Midnight – 3am

Ian Jones, Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams on BBC1 and ITV’s 2001 Election Night 2001

First published June 2001


ITV’s superfluous Mary Nightingale announces “We are predicting a landslide of epic proportions”. Meanwhile the two J’s conversation turns to the relative anonymity of Kenneth Clarke. But before this theme can be developed we have an opportunity to hear from Michael Portillo. Jonathan Dimbleby asks why the Tories have lost so spectacularly, Portillo replies that it wasn’t the fault of the campaign, to which Jonathan quite spitefully replies “So was it the fault of the voters then – or what?” This is a nonsensical question, but Jonathan’s next is perfect: “Do you think Mr Hague should stay Party leader after tonight? Do you think he should stay right through to the next election?” Understanding the significance Portillo replies that Hague should stay Party leader. Before Jonathan can pursue this further, Portillo slips away into the night as it is time to look to the East Ham result.

Over on BBC1 David Dimbleby goes “back to the café with Fiona”, where we have more of the promised celebrities. At the first table is an odd combination of Gyles Brandreth, Ken Loach and Richard Wilson. Fiona’s struggling slightly, not particularly adding the “gravitas” that she had promised, as illustrated by her introduction to “Richard Wilson, or Victor Meldrew … I’m sorry!” at which Wilson groans loudly. Brandreth mentions the soporific nature of this election by pointing out that when he came into the studio, he saw “three of your researchers playing Patience on their computers”. Doubtlessly there’ll be internal memos flying after the programme, but it goes unremarked upon on air.

It’s then over to Dunfermline East, Gordon Brown’s seat, where the returning officer refers to the Conservative candidate as receiving 2,800 “pounds” rather than “votes”, amusingly, and then David says that “In that case Gordon Brown’s got 19,400 pounds!” unamusingly. We get to hear Gordon Brown’s speech in full, even though their camera is in a much worse position than ITV’s.

Peter Snow takes a look at the “terrifying” turnout, again, but this time gives us the results of the BBC’s opinion poll. He reveals that of non-voters, 74% said that they abstained as it “didn’t matter”. At 12.10am, we go to East Ham, a seat billed as one of the first to declare, leading David to refer to it as “a slow fast deliverer”. This is a bit muddled, as the returning officer takes time out to run through all the reasons why ballot papers have been rejected, which seems to confuse both those reporting and those on stage, so we then plunge to Birmingham Edgbaston where Gisela Stuart has just been elected. We get a brief snatch of her speech, but we then lose that to see Cherie Blair in a car.

ITV’s also at East Ham and Jonathan Dimbleby is becoming increasingly keen on reading out to us the promotional material at each declaration. “Newham – Council Of The Year 2000″ he reads to us, and then wonders who won it for 2001. However, the East Ham declaration is interrupted because Tony Blair is on the move. We go now live to Tony’s car driving up a road. With that East Ham is abandoned and we return to Torbay with its “summer breaks” banner says Jonathan. Nothing happens for a while, which allows the depressive Sergeant to ponder some more on the seemingly grey mood of Prescott. Perhaps it is because he knows his political career is no longer on the rise. Did Prescott’s punch allow Blair to distance himself a little from his Deputy, asks Jonathan adding to the growing conspiracy theory.

When Torbay finally declares, the result confuses some at ITV. This is a key seat for the Liberal Democrats to retain and as the votes are announced we cut to a shot of their party faithful exploding in joy. Poor old Jonathan is totally bemused by this as he assures us that the candidate who has just won is in fact Tory. So why are they all cheering then Jon? Perhaps it is just the euphoria of the night as a whole he suggests. All the while Sergeant (who is really living up to his surname tonight) is quietly trying to let Jonathan know that the winning candidate is in fact a Lib Dem. As the penny finally drops Jonathan advises all of ITV’s viewers that he has “completely screwed that up” and looks a “complete ‘nana”. It would never happen on the BBC.

At 12.15am we’ve had enough results for Peter Snow on BBC1 to predict “with some confidence” a Conservative swing of 1.79%. Andrew Marr has the confidence to refer to the Tory result as “hellish”. We don’t get to see John Prescott win his seat, as many seats are now declaring at the same time. However we do get to see Jack Straw speaking to Jeremy Paxman from his count. Jeremy says that the result is “hardly a ringing endorsement” of the government, given the turnout. After this we get Prescott’s speech, delayed. At 12.20am the BBC are predicting the final result of Labour 408; Conservative 162; Lib Dem 59; Others 30.

The BBC get to Torbay just too late, and David Dimbleby has to tell us that the Liberal Democrats have won it with a majority of 6,000. The BBC stick around to hear Adrian Sanders’ speech, but there’s some sort of delay, which causes David to snort that “It’s his own time he’s wasting, if he doesn’t want the airtime”. Eventually he speaks, and talks about how great the area is, almost as if he’s trying to be funny, and then gets faded out. Then we get Jeremy who has an all-new panel of guests; Simon Hughes, Neil Kinnock and Steven Norris, who isn’t introduced for 10 minutes, as Jeremy’s talking to Hughes, a Liberal Democrat, about the Torbay result. To further the discussion, Michael Ancram comes on the screen from Devizes. Jeremy suggests that with an 8% swing he’ll lose his seat, which Ancram is not particularly amused by.


At this point we reach the comedy highlight of the night. Jeremy’s told to introduce pictures of the Prime Minister arriving at his declaration in Sedgefield, and thus announces that “We’re seeing pictures of Neil Kinnock arriving at his count”. Neil Kinnock, sitting opposite, roars with laughter. We follow Blair into the hall, where Jeremy notes he’s meeting some “odd-looking people” in silly costumes. Keen to keep the double act going, Kinnock responds “They’re just bald, Jeremy!” Jeremy sums the scene up by saying “All human life is there, and so is Euan”, who Kinnock tells us is “a lovely boy; he’s just been made deputy head boy of his school”.

Neil Kinnock is captioned “Former Leader, Labour Party” rather needlessly – perhaps in case some children are staying up to watch. Kinnock’s a plus for the BBC, making some decent points, specifically when he observes that the Conservative campaign was “misjudged – they concentrated entirely on Europe and asylum”.

David Dimbleby rounds up some of the results we’ve missed, as they’re now coming in very rapidly indeed. Tony King suggests that there’s been a “sort of north/south divide”, with the Labour party seeing much larger gains in the South. We’ve not had anything to beat 1997′s “asteroid” comment from King, but the panel are making a large amount of sense tonight, and they seem to be enjoying it immensely.

Which is more than can be said for Huw Edwards, who we cross to again outside William Hague’s house. It’s now pitch black, and Huw comments that the Conservatives are “very depressed, and have little optimism”; words that could apply to Huw himself. This is especially the case when he says that Hague won’t be making any public appearances or comment until he leaves for his declaration – which, unfortunately for Huw, isn’t due until about 4am, so he has to continue his moonlit vigil outside for the time being. He also suffers the ignominy of being interrupted by someone’s mobile phone.

Peter Snow’s got some more results to analyse, and points out that the exit poll seems to have been slightly wrong – that predicted a 1% swing to the Conservatives, while the results so far have seen on average a 2% swing towards Labour. It’s at this point that we get to see what we’ve been waiting for all night; the crumbling cliff-top graphic. This graphic, which involves getting the staircase out again, arranges the marginal Labour seats in the shape of a cliff, and Tony Blair walks along them. If and when they change hands, they crumble and the cliff becomes less safe. So we take a look at what the results so far have done to the cliff and – it’s exactly the same, as Blair stands to lose about two seats. But then, we see a new part of the graphic appear on the screen, which even Peter doesn’t seem to really understand. We probably won’t be seeing this dynamic vista again.

Over on ITV, the value of John Sergeant’s inside knowledge once again comes to the fore as he graphically describes the absolute joy members of the Labour Party will be feeling at the annihilation of the Tories. Make no mistake, he advises us, Labour will be “rubbing their noses in it. This is a moment for them of supreme delight.” It’s only at this point that one realises that a politician has not set foot into the ITV purpose built election studio all night, and is obviously not going to. With this momentary lull still continuing, Sergeant gives us now a little insight into his own psyche as he confesses how much he enjoys teasing Alistair Campbell. This is great stuff.

63 seats have now declared and the predicted Labour majority is now 193, Mary Nightingale informs us – and then does little else. However, we are distracted anyway by the little sign in the top right hand corner that suddenly appears and usually indicates that a commercial break is on its way. Surely not?

Back briefly to Ponsonby in Glasgow and his friend Professor Bill Miller who finally gets a chance to speak. But not for long, we need to know that the predicted Labour majority is now 189. Dermot seems to be taking a breather in his virtual House of Commons. He tells us he is sitting in Tony Blair’s seat. Luckily he gets out of the way just in time to avoid the graphics. Now ITV are predicting 424 seats for Labour, 143 for the Conservatives, 62 for the Liberal Democrats and 30 for the Others.

With that it’s time to check on how Mark Austin’s temper is getting on outside Labour HQ.

“Mark, you’ve survived so far” Jonathan Dimbleby guffaws. “Let’s put an end to these Survivor jokes, Jonathan” Mark replies curtly. But Jonathan Dimbleby is enjoying himself too much. “Mark, I promise not to make any more Survival jokes … until the next one!” As a riposte it’s not that witty, but works well anyway thanks to Jonathan getting the name of the programme wrong.

With little else to talk about on what has still been up to this point an uneventful night, the subject returns to the drop in turnout. Sergeant again thinks he might have a little insight to add here. Turn out for US elections are generally very low, and our campaigns have become increasingly Americanised. This chain of thought is broken up by Dimbleby The Disturber who wants us to know that the count in Orkney has been held up because the plane bringing the ballot papers across has been delayed: “There are always good little moments in each election which take you by surprise”. Was that 2001′s moment?

At 12.50am, the BBC say that Labour have held Salford, something that ITV seemingly said an hour ago. Then we cross to reporters at the parties’ HQs, starting off with Nick Robinson at Conservative Central Office. Nick seems to be the most excited man in the building, given that the Conservative party “just don’t understand what is going on”. He cites the Torbay result as the moment when the atmosphere soured. It still seems more exciting than the Labour HQ, as when we cross to Martha Kearney, it appears to be deserted. She explains that the Party aren’t allowing any media presence in the building as they don’t want to be seen celebrating in case the public think they’re being complacent. Bad luck for Martha, then, who has to stand out in the cold all night.

Laura Trevalyn says that the atmosphere in the Lib Dem HQ is “euphoric”, but she’s unable to expand on this as we need to go to the declaration at Ynys Mon, where there might be an upset. Indeed there is, Labour win the seat off Plaid Cymru. It takes a bit of time to get this, though, as the result is read out in both English and Welsh, and unfortunately Labour and Plaid Cymru are the first two read out. The BBC dithers over whether to stick around for all the results or just leave it after Labour is obviously the winner, and in the end they lose their nerve half way through.


The Conservatives get their first victory of the night, when Poole declares at 1.01am. Also winning is Estelle Morris, who 90 minutes ago was supposed to be in danger. In fact she wins with a majority of 2,500, and perhaps out of embarrassment, the BBC don’t take this live, the only mention coming from a caption on the screen. It isn’t referred to by David Dimbleby for another 10 minutes. Instead they’re spotting Peter Mandelson, who’s just arrived at his count. There’s also a shot of Leicester East, where we get “a rare sighting of Keith Vaz”.

We then rush to Eastwood, which the Tories are hopeful of winning, and in fact we get there too early and see the candidates all trooping on stage. The Tories don’t win, and Anne McKenzie reckons that they now have “little chance” of getting anything in Scotland, although she then seems to contradict herself by saying that they still might have a chance of getting those other two seats. David throws over to Jeremy Paxman to discuss this, seemingly to Jeremy’s surprise as he appears to be eating while talking. Also unaware is the director, as instead of getting a shot of Neil Kinnock we get to see David and Tony King having a chat.

It’s back to Mary Nightingale on ITV who tells us that they’re still predicting a 189 majority for Labour. This quickly changes to 191. Jon Sergeant feels compelled to comment and tries to do so, but is cut out as Portsmouth South declares. News filters through that there are significant problems at the count in Oldham. The decision has been made not to let any of the candidates speak for fear of inciting trouble. As a result the BNP candidate and his cohorts gagged themselves in protest. More on this in a moment, but for now we can end the Estelle Morris story so wonderfully initiated by the concerned Blunkett. “Estelle Morris, will you hold on?” asks Jonathan Dimbleby clearly gripped. “Well the result’s already been announced, and we have”. Once she has gone, the two Js feel free to gossip about her.

“She didn’t give anything away there” concludes Jonathan.

At 1.10am it’s off to Sedgefield on BBC1, and to entertain us while we wait for the count, Jon Sopel tries to get Alistair Campbell to say that Labour’s going to have a landslide victory. He doesn’t, although he does promise Jon that we’ll be seeing less of him next term. The Sedgefield result is due in the next 10 minutes or so, and before that we get a frantic few moments with some significant declarations. First of all is St Helens South, which Shaun Woodward is hoping to win; he does, and is met by quite a few boos. David Dimbleby wants to hear his speech, but we only get a few moments of it before the Oldham East result is announced, followed quickly by Oldham West. The BNP have come third in Oldham West and have had their best result for decades. There’s an uneasy mood in the studio as the panel talk about this result, and nobody seems very comfortable discussing it. Andrew Marr refers to the BNP as “effectively fascists”. David promises there’ll be a report from there in a moment, but we don’t get it for at least half an hour.

Over on ITV the swing concerns Jonathan Dimbleby who observes that the BNP have made a very strong fourth place. He asks Sergeant if politicians fear the “race question”. Sergeant doesn’t really respond properly, because he is too concerned that the gagged BNP candidate might make people think that debate is actually being stifled. Sensing there is little further they can comfortably take this conversation, the two instead, speculate over an alleged deal struck between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in which Blair would stand down after two years of a second term to allow his colleague to take over. Now Oldham West declares and that constituency too shows a marked increase for the BNP. “Not an encouraging result there” opines Jonathan rather against the spirit of impartial journalism.

Back on BBC1 David Dimbleby asks if we could get Shaun Woodward’s speech and a breakdown of the result, but it looks like Sedgefield might be declaring, so we go over to there instead. Nothing actually happens, though, so we finally get to look at what Shaun Woodward’s majority is, and hear a bit of his speech. But then Sedgefield really is going to declare. We get a lingering shot of the Loony candidate, and then we hear all of Tony Blair’s speech. “It looks like Labour have won”, he reveals.

At the Sedgefield result on ITV – as typical for the whole of the night – we have almost the worst seat in the house to watch Blair give his first speech as a second term Prime Minister. It’s long and perhaps not as polished as it might be, however, we stick with it for the total duration. Immediately after Jonathan Dimbleby thinks that summarising the main points for us would be a good thing and so does. Both the Js pick up again on the theme of the night as they describe Blair’s tone as “sombre”. “Blair knows this is his place in history” Sergeant adds.


The BBC are now predicting 416 Labour seats, 161 Tories, 55 Lib Dems and 27 Others. There are now enough results in to consider what the new government is going to do, and we start off by taking a look at Peter Snow’s “Tide Gauge”, which he’ll be marking up any new records. Sure enough, Blair’s broken one with the biggest majority in a second term, which is illustrated by a buoy bobbing up and down in the River Thames, with appropriate sound effects.

David Dimbleby’s also getting quite excited, as there are four recounts taking place, and he anticipates people in those seats “on the edge of their chairs”. And there’s news from Philippa Thomas in Enfield Southgate, where the result is likely to be “close and exciting”. Not exciting enough for David, though, who we hear shouting “Lay!” for some reason – presumably as the next report comes from Shaun Ley.

Shaun Woodward’s on the screen to talk to Jeremy Paxman. His first question is “Are you going to be taking your butler to Westminster?”, which Woodward responds to with “I am very proud to be representing the people of St Helens”. Still Jeremy persists, following this up with “Did your butler vote for you?” We get the joke, Jeremy. Again, it seems as if Jeremy’s agenda tonight is that no answer is better than a bland answer, which makes for a slight frisson of excitement in parts (are they going to walk out?) but in some cases it seems as if he’s going for easy targets. The interview continues, with thankfully no more “butler” references, but Woodward’s slightly drowned out by a large crowd applauding something or other behind him at regular intervals.

Woodward’s not going to have an easy time tonight, though, as Jeremy asks Steven Norris his opinions about Woodward and his result. Norris is scathing about Woodward, who remains on the screen throughout, and Woodward refers to this, but they never actually speak to each other; instead they talk directly to Jeremy, as if they’re a couple no longer speaking to each other. You expect Norris to say “Well, you tell Mr Woodward that I think …”

At 1.40am, a caption says that Labour have held Stretford and Urmston, meaning that Jordan has lost her deposit, but alas the BBC don’t feel the need to break that news to us. After Jeremy’s comedy stylings with Shaun Woodward, it’s a bit of a relief when he asks a straight question, as he turns and says “Leon Brittan – what’s wrong with your party?” Brittan gives very similar reasons that Neil Kinnock gave earlier, a “misjudgement”.

Back on ITV it’s time for some more swish music as we cut across to the superfluous Mary Nightingale. Then it’s from one superfluous presenter to another (can ITV really not think what to do with its female presenters on election night?), Katie Derham has finally arrived in Manchester. As she recounts the many problems she had first with her “trusty helicopter” and then with her plane, we have not the heart to tell her we had forgotten all about her. She attempts to interview three Mancunian first time voters, but members of the public are being decidedly quiet on ITV tonight. Katie asks them whether they would have preferred it if there had been a big party. After that she hands back to Jonathan Dimbleby who tries to put a little bit of spin on things as he asks Dermot to process the latest results through his “virtual share machine”. “So to speak, Jonathan” mildly chastises ITV’s other crotchety news casting hunk. “It looks like the Tories’ best hope is a three term strategy” believes Sergeant. Suddenly, only Jonathan seems to be having a good time.

It’s back to business now as that battle against the Prince and the King is about to be resolved. True to form we get an appalling shot of Mandelson delivering his troubled victory speech. Still the cameraman is savvy enough to get Scargill in shot just at the moment that Mandelson sticks his boot into this particular personal nemesis. The bile and righteous anger exhibited does not go unmissed back in the studio. “An extraordinary speech” declares Jonathan, “he was dancing on the political grave of Arthur Scargill.” Sergeant – as he has done all night – agrees: “The bitterness is very sharp” and rightly identifies that many of Mandleson’s veiled targets for condemnation sit at the heart of Government. “It was an extremely articulate defence of Peter Benjamin Mandelson” he concludes.

The BBC misses the start of the Hartlepool declaration. The returning officer doesn’t bother including the names of the parties, so we have to listen out for “Mandelson” and “Scargill”. The results are as expected, and we get to hear Mandelson’s speech – this time, the BBC manage to grab a shot of him looking straight towards their camera, as opposed to ITV who appeared to be filming him from the roof. Yet it’s the BBC who cut from the speech first, to allow Andrew Marr the chance to talk about it. Mandelson’s surprisingly aggressive speech said that he was “coming back”, something Marr describes as “the most unusual speech I’ve ever heard at this point of the night”. He also suggests that “some of his enemies in the party will be throwing up”, which is a nice turn of phrase.

Before we head off to Kensington and Chelsea, David Dimbleby tells us of the result for Kingston and Surbiton, which the Lib Dems have held. David says that they won partly thanks to some party literature “which I have seen” which suggested that “the Conservative candidate is a thug and Labour have no chance”. Onto Portillo’s count, then, with David pointing out the crab again and promising to keep us informed on how it does. On ITV, Jonathan Dimbleby once again thinks he can make himself useful by summarising exactly what Portillo has literally just finished saying, whilst Sergeant, rueful as ever observes that “we’ve not heard any senior Tories saying Hague has messed it up”.


On BBC1, Tony King has spotted that Labour are going to be elected with the votes of less than one in four of the electorate. We go over to Jeremy Paxman, who David Dimbleby announces has an “important guest” – it’s Paddy Ashdown, who’s happy about the Lib Dem results, and even Jeremy can’t spoil his fun when he claims that they’re “irrelevant”. Instead Ashdown, gesturing wildly with his glasses, says that the centre-left is now the political persuasion of the majority of the population, something which is “‘the most important point of the night”. Jeremy continues to overplay the histrionics, veering close to undermining all his questions with continual gurning and rolling of the eyeballs. Still, he’s now ruling over his alcove with flair and some welcome tomfoolery. His occasional lurches backwards, almost lolling on the seats, seems to distinctly unnerve his guests.

Meanwhile David Dimbleby’s affected mateyness with Andrew Marr – “Now then Andy, you’re a Scot …” – feels fresh and uncontrived. Andrew’s judgements become more lucid and candid as the night goes on – there’s a mischievous streak to his analysis which sits well with David’s ultra laid-back style, and against the more uptight comments from an increasingly testy Anthony King.

Charles Kennedy’s declaration is covered live, and his speech is the cue for Peter Snow to reintroduce the patented Lib Dem graphic, with the leader still poised like Kermit’s nephew Robin halfway down the stairs. Where are the Lib Dems going to end up? “It’s not near the bottom, it’s not near the top …” A computer-generated Kennedy, faced with the choice of either ascending or descending from his 1997 tally of seats, marches confidently up a dozen or so. Another great gimmick.

It’s at this point that it becomes clear that the total seats won for Labour on ITV is running at almost 40 more then the figure reported on BBC1. Then it all goes rather “bitty” again. Jonathan Dimbleby seizes on Michael Meacher’s stray comment that Hague has incited racial violence, and Portillo turns up on screen for a second interview with Jonathan. Jonathan begins by suggesting that Portillo must be feeling happier than he did four years ago and continues by picking him up on his avoidance over whether Hague should remain Tory Leader up to and including the next election. Once again though Portillo refuses to be drawn.

Back on the Beeb, Jeremy Paxman has Peter Mandelson down the line from Hartlepool, looking calmer than earlier, indeed seemingly regenerated into a much more ponderous and dry interviewee. He doesn’t give much away. There’s discussion of his “wronged” dismissal, and his contributions to the campaign as a whole, over footage of Blair and wife turning up at their local Labour club. It’s unintentionally telling to hear Mandelson’s sage soundbites over informal, slightly chaotic scenes of the PM embracing various elderly people who seem to be numerous in-laws and distant relatives. ITV, however, have a different slant on things. “You see the way he ruffles people’s hair”. This is John Sergeant’s analysis of Tony Blair’s progress into the Trimdon Labour club. Let’s hear some more: “Anymore hair ruffling? No he seems to have stopped that for a bit”.

After a little bit of delay we finally get to Blair’s second speech of the night, but not before a very brief burst of spectacularly bad camera work. Although we stay with Blair again until he’s done there is really nothing new, and if anything he has become even more rambling. It’s a treat then to be able to hook up with the newly exciting Peter Mandelson. Jonathan Dimbleby suggests that he sounds bitter, which Mandelson denies. Jonathan then jibes him about getting a place back in the Cabinet. “Jonathan, let me let you in to a secret, he [Tony Blair] won’t ask me”. This kind of straight talking is unexpected from Mandelson and rather throws Jonathan.

At last the BBC make some comment on the Oldham results with the earlier-missing reporter Reeta Chakrabarti giving a consideration of why the BNP did so well. But again it feels like this subject has not been properly addressed, and there’s not enough time to consider the full significance of those results as we breathlessly cut away to a bit of genuine drama, the surprise victory of the Independent candidate Dr Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest.


Why did Taylor win? Because he “made a connection,” drawls Tony King. King continues to be on rather snide form, not so expansive as 1997, sometimes coming too close to passing personal judgement on results and candidates. There also seems to be a bit of tension between him and Andrew Marr – the two are now talking over one another more and more. Perhaps as a consequence David Dimbleby slowly begins giving Andrew the lion’s share of airtime.

More excellent showmanship from Peter Snow on the comparisons between former turnouts reminds you that this election has gone remarkably smoothly for the arch-pundit so far, with no significant cock-ups or technical glitches whatsoever. The fact that Peter’s never seen close-up all night, and so we never really catch any visual expressions or facial gestures from the great man, is distracting on occasion.

Unfortunately it’s then time to return to the “internet café” for some more pointless and awkward conversation between Fiona Bruce and her barflies. These segments still lack any kind of atmosphere. First up is avuncular Tory-supporting novelist Michael Dobbs, then some apparently ordinary people – but they’ve all got a special story to tell. Only there’s less than 30 seconds for each to tell it. There’s a woman who called Blair on Election Call, another woman who managed to doorstep all three leaders, and then, what’s this? That media student who chased Blair up a hill. A bit disappointing to find out that, because of some confusion with postal ballot forms, the bloke didn’t even vote. He looks very nervous on camera, twitching and fidgeting like a guilty schoolboy.

However this section improves 100% when we meet the two Guardian resident cartoonists, Steve Bell and Martin Rowsen, who the Beeb have enlisted for the duration. Fiona finds them crouched on the floor constructing a suitably epic Tony Hart-esque mural depicting the events of the night. Martin even seems to have prepared some cut-out illustrations to move into humorous positions across the drawing. It all looks impressive, and Steve begins to explain what’s going on, drawing the nation’s attention to Charles Kennedy’s “bare arse” but sadly before he can continue we cut to the live declaration at Leicester East.

At 2.45am ITV officially declare Labour as the Party of Government. That done it’s back to the much missed (over the last hour or so) Colin Rallings for some more analysis, and then time to watch the vanquisher of Portillo from four years ago – Stephen Twigg – retain his seat. He looks as coquettishly embarrassed as ever by the news.

On BBC1, however, David Dimbleby pointedly reminds viewers of the “questions” Blair will have to face once back in Downing Street, but chooses not to elaborate on what these puzzlers might be, and his motives remain unclear. In the meantime a perky Tony Benn quarrels with Jeremy Paxman over the fact his ex-seat has switched to the Lib Dems. “Chesterfield is a solid Labour seat – not a solid New Labour seat,” runs his argument. We’re taken off to Enfield Southgate where a big deal is made of Stephen Twigg winning again. This contrasts neatly with a sombre Huw Edwards, still up in Richmond bringing us rumours from the Hague camp. The way this appears on screen – Huw standing outside in complete darkness save for a few obscure small glimmers of lights behind him, supposedly Hague’s “house” – cranks up the melodrama no end. As if on cue the helpful on-screen totalizer informs us that Labour reach the 330 target – enough seats to form a Government – just before 3am. Back on ITV Jonathan Dimbleby celebrates this double victory (Labour’s win, and ITV beating the Beeb to the confirmation) by confusing Bernard Ponsonby’s surname with that of ITV’s Welsh correspondent Tim Rogers.

<9.55pm – Midnight