Midnight – 3am

Ian Jones, Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams on BBC1 and ITV’s 2005 Election Night

First published May 2005


By midnight, ITV1 are showing six seats for Labour, but the BBC1 only have it at four. Jonathan warns us to “stand by for the rush results as the results come rushing through” – and so we wait for the rush results. Meanwhile, Chris Eubank and Alistair McGowan provide more celebrity political punditry for Mark Austin at the party on the Thames.

Back on the Beeb, the somewhat pedestrian nature of proceedings is illustrated by the amount of attention David and co lavish upon footage of Jack Straw having “an informal chat” with some strangers at his count in Blackburn. Even the onscreen scoreboard now seems to be periodically disappearing, almost as if it couldn’t be bothered. It all somewhat belies the tense nature of what is being implied by the “bits of chaff” Andrew Marr is passing on regarding shock defeats and recounts. The Scottish seats, memorably summarised by the correspondent as “Sally Magnusson’s nether garments”, are being particularly unpredictable: but we’ve no proof or evidence.

There’s nothing for it but for David to hand over to Jeremy. “You’ve seduced another guest into your salon.” “Steady on,” replies Jeremy, “it’s Ken Clarke!” The former Chancellor, shown at his count looking more dishevelled than usual, reveals “I find your exit poll very boring.” Jeremy incorrectly paraphrases a quote he made on Radio 4′s Any Questions? “Misquotation again!” Clarke booms. “Ken’s always good value for money,” mocks Jeremy’s next guest David Blunkett, “you should have him all night.” At which point Jeremy wryly makes to go back to talking to Clarke, before resuming his conversation with Blunkett who’s in Sheffield. Alas, their dialogue has to be curtailed, prompting Blunkett to declare: “You’re just interrupting me again, and I was just trying to say something non-party political and sensible, but back to you Jeremy, carry on in the usual way!” “Oh, there’s no need to take that tone,” drawls Paxman, but before the cod-pleasantries can continue David has to take us over to Erewash where we find – at last! – Daisy Sampson.

It’s the seat which Robert Kilroy-Silk has been contesting, which has, according to Daisy, prompted the incumbent Labour MP to receive visits from “John Prescott and Gordon Blair”. “Turn up”, whatever that is, “is considerably higher”, which she ascribes to the “glamour and glitz” of the erstwhile talk show troglodyte. “I’m not sure everyone would agree with that description,” David concludes hastily, and we cut to somewhere ostensibly more befitting of such a label, the BBC party. Sadly, Natasha is still cosying up to Jon Culshaw, here appearing as George Bush. Fortunately, it means there’s time to make another cup of tea …

… Or switch channels again, where we learn the BNP’s Nick Griffin turned up to his count in Keighley in an armoured car. Jonathan tries to hook up with Nicholas Owen in Sedgefield, but Nick isn’t quite ready to speak with the independent candidate, Reg Keys. When the interview finally takes place, Keys (whose son was killed in the war and is standing on an anti-Iraq ticket) is pretty erudite and the studio panel postulate that he might make the evening uncomfortable for Tony Blair. At this time ITV are now claiming 13 seats for Labour. The discussion with the in studio experts (now Nick Robinson, Michael Portillo, David Steel and Roy Hattersley) conclude that Labour could possibly do worse than the exit poll suggests.

Andrew Rawnsley joins Katie Derham in the Millennium Eye for more fill-in chat. They discuss the fact that when Thatcher turned up at the party she got a round of applause, before Jack Straw makes the point that governments with smaller majorities suffer fewer rebellions. When Jonathan tries for a bit of banter on this point, he is rebuked in no uncertain terms by Straw for trivialising a serious subject. ITV are now declaring 15 seats for Labour, versus the BBC’s seven. Over on BBC Scotland, there is a facsimile programme going on, presented by Anne Mackenzie. It is largely studio bound and looks pretty dull, but we do get a chance to see what former First Class presenter Louise Batchelor looks like these days.

Finally, results are starting to steadily trickle in on BBC1, but when they flash across the bottom of the picture there isn’t always a corresponding change in the onscreen scoreboard. It’s a bit unsettling, and makes you wonder if we are really getting a service that is “first” and “accurate”. It’s definitely fun, however. Tony ascribes the emerging pattern to “Labour voters just wandering off all over the place”. The giant map in Gateshead is beginning to take shape, though David worries about people treading paint all over the place. “It’s spray paint, David!” corrects Sian. Boris Johnson tries to issue a rebuttal to himself – “I didn’t say when there will be a Tory landslide” – and Tessa Jowell bamboozles Jeremy with talk on “differential effect”. “Can you explain?” pleads Jeremy, only to be thrown by his guest announcing, “I’m going to leave you very shortly – I’m always worried at this stage.”


The reappearance of Anna Ford to introduce the Putney result immediately lifts proceedings up a gear: it’s the first Tory gain of the night, and everyone starts buzzing. “We have a conflict here,” concedes David as the pace picks up and declarations start overlapping, so we see the start of Southport then the end of North East Fife. Ironically at this exciting moment the scoreboard packs in completely and buggers off, throwing even David when he tries to give an update on the situation (which is now most definitely a developing situation).

While this is going on, Alastair Stewart on ITV1 claims Putney is first blood to the Conservatives. Jonathan throws things over to Gerald Scarfe: “[He] has been working away. Gerald what is that?” Some frivolous chat takes place before the host describes the picture unconvincingly as “very powerful”, and it becomes all too obvious this cartoon idea is dying on its arse. Meanwhile, Mary Nightingale is wandering ITN’s current affairs department, whilst presenting the news in a strange looking coat. Footage is shown of Lady Thatcher turning up at the ITV election party, as if that’s news in itself.

It’s then back to Jonathan who happily explains to us the reason ITV1 has more results than the other channels is their reporters on the ground are learning the outcomes before they are announced. This is followed by footage of Thatcher looking puffy-faced, signing books whilst she’s accompanied by Edwina Currie. David Steel and Roy Hattersley take the piss out of Jonathan’s obsession with Thatcher, but he’s having none of it. “I’d like to speak to the political editor” he snips, trying to cut them off – and then has a go at the twosome for implying ITV won’t get an interview with her. Roy caustically adds no one is interested in what she has to say anyway.

Colin Rallings – still confined to his place somewhere else in the studio – comments that if Putney was repeated across the board, Labour would lose their majority. Nick Robinson tries to show us the swing on ELVIS but it is just too confusing, so it’s over to Alastair Stewart to have a bash, this time using the Scarfe swingometer to prove that were the trend to be reflected across the country, it would indeed result in a hung parliament.

The Putney obsession is thankfully less obvious on the BBC, as Peter Snow calls up his virtual party leaders for another amble down Downing Street. “We asked them to come themselves but they said they were too busy,” he quips, which is a shame because then at least we’d have got a Michael Howard with glasses and a Tony Blair without half a beard. Bob Marshall-Andrews looks in from Medway where he proceeds, to everyone’s surprise, to announce that even though his result hasn’t been announced he’s certain he’s lost. Sound problems add to the surreal nature of the moment, but he signs off stoically by concluding how “on a bad night, my going will be one of the very few things that will cheer the Prime Minister up.” If he’s true, the studio reflect, the fall in majority might indicate the PM will be facing an extremely bad night, but it’s not the last we’ll hear from Marshall-Andrews.

Meanwhile the sound problems translate into visual ones as we see John Prescott’s victory speech while hearing that of somebody completely different. Then footage of David Blunkett’s result is interrupted by David Dimbleby proclaiming “No!” in a loud voice for unexplained reasons. Gordon Brown’s declaration passes off without technical hitch, but more incident of a verbal kind: Andrew thinks the Chancellor’s speech was “a not very coded acceptance that Labour are having a difficult night.”

Back on ITV1, Roy Hattersley is busy claiming all three parties have the wrong leader, while Nick Robinson observes how, in an earlier interview, Blunkett referred to the cabinet as “we”, implying he knows he will be back in. The channel stick with the MP’s result to hear his acceptance speech, which includes off the cuff comments about troops in Iraq thanks to some heckling. “We will not be proud of the Liberal Democrats who have exploited the issue, whatever it cost the people of those communities most disadvantaged”.


With the BBC’s scoreboard still knackered it’s anyone’s guess who’s winning, but everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and it’s hard not to feel the same. Jeremy accidentally ascribes a quotation to Malcolm Rifkind from a week ago rather than, in reality, 12 months. “It’s taken you a year to work that out!” Rifkind cracks, to which Jeremy replies “Well, you know, it takes a bit of time to get these things …” “But you get there in the end, Jeremy,” Rifkind continues jovially. Results are now rushing in across the bottom of the screen, but until the scoreboard returns they don’t amount to anything (literally). The Torbay declaration is upstaged by some giant palm trees on the platform, while Tazeen Ahmad in Ilford has trouble with the link-up to David. “Can you hear me now?” she pleads. “Sounds like old fashioned communications,” he waxes ; “Over to you – over!”

The results are adding up to “an intriguing pattern” observes Tony King, albeit one we still can’t see for ourselves. Finally, though, the scoreboard lurches back into life, though not before Gordon Brown has been captioned Chancellor of the Exchequer three times in 10 seconds. Tony points out Ilford isn’t an Essex seat anymore – “it’s moved on and up.” “Moved up in the world? From Essex? Where to?” splutters David incredulously. Things are now really alive in the studio and there’s a palpable, infectious air of excitement. Tony Blair is glimpsed leaving for his count in a motorcade of about 12 cars, while the declaration in Newbury reveals one of the independent candidates to be a perfectly normally dressed middle-aged man sporting a giant black and white top hat. The fact the Liberals lose Newbury, but hold onto the ultra-marginal Cheadle, prompts Andrew Marr to announce it’s all getting “very spotty”. “Everybody must be a bit jittery as they go to their count,” David pities, almost like a kindly old grandfather. For Jeremy, however, it’s simply a question of working out “what on Earth is going on.”

Back on ITV1, Roy Hattersley thinks the small swing away from Brown is a big lesson for the Labour Party and that they would have done a lot better with him at the helm. Nick Robinson wants to know if Roy thinks the party should act quickly to instate Brown as PM, but Jonathan has to break things up to bring us the Alan Milburn result.

The channel are now claiming 98 seats for Labour, nine for the Conservatives, five for the Liberal Democrats and three for the others. “We are all over the place,” opines Colin Rallings, “there will be surprises and shocks”. Jonathan uses the phrase “whole new political landscape” for the first, but probably not last, time tonight and then asks: “You wanted to come in Roy?” Well no I didn’t. but I will.” Hattersley then claims the exit poll is clearly wrong but Colin states that we have to use it until some more marginal results come in. He reiterates again that things are confusing, but Jonathan is now advising the viewer not to rely on those speculative finds.

To makes things even more perplexing, Nick digs out ELVIS. However Jonathan is obviously distracted: “If you saw me waving frantically just then … it isn’t because I am totally mad,” he explains – but actually we didn’t. Estelle Morris joins the panel and comments that this is a “sea-change campaign”.


Following another superfluous news break, finally ITV1 get that interview with Thatcher. Mark Austin is somewhat unctuous, but Thatch can barely talk, and appears to have lost most of her incisiveness. In fact as the conversation progresses, Mark seems to fall under the delusion he is talking to someone who has an incomplete understanding of the English language. It is certainly a curious encounter, and back in the studio, Nick Robinson explains it is a rare moment to see Thatcher talking in public, as she has been through some personal traumas recently.

For the next half-hour or so on the Beeb, the action remains almost solely focused on David, Andrew and Tony. The fact that Gisela Stuart is back in Birmingham Edgbaston leads Tony to return to his theme of tautological anomalies, on this occasion, “nice mathematical quirks”. David, however, has more urgent news: he’s been told that Alan Milburn has informed Tony Blair he doesn’t want to serve in his new cabinet. “He’s jumping before being pushed,” is David’s blunt interpretation, but there’s no more time to dwell on it as the declaration from Ynys Mon is tumbling onto screen. David quickly cuts back in as soon as the Labour winner begins his victory address in Welsh. “I thought you wanted to listen to the speech,” jokes Andrew. “Well,” retorts David, “like your Gaelic my Welsh isn’t quite up to what it should be.” “Oooh, oooh, cutting!” chirps Andrew in brilliant mock-umbrage.

In his annexe Jeremy takes unexpected pity on Jack Straw when their interview stalls due to, yet again, sound problems. “I know, it’s an absolute nightmare when you hear your own voice back at you,” Jeremy consoles in apparent sincerity, but given the form he’s been in so far it’s hard to be absolutely sure. There’s no problem with the feed from Sedgefield, where Tony Blair arrives for his result wearing “a rictus rather than a genuine grin,” insists Andrew. This leads David into a peculiar and not entirely comfortable train of thought concerning the Blairs’ recent somewhat intimate interview for The Sun. “That was rather extraordinary,” observes Andrew, visibly uncomfortable. “I think we’ll draw a veil over that.” “Yes,” agrees David. But he can’t resist. “A five-times-a-night Prime Minister?”

Meanwhile, back on ITV1, Jonathan gives us some voiceover to accompany Mr Five Times’ arrival, then points out that in terms of the number of seats Blair is now unrivalled even by Thatcher. Nick again: “It’s going to be a confusing night”, while Jonathan suggests to Estelle that Blair had to put up a front and that the campaign personally hurt him.

At Television Centre, the conversation is swiftly diverted onto the topic of making a forecast of the overall outcome. Andrew thinks John Curtice, the Beeb’s psephology expert, is “a sound man” for not wanting to predict the final result so early. Fair enough, although plenty of sound men used to do it far earlier in the old days. But no matter, because David is vexed once more. “I can see absolutely nothing on my screen but I’m told that’s Charles Kennedy.” “Ach, it’s a dark night in Ross, Syke and Lochaber,” muses Andrew. “I saw him getting into a car,” beams Tony – “I may be unique!”

But wait, for David quickly moves to confess, “I was unwise to say we can’t have a prediction,” because that’s precisely what Peter Snow has got. In yet another nice touch, he has to knock on the door of his virtual 10 Downing Street for the policeman to retrieve a red box, inside which is a scrap of paper proclaiming the Labour final majority to be 68. “Almost exactly what we said,” concludes David, recalling the much-mocked exit poll with proud satisfaction. And it is a vindication: the closest the exit poll has been to an actual outcome for many a decade. Everybody appears pleased.

Less effusive is Robert Kilroy-Silk who is caught by the ITV cameras at 1.48am. Jonathan asks him if he knows how his party are doing. “Not really,” he replies, “but my supporters don’t look very happy”. Kilroy is happily open about the fact Veritas were never going to win, and Jonathan asks him if he is going to call it a day. Of course he isn’t – see you in the morning.

Back at the party, Mark Austin is interviewing a newly Lib Dem-supporting Greg Dyke and an always himself-supporting Ian Hislop (who’s hopping across more channels than P&O tonight). Mark asks Greg why he switched, and Hislop suggests rather rudely it was because he was sacked. Dyke thinks the result will be the end of Blair, but Hislop doesn’t agree. Nevertheless, the former BBC DG ploughs on, proclaiming Labour MPs will think they owe their election win to Brown and not Blair.


With both channels jollying along nicely, the mood is suddenly soured by results from Keighley where Nick Griffin pulled in 9.2% of the votes for the BNP. On ITV1, Nick Robinson starts giving this some analysis, but the cut to a long shot makes it clear Jonathan isn’t paying any attention.

The BBC are also uninterested in scrutinising Griffin’s achievement which passes by with nary a raised eyebrow from the team. In fact, David is more concerned about apologising for his earlier remark regarding Alan Milburn – apparently he took the decision to quit ages ago. It was “a light-hearted surmise on my part”, he explains. Meanwhile, Andrew Marr has time to quip that – in the light of Theresa May increasing her majority – the Lib Dem’s efforts did not lead to “decapitation”, “not even a haircut”.

One minor force that does make its way onto the agenda is the Independent Labour party headed by Peter Law, who wins Blaenau Gwent – the fifth safest Labour seat in Britain, we’re told – with a 49% swing. David sums it up as “one in the eye for Labour” and Andrew refers to it as yet another “astonishing result”. Looking to put things in context, Tony King draws parallels with Frank Dobson’s selection as Labour’s London mayoral candidate in 2000, both Dobson and Labour’s defeated hopeful tonight learning “people don’t like being pushed around”.

Peter, back at his Battleground, is now predicting a Labour majority of 76. It’s perhaps noticeable how slick proceedings have been throughout the evening, especially at the counts where in most places we’ve managed to enjoy pans across to each candidate when they’re mentioned and full close-ups of all the relevant speakers, as opposed to the distant and blurry images we’ve had to endure in the past.

Then it’s off to Sedgefield at around 2.15am for Martha Kearney to chat to Alistair Campbell. He’s in bullish mood as he suggests the Conservatives remain “flat on their back” and that tonight’s results are only considered bad because “people get used to landslides”. It’s then back to the studio for a chat with Iain Duncan Smith from his seat, but only the briefest of pleasantries are exchanged before we’re back in the North East for the Prime Minister’s declaration which, thanks to the 15 candidates, goes on for absolutely ages. Andrew reckons Blair looks “rather battered”, but as we listen to his speech Tony King takes time to again point out that the now predicted majority of 80 would have been considered remarkable in 1997.

Inevitably, ITV’s cameras are also trained on the same spectacle, Nick Robinson claiming it will be a difficult evening for Blair because he has to stand next to anti-war candidate Reg Keys – how will both men deal with it? “Blair’s face is completely different from 2001,” observes Portillo. The panel agree that it has been an unpleasant and stressful campaign for the PM, with Jonathan observing that Blair has gone from being represented as Bambi, to a liar with a Pinocchio nose. Their own take on the PM’s speech is that it’s downbeat – Nick Robinson asserts that if you watched it with the sound down you would think he hadn’t won, at which point Portillo reminds everyone that when he lost, he at least managed a smile.

Gerald Scarfe has a sketch of Blair, but it is just that, and there is no gag to it. However, then seemingly struck by inspiration, he draws in a hole and so it is amusing after all – much to everyone’s relief.

Back at the party, Andrew Neil complains that with over 200 results we haven’t had a a new projection of the overall tally for ITV1. Clive Anderson rails that the election campaign hasn’t addressed any of the big news and Hislop wants to know why Labour are so depressed. From the studio Jonathan comes back at Neil and says that the channel have shifted their prediction to a Labour majority of 82.

Over on the BBC again, Iain Duncan Smith gets another crack at the whip in what appears to be a completely deserted polling station in Chingford. The most notable aspect of this conversation is his suggestion that he “doesn’t mind” whether Michael Howard remains leader until the next election, considering the health of the party as a whole is more important than who leads it. David appears to be chatting to someone else by the end of the interview, but hears enough to suggest this is “not a particularly ringing endorsement”.


The value, or otherwise, of the night’s results is a question that seems to be the most frequently asked of the evening. Jeremy puts it to the Conservatives’ Lord Strathclyde: “How can a majority of 80 be anything other than a ringing endorsement?” It’s hard to really tell which, if any, of the three parties has notionally “won” the evening, Lord Newby stressing that the seemingly unsuccessful Lib Dem “decapitation” strategy of the Conservative front bench was “not a major part” of their campaign.

“Were you still up for Portillo?” asks David, treading ground his brother has already stalked across earlier tonight. “You remember the moment in 1997 when Stephen Twigg took his seat and there was the shot of him rolling his eyes with pleasure. Now take a look at him … which we can’t do as our reporter David Thompson’s there!” Nevertheless, when a sheepish Thompson gets out of the way, Twigg looks absolutely suicidal at, apparently, a suggested Tory win in Enfield Southgate. Andrew Marr adds to Labour’s misery by reporting their press office reckons Oona King’s out in Bethnal Green – “another sensational result”. However Ruth Kelly, thought to be in danger, has held on in Bolton West.

On ITV1, Jonathan is similarly excited about Enfield Southgate. Portillo is able to give some dispassionate analysis on his old seat, while the news George Galloway is likely to get elected prompts Nick Robinson to observe Blair will hate having Galloway in the Commons to goad him. At 2:36am, ITV1 are also predicting an 82 majority for Labour, whilst a subtle, quiet but menacing soundtrack plays in the background.

Jonathan wonders whether Labour MPs have been told over their Blackberries that they have to say they will listen to the people more. As the UKIP vote is announced at Haltemprice & Howden you can hear a solitary voice from the crowd yelling “Bravo! Well done!”

And yet, the studio are stilling fretting over Twigg, with Jonathan claiming he is experiencing the “Portillo effect” as the result goes against him. “This has been a truly dreadful night for Labour” says the new Tory MP in Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes, surely an allusion to Portillo’s own speech back in 1997, however no one comments on it – not even the man himself.

The BBC throws back to Fiona Bruce for the first summary in ages. It’s perhaps questionable as to the value of these pieces at 2.40am, especially when it simply shows an excerpt of Blair’s speech from little over 15 minutes ago. Surely there aren’t many channel-hoppers who are just switching on at this moment? Perhaps they’re there for those viewers who might have dropped off at some point. Fiona rushes through some of the main stories and we link back to David via another rather underused aspect of the night, where the results are superimposed on the front of Television Centre. It’s a shame as, though there’s no real point to this motif, it looks nice on screen. The text and e-mail details are now given out, plus the news that viewers’ comments are appearing on Ceefax – providing, in a limited way – the sort of “interactivity” Fiona was supposed to be in charge of in 2001.

David Davis’s speech in Howden is interrupted for shots of Tony Blair getting into a car, then, as per ITV1, that result from Enfield Southgate. This is the cue for a discussion among the team about the notable swings away from Labour in London and the South East. Peter Snow can provide the facts and figures – “I’ve just pressed the right button!” – and Tony King and Andrew Marr speculate on the reasoning behind it. Tony says that when he visits London, he feels “the standard of living is going up, but the standard of life is going down”, and those in the capital show signs of stress. While many are blaming the war for Labour’s poor showing in the region, King believes it’s the economy as the swing is going towards the Tories rather than the Lib Dems.

After hearing Reg Keys’s speech from Sedgefield, we head off to Wyre Forest. Our man at the count is the affable Adrian Chiles, rather uncharacteristically done up in a suit, watching Dr Richard Taylor hold the seat for the “snappily-titled” Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern Party. Adrian is clearly the right man for the job, as when David shamefully asks why the UKIP candidate is “of special interest” he can rattle off virtually the complete biography of Rustie Lee, explaining how she was “famous in the ’80s, especially in the Midlands”. Adrian also tells us that Rustie – surely the first ever election candidate, winner or loser, to greet the announcement of their vote with a clenched-fist “yeeessss!” – has spent much of the evening flirting with Young Conservatives.

There’s similar exuberance at the ITV party, where Katie Derham is wolf-whistled whilst trying to talk to the Hamiltons. Christine is keen to let it be known she is glad they are out of politics, while Neil gives an unlikely word of support for George Galloway before making rather too much of the quip that he is delighted not to still be in politics because it would have meant he couldn’t have been on board for the bash.

Jonathan: “We can now go to Alastair, I don’t know what it is you’ve got to show us. What is it?” Alastair Stewart: “I’ve got a fantastic map to show you!”

<9.55pm – Midnight