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

<span>From exit polls to victory speeches, politics aficionados face another gruelling night.</span><span>Composite: Guardian Design Team/Getty</span>
From exit polls to victory speeches, politics aficionados face another gruelling night.Composite: Guardian Design Team/Getty

After months of speculation on when the election might be held, six weeks of actual campaigning, D-day blunders, gambling scandals, smashing the gangs, stopping the boats, surrendering finances, triple-lock-pluses, national service, VAT on private schools, taxes up and taxes down, the election night will soon be upon us. Here’s how it may unfold:

The exit poll

“From about 11 o’clock in the morning, we’re poring over an exit poll, and from about 12 hours later, we’re shitting bricks as to whether it’s right or not.”

So said Britain’s most trusted elections guru and developer of the UK general election exit poll, John Curtice, in a recent interview with the Guardian.

Curtice, along with the statistician David Firth, created the model of exit poll that has been used in election coverage since 2005, which is based on voters in about 130 polling stations given a mock ballot.

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

In the past five general elections, the margin of error has ranged between 1.5 and 7.5 seats. In 1992 and 2015, they predicted a hung parliament with the Tories as the largest party, but the Conservatives ended up with majorities on both occasions.

Early results

Based on initial estimates, which the Guardian emphasises are estimates, only about eight results will be in by 1am on Friday.

Blyth and Ashington, and Houghton and Sunderland South, both in north-east England, are expected to be first at about 11.30pm on Thursday, and are forecast to be Labour holds.

Blyth and Ashington is one of the shiny new constituencies created in the recent boundary review. The seat comprises most of the abolished constituency of Wansbeck, excluding the town of Morpeth, together with the town of Blyth from the abolished Blyth Valley constituency.

Houghton and Sunderland South is historically one of the quickest, if not often the first, constituencies to declare. The national record is 10.43pm for the declaration for its predecessor seat, Sunderland South, set in 2001.

Midnight to 3am:
A trickle of results

The quietest period of the night. About 85 seats are expected to be declared over the three hours, of which only a handful are on our list of “ones to watch” for upsets and bellwethers.

The first of those will come early in Basildon and Billericay in Essex, expected to declare at about 12.15am. The Tory party chair, Richard Holden, was controversially selected to run in the seat for his party after serving the last five years as MP for North West Durham, nearly 300 miles away.

At about 1.45am, a result could come in Swindon North, where polls have suggested Labour’s Will Stone could take the seat from the incumbent Conservative, the former minister and ex-deputy party chair Justin Tomlinson, who is defending a majority of 16,171.

Rochdale, where George Galloway won a chaotic byelection in February for the Workers party, is expected at about 2.30am. Some polls have suggested Galloway is in for a shot at holding the seat against a challenge from the political journalist Paul Waugh, who is standing for Labour. Galloway’s byelection success came after Labour withdrew its support for its candidate over comments made about Israel’s conflict in Gaza.

3am to 5am:
A rush of results

This window is the busiest and arguably most significant of the night. Results are expected for 443 of the 650 constituencies, meaning that by 5am, roughly 530 seats will have declared and there will be a clear direction of travel.

Will the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, hold his seat in Cheltenham? Will the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith return in Chingford and Woodford Green, where he has been MP since 1997? In Bristol Central, will Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire’s chance of returning to parliament be scuppered by the Green party gaining its second ever MP in co-leader Carla Denyer? We will find out between 3am and 4am.

In Glasgow, a flurry of seats between 3am and 4am across the city will give us a flavour of how Labour and the Scottish National party are performing in Scotland, with Airdrie and Shotts announcing at a similar time.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru has its biggest hopes pinned on the Ynys Môn and Caerfyrddin constituencies, which are also expected to declare between 3am and 4am.

Belfast East, expected at 3am, will be watched particularly closely as the Democratic Unionist party’s interim leader, Gavin Robinson, is defending the marginal seat against the Alliance party leader, Naomi Long.

Elsewhere around 3.30am, Jeremy Hunt will find out if he is returning to parliament as MP for Godalming and Ash, a newly formed constituency. He had held the now abolished South West Surrey seat since 2005, most recently with a majority of 8,817, but some polls have projected a Conservative loss in the new seat.

Then it is over to the Nigel Farage show in Clacton, where at about 4am we will find out if the Reform UK leader will finally be elected as an MP after seven failed attempts. Reform’s former leader Richard Tice, who stood aside to allow Farage to tour television studios and represent the party in the campaign, will discover his own result in Boston and Skegness at a similar time.

Progress by Labour and the SNP will be in focus again as Edinburgh North and Leith is called.

At about 4.30am, Jacob Rees-Mogg will see if he is elected to represent North East Somerset and Hanham, where some polls have predicted he will lose to Labour’s Dan Norris, the incumbent metro mayor for the West of England combined authority.

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will learn his own fate in the newly formed constituency of Richmond and Northallerton around 4am, while the Labour leader Keir Starmer’s seat is expected to be declared at 4.15am.

5am to 7am:
The final results

The remaining seats should be declared by 7am, with perhaps a few exceptions. Between 5am and 6am, the result should be announced in North Cornwall, where the Tories’ Scott Mann will discover whether waning interest in Brexit has taken the wind out of his support. Alistair Strathern for Labour, Bim Afolami for the Conservatives and Chris Lucas for the Liberal Democrats will learn the outcome of their tight race in Hitchin, where housing pressures are to the fore.

A new government?

Will this be a moment of reckoning for the Conservative party, which faces the end of its 14-year rule? Or will it be the pollsters, who have consistently predicted a sizeable Labour majority, who face a moment of reflection and soul-searching if the party fails to meet their expectations? By 7am we should know, and whoever is set to form the government will be preparing various addresses from podiums and the big political debrief among the commentariat will commence.

Viewing options

Huw Edwards’ departure required a new presenter for the BBC’s election night coverage. Rather than having one host, its coverage will be co-presented by Clive Myrie and Laura Kuenssberg, although which of them announces the exit poll and calls the final result – footage likely to be replayed for decades to come – remains to be seen.

Chris Mason, Reeta Chakrabarti and Curtice will be analysing results in the studio at Broadcasting House in London, while Jeremy Vine and his swingometer have been sent to Cardiff. When dawn rises and it is clear who will be forming the next government, the team will hand over to Sophie Raworth and Jon Kay for the Friday morning shift.

When ITV first hired Ed Balls and George Osborne as pundits in 2017, it was seen as a coup to get two warring politicians on set together. Nowadays the pair are established as a friendly double act with their own podcast, so ITV has decided to spice things up by adding the former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon to its lineup. The trio of political heavyweights will be providing analysis throughout the night alongside anchor Tom Bradby, plus reporters Robert Peston, Anushka Asthana and Paul Brand.

Come dawn, Balls will slip into his other role as co-host of Good Morning Britain, potentially reporting on the formation of a Labour government featuring his wife and shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper.

Sky News
Sky News has to think differently on election night, so is embracing the technology available in its studios. With the domestic football season over, its election night coverage will be hosted by Kay Burley from a 360-degree studio usually used by Sky Sports. The channel has also promised to use an “immersive, to-scale augmented-reality Downing Street” to reveal the exit poll and final result. Analysis of the contest will come from its political editor, Beth Rigby, Ed Conway and Trevor Phillips. Punditry will come from Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, and the former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

Channel 4
After years of providing “alternative” election night coverage featuring comedians, this year, Channel 4 is going straight. It is pitching at viewers who want political analysis and embracing centrist dads by leaning into the news podcast market. Emily Maitlis from the News Agents will host alongside Channel 4 News’s own Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Cathy Newman, with analysis from Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart of The Rest Is Politics podcast. A late addition to the lineup is the ex-Tory minister Nadine Dorries, who unsuccessfully tried to privatise the channel and claimed it was biased towards the left.

GB News
Camilla Tominey and Stephen Dixon will lead the Ofcom-bothering channel’s election night coverage. Viewers have also been invited to watch the results roll in at a GB News election night party in an Essex nightclub.

Other TV channels
If you want a break after the exit poll – and can resist watching The Bear on Disney+ – you could calm down by switching to other channels after 10pm. Wind down by watching Naked Attraction on E4, Glastonbury highlights on BBC Three, or a documentary about Only Fools and Horses on Channel 5. Dave, as usual, is showing QI and Taskmaster repeats.

Or just go out

If you’ve read this article, you’re probably an election and politics fan. But maybe you’re sick of the whole thing and just want to avoid it – so why don’t you go out?

Some are catching Las Vegas’s platinum-selling alternative rockers the Killers at the O2 in London on the night of the election, while in Scotland, Megan Thee Stallion performs at the OVO Hydro in Glasgow. Country music man Morgan Wallen will be performing his biggest-ever UK show at Hyde Park and Paloma Faith will be at the Utilita Arena in Cardiff.

Fancy a night at the cinema? Yorgos Lanthimos is back with his follow-up to the Oscar-winning Poor Things, again starring Emma Stone, for the anthology movie Kinds of Kindness. If you’re not in the mood for something so dark, Pixar’s Inside Out 2 will still be showing.

There are no Euros fixtures on Thursday, as the tournament resumes on Friday 5 July with the quarter-finals. But surely a night with John Curtice has to be more thrilling than England’s performance in the group stages?