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  1. Election 2024
8 June 2017

What time could there be a “Portillo moment“ in the 2017 general election?

Here are the times when Big Beasts find out if they have kept their seats.

By Helen Lewis

In 1997, at 3.10am in the morning, British politics saw its “Portillo moment” – when Michael Portillo, once tipped as a future Conservative leader, lost his Enfield Southgate seat to the unstoppable Labour tide. (Watch a video here.)

In the 2015, most political nerds remember where they were when the “Balls moment” happened – I was waiting to go on the Today programme when we got the news that Ed Balls had lost his seat of Morley and Outwood to the Conservatives by 422 votes. The consensus within Labour was that the shadow chancellor had done sterling work criss-crossing the country in support of his colleagues, to the detriment of his own backyard.

So which seats could give us a Portillo Balls moment this year? And when in the night could that happen? Below, I’ve given a rundown based on PA’s guide to declaration times – if the contests are especially close, at Morley and Outwood was last time, recounts could delay these.

Some of these seats are Big Beasts, others are grudge matches – where the contest has got personal – and a couple will indicate a wider trend. 

I’ve interspersed it with pictures of Portillo and Balls’s post-politics careers to remind you that, while losing a seat can be devastating, it’s also a chance to embark on a new career of looking suspiciously at camels and wearing sequins.

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One door closes, another opens.


2am Amber Rudd, Hastings

One of the eye-catching predictions in YouGov’s first “seat prediction” was that Home Secretary Amber Rudd would lose Hastings to Labour. She has a majority of under 5,000. If she falls, then it’s a seriously good – like, overall majority good – night for Labour. 

3am  Angus Robertson, Moray

The SNP’s deputy leader has a majority of 9,065, with the Tories in second place, so Moray is the test bed for whether pro-Unionist tactical voting can reshape Scotland’s political landscape. The Conservatives would prize Robertson’s scalp as highly as they did that of Ed Balls last time. Read Jason’s visit to Moray here

3am Tim Farron, Westmorland and Lonsdale

Tim Farron is one of the few MPs who can plausibly claim a strong personal vote. He first won the constituency in 2005 by 267 votes (having come second in 2001), then increased that to 12,264 in 2010. Just as impressively, he kept his majority above 8,000 even as the Lib Dem tide went out in 2015, post-coalition. So an upset here would be a real shocker. Observers will also be watching his face for signs that the Lib Dems are doomed elsewhere.  

3am Ben Bradshaw, Exeter

Bradshaw is the last splodge of red in an otherwise true blue south-west of England. Even at the last election, as the Lib Dems fell across the region, he held on. Can the last of the Blairites continue to do so?

3.30am John Nicholson vs Jo Swinson, Dunbartonshire East

File this one under Grudge Match. The outspoken SNP candidate, a former journalist and avid tweeter, gets right up unionist noses, and his opponent is the well-liked former Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson. There are murmurings that if she takes the seat, she would be a strong contender for next Lib Dem leader. (Admittedly, there is likely to be a fairly small pool to choose from.)

3.30am Kate Hoey, Vauxhall

Another contest driven by intra-left beef. Even many Labour tribalists have not forgiven Hoey for getting on a boat with Nigel Farage during the EU referendum, leading to a picture which looked like a terrible reboot of Lovejoy. (Read Julia’s report from Vauxhall here.) The Lib Dems feel that they have run a strong and plausible campaign here, but they have a mountain to climb. In 2015, Hoey got more than 25,000 votes, and a 12,000 majority and the yellows were in fourth, behind the Tories and the Greens.

3.30am Tom Watson, West Bromwich East

This seat looked sketchy to some earlier in the campaign, although the noises emanating from Labour there are now fairly positive. Labour had a 9,470 majority in 2015 but Ukip came third with 7,949. So a small Tory swing and a total Ukip collapse would spell trouble for Labour’s deputy leader. 

4am Tania Mathias vs Vince Cable, Twickenham

If there is even the slightest whiff of a #LibDemfightback, it would be here. Vince Cable held the seat from 1997 to 2015, and Mathias now has a 2,000 majority. Twickenham also voted Remain.

4am: Clive Lewis, Norwich South

A couple of months ago, when Labour types were really fretting over the possibility of a wipeout, Clive Lewis’s seat was one of those they feared would fall. On paper, it should be immune to all but the strongest Tory swing, with a Labour majority of 7,654. The Conservatives are in second, as the Liberal Democrats went from winning the seat in 2010 to fourth place behind the Greens in 2015. 

4am: Sarah Olney vs Zac Goldsmith, Richmond

Grudge Match, round two! This is the seat the Lib Dems unexpectedly took in last year’s by-election, helped by the total collapse of Labour. (Which got fewer votes than there were Labour members in the constituency.) It’s widely expected to go back to the Tories this time, depriving Stephen of the pleasure of watching Zac Goldsmith lose three elections in a row. 

4.30am Nick Clegg, Sheffield Hallam

It comes to something when the Daily Mail is urging people to vote Lib Dem. But that’s exactly what the paper did, in its guide to tactical voting – because Labour are second here and Clegg has a majority of only 2,353. Read Anoosh on the campaign trail with him here.

4.30am Dennis Skinner, Bolsover

It seems nuts that the 85-year-old Labour veteran could lose this seat, which he has held since 1970. He has a majority of 11,788, but Ukip got more than 9,000 votes last time and there have been occasional Tory whispers about taking it. 

5am Paul Nuttall, Boston and Skegness

Having lost Douglas Carswell (and his seat of Clacton, which is expected to go blue), this is Ukip’s only real hope of getting a seat. And it’s not a very strong hope. Ukip were second here by 4,000-odd votes in 2015, but observers expect that Theresa May’s Brexit bombast will eat much of the Kipper vote and thus increase the Conservative majority. If it’s been a terrible night for the left, watching Paul Nuttall, no doubt dressed like Toad of Toad Hall, lose this seat could be a rare ray of sunshine. 

For the full list of declaration times, here is Stephen’s comprehensive guide.

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