So the campaigns are over, the promises have been made. All that remains now is to settle back, pour a glass or mug of your refreshment of choice, and get your Dimbleby on for the UK’s quinquennial psephological hootenanny – at least nine glorious hours of political wonkery.
We’d encourage you to draw on this list of key expected HE related moments to maximise your enjoyment throughout the night. Failing that, take one finger of drink every time voting reform is discussed. Unlike Ed’s pledges, the below schedule is not set in stone.
Around 10.00pm festivities begin with the exit poll. The entrée to our feast of democracy is this year shared between the BBC, Sky and ITV. In 2015 more than ever the idea of the “uniform national swing” has been declared dead, and the interest is liable to be at the regional and constituency level of granularity, so the exit poll will come with a big health warning.
Around 11.00pm – Houghton and Sunderland South. Why are they always keen to be the first to report a result? Anyway, this is a very safe Labour seat – as are the next few, all of which are in Wearside – and unless something has gone very wrong for Ed Miliband you should see a slow but steady parade of red.
1.00am – more results from around the country begin to arrive. Jeremy Vine will finally get to use the expensive visualisations and over-egged metaphors we all enjoy.
Of note is John Cruddas’ seat, Dagenham and Rainham. Not only is this the first proper LIB-CON marginal of the night, Cruddas is notable in HE circles for being a part-time Oxford academic during the first two years of the 2010 parliament, and a Labour tuition fee rebel who now co-ordinates party policy making.
1.30am – we’re starting to speed things up a little, and we are starting to get a taste of how the country has voted. There’ll be a clutch of Northern Irish constituencies incoming, usually of little interest to those in mainland UK, but liable to be a factor in any coalition/confidence and supply barter this year. A strong showing from the DUP, in particular, will be reassuring news for the Conservatives. Northampton North will also declare around this time, a seat David Cameron needs to hold on to if he’s going to stay in Downing Street.
2.00am – Oxford East, likely to be a safe Labour seat, is one of the first to declare with a substantial student population. It will principally be of interest regarding the extent of the swing away from the Liberal Democrats (a close second in 2010) amongst students. Have all those NUS posters had an effect?
3.00am We could see a clutch of interesting results for the HE community. Most likely broadcast coverage will focus on student-heavy Bristol West, a major Green target, and a four-way marginal which currently looks like a slim Labour win for the magnificently named Thagnam Debbonaire.
Of some interest may be David Willetts’ old constituency, Havant where he’s standing down. Whereas Willetts was a popular and effective local MP (as well as the wonkiest HE minister in living memory), 2015 Conservative candidate (and party insider) Alan Mak is a much more divisive prospect who has attracted some media attention for suspicious campaign claims he has made. The scale of the lead inherited from Willetts may decline significantly but a change in party here still seems unlikely.
Also at 3.00am Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey’s seat) is a very close LD/Con marginal with a significant student population. And student-heavy Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes’ seat) should be an easy Liberal Democrat hold, though the scale of the LD losses and student antipathy could force a Labour gain. Carlisle, home of the University of Cumbria, is a tight CON/LAB marginal where, once again, the student vote could be key. Around 3.00am we also expect to hear the fate of Scottish Labour Leader – and former President of NUS – Jim Murphy in his East Renfrewshire seat which he is defending against a strong SNP challenge.
3.30am should add another couple of East Midlands university seats, the LAB/CON battle in Lincoln, and Education Minister Nicky Morgan’s Loughborough – slightly less marginal, but still with a student vote that could change the result.
By 4.00am results will be coming thick and fast, and you’ll need to be paying attention just at the moment tiredness sets in. To combat this, try not to watch Greg Clarke’s victory speech from safe-ish CON seat (Royal) Tunbridge Wells. Do – however – wish the best of wonkish luck to former NUS President Wes Streeting, LAB candidate for Ilford North – a LAB/CON ultra-marginal that Streeting and Labour have thrown the kitchen sink at winning.
Other seats with a sizable student population include Guildford – where the student vote could be instrumental in a CON/LIB marginal, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, North Warwick (a very politically active student and staff body in a CON/LAB ultra-marginal), and Edinburgh South (which was a fairly solid Labour seat, but an SNP surge at the levels predicted could cause an upset).
Rolling round to 4.30am brings the one we’ve been waiting for – Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam. The combination of a strong University of Sheffield (despite the name, Sheffield Hallam University isn’t in the constituency) voter registration drive and the fact that it is Nick Clegg could bring this elections “Portillo moment”. Polling currently puts LAB ahead by a single percentage point, but Conservative voters look likely to vote tactically to stop Labour.
Other seats of interest include Norwich South. Formerly Charles Clarke’s seat, this very close four-way marginal is currently held by the Lib Dems. A key Green target, with LAB currently leading the polls, a sizable student population may prove to be decisive. Leeds North West (broadly safe LD, but don’t be surprised by a change) and Wolverhampton South West (CON/LAB marginal) also have significant student populations.
At 5.00am Julian Huppert’s Cambridge. Oh dear me, what a mess. Former Lib Dem, barrister and now Conservative candidate Chamali Fernando was the alleged source of the oft-quoted idea that the mentally ill should wear identification wrist-bands, and is suing outspoken Lib Dem HE spokesman Huppert for his comments in relation to the issue at a health hustings. This controversy may result in the loss of many of the gains that fellow wonk Nick Hillman (now at HEPI) made for the CONs in 2010. Despite all this, recent polls are edging towards an LD hold.
Hendon is a London LAB/CON marginal likely to be influenced by students and staff at the University of Middlesex. Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion are two other seats with substantial university populations. The popular Caroline Lucas is likely to hold Pavilion for the Greens, Kemptown is a fairly solid CON seat with some chance of a LAB gain.
At 5.30am we should see a result from Labour HE spokesman Liam Byrne in Birmingham Hodge Hill – very likely to be a LAB hold on current polling, though perhaps best remembered for a very close marginal 2004 by-election with a strong LD challenge.
By 6.00am, as the sun rises, we should be close to understanding the likely make-up of the 2015 House of Commons. You may be tempted to go to bed, but to do so would miss two of the big talking points of the election, Thanet South and Uxbridge & South Ruislip. Nigel Farage has promised to resign as UKIP leader if he fails to win in Thanet, and current polling suggests that he has a real fight on his hands. Meanwhile over in Uxbridge, former CON HE spokesperson, and possible future CON leader Boris Johnson stands to win a comfortable majority.
University-focused marginal seats Reading East, Cardiff Central and Lancaster & Fleetwood also declare at around 6am. The Reading seat is technically a three-party marginal, in practice the LD vote locally has collapsed (again students may a factor here) which may benefit the Labour challenge to the Conservative incumbent. Cardiff Central was a Lib Dem seat in 2010 that Ashcroft polling suggests will fall to Labour (likewise regarding the student vote), and the Lancaster seat is a CON/LAB marginal now tending Labour after a Conservative victory in 2010.
A CON/LD marginal, Portsmouth South, is scheduled to declare at 6:30am, and should see a CON gain given recent polling and the general position of the LDs. Portsmouth University students may exacerbate this.
By 7.00am the national picture will be clear, and any coalition negotiations may already have started. Before your well-needed morning nap, two final seats with significant student populations declare. In Manchester Withington a Labour landslide against the LDs looks almost inevitable. In Leicester South the votes of Leicester and DMU students seem unlikely to unseat John Ashworth in one of Labour’s safest constituencies. And in Milton Keynes South we’ll hear if another former NUS President Andrew Pakes has won the tight marginal from the Conservatives.
We will follow these results and the twists and turns that follow the election itself on the live blog.