Even after exit polls are published at 10:01pm on Thursday night, we’ll still all be on the edge of our seats for a good few hours waiting to see quite how the election will pan out. Here then are 10 seats to look out for through the first parts of the night that will give you an indication of quite how well the Liberal Democrats are doing – and how their national share of the vote is really translating into seats in Westminster.
Leeds North West (estimated declaration time: 1am)
Currently held by Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, this is one of a series of seats that were Conservative, fell to Labour and then were gained by the Liberal Democrats. The result here will show how the party is doing at holding on to its previous dramatic progress in some constituencies.
City of Durham (1:30am)
A large pro-Lib Dem swing in Durham last time still left a Labour majority of 3,271. Carol Woods is trying again and the party’s hopes for the seat are shown by it being one to get a campaign visit from Nick Clegg in the last few days of the campaign. This is just the sort of seat the party needs to be winning if it’s to make more than trivial gains from Labour.
Boundary changes make Liberal Democrat MP Paul Rowan’s seat nominally a Labour seat which he has to regain. Looking at the state of the polls, the odds are heavily in his favour – making Gordon Brown’s recent campaign visit to the seat a very ambitious move by Labour. Given that it ended with the “bigotgate” saga, Labour may be wishing they’d been less ambitious, but either way the size of Paul Rowan’s likely majority will be another sign of how things are going in the Labour-Lib Dem fights.
Brecon & Radnorshire (2am)
This seat will give a clearer sense of how the Liberal Democrat-Conservative contest is playing out. With a majority of under 4,000 to overturn, a rampant Conservative party would be hoping to take the seat from Roger Williams. A Liberal Democrat hold is looking far more likely, but by how much?
Dunfermline and Fife West (2am)
Held after his byelection victory by Willie Rennie, this Scottish seat will throw light on not only how the Lib Dem-Labour battle in Scotland is going but also how soft or hard the SNP vote is in such contests. Will this be an election where the SNP strengthen its position following the last Scottish parliament elections or will the Liberal Democrats once again be the main challengers to Labour at Westminster elections?
Eastleigh (2am) and Guildford (2am)
This pair of seats from southern England will shed light on the Conservative-Liberal Democrat tussle. Eastleigh is held by Chris Huhne with a small majority while Guildford sees former Lib Dem MP Sue Doughty trying to regain the seat she lost in 2005. When the Conservatives were riding high in the polls many had hopes of taking Eastleigh, while until recently many Lib Dems were cautious about the party’s hopes in Guildford.
Norwich South (2am)
Held for Labour by former home secretary Charles Clarke, this seat has long been a Liberal Democrat target. Of interest too will be the Green party’s performance, as Norwich is one of their strongest areas in the country at local election level.
Missed by just about every pundit, this is one of the first possible gains from Labour on a spectacular swing. I didn’t find it listed in any of the pre-election lists of possible Lib Dem gains, but campaign visits by both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable give a clear indication of which way the winds are blowing.
Campaign visits by David Miliband, Andrew Adonis and Gordon Brown to this north Wales seat show how worried Labour are at the prospects of losing what should be a safe seat. Win a seat like this and Nick Clegg’s aim of doubling the number of Lib Dem MPs over two elections will start to look rather a modest ambition.