What time will we know who won? Hour-by-hour election night guide

Kate Proctor, Rowena Mason and Jim Waterson

10pm: The exit poll

The exit poll, unveiled on the stroke of 10pm as voting closes, is the first moment of election night to produce a tangible sense of where the voters stand. The prediction is shared by the BBC, ITV and Sky, with the data collected by asking people to cast a second replica ballot as they leave polling stations in 144 constituencies in England, Scotland, and Wales. The researchers tend to target the same constituencies every election, enabling them to pick up changes in voting behaviour.

In the past, exit polls have almost exactly predicted the final results - as 2017’s did. But sometimes they are wrong. In 1992 and 2015, they predicted a hung parliament with the Tories the largest party – and in fact the Conservatives ended up with majorities on both occasions. The fieldwork for Thursday’s exit poll will be conducted by Ipsos Mori, with tens of thousands of interviews conducted at 144 polling stations across the country.

For the first time there are plans to make constituency-level exit poll projections available on the BBC website from shortly after 10pm, with seats called for each party on a ‘likely’, ‘possible’, or ‘too close to call’ basis. This could enliven the first hour of coverage by giving a local dimension to the headline exit poll figures.

11pm: Early results

The race between Sunderland and Newcastle to get the first declaration out nationally has been going on for years. Newcastle City Council believe they will get their first result at 11pm. Sunderland are playing it safer this year, estimating a time of up to 1.30am for some seats in the area because of potential wintery conditions, but in reality they have never returned a result that late for years. In 2017 Houghton and Sunderland South declared first. The national record is 10.43pm for the declaration for former seat Sunderland South, which was set in 2001.

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With a pause likely before the first big results, pop the kettle on and absorb the commentary on BBC and Sky News.

Red kettle on gas hob

1am – 2am: Tory target seats

The Northern Labour-held seats of Darlington, Workington, Wigan have been important targets for the Tories – if they fall, they could provide a very tentative indicator of a coming Tory majority. If Labour hold on, Jeremy Corbyn’s Downing Street dream will still be alive. “Workington man” was the construct developed by Tory think-tank Onward for the type of voter they must win over to be elected back into Government - a white, leave supporting, older male, typically living in a rugby league supporting town. Two YouGov polls have given conflicting answers about whether the constituency will go red or blue – it is on a knife-edge.

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Richard Tice

2am: Brexit Party, Portillo moment? … and Putney

The Brexit Party’s moment of truth
The test of success for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party campaign will be revealed with the Hartlepool result. He installed his most senior candidate, party chair Richard Tice (pictured), in the hope they could win over a leave-supporting Labour heartland. If the Brexit party struggles in Hartlepool, they are likely to struggle in the rest of the 273 seats where they decided to stand.

Laura Pidcock

Portillo moment #1?
Laura Pidcock
has served as Labour MP for North West Durham since the 2017 general election. The shadow secretary of State for Employment Rights is regarded as Labour’s biggest name at risk of a Tory takeover from candidate Richard Holden. Pidcock’s majority over the Conservatives in 2017 was almost 9,000 votes but the seat is now considered marginal.

Could Putney fall to Labour?
Marginal Putney could be one of the first major Labour gains of the night and could be a sign of a party that is gaining ground. The seat was Tory then independent when former education secretary Justine Greening lost the whip over Brexit. She holds it with a 1554 majority.

3am – 4am: The ‘red wall’, Portillo moments? … and SNP v Labour

Assault on the ‘red wall’
By now, it should be clear whether Labour has held on to its traditional heartland seats or not - with eyes on Ashfield, Bishop Auckland, Bolsover and Great Grimsby around that time to name a few. The Tories will be hoping to make inroads into the so-called “red wall” of leave-voting seats that have voted Labour for the best part of a century. But this strategy did not yield results for Theresa May in 2017, as loyalty to Labour won out over temptation to vote for a more pro-Brexit party. The difference this time is that the Tories are promising an immediate Brexit, while Labour has shifted position towards a second referendum.

Johnson has been targeting these seats aggressively but it would be a huge deal if any of them went blue for the first time in decades. If they do, it is a sign that Johnson is probably heading towards a majority – unless he is simultaneously losing southern remain seats to Labour or the Lib Dems in equal numbers. Two hundred crucial seats declare between 3am and 4am, making this period a major focus of the night.

The Kensington result will also be interesting as a sign of whether the Lib Dem high-stakes strategy of running former Tory minister Sam Gyimah in the seat has paid off. They have criticised for running against Labour’s Emma Dent Coad, potentially splitting their vote, and ultimately allowing in a leave-backing Conservative.

Dominic Raab

Portillo moment #2?
Dominic Raab
is defending a 23,000 strong majority in Esher and Walton in Surrey where he has been the MP since 2010. He has been identified as potentially the biggest casualty of the election, with YouGov polling having the Lib Dems two per cent behind the foreign secretary.

Portillo moment #3?
Iain Duncan Smith
, the former Conservative leader, has been MP in Chingford and Woodford Green in north London since 1997. Labour’s candidate Faiza Shaheen, director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, is regarded as a strong candidate to oust him. The Tories are plainly worried: Boris Johnson was dispatched last Sunday to try and boost his support.

SNP-Labour ultra marginal
Swiping Glasgow East for Labour from the SNP might show the party is not facing the doom-laden predictions that it has previously had for Scotland. This is an ultra marginal and held by the SNP by 75 votes.

Jo Swinson

Portillo moment #4?

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson is defending a 5339 majority following her victory in 2017 in East Dunbartonshire. The SNP have thrown everything at the seat and are said to be “quietly confident” of victory with its candidate Amy Callaghan. Swinson was 10 per cent ahead of the SNP in 2017 but a recent YouGov poll predicted Swinson will hold the seat although her lead is now standing at four points.

Portillo moment #5?
DUP grandee Nigel Dodds is going head-to-head with Sinn Fein’s John Finucane in Belfast North with a majority of 2,081. The SDLP have stood aside for Finucane in an unofficial pro-Remain pact to unseat Dodds. The SDLP vote in 2017 was equal to Mr Dodds’ majority in the last election.

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4.30am: Is the Prime Minister safe?

For a Prime Minister, Boris Johnson sits on a remarkably small majority in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat with just 5,034 votes in his favour. A five percent swing to Labour would see him lose, although YouGov’s pre-election prediction suggests he should be safe. The last time a Tory leader was unseated was 1906 with Arthur Balfour. If Johnson loses he would be expected to stand down as Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson carrying a crate of milk in Guiseley, Leeds the morning before the general election. Photograph: Reuters

5-7am: Labour in dreamland, another Portillo moment? … and the independents

5.30am: Labour in dreamland?
A big ask – but if Labour take Chipping Barnet, the seat of Tory minister Theresa Villiers, then it’s likely they have had a much better than expected election than predicted.

Portillo moment #6?
Zac Goldsmith
, the Environment minister and former London mayoral candidate, faces a Lib Dem challenge from Sarah Olney in Richmond Park, south west London. The seat has changed hands three times between the two parties since 2015. During the 2016 by-election the Lib Dems defeated an independent Goldsmith by 1,800 votes but he got his revenge six months later – pipping his rival by 45 votes in the 2017 General Election.

Bringing the fight to Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

6am: The independents
The fortunes of the independent candidates who split from their parties earlier in the year over Brexit will by now have been revealed – potentially heralding the end of their political careers. Independent Group for Change leader Anna Soubry is standing again in Broxtowe, one the last of those constituencies set to declare. Former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve in Beaconsfield and former Justice Secretary David Guake in South West Hertfordshire are others fighting a tough battle to keep their seats against the Tory machine.

Cockerel head on a yellow circle

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7am: A new day?

Much of the nation wakes up. In theory it should at this point be clear who is the largest party, or if Johnson has a clear majority.

Dramatic sunset over famous Big Ben clock tower in London.

The viewing options

Huw Edwards has replaced David Dimbleby as host of the election night coverage, meaning a new face will host the broadcaster’s overnight results for the first time since 1979. The News At Ten presenter told the Guardian he is “keenly aware” of the scrutiny that the media has been under during this election and the need for the BBC’s coverage to be “accurate, fair and measured in its approach and not drawing any mad conclusions”. The programme will be hosted from the BBC’s central London headquarters rather than at the traditional Elstree studios, meaning the set will look different with presenters scattered around different studios rather than in one big room. He will be joined by the Reeta Chakrabarti, Tina Daheley and Jeremy Vine with his swingometer – while Andrew Neil will be hoping for a chance to finally interview Boris Johnson. Emily Maitlis will take over coverage on Friday morning, with Clive Myrie broadcasting from Downing Street as it awaits the next Prime Minister.

The main commercial broadcaster has prioritised high-profile pundits to lure viewers away from the BBC, promising superior insight from the likes of Tory chancellor George Osborne and Strictly Come Dancing star Ed Balls as results come in. Tom Bradby will host the programme with Robert Peston and Allegra Stratton, while other guests include ex-Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, Labour’s Alan Johnson, the prime minister’s brother Jo Johnson, former Theresa May aide Fiona Hill, and Momentum founder Jon Lansman.

Sky News
Dermot Murnaghan will be joined by former House of Commons speaker John Bercow along with input from reporters including Beth Rigby, Sam Coates and Ed Conway. The rolling news channel is producing alternative election night coverage in conjunction with BuzzFeed, promising younger and more diverse presenters than any of the major channel’s line-ups through a stream available on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the streaming channel Twitch.

Channel 4
The channel is not attempting to compete with the main broadcasters, instead hosting an Alternative Election Night programme featuring comedian Katherine Ryan, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, and Supermarket Sweep presenter Rylan Clark-Neal – a noted celebrity fan of BBC Parliament. The programme will be under scrutiny after the Conservatives repeatedly criticised Channel 4 during the election and threatened to reform its remit if they win power.

Elsewhere on TV
Viewers who find themselves overwhelmed by the exit poll at 10pm will be able to switch over to a repeat of the nudist dating show Naked Attraction on E4, paranormal investigation programme Help! My House Is Haunted on Really, or a repeat of Most Shocking Celebrity Moments 2018 on Channel 5.

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If you’d rather go out…

The problem with trying to escape this year’s general election is that, other than lying under your duvet with three pillows sellotaped over your head, it’s incredibly difficult. This is the most inescapable election in a generation – and with the television scheduled to be stuffed with statistics, spin rooms and John Bercow, you might feel the need to head out (and perhaps never come back).

The daily rage that has been building inside us all needs an outlet – so I suggest a trip to see the furious garage-rock of Hot Snakes in north London. Their set should be reaching its climax around the time of the exit poll so you can either #crowdsurf4Corbyn if things turn out favourably or mosh yourself into oblivion if they don’t. For drama of a different kind, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are performing Beethoven’s Fifth in Edinburgh, ramping up the night’s tension by sounding those famous hammer blows of fate.

You could try and laugh through the inevitable tears with a trip to see standup Dana Alexander in Nottingham – although as an immigrant to the UK, the chance of her avoiding politics seems unlikely. Perhaps the best escapism is on the stage. How about Come From Away, the joyous 9/11 musical (stay with me here). Theatre critic Michael Billington described it as a “relentless celebration of civic virtue” – surely as far away from this election as you can get.

It’s a better bet than the cinema, which has the following election night offerings: Marriage Story’s tale of … a bitter divorce. Blue Story’s depiction of … a broken Britain. Christ, even Frozen 2 is about a gruelling battle between good and evil. And we’ve not even mentioned The Good Liar yet. There is, clearly, nowhere to hide. Maybe the sellotape and pillows option isn’t so bad after all. Tim Jonze