10am UK time, 7pm in Melbourne: I’m going to call it a day at that point. There are still two seats undeclared: Kensington in London, which despite a Conservative margin of 21.1% is apparently extremely close, and Cornwall North, which also should be safe Conservative (13.7% last time), but counting in Cornwall has been slow all day. Neither will change the overall picture.
The exit poll basically got it right. It predicted 314 seats for the Conservatives; they’ve won 317, with another two possible. Labour has 261, five less than predicted; the others are all within a seat or two.
Corbyn has declared himself ready to form government, but he’s unlikely to be asked. The result will clearly be a Conservative government, but just what shape it will take and who will lead it remain to be seen. Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, who with ten seats have the Tories at their mercy, has dropped a very broad hint that she thinks May should stand down.
Interesting times ahead, for the Conservative Party in particular.
7.35am: The very close seats tend to come in at the end, because they’ve been doing recounts on them. The Conservatives have just taken Richmond Park from the Lib Dems by 45 votes, while Labour has held off the Conservatives in Dudley North by 22 votes. Only five to go, all of them Conservative-held: Kensington, plus four in Cornwall.
7.10am: That’s the closest one yet – the Scottish Nationalists just held Fife North East from the Lib Dems by two votes!
6.50am: The results are almost wrapped up, but no doubt the haggling over the new government will take a while. With seven seats to be decided (almost all of them Conservative-held), the Conservatives have 313 seats, the DUP ten, and there is one independent Unionist. That’s a wafer-thin majority; the undecideds will bolster it a little, but it will still be at the mercy of rogue Tory backbenchers – and, of course, of the DUP itself, which can only lose from a hard Brexit.
On the opposition side, there is Labour with 260 seats (up 29), the SNP with 35 (down 21), Liberal Democrats twelve (up four), Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) four (up one) and the solitary Green: a total of 312. They might pick up at most two or three more. There’s also Sinn Féin, with seven seats (up three), who don’t vote – a position they’ve reaffirmed today, despite what must be a strong temptation.
So very close to a tie. The left has it on votes, but the right has it on seats.
6.15am: I’ve just come back from a lunch break to find very little has changed. The Conservative position has improved very slightly, courtesy of some close wins – they held onto Southampton Itchen by 31 votes. They’re now on twelve net losses, with just 17 seats yet to come in; twelve of those are Conservative, and only two of them marginal (Crewe & Nantwich and St Ives).
The overall swing to Labour has been creeping up and is now at 2.2%. That will still leave the Conservatives with a plurality of the vote: currently it’s 42.3% to 40.3%, and that gap will widen slightly.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the majority of voters have chosen parties hostile to the government. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP currently have 52.9% between them; that will come down a little, but it will still be well above 50%. Yet the electoral system has saved the Tories.
5.30am: Yes, I think we can now call that. There will not be a Labour government; the Conservatives have enough to hang on, with the support of the DUP. They’re down 13 seats – it was 14, but they’ve just picked up Stoke-on-Trent South from Labour – with only 35 seats undecided, five of which are Conservative marginals. But they’ve had an almighty fright, and May’s survival prospects are poor.
As I said earlier, it’s the revenge of the “remain” generation. Even though Corbyn is only a lukewarm European, voters have shifted to him as the only way to punish the Tories for the mess of Brexit. A good result for Labour, and the huge generation gap that has opened up bodes well for it for the future.
In an ideal world, Corbyn would now retire gracefully on a high note, giving place to a more consensus figure who would be poised for a crushing victory next time. That seems unlikely. But it’s genuinely possible that the Tories will turn to Boris Johnson, who could lose them power for a generation.
5.00am (UK time): Conservative net losses now up to 13, with seven of their marginals still to come in. My feeling is that they’ve got this, but I’ve been wrong before.
4.35am: Only about 100 seats to go, so we’re very much at the business end of things. The only number that really matters – the one you need to watch – is the net Conservative loss of seats. At the moment it’s on eleven. (Check it at the BBC or the Guardian.) If it gets up to 20, a Labour government is on the cards. I don’t think it will, but it’s possible. We’ll know in another hour or so.
4.10am: Looking again at those Conservative marginals; 35 of the 57 have been decided, of which they’ve held 17 – not quite half. Labour has picked up 14 of them and the Lib Dems four. So if that record continues there may be another dozen or so losses to come, which would make things very interesting.
The Conservatives have also lost four of their safer seats (all to Labour), while they’ve picked up two Labour marginals, one from the Lib Dems and nine from the Scots. But there aren’t as many more of those targets left to decide; there are only about twelve Scottish seats outstanding.
With more than 500 seats in, the swing to Labour stands at 1.8%.
4.00am: OK, I’m now willing to call that as a hung parliament. I don’t think the Tories realistically can win a majority from here. They could only afford to lose (net) about eight seats; they’ve lost ten, with 200 still to be decided, including quite a few of their marginals.
The question is whether they’ll hold their losses to the point where support from the Ulster Unionists, who will have about ten seats (all DUP, by the look of it – the official Unionists have been wiped out), will be enough to ensure a majority. And that’s very much touch and go.
So Britain’s crazy electoral system, which is defended on the basis that it produces stable majorities, has now failed to do so in two of the last three elections. You don’t have to choose between democracy and stability: you can be Britain and have neither.
3.40am: Now 397 seats in, and Labour has made a net gain of 21, but the Scottish Nationalists, who they’d depend on to form a government, have lost twelve. The Conservatives have lost 18 but gained nine, mostly from the Scots. So the exit poll is looking pretty much on the ball; the government losing enough seats to make it a hung parliament, but able to hold on with the support of the Ulster Unionists. But it’s far from over; if they drop much further, other possibilities open up.
3.25am: And just to update the betting odds, a hung parliament has shortened to 8-1 on, and Corbyn as prime minister has come in to 11-10. May is still favorite at about 7-5 on.
3.20am (UK time, nine hours behind Melbourne): Almost half the seats decided, and it’s still very much in line with the exit poll, which means anything could happen. Looking at the Guardian’s figures for marginal seats, of the Conservatives’ 57 marginals (under 10%), 18 have been decided, of which they’ve only held half; eight have fallen to Labour and one to the Lib Dems. (They’ve also lost one safer seat, Battersea.) Labour, on the other hand, has only lost one seat, Walsall North.
So there are potentially a lot more Labour gains to come. I’d still bet against a Corbyn government, but it’s a real possibility – although it’d be a ramshackle affair, depending on the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists and the Northern Irish SDLP, and presumably the Lib Dems as well. (The latter are holding their own: Nick Clegg was defeated, as expected, in Sheffield Hallam, but Vince Cable won back Twickenham and they’ve also picked up Bath.)
3.00am: With 239 seats in, more than a third of the total, Labour is up nine but the Conservatives still only down one. The swing is drifting upwards, now 1.4% to Labour. Sportsbet has a hung parliament at 5-1 on, with 5-2 against a Conservative majority. May is 3-1 on favorite for prime minister, Corbyn 9-4, Johnson 10-1.
2.50am: Interestingly, the sharemarket doesn’t seem to mind Labour’s gains. The ASX dropped noticeably on opening, but it’s now recovered to where it started. Compare that with the precipitous drop last year when the Brexit results came through. For all the talk of Corbyn’s “communism”, the Tories have done much more damage.
Overall swing now very stable at just over 1%.
2.30am: With 152 seats decided, Labour has gained six, but the Conservatives are only down one – the thing that’s keeping them alive is that they’re picking up seats from the SNP. From the point of view of trying to put together a Labour government, SNP losses are just as bad as Labour losses. That’s why I still think we’re looking at a Tory government (probably relying on the Ulster Unionists), but I said at the beginning, it will be “an unhappy and unsteady one.”
2.25am: And all the talk now is of the Tories making Boris Johnson leader. If they do that, Corbyn will be prime minister for life.
2.20am: It’s a massacre in London. Ealing Central & Acton, a Labour marginal, held with a swing of 12.2%. It’s the revenge of the “remain” generation.
2.15am: This is looking better and better for Labour. They’ve taken Battersea and Stockton South from the Conservatives, and Leeds West from the Lib Dems, with a total swing still hovering around 1%. Basically Labour is holding up OK in its heartland areas and getting big swings in London and in Wales. With 106 seats decided, I’d say the chance of a Conservative majority is slipping away.
1.55am: Now the first Tory loss: Labour has taken Vale of Clwyd, in Wales, with a swing of 3.4%. The Conservatives just held on in Putney, and have gained Angus from the SNP. Scottish independence is off the agenda for a while, I suspect.
An overall swing of 1.2% to Labour.
1.25am: And just as I said that, it dipped sharply on the swingometer, now 0.3% net to Labour. Still no more seats changing hands (out of 25 decided), but a couple that the Conservatives had hopes for that Labour has held.
1.20am (UK time, remember): We’ve now had the first seat changing hands: Labour has won Rutherglen & Hamilton West from the Scottish Nationalists. Also the first Northern Ireland result, with the independent Unionist holding North Down. If things continue this way, the Northern Ireland MPs are going to be very important people, which is bad news for the hard Brexiteers.
The net swing overall is still about 0.8% to Labour. No Welsh results yet, but the Guardian reports that Labour is confident there.
12.55am: Results continue trickling in, but it will be pretty slow for the next hour. With 15 seats declared (ten Labour, five Conservative), none have changed hands; the swing is very patchy, but slightly in Labour’s favor overall. Nothing so far that suggests the exit poll is far wrong, but as I said earlier, even a handful of seats either way could end up making a big difference.
A Conservative government of any sort is still no certainty; on the other hand, a workable Conservative majority is still very much possible.
12.15am: Another three seats in (two Labour, one Conservative); none of them marginal, but the swings are now looking better for Labour. The BBC swingometer is showing Labour up 9.1% and the Conservatives up only 7.1% – both mostly at the expense of UKIP, down 12.6%. This looks like being a long day (or, for the British, a long night).
Midnight, UK time (9 hours behind Melbourne): Now a third seat, Sunderland Central, declared, also safe Labour. But of the three results, two have shown swings against Labour: not large ones, but somewhat out of line with the exit poll showing Labour gains. But it’s not that Labour is actually losing votes; it’s gaining, but the Conservatives are gaining more, due to the collapse of the UKIP vote.
It’s very possible, as many had said during the campaign, that Labour could lose ground in its working-class heartland but gain overall. It’s not so clear that a net gain in seats could follow. The traditional pattern by which Labour outperformed its vote in terms of seats seems to be changing as the class basis of the parties shifts.
Shorter version: what a dreadful voting system this is.
Polls in the United Kingdom closed an hour ago. Only two seats have been declared, both of them safe for Labour. More importantly, there’s the exit poll (just one, different pollsters collaborate on it).
If it’s right, then the Conservatives’ fear that opinion polls had been over-correcting for their previous pro-Labour bias will have been borne out. It’s very bad for prime minister Theresa May, putting the Conservatives on just 314 seats, a loss of 16 and twelve short of a (notional – I’ll come back to what that means) majority.
Labour would have 266 seats, a gain of 34; the Liberal Democrats would be up six to 14, the Scottish Nationalists down 22 to 34, leaving 22 for everyone else – 18 of them in Northern Ireland, where the party system is completely different. That’s a much better Labour result than most projections had suggested.
Of course, there’s something paradoxical about using a poll to show that the polls were wrong. But exit polling in Britain has a pretty good record. Last time it correctly showed that Tories were doing much better than expected (and Labour and the Lib Dems much worse), but it still put them short of the majority they actually achieved. In fact it gave them almost exactly the total it has this time: 316 seats.
So we’ll need to wait and see what the real numbers show. If the poll is right, there will be a Conservative government, but an unhappy and unsteady one. The notional figure for a majority is 326, but since the Speaker and the Sinn Féin MPs (of whom there might be five or six) don’t vote, only about 323 are really needed. There were ten Ulster Unionists in the last parliament; that would be enough to put May across the line, although if they lose a couple of seats things would look very precarious indeed.
May had said during the campaign, in the nature of a warning, that a loss of six seats would mean a Labour government. Like many other things she said, that was untrue, but if she does go backwards that far it will almost certainly make her leadership untenable.
In other words, even if the exit poll is very close to the truth, a small difference either way could have a very big effect. But unless it’s badly wrong, this is an extremely bad result for the Conservatives, and an epic warning of the foolishness of early elections.
More updates to come as results appear.