With Jim and Alex on frontline duties, Kiran Stacey, a fellow political hack, and Helen Warrell, who has helped co-ordinate the FT’s online and multimedia election coverage, 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.
1.58 KS: We’re about to shut this particular post down and open a new one, so sorry to make you navigate away. But stay with us and follow the story in the next post: The view from 2am.
1.57 KS: More bad news for the Lib Dems. They lost ground in Newbury, which the Tories took from them in 2005. Perhaps the message of “Vote Clegg, get Brown” was successful.
1.52 KS: 57 seats done, with an average swing of 3.3% from Labour to the Tories. But this number is warped by much figures from Scotland and Northern Ireland, says the BBC.
1.51 KS: Ed Miliband equivocal to say the least about Gordon Brown’s position. When asked by Paxman “It’s Brown or bust is it?” he replies, “I wouldn’t quite put it that way.”
1.49 KS: A reader has pointed out that Labour activists in Tooting were chanting “Yes we Khan”. Much cleverer than I gave them credit for!
1.48 KS: The Tories have held on to Guildford, which was one of the Lib Dems’ main target seats. The Cons actually increased their majority – very bad news for the Libs.
1.46 KS: The swing in Battersea was significantly ahead of that in neighbouring Tooting, where it was 3.5%. These swings are all over the place, making this very difficult to predict. It will be a long time before we know whether the Tories are likely to get a majority.
1.45 KS: Good news for the Tories filtering through from Richmond Park, where our correspondent Ben Fenton says the Lib Dems are admitting their candidate Susan Kramer has probably lost.
1.44 KS: Sadiq Khan holds on Tooting. Labour activists chant, “Yes we can,” and are brought down to earth by the returning officer, who shouts, “Can I finish please?”
1.43 KS: Cons won Battersea on a 6.5% swing.
1.43: This from Robert Shrimsley:
Labour has held onto Durham against a Lib Dem challenge and seemingly to Tooting against the Tories. This is not yet the blue tide lapping over the beaches.
Tooting is just about to announce.
1.40 KS: As Jim, says, we’re going great guns here. I think our typos at 1.12 were as the result of Blackberry typing, but apologies, and thanks for the spot!
1.38 KS: Brown has finished. He didn’t give much away, but did talk about electoral change, leaving open a deal with the Lib Dems. But as Nick Robinson is pointing out on the BBC, his eyes looked defeated.
1.36 KS: Brown is summing up his achievements in government. It sounds a bit valedictory. Helen says he sounds like he’s talking about himself in the past tense.
1.35 KS: As expected, Jane Ellison has won Battersea for the Tories from Labour’s Martin Linton.
1.32 KS: Kirkcaldy is just announcing. Gordon Brown has won here, even if not nationally. His majority increased by nearly 5,000 votes.
1.31 KS: Paddy Ashdown is not so sure about that prediction from Blunkett. “Don’t listen to a hoary old horse from the backbenches,” he warns.
1.28 HW: David Blunkett has just become the first Labour big beast to break ranks and declare a Labour loss.
It’s quite likely that the Conservatives will make it to a majority… My instinct is that regrettably we have lost the election… We need to minimise the damage that the Conservatives will to do our economy…. that should be our [Labour's] primary task as a party in coalition or not.
1.27: Emma Jacobs in Wandsworth has this glimpse of what might be happening in some of the west London swing seats:
Rumour is Labour will hold Tooting. The Tories need a 6.1 per cent swing to win the seat from Labour incumbent, Sadiq Khan, who has been MP for the Labour-stronghold since 2005 for Tooting.
1.24: David Oakley, the FT’s capital markets correspondent, is at Icap, the inter-dealer broker, is watching the gilts trading that began at 1am. He says:
Gilts futures jumped as they opened at 1am amid some optimism the Conservatives can form a government.
Significantly, spread betting companies were predicting an outright Con majority. After the first two Sunderland polls, spread betters were predicting the Tories would win 335 seats, although that fell back to 332 after the third Sunderland poll.
1.23 HW: The FT’s results graphic – showing both PA’s projected result and the number of actual seats, party by party – is now live.
1.21 KS: Alastair Campbell tells Andrew Neill that Brown’s suggestions of a coalition are to counteract a “Tory narrative that they have won this election”. But if there are more swings like that we have seen in Kingswood, this could be all be academic.
1.19 KS: This is significant from Miles Johnson in Kirkcaldy, where Brown will soon give a speech:
Here Downing Street aides to Brown are stating quite clearly that Brown is keen to form a coalition government with the Lib Dems, and that his speech will call for a “strong, stable and principled government” to signal this. Press pack getting very excited. Result due in five.
1.12 KS: Some slightly unusual scenes in Witney, says Jonathan Guthrie:
The putative next prime minister looks in reasonable shape, though there are telltale little grey patches of fatigue around his eyes. He strolls amidst the counting tables with wife Samantha, who is wearing a purple maternity dress, greeting party workers.
Mr Cameron was preceded into the Windrush Leisure Centre by a fringe candidate dressed as Jesus.
1.12 KS: Paddy Ashdown joins the increasing number of people predicting a slender Tory majority.
1.11: This from Robert Shrimsley:
Kingswood is an important win for the Tories, with a 9.4 per cent swing. This will be very heartwarming for David Cameron. The Conservatives also looking well set for Basildon South.
1.09 KS: Lib Dem hold in Torbay, which the Tories were really hoping to win, but there was actually a 1.1% swing to the Lib Dems. That could be bad news for the Tories in the south west.
1.08 FT leader writer @xtophercook tweets: “Ooh – the excellent published author Chris Skidmore has apparently won Brizzle Kingswood.” 9 per cent swing to the Tories.
1.06 HW: Labour officials are saying that Gordon Brown has cabinet support for seeking a coalition with the Lib Dems. Apparently as the incumbent government, Labour wants the “first bite of the cherry” in instigating negotiations.
1.05: Alex says all this uncertainty is absolutely wonderful for the punters.
Michael Robb at Betfair tells me that around £2.5m has been traded since polls opened this morning. There’ll be plenty more panic betting as the rumours swirl. One interesting development: the money seems to be going back on Ed Balls in Morley after a bit of a wobble earlier this evening. He’s 4/9 to win.
1.02 KS: In Belfast East we have our first really significant result. Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister and leader of the Democratic Unionists, has been defeated by the cross-community Alliance Party, which has won its first seat on a massive 22.9 per cent swing. Robinson was forced to step down temporarily earlier this year after a scandal involving his wife, Iris, involving a young lover and alleged financial misdealings – a perfect tabloid mix. This could be a one-off reaction to that scandal, or could suggest a bigger move in Northern Irish politics.
12.55: Tim Bradshaw reports from twitter that one politics student unable to cast her ballot at Ranmoor in Sheffield has vented her fury. “In a modern Western democracy in 2010 I am denied my legal right to vote,” tweeted @Raksky. “Even Afghanistan pulled off a fairer, more efficient election… Most surreal moment tonight? When the Returning Officer told me that people in Mancs and Leeds didn’t get to vote either. Oh, that’s okay then!” She called the returning officers’ actions “completely inept handling and shocking disenfranchisement”.
12.54: Jim says: Mandelson has just refused to rule out Brown’s head as the price for a Lib-Lab coalition. “They’d have to express that view in the first place and they haven’t,” he said.
12.50 HW: DUP’s Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s first minister, has lost his seat in Belfast East.
12.47 HW: Danny Alexander tells Paxman that there is “a sense of arrogance from the Conservatives, that they should somehow inherit power… exit polls are notoriously unreliable”.
“Yes yes yes”, says Paxman, before cutting away for the Belfast East result.
12.44: Roger Blitz is sending more dispaches from Richmond: It’s ridiculously early for predictions in Richmond Park, but both Lib Dems and Tories are muttering words such as “very close”, “recount” and long night ahead”. The last one was true anyway.
The Lib Dem press officer just showed me a piece of paper which could have been his cribbage score but turned out to be his voting tallies. I couldn’t make head or tail of it, but it points to squeaky bum time for Goldsmith and Kramer, to quote the manager of Manchester United.
As if to prove the point about Richmond Park dirty tricks, the Tory agent was complaining to me about 150
Vote Zac posters being torn down, which a Lib Dem supporter overheard. “What about your defamatory leaflets?” the Lib Dem guy countered. “You can expect a solicitor’s letter in the morning.” Break it up, boys.
12.41: Tim Bradshaw, the FT’s twitterwatcher, has alerted our attention to Alan Davies of QI fame, who has just tweeted:
@alandavies1 right, popping out to vote now, they’ll probably be open – it’s London innit? Everything’s open late round here.
12.38: Dan Pimlott reports that Stephen Hughes, chief executive of Birmingham City Council has made a statement about reports that some people were locked out at some polling stations in Birmingham.
“People have had 15 hours to vote, everyone knows that polling stations close at 10pm, it is clearly marked on polling cards. There have been a couple of polling stations where we’ve had to lock the doors but we have endeavoured to get as many people in as possible and process them.”
A Labour election agent says that reports have being coming through to him about some people being locked out of polling stations in Sutton Coldfield.
12.37 KS: Sky says Edinburgh South has gone from Labour to the Lib Dems. This was a target for both the Lib Dems and the Tories, for whom it should have been well within reach. If Sky is right, it could bode ill for the Tories, especially in the South West, where they need to make some inroads into firm Lib Dem territory. Worth noting that in a neighbouring constituency, Alistair Darling faces a challenge from the Tories, although on an 8.25% swing it remains unlikely.
12.36 HW: Sky is calling Edinburgh South for the Liberal Democrats.
12.35 HW: There are growing rumours that the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, the party leader, might have succeeded in winning Brighton Pavilion.
12.34: Intrepid Miles Johnson is in Gordon Brown’s Scottish consituency of Kirkaldy & Cowdenbleath, where the PM has just arrived to cheering supporters, looking refreshed after a nap and lamb stew dinner. Brown takes the time to shake the policemen and women’s hands as he sweeps through airport-style security barriers. There is big commotion as hordes of photographers are barred from returning to the press room by police until several minutes after Brown passes through.
12.30: Anjli Raval is in Torbay, a Lib dem seat which the Tories could take with a 2 per cent swing. she reports that Lib Dem candidate Adrian Sanders and Conservative Marcus Wood are neck and neck so far. Sanders and his supporters are looking pretty nervous, clearly fearful that Torbay may get back into the hands of the Tories. Sanders won the 1997 election by 12 votes and has held on to his seat since. The Tories have been campaigning hard in Lib Dem safe seats in the South West.
12.30 KS: Ken Clarke is in typically pugnacious mood. He didn’t much like the BBC cutting away from him to film Gordon Brown turning up at his count in Kirkcaldy. “You get very excited about a picture of David Cameron’s car earlier,” he scoffed. “That’s the magic of television” retorted Paxman. I could watch these two all night.
12. 28: Chris Tighe in Sunderland talks to a disappointed Tory candidate:
Lee Martin, who had hoped to win Sunderland Central for the party, said last night his real disappointment at not winning the seat was that it meant he had not broken a 50 year run of Labour MPs in the area. “Sunderland has done appallingly under 50 years of Labour,” said Mr Martin, a local lad who is leader of the Conservative group on Sunderland city council. “We have paid an appalling price but there;s a big loyalty there.”
Still wearing his “I’m ambitious for Sunderland” lapel sticker, Mr Martin said: “Maybe we were asking them to take a risk. But sometimes cities like Sunderland have to take a risk.”
12.26 Emma Jacobs in Labour-held maginal Battersea says that the mood from within Labour party at Battersea is downbeat; there is a strong feeling Tories are going to take it.
The south-west London constituency is number nine on the Tory target list and requires only a 0.4 per cent swing for a Conservative victory. A win here is crucial for David Cameron, who launched his manifesto at Battersea Power Station, to stand any chance of forming government.
Nonetheless, Tony Belton leader of Labour group at Wandsworth Council, put a brave face on things:
“The Tories think they’ve got it in the bag. But it will be closer than they think. I’ve seen at least two votes for Martin Linton [the incumbent Labour MP for Battersea]… Whose guess are you going to take? We’re going to win by a landslide or lose by a landslide. It’s incredibly difficult to tell. On the doorstep it’s veered between incredibly warm and incredibly aggressive.”
12.21 Hannah Kuchler in Salford and Eccles reports that Hazel Blears, who usually turns up at counts early to chat to supporters and play the Salford lass, is still markedly absent. Labour Campaigners were predicting she’d turn up just after ten…. might this be anything to do with the expenses scandal denting her common people credentials?
12.19 KS: The Electoral Commission will launch a review of what has happened in polling booths today. Here is its statement:
“It is a cause for serious concern that many people who wanted to vote today were unable to do so by 10pm when polls closed. Each Returning Officer is responsible for deciding numbers of polling stations in their constituency and the numbers of electors allocated to each polling station. By law, polls must close at 10pm and any voter issued with a ballot paper by 10pm should be allowed time to cast it, but no ballot paper should be issued after 10pm. There should have been sufficient resources allocated to ensure that everyone who wished to vote was able to do so. The Electoral Commission will be undertaking a thorough review of what has happened in those constituencies where people have been unable to vote.”
12.15 KS: In Morley and Outwood, Ed Balls is trying to prevent his name usupring that of Michael Portillo in the pantheon of great election upsets. Our reporter Alistair Gray is there. He says the Tories have accused Balls of keeping a low profile on polling day, but Balls’ campaign manager has dismissed this as “nonsense”. More surprisingly, Hilary Benn, a neighbouring MP also at the count is unwilling to be drawn on the chances of Ed Balls hanging on. Asked if his colleague is likely to be safe, he says: “He’s fought a good campaign.”
12.04 HW: Reuters is reporting comment from Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Brokers, on the market antipathy to a hung parliament:
“Any form of hung parliament is worse than almost anything I can think of. It just does not work here and will not work. The political system is wrong and not designed to work for hung parliaments. It would lead to a period of indecision until another election is forced. The market reaction would be very dismal indeed and on top of everything else that is going on it could be semi-catastrophic.
“Too early to single out any particular sector but whichever party might win, or whether it is a hung parliament or not, defence is clearly going to be hit. It is a fact of life so the industry is looking ahead to a dismal period.”
On the subject of market reaction, our colleagues on FT alphaville will start their commentary on how prices react as the election results flow in from 12.30pm tonight.
12.00 HW: The BBC reporting that in Chester, which is a marginal seat with a slim labour majority of 900, 600 voters were turned away from the polling station because of errors in polling lists.
11.58 HW : David Miliband on the BBC is still denying any sort of leadership bid on his part. “We are very clear that we have a strong leader of a strong party of which Iam privileged to be part… Gordon really found his voice especally towards the end of the campaign”. Do we detect a hint of criticism there?
11.52: Roger Blitz in Richmond says that the most striking thing about the Richmond Park count is the number of Zac Goldsmith lookalikes among the Tory hangers-on. Open-neck shirts, tousled fair hair, slightly faraway gazes – they can’t all be family, can they?
11.51: Sky is reporting that Sheffield voters have refused to let a ballot box out of building. The broadcaster also reports voter protests at Manchester town hall.
11.48: Jim, referring to the Guardian piece we linked to below (11.27), points out that the piece mentions Cruddas and Balls as potential leadership candidtaes. But as he points out, they have to win their seats first.
11.47 KS: One woman has told the BBC there were 100 people unable to vote in Sheffield Hallam. It shouldn’t make too much difference for Nick Clegg, whose safe seat that is, but the queues in Ealing, which is a swing seat, could be more significant.
11.45: This from Alex:
Voting irregularities? Close election? Remind anyone of the US race in 2000? Of course it is far too early tell, but just imagine if the Tories are within a few seats of a majority. We may not have hanging chads. But if hundreds of people have been denied the right to vote in places like Sheffield, it is not inconceivable to imagine a few legal challenges. It may not make a difference to the result. But they may take time — and that means more uncertainty. Ben Fenton, our media correspondent who was reporting from America in the 2000 race, thinks some of it is eerily reminiscent of what he saw there.
Incidentallty, someone from Sheffield council was just on Sky explaining why he decided to shut the doors to the polling station. Apparently one of the big processing problems was caused by students turning up with no ballot paper. That of course means that a lot of students would have been left outside. Not good for the Lib Dems.
11.44 KS: Tim has spotted an interesting tweet from Hackney, where turnout may have been enormous, it seems:
@hackneygazette Hackney turnout could be over 80 per cent according to early reports
11.40 KS: Labour has won in Sunderland Central. There was a very slim chance this could have gone Tory, but if it had, it would have suggested a landslide victory for David Cameron.
This is Chris Adams’ take on the first two Sunderland seats:
The revised exit poll shows swing from Labour to Conservatives of 5.5 per cent, but the two results from Sunderland suggest a swing from Labour to the Tories of 9.9 per cent – enough for a clear majority. If I were David Cameron, I’d be feeling pretty good right now… if I wasn’t asleep that is.
But the swing in Central was only 4.8%, much less than the Tories need. Cameron a little less comfortable now.
11.34 HW: Mandelson says more Labour people vote in the last few hours of voting, so may have lost out buy polling booth problems. But where has he got that detail from? I haven’t seen any research suggesting that is the case.
11.32: Birmingham Council has been talking to Jonathan Guthrie:
In a statement, Birmingham returning officer Stephen Hughes defended the actions of his officials. He said: “People have had 15 hours to vote, everyone knows that polling stations close at 10pm.” He continued: “There have been a couple of polling stations where we’ve had to lock the doors but we have endeavoured to get as many people in as possible and process them.”
11.30 HW: The Washington and Sunderland West shows an 11.6 per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives – if this swing is replicated across the country it will be a clear majority for the Tories.
Chris Adams’ view? “Wow.”
11.29 KS: Result number two – Washington & Sunderland West: Lib Dems 6382, Cons 8157, Lab 19615. Lab hold.
11.27 KS: It seems the Labour leadership contest may already have begun.
11.26: Alex has this from Mike Robb at Betfair about the political betting markets:
Things are getting very, very tight by the looks of it, though the markets are changing every few minutes. Interesting that the BBC/Sky etc downgraded their forecast for Tory seats to 305 at the same moment Betfair market put them up to 323.
11.23 KS: The predictions that this election could see the UK turn into Greece look like they might be coming true sooner than we thought. Police have apparently been called to some polling stations. Sky says this has happened in Islington South, for example.
11.19 KS: Sheffield Council has made a statement about those who missed out on voting.
11.19 HW: In Birmingham Edgbaston, Dan Pimlott reports that have been reports of queues outside polling stations at 10pm in Ladywood constituency, where Clare Short is standing down and Labour could face a challenge from the Lib Dems. Birmingham city council chief executive Stephen Hughes said where possible people have been brought inside before the doors were shut at polling stations, but that some may have been turned away. He points out that they have to close the polls at 10pm and voters should know that.
Meanwhile Jonathan Guthrie reports that Election officials in Birmingham said that there had been “lock-ins” at polling stations in the city:
Queues of voters had been brought inside to wait their turns to vote after 10pm. One constituency affected by the problem was Sutton Coldfield. “It was a better solution than telling people who had not been able to vote to sling their hooks,” an official said.
11.18: Robert Shrimsley has news from other websites (just so you don’t have to navigate away from here!)
Interestingly other sites are offering slightly different takes on the exit polls: Politicshome is predicting Con 307, Lab 229 and Lib Dems 82 seats. No difference for the Tories but quite a big difference for the Lib Dems.
11.16 KS: Sorry, came over all Alphaville there for a second!
11.15: Chris Adams, news editor and former political correspondent, has this reaction from the markets:
In the financial markets, the pound slipped against the dollar on the exit poll – by about 0.8 per cent. Mind you, this is on a day when the Dow has had its single biggest points plunge and the euro has slumped to 8-year lows against the yen. Hard to know how to read this yet…. we’ll get a clearer picture when the gilts trading begins at 1am.
In the meantime, Barclays Capital has this to say:
“The emergence of a minority government would leave some residual uncertainty about the outlook for economic policy as the passage of any necessary legislation may be more difficult to navigate than if the government had an outright majority. As such, this outcome seems likely to lead to some volatility in asset prices unless and until the ability of the new government to operate effectively is established.”
If confidence in a Conservative or Conservative led administration were forthcoming, however, we would expect it to lead in time to a rise in bond prices, equity prices and sterling for several reasons. First, the Conservatives’ plan to front-load public spending cuts may prompt the Bank of England to keep the policy rate low for longer – although this expectation is already substantially factored in to the short sterling strip. Second, the Conservatives made a manifesto pledge to safeguard the UK’s triple-A credit rating, so the risk premium on sterling assets is likely to fall. Lastly, the Conservatives’ plans on taxes (lower National Insurance and corporation tax) may be seen as more supportive of profits than those of the other main parties.”
11.10: David Turner in Dorset West, where Oliver Letwin is defending a slim majority, has this:
Anthony Stanley, the Conservative agent, thinks the turnout could be even higher than in 2005, when it hit 76.4 per cent – the biggest in the UK.
11.07 HW: The exit poll has been amended, with the Lib Dems gaining two seats from Labour. That gives Labour 255 and the Lib Dems 61. The Tories still on 305. Tories still short, although there was an 8.4 per cent in Sunderland South, which, if repeated across the country, would result in a convincing Tory majority.
11.04: More from Tim on the polling problems:
@quercuskids, a book publisher by day, tweeted: “Sit-in at hackney polling station as people not being allowed to vote.” Also reports of police called to Lewisham as people trying to vote after 10pm
11.05 KS: The BBC is saying a polling booth in Lewisham stayed open for an extra 30 minutes to let people vote late. If that is true, the exit poll came out before people finished voting, which is definitely not supposed to happen.
11.04: From Tim watching Twitter:
Student and apparent Labour supporter @mrchristhomas is putting a brave face on things: “YAY we’re winning the election so far ”
10.59: This from Alex:
The Lib Dems are completely unconvinced by this exit poll. “Total rubbish,” was the judgement from someone in Cowley street. As I blogged earlier, there is good reason to believe the poll sample fails to capture what is going on in Lib-Lab marginals. Postal votes, which also cover almost 20 per cent of votes, also go uncounted. The FiveThirtyEight website of US pollsters also have a handy list of reasons to be wary of exit polls.
10.55 KS: Here is a photo of Arnie’s tweet from earlier
10.53 KS: Not good news for Labour or the Lib Dems from Sunderland South. Labour are down 12 per cent and the Lib Dems are down 1 per cent. Independent candidates seemed to be the main beneficiary of the Labour fall. Does this bode well for independents generally, especially in the wake of the expenses scandal?
10.51 KS: And the first one goes to Labour, which gets a comfortable win in a safe seat. 19,137 to 8,147 for the Tories. Bridget Phillipson is currently the only MP in parliament. I guess that puts her in charge of the country right now.
10.50 KS: First result from Sunderland South.
10.49 KS: Nick Robinson says there were “a couple of hundred people” still queuing to vote in Manchester Withington when the polls shut, and suggests that if the result is close this could lead to legal challenges.
10.46 KS: We’re getting reports that lots of voters are angry that they have been shut out of polling stations. Harriet Harman talked about problems of people still queuing when the polls closed in Newcastle, and Andy Bounds in Sheffield says a similar thing happened more. We’ll bring you more as this develops.
10.44: Jim remarks:
Lord Mandelson has just said that the public don’t want a “pure” Labour government (an obvious overture to a Lib Dem coalition). Did they ever have one?
10.41: Tim Bradshaw manning the twitter lines has this:
Tweet of the night so far from Gov Arnie @Schwarzenegger Just called @davidcameron to congratulate him on the victory. Even though results aren’t in we know the Conservatives had a great day
10.39: The FT’s Jonathan Guthrie is at David Cameron’s home count at Witney and he has this:
The Tory leader is expected to show up for the count at Windrush Leisure Centre in Witney around 2am, which is likely to be the earliest time that a result is announced here. He is currently said to be “resting and relaxing” which could be a polite way of saying that he is asleep after the rigours of campaigning.
10.37 KS: Any analysis/predictions you want to share? Comment below.
10.36: Tim Bradshaw, who is watching Twitter for us tonight, has this:
Twitter is reacting badly to the exit polls so far.
@jamesgraham asked: “WHERE ARE THE PERCENTAGES?! What is this? Amateur hour? Why are they sitting on them?”
Andy Reed, a Labour candidate, conceded defeat within minutes: “Thanks to my amazing team for a great effort – exit polls mean we should lose Loughborough so let’s see what real people have done!”
Tory bloggers are interpreting the poll data in their own way. “ConHome sources say Tories will do better than exit poll,” said @TimMontgomerie of ConservativeHome.
LibDems were wounded. Candidate Tim Farron said he was “off for a quick pint”, while Prospect’s @jamescrabtree. “That would be the clegg “surge”, then.”
10.33: A real battle is already forming about who will be able to govern with these figures. After Mandelson’s combative quotes earlier on (see 10.25), David Cameron has just posted this on the Conservative Home website:
This is a decisive rejection of Labour. We can govern with this result.
10.32: Chris Tighe in Sunderland has this:
The Sunderland election team’s attention to detail is quite extraordinary. It even extends to the catering for the media. Smoked salmon and cream cheese bouchees, half a dozen varieties of sandwiches and quiche and assorted soft drinks. Impressive – and that’s before you look down into the hall at the hundreds of people counting, running, supervising and overseeing this determined operation to deliver three election results before the rest of the UK.
10.29: FT correspondent David Turner send this from Dorset West, where Oliver Letwin is trying to defend himself from the Lib Dem surge:
Lib Dem agent Andy Canning says if the Tory majority slips further to 500 or below “we’ll ask for a full recount – and it could well be in that territory”. Current Tory majority – 2,461.
10.28 HW: Turnout is expected to be higher than usual – party observers around London have reported higher than usual numbers of voters coming through, even at traditionally quiet times of day. Turnout could even reach 1997 levels of 71 per cent, in contrast to 61 per cent in 2005. Kiran even spotted a 17-year-old attempting to vote in Bethnal Green – and who says the young are disengaged!
FT political veteran Robert Shrimsley points out that there are lots of anecdotal reports of polling stations closing with queues of people still waiting to cast their vote.
10.25 KS: The fact that polls are closed means some politicians can now be more open about their post-election plans. Peter Mandelson has just left the door wide open to a possible Lab-Lib pact. Here’s his quote:
If it’s a hung parliament it’s not the party with the largest number of seats that gets the first go, it’s the government.
He will not say that he is against forming a pact with the Lib Dems before dropping the heaviest hint yet:
This first-past-the-post system is on its last legs.
10.21 KS: There is some confusion over the exit polls. We were expecting a percentage figure for the parties, but only have the number of seats. We’ll get on the case to find out why…
10.16: FT correspondent Chris Tighe reports from the count in Sunderland, expected to be the first to report tonight:
Amazing scenes at Sunderland Tennis Centre where hundreds of supporters from all the parties supporters were swarming in last night just before the 10pm deadline in the hope of celebrations within the hour. Never has the car park of a supermarket already closed for the night been so full; Sainsbury’s door next to the tennis club was the only place to park due to the massive turnout.
10.13 KS: Tory central command seems to have its lines worked out well. Jeremy Hunt just told Sky the exit poll shows “a decisive rejection of Gordon Brown”. Sound familiar? (See 10.10)
10.10 HW: The results will start coming in at 11pm and work up to a torrent of declarations between 2 and 4am. The early ones to look out for are some of Labour’s safest seats in the traditional party heartland. First up is Houghton & Sunderland South, which would need a 23 per cent to go over to the Conservatives. Sunderland Central, at 11.30, is a Labour hold which would require a 12 per cent swing away for a Tory win. Washington and Sunderland West is an even safer Labour seat which would need an improbable 26 per cent swing from Labour. If these go Tory it will spell a terrible night ahead for Gordon Brown and co.
10.10pm KS: The spin is happening already. Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader, says the exit poll shows the country “hasn’t turned overwhelmingly to the Conservatives”. Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary spins it another way. He says it suggests “a comprehensive rejection of Gordon Brown and a strong vote for change”. They both say it is a time for politicians to show “humility”. I doubt that call will be heeded for long.
10pm KS: The exit poll is in. The numbers are: 307 seats for the Tories, 255 for Labour, 59 for the Lib Dems, 29 for others. That would be disappointing for the Lib Dems, but remember what Chris said (see below). It puts the Tories 19 seats short of a majority. Tonight is going to be a very, very interesting night.
9.55pm KS: The polls will close in five minutes, and when they do, the exit poll will follow almost immediately. As Chris Giles wrote in today’s FT, these were famously inaccurate in 1987 and 1992. But last time around, they were dead on with their predictions of a 66-seat Labour majority. NOP/Mori are following the same methodology this time around, but Chris points out some reasons it might not be as successful as five years ago:
This year the difficulties will be greater because the 2005 sample of polling districts is short of Labour-Liberal Democrat marginal seats, the 2001 census is out of date and boundaries have been changed. It means that the boffins have a good chance of successfully estimating the loss of Labour seats to the Conservatives but they will find it harder to evaluate any Liberal Democrat surge.
The rumours prior to the polls closing were that the Tories would get 39% of the vote. That should give them a small majority. We’ll see in a matter of seconds whether the rumours about the exit poll were right. It could take a few hours to see if the poll itself is right.
NB – As you might expect, Tory tweeters are tweeting that number furiously.