General election results: What time will we know who has won?

Since the prime minister stood in the rain to announce a surprise July election, six weeks have flashed/dragged by.

"Change" has been the buzzword. In this case, "change from the Conservatives". If ever there was a protest election, this is it.

Labour's campaign has centred on them not being the Conservatives. Policy details are hazy and when pressed, the party retreated to "change".

The Liberal Democrat leader, when not falling into the water, has emphasised that his party is "winning here", wherever here happens to be and the truth can be stretched by a bar chart.

Reform's campaign has emphasised that the Conservatives are not conservative enough. Too fond of taxes. Too tolerant of Europe and pretty much everyone and everything else.

Quite why Rishi Sunak called the election as early as this will be explained in his memoirs, we hope. I believed at the time it was either a masterstroke - because he knew something no one else did - or a mistake.

The Conservatives were a long way behind Labour in the polls. Few had much confidence in him, and no trust in the government.

Normally, as an election is called, the polls narrow to a degree, with the underdog closing the gap. Not this time.

Unless the polls are spectacularly wrong then two main events are about to happen which makes the 2024 election special and one to watch closely as events unfold.

Labour is about to be returned with an overall majority that ranges from impressive to super, whatever a "supermajority" is. This would be extraordinary, given the party experienced one of its worst ever defeats at the previous election in 2019. It is not normal at all for a party to gain close on 200 seats.

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The second event is an existential threat to the Conservative Party.

Sky News' Poll Tracker suggests that only around 20% of voters support them. In 2019, it was 44.7%. As decline in vote share goes - a 25-point collapse - this is off the scale.

Really bad things happen to a party when it falls from grace to this extent.

The Conservatives are defending 155 seats where they received less than half the votes last time. These seats can be written off if their vote is in freefall.

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But if MRP polls providing seat estimates are examined, the Conservatives could emerge with fewer than a hundred seats.

Two benchmarks are worth noting. In 1997, when John Major was trounced by Tony Blair, the Conservatives won just 165 seats - a post-war record.

But we may have to go further back in time to the 1906 election. Then, the party suffered its worst ever defeat, slumping to just 156 seats after a loss of a staggering 246 seats.

So, here's the schedule for watching Sky News' election coverage.


Polls are closed, the exit poll moment has arrived. In 2019 it forecast a majority for Boris Johnson. It was correct.

If the exit poll figures, taken by sampling voters as they leave carefully selected polling stations across Britain, are wildly at odds with the story told by the polls then who should we believe?

Having worked on the previous four exit polls, and observed at close quarters the experts that produce the figures, I'm inclined towards the exit version. In any case, stay tuned to see how this unfolds.

But if exit poll and opinion polls agree, and a large win for Labour is forecast then still stay with it.

There's still an outside chance that both types of polling are wrong. But much more likely is that over the next six or so hours there will be huge drama as election counts repeatedly show "Lab gain from Con".

Fewer, but still a significant number, will display "LD gain from Con".

There may well be "Reform UK gain from Con".

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And let's not forget Scotland, where the currently dominant SNP defends 48 of the country's 57 seats and look set to lose many of those.

The turnover of seats might match or even exceed the drama of 1997 when Labour won a landslide victory, emerging with a 179-seat majority.

Michael Portillo, then the defence secretary, was beaten in his Enfield Southgate constituency by Labour's Stephen Twigg on a massive 17.4-point swing. This image, the so-called Portillo moment encapsulated a dramatic transfer of power from one party to another. A further six Cabinet members would lose before dawn.

How many Portillo-type moments might 2024 produce?


By now, ballot boxes are arriving at count centres, leading to the usual speculation about turnout. Last time it was 67%.

The highest since 1929, when universal suffrage was introduced, is 83.9% in 1950. The lowest was just 59.4% in 2001.

Low turnout has been a feature of elections since then.

Complaints are widespread about the late arrival of postal ballots. It's safe to assume that turnout will be about the same or slightly lower than in 2019. We must wait until all 650 seats have declared to know the actual turnout.

11.30pm to 12.15am

There is competition among some electoral services administrators to be the first constituency to declare. Last time it was Newcastle upon Tyne Central, announced at 11.27pm. It had been first in 2017 also.

Neither of these times comes close to the record declaration time, which belongs to Sunderland. It declared the first of its three seats at the 2001 election at 22.43pm.

A combination of boundary changes, and rules affecting the verification of postal votes handed in on the day at polling stations, will impact upon the speed of counting this time.

But the release of the estimates for declaration times suggests that two constituencies are vying for the coveted title.

Sunderland features once again with an estimated declaration time of 11.45pm for the Houghton and Sunderland South seat. However, Blyth and Ashington is clearly in the race because it may be trying to declare its result 15 minutes before then.

There could be an element of strategy going on here - reveal an estimated time but secretly plan to be before then. In which case, let's also include Basildon and Billericay, and Broxbourne - both of which are scheduled to appear at 12.15am. When the former declares, it will decide the fate of the Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden. Perhaps an early indication of the fortunes awaiting his Cabinet colleagues.

12.30am - 3am

Expect about 80 declarations over the next few hours.

If the pattern of 2019 repeats, then the North East will feature prominently. Hexham is a seat that invariably elects a Conservative and Labour needs a 11.3-point swing here to change that. Should that happen, then we will consider that Labour could outperform the national swing of the 1997 election.

If Hexham has fallen, then almost certainly Redcar, which Boris Johnson boasted about turning "blue car", will get a respray - the swing required here is only 5.5 points.

One of the surprise results from the recent May local elections was Labour's capture of Rushmoor Council - an authority it had never won before.

Rushmoor is home to the Aldershot constituency - true-blue Conservative. Labour needs a huge 17-point swing to win here but if general election voting follows the May pattern then prepare for a real upset.

The Isle of Wight now has two seats, and it is the East version that declares first. A Labour victory here would be a major step towards Downing Street for Sir Keir Starmer.

Recent parliamentary by-elections broke all kinds of records with Labour making six net gains. One of these, Mid Bedfordshire, declares around 2.45am. The Conservative vote collapsed here in October 2023 and something similar will mean another Labour gain.

Some Labour councillors lost their seats at the May local elections when protests against the situation in Gaza impacted on local voting. Pendle was affected by this and it might be interesting to see what happens to Labour's vote share in the new Pendle and Clitheroe seat.

The south west of England holds great promise for the Liberal Democrats and one of the first seats to declare could be Torbay, which the party held during its heyday. Retaking the seat would signal a 17-point swing against the Conservatives and offer up the promise of further gains to come.

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An important part of the election narrative will be what happens to the 48 seats defended by the SNP. If Labour captures a relatively large number of these then its path towards an overall majority is made much easier.

A swing of 10 points or lower will see Airdrie and Shotts, Cowdenbeath and Kirkaldy, Midlothian and Glasgow North fall.

More ambitious targets include Kilmarnock and Loudon and Dundee Central. But if Labour gain one or even both of the Paisley seats, there is a real prospect of the party re-gaining its dominance in Scotland and delivering a devastating blow to the SNP and its drive for independence.

3am onwards

Should Labour and the Liberal Democrats run amok in Conservative heartland seats then from here onwards, Sky News will be focussing on Cabinet members at risk.

The most vulnerable to Labour's advance are Defence Secretary Grant Shapps - he of the "supermajority" fame. His Welwyn Hatfield seat goes with a 10-point swing. Wales Secretary David TC Davies is also in the frame in Monmouthshire. Two Cabinet members down, perhaps.

The second line of Conservative defence may not survive either. The local elections in Plymouth saw Labour doing well in Johnny Mercer's Moor View seat. Mel Stride's Devon Central seat could fall too, which takes care of the work and pensions secretary.

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Next in line is Transport Secretary Mark Harper, defending Forest of Dean, the Attorney General Victoria Prentis in Banbury and Esther McVey in Tatton. That might make seven Cabinet attendees as election casualties. Not to mention a cluster of junior ministers alongside.

A significant number of senior Conservatives are vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats. The MRP polling is identifying the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Godalming and Ash constituency as one that is leaning towards the Liberal Democrats. A swing of below 10 points is all that is required and for the first time a sitting Chancellor will have been defeated at a general election.

Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, is almost certainly going to lose in Cheltenham on any polls projections. But some polls put the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, in the frame as she defends Chichester.

Others vulnerable to possible ambush from the Liberal Democrats are Michael Tomlinson in Dorset Mid and Poole North and Michelle Donelan in Melksham and Devizes.

Rest assured, if all or even some of those ministers have lost then election coverage will switch. Out with analysis and in with the prime minister's concession.

From then on wall-to-wall coverage of the prime minister-in-waiting. Count the number of times "change" and "patience" appear in Starmer's victory speech as he celebrates what will have been one of the most spectacular turnarounds in our long electoral history.