Election night: In the midnight hour

It’s shortly after midnight as I start writing this pseudo-live blog – barely two hours since the polling stations closed – and there are already several major talking points developing as the outcome of the 2010 UK general election slowly unravels. I have no idea how long it will be until I run out of steam (and caffeine) and crawl into bed, but here goes anyway.

To start with, I was switching back and forth between the BBC TV coverage and an episode of the HBO vampire-based series True Blood. On the one hand, a load of blood-suckers; on the other, True Blood. (It’s late, I’m tired – if you want decent jokes, go watch Jimmy Carr on Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night.)

I’m trying to ignore the exit poll, which predicts the Conservatives will have the most seats in Parliament, 19 short of an overall majority. For all kinds of reasons, these are frequently inaccurate – most notably in 1992 when all the exit polls seriously underestimated John Major’s share of the vote. The last hung Parliament was in 1974, and lasted just eight months.

The word of the night – at least on the BBC – is clearly “caveat”. I wonder how many people watching actually know what the word means?

There is clearly going to be a big controversy – possibly even a legal challenge – about the fact that long queues formed at some polling stations shortly before they closed at 10pm. In some cases, people were shut out; in others, people were allowed to cast their votes after the official closing time, by which point it would theoretically have been possible for people to have heard the result of the exit poll. Such scenes are unprecedented, at least in this country. Did I fall asleep and wake up somewhere in Africa?

Statement by the Electoral Commission: “The Electoral Commission will be undertaking a thorough review of what has happened. There should have been sufficient resources allocated to ensure everyone who wished to vote was able to do so.” Looks like someone will be getting a bit of a kicking in the morning!

The first three constituencies to declare were the three Sunderland ones – two of which were Labour strongholds. The scramble after each one to interpret the results “if this was repeated across the rest of the country” and attempt to predict the national picture is laughable. I imagine mathematicians everywhere will have been tearing their hair out. Except for the bald ones, that is.

12.15am: Toby crying. Time for a feed. Back soon.

12.25am: Feed done. Nothing appears to have happened in the meantime. Ho hum. Oh my God, now David Dimbleby is attempting to sound knowledgeable about Twitter and Facebook. Oh dear.

12.30am: Nearly an hour and three quarters since Houghton & Sunderland South became the first seat to declare, and we still have only three results (all in Sunderland), none of them in the marginals which will be key to the outcome of this election. I’m filled to the gills with coffee, and I’m getting bored of all the talking heads. It occurs to me that this whole process would be much more civil if (a) results could be spaced more evenly through the night and (b) we got to see the marginal seats first so we could all get more than two hours’ sleep tonight. I know it’s impracticable. I’m just saying …

12.45am: Obviously, I’m trying to get a view of the big picture and the race towards the magic number of 326 seats which would give one party an overall majority. But I also have an eye on four seats in particular:

– Newbury, my constituency. The Tories hold a narrow majority over the Lib Dems here

– My parents are in Brent North, a reasonably safe Labour seat

– Oxford West & Abingdon. During my undergraduate days, I campaigned alongside Dr Evan Harris, who is the sitting Lib Dem MP with a sizeable majority

– Corby, where the Tory candidate is the chick-fic author Louise Bagshawe, who I know from her time in Oxford University’s political circles. Labour held this seat in 2005 with a narrow majority of barely 1,500

12.50am: The Lib Dems win their first seat in Belfast East, deposing Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson with an extraordinary 23% swing. (The Tories are still seat-less.) It’s the first genuine shock of the night; our first genuine Michael Portillio/Stephen Twigg moment. At last, nearly three hours in, it’s starting to get exciting.

12.52am: Seriously, why should I give a toss what Maureen Lipman and Alistair McGowan think? Funny that former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil didn’t recognise McGowan’s impersonation of him, though!

12.58am: At last, the pace is starting to pick up. We now have nine seats declared, with Labour leading the Tories by a 5-0 scoreline. It won’t last, of course. We see this pattern in every election, as many of the Conservatives’ safe seats are in rural areas who won’t declare until much later in the day. I was going to go to bed by 1am, but I think I’ll stay up for a bit. Things are just starting to get interesting …