What to look out for on election night

After months of hard-fought campaigning, the wait is nearly over.By tomorrow morning we’ll know which parties will have the upper hand in the new Parliament, and with whom they may govern.

Whether you’re planning a raucous election party or a quiet night on the sofa with a cup of cocoa and Jeremy Vine’s swingometer, here’s our guide to the pivotal moments to set the alarm for over the next few hours.

10:00pm

Voting ends. The first exit polls and seat projections are published giving the first idea of how the parties might have done.

1:00am

Nuneaton is declared. It’s a key Conservative marginal on Labour’s target list and will be an early warning sign of any potential late swing to the Tories.

2:00am

Battersea’s results will be critical. Once a reliable Labour seat, the Conservatives took a 12% lead in 2010. A move back to Labour could signal David Cameron’s departure from Downing Street.

A host of Scottish seats will declare now too. If Labour’s 41% lead in Glenrothes is overturned, they will have been all but wiped out by the SNP.

Another key marginal to look out for is Northampton North. Labour is just 5% behind the Conservatives but given UKIP’s strength in the East Midlands, Miliband will be doing well if Labour win this one.

2:30am

The Conservatives won the City of Chester, a classic Lab-Con marginal, by 5% last time. If the seat stays blue, it will be a sign the “vote Labour, get SNP” message, which local Tories have been pushing, has been effective.

3:00am

Lib Dem Stephen Williams is hoping to hold on to his 20% lead in Bristol West but the Greens have had recent gains here. If he loses it will be a huge blow and will point to a dark night for the Lib Dems.

Thurrock is a three-way fight between the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP, and could be UKIP’s first gain of the night.

 3:30am

Several Conservative-held marginals including Enfield North, Harlow, Lincoln, Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and Broxtowe will declare. All are key battlegrounds which are usually won by the governing party.

4:30am

David Cameron and Nick Clegg learn their fates in Witney and Sheffield Hallam. Clegg secured 58% of the vote in 2010, but could be the most high profile victim of an anti-Lib Dem swing.

A significant moment for the SNP too.  Alex Salmond will learn whether he’s beaten the retiring Liberal Democrat Sir Malcolm Bruce, who won his Aberdeenshire seat by 14% in 2010.

5:00am

Danny Alexander was comfortably elected in Inverness in 2010, but could also fall prey to the SNP surge.

6:00am

Nigel Farage will learn whether his leadership of UKIP is over when Thanet South declares. At the same time, Boris Johnson is likely to enter Parliament again for Uxbridge and Ruislip South.

The morning after

By now the majority of results will be in and we’ll have an idea of who’s in the lead as we reach for the cornflakes on Friday morning.

So what are the magic numbers to listen out for over breakfast?

If the Conservatives have got close to 300 seats and won the most votes overall, they will be well-placed to form another coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Fewer than 275 would be a disastrous night for them.

Labour have more potential partners in the Commons so will be hoping for at least 280 seats, or around 20 more than in 2010.

The Liberal Democrats must hold on to at least 20 seats to play any sort of decisive role in the next government.

For the SNP expectations of a surge are high so winning fewer than 40 of the 59 Scottish seats would be disappointing.  UKIP on the other hand has struggled to mount an effective national campaign, and will see five seats as an excellent result.

The final results will be in by 1pm on Friday. By that time we can also expect the party leaders to have set out their initial negotiating positions.

The ‘phoney war’ of the campaign will finally be over, and the real battle to shape the new government and agree its policy programme, will only have just begun.

We recently produced an infographic to explain how this complex process will play out, and look forward to guiding clients and colleagues through the coming days and weeks.

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