locked in a room being guarded by a policeman. Goodness knows why.
5.15 KS: The Tories gain Cardiff North and Wolverhampton South West, Enoch Powell’s old seat.
5.13 KS: The swing from Labour to the Tories in Edgbaston was just 0.5%. Gisela Stuart was very vociferous in calling for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps this made her popular with her constituents?
5.10 KS:The Tories have gained Weaver Vale, but Labour have held on to the very marginal Birmingham Edgbaston, where Gisela Stuart keeps her seat after at least five recounts.
5.08 KS: Hazel Blears holds her seat despite a 9.4% swing, triggered by the expenses scandal and the existence (here he is cropping up again) of motorway man.
5.06 KS: Roger Blitz has this from Richmond Park, which the Tories’ green guru Zac Goldsmith is hoping to win the seat from Susan Kramer of the Lib Dems. He says:
Vince Cable shows up. His Twickenham seat is being counted too. Asked whay happened to Cleggmania, he replies: “There’s not a lot of it about.”
5.04 KS: Lord Ashcroft says he thinks the Tories will get 300 seats at least. But he admits his money hasn’t been a success everywhere. Peter Kellner thinks that may be unfair – there has been a 2 per cent bonus swing in Labour marginals.