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[ANON POST] Election Night Parties, UK
orange_fell wrote in little_details
Where & when: UK, 15 minutes into the future

Search terms: election night party uk, variations thereof. Found a few pictures and a great deal of advice on how to throw your own and how to find fun ones, which is not what I'm looking for.

I foolishly began a scene where all of the characters are at the soon-to-be Prime Minister's election night party, without having any idea of how these look in the UK. It's an atypical event for plot-related reasons, but the viewpoint character would have been at a number of these things and would be making mental comparisons to the last time around. For all intents and purposes, they're currently the ruling party.


1. Am I correct in assuming that it would look like equivalent events in the US—basically a big, expensive party in a hotel ballroom or convention centre with a giant screen showing live results? If so, would they be watching the tallies on the BBC?

2. Would it be in London? Does it make a different where the PM's own constituency is?

3. Would MPs be holding their own local events, or would they be present at the PM's? (If it makes a difference, one MP is particular has had a huge role in the PM's victory and is a big deal in her own right; would she be in attendance?)

4. Would it be unusual to have the children of various politicians running around?

5. How much of it is boring speeches versus getting hammered?

6. Judging by what I did manage to find, expenses are under a lot of scrutiny and criticism. The economy is terrible; do they get defensive about having pricey champagne or posh hotel suites?

7. Any other important traditions or details? Does Labour still sing "The Red Flag"?

Thanks in advance; you folks are always so helpful. is the result being declared in one constuency. Results start being declared by midnight and continue for the next 18 hours. All candidates will be present in their constituency for the declaration of the result. The winning candidate makes the first speech thanking their supporters and wishing their opponents well. The losing candidates also make speeches.

What partying they do will start in their constituency, but they will probably leave the local party workers to carry on while they head up to London.

The expenses causing the criticism at the moment are day to day expenses. Spending on elections is strictly controlled, you can't buy airtime on radio or tv, only newspaper ads and billboards.

And not hotel suites, more likely to be conference facilities.

Edited at 2014-04-22 09:14 pm (UTC)

Thanks! Very helpful.

The count for Witney (current PM's constituency) is done in the leisure centre (think swimming pool and fitness suites, not conference facilities!).

There's a slightly mean article about it here. Definitely not glam, and many towns won't actually have anything much more upmarket to use, or they will have a tradition of using a particular place that won't change just because their MP is now party leader (which is why the Windrush is still used, I suspect).

Oh, that's perfect.

Short version: no, you're not right to assume you can just vary what happens in the US a bit to get what happens in the UK; it's completely different and you need to start again.

I second this. The UK election campaign is a million miles away from what happens in the US.

This is why I'm asking.

Maybe you could do some research first and then ask if there's anything you need clarifying? I'm sure lots of people would be happy to help out. But I don't think it's fair to ask people to explain the whole thing when you haven't done any research at all.

I thought my questions were fairly specific, beyond the first one, and even innocuous. I'm certainly not out to offend anyone or to ask anyone to do my research for me; just trying to add some reasonably accurate description in the background of one scene. If you have any starting points—as I mentioned, Googling around was not particularly productive; I'm probably searching for the wrong thing—that'd be great. If you don't want to bother, it's entirely understandable.

From the form of your basic question I wasn't sure whether you had fully taken on board the implications of the fundamental difference between the two systems: that in the USA an individual is elected whereas in the UK the constitutional convention (which means that it is normally the case but circumstances could arise where something different happens) is that once it is known which party will have the majority, it's leader will be invited to form a government. This is the root of all the things that have been described, and is s o fundamental a difference that I can see why there was a feeling that you might not have done enough research as I think there has been some surprise that you thought there could be such similarities

No, I do understand how a parliamentary system works. I'm not sure how people got that impression, yikes. I'm asking about the events that are happening on election night.

The thing is, that what happens on election night will be totally different, partly because the party leader needs to feel grateful to every candidate from their party who succeeds in winning a seat. There might be an argument for saying that Thatcher and Blair won their elections, but to a very large extent it's parties who win, not their leaders.

I think there's some possible confusion here between private election night parties - basically beer and snacks, MST3King the BBC results broadcast - and what politicians have to get up to on election night. We get to know a reasonable amount about what politicians do on election night because we see it in the election night show on TV. So here's my answers, based on my understanding of what a party leader who is about to become PM will have to do on election night:

1) There will be a big party for the Party, probably somewhere in central London. Famously, Labour's in 1997 was held at the Royal Festival Hall. But crucially, the leader won't be there until later in the night. This because...

2) The leader, along with every other candidate, will be expected to be at their respective constituency counts. These are often in quite unglamorous places like village halls, and everyone hangs around until the (wholly manual) count is completed. There are usually novelty candidates in costume - especially in high-profile places like party leaders' seats - to keep it interesting. Then the Returning Officer (who is just a local authority employee) announces the candidates' names, parties, and vote counts in a very familiar formulaic manner ("Bloggs, Joe, Radical Party, three hundred and six votes") concluding with "And I therefore declare that Tim Smith is returned as Member of Parliament for South Barsetshire", although if it's a clear victory in a previously close race, the cheering may begin before he's finished. Then the winner gives a short speech and the drinking begins in earnest - except that leaders and possible front-benchers will be rushing to get to London for the other party, and other events...

3) If the sidekick is in a very safe seat with a famously fast count, they might be able to make it to the leader's count too, but it's more likely they'll all make their way separately to London as soon as their own seats are in the bag, and meet at or near the venue.

4) Depends. Older children might be at either the count or the London bash, depending on where the family home is. Younger kids would probably be watching on TV with a family member or friendly party officer, or tucked up in bed.

5) The speeches at counts tend to be short and to the point. Speeches at the big parties depend on who's speaking, and how clear victory or defeat is by the time the relevant people have shown up. In a close race, there might be awkward pauses and extra incidental music while they all wait for a clear winner to emerge. People who don't have to make important speeches may get hammered anyway.

6) It's the party's money, so they can be fairly indulgent. Complete extravagance would be frowned on, but a certain amount of leeway is allowed.

7) Once a winner emerges, the (new) PM must go to Buckingham Palace in the early morning to kiss hands - literally, an act of formal submission to the monarch, accepting her charge to form a new government, although no hands are kissed these days. For this reason, the leaders can't get particularly drunk. There are often a few boastful or embarrassing constituency speeches which may be a source of amusement by the time their makers get to the big party - Peter Mandelson's 'I am a fighter and not a quitter' raised a few eyebrows, for example.

Anything else you'd like to know?

That makes it way clearer, thanks. The last is particularly helpful, given that drinking or lack thereof is a bit of a plot point.

By late, I was reading 5 am or so; is this accurate? (Assuming considerable messiness and a close race.)

A close race might not be decided until some time the day after polling day. If it depended on some Scottish seats, or the compliance of tiny Northern Irish political parties, it might be a whole day later than usual. And of course, at the last general election, it became clear in the early morning that no-one had a majority, and so we had days of negotiations before Cameron was eventually able to form a government.

However, a landslide ought to be clear by 2-3am, and a moderately close race by 5-6am.

For the record: I was working for the Communications Division of a central government department during the last election, so I've seen some of this stuff fairly close up, albeit from a very odd angle. For the same reason, I also know a tediously huge amount about the mechanics of political geography in the UK. Please feel free to go on asking questions - while I agree with what the poster above says about doing more research, a lot of this stuff is somewhat nebulous and hard to find in one place, so if I can help, I will.

Thanks; much appreciated, and I hope I'm not being incredibly annoying. It's primarily hard to find YouTube footage that isn't blocked in my country; that would make the whole thing much easier to visualize.

I expect the YouTube stuff is mostly BBC, which won't be viewable outside the UK.

Can you see these newsreels on the British Pathe website?

The issues and the personalities have changed, and we don't have big crowds watching the results in Trafalgar Square any more, but the polling stations and the scenes at the count haven't changed at all.

If there's a change of government, especially if it's a landslide victory, you might get crowds outside Downing Street watching the comings and goings the day after the election. The public isn't actually allowed in Downing Street any more for security reasons. Also, if there's a new Prime Minister, the outgoing PM moves out immediately - there'll be a furniture van somewhere discreetly round the back of No.10.

I expect the YouTube stuff is mostly BBC, which won't be viewable outside the UK.

Yep, this is largely the issue that interferes with more in-depth research. But I can see the Pathe videos, yay!

Note that as the count is manual, of all the papers from every polling station in the constituency, the first action after polls close at 10pm is driving the dozen or more ballot boxes to a central location. Cue footage of boxes arriving. Urban polling stations tend to be primary schools and church halls within 10 minutes walk of your house; rural ones aim for a similar short journey for voters so include local pubs and private houses - so may have many more boxes.

As a courtesy, the main parties generally don't stand or at least don't actively campaign against incumbent party leaders, so the leaders are pretty safe nowadays from being without a seat in Parliament. The rest of the Cabinet, not so - see if Michael Portillo being unexpectedly beaten by an incredibly young Stephen Twigg is on YouTube, as it was hilarious - possibly more so because it was around 4am.

A close vote may mean a recount (within 500 or so), and there's usually one seat that will have two or three (if there actually is a tie, I think the returning officer tosses a coin, but suspect if that happened now, there would be a by-election under some pretext). It's possible a recount could be done by 6am, but last election was notable for a lot of councils saving money by not counting until the next morning (mostly Tory shire constituencies, but Northern Ireland always waits - Labour and LibDems don't stand there and the Tories only stand in one seat).

The first results tend to be the kind of Labour seats where they could just weigh the vote, usually Sunderland North or South. The first interesting result tends to be Birmingham Edgbaston, and by 2am there's usually a good idea of the result (even if as last time it's 'too close to call but looks like a hung parliament'). As soon as an MP has been elected or beaten, they will be getting sloshed and/or being interviewed by TV, so there's usually someone to make indiscreet comments by around 2am.

It's vital to use the word 'swingometer' (emphasis on middle syllable 'om') - it used to be a large bit of cardboard to demonstrate effects on numbers of MPs if the electorate swung x% to/from the ruling party, but is now an impressive bunch of graphics. The BBC has a lot of fun showing off as many fun ways to represent a bunch of numbers up to 650ish as possible.

It's vital to use the word 'swingometer' (emphasis on middle syllable 'om') - it used to be a large bit of cardboard to demonstrate effects on numbers of MPs if the electorate swung x% to/from the ruling party, but is now an impressive bunch of graphics. The BBC has a lot of fun showing off as many fun ways to represent a bunch of numbers up to 650ish as possible.

Oh, very cool. Thanks.

If it's close it'll be later. Labour constituencies tend to be smaller and so often declare earlier. Conservative constituencies tend to be larger and more widespread. So it takes longer to get the boxes into the count, but often they don't start the count until morning.

So Labour can take an early lead which then gets whittled down through the night and into the day.

Thanks. So chances are the party wraps up before anything is official?

Probably. You'll have more of the party workers at a party and not so many MPs, so drink at the party's expense, then move on with friends to clubs for more drinking.

Ah, that helps.

Things are official once the second largest party's leader concedes defeat - we don't wait and see what the exact numbers are unless it's painfully close. Don't forget that in strict terms, the PM is the person that the monarch believes can command a majority in the Commons, and thus invites to form a government. So once a party has an unassailable lead, or looks very likely to acquire one, the wheels start turning. So the sequence of events is likely to be:

1) Polls close (10pm on polling day)
2) Party leaders and others in safe seats attend the count and are returned as MPs (1am the same morning)
3) Party leaders and other front-benchers assemble at the venues of their London events (3am); a landslide or the re-election of a confident sitting government will be known about now
4) If the result is known, speeches and boozing; if not, music will play in the venue while front-benchers and party officials drink Red Bull and nervously watch TV.
5) A relatively close race will be known about now (5am). Speeches now will be shorter.
6) The party winds down, whether or not there's a clear winner. (6-8am). A hung parliament should be fully clear by now.
7) If there's a clear winner, they go to kiss hands (about 8am). If not, we go straight to...
8) Everyone who's been up all night goes and gets 3-4 hours sleep. If there's a winner, cabinet formation and TV interviews follow. If it's a hung parliament, formal negotiations are opened.

That makes things vastly clearer! A million thanks.

It used to be somewhat slower in the past - modern technology speeds up some of the rural counts, leading to faster overall results, which builds the expectation of an early-morning resolution. As we discovered last time, it doesn't always work that way.

PM's constituency is very unlikely to be a close race :-) they will have their result fairly early. First results come in around 11-12 (there's a race to be the first). Later ones will be either close and requiring a recount, or have baloot boxes that need to be brought in from several miles around (eg Highlands).

Just out of interest, do ye get results within hours of the polls closing? Here in Ireland, they don't even start counting until the following morning. Of course our system takes longer with transfers and so on and three to five candidates being elected in each constituency. The elections usually take place on a Friday and some constituencies might not have finished counting until the following Monday or later. And then of course, the various parties have to start talking to decide who goes into coalition with who, as there hasn't been an overall majority since like the 70s or something.


People seem to have answered most things, but Labour does still sing the Red Flag - not always officially, but there will almost certainly be a group of activists who start singing it. A few people may even start up the Internationale or The Banner of Freedom! Am happy to answer more Labour specific questions if needed (or elections generally, I've been actively involved since the early 1990s).

Some random things:
Sometimes the BBC and ITV show the results at slightly different times - usually only a few minutes out, but occasionally one channel has lingered on a constituency or an interview while the other is already focussing on somewhere else, cue a lot of scrambling on screen when they realise.

I watch the BBC, and they have a ticker that flashes across the bottom of the screen with [party name] Gain/Hold [constituency name] in the relevant party colour.

Election night programming is almost always hosted by a Dimbleby (David or Jonathan - both have wikipedia entries). Sometimes one on the BBC, the other on ITV. Their father Richard used to host.

There is usually at least one returning officer (who announces the results in constituencies) on a power trip - pauses every time someone cheers before he has finished and restarts, takes overly long to announce etc. There are quite a few 'comedy' candidates, particularly in high profile consituencies. They wear fancy dress and have silly names, and usually lose their deposits.

I don't know if these are blocked in your country, but this youtube channel has lots of election night footage

There is usually at least one returning officer (who announces the results in constituencies) on a power trip

There's always one who seems to have missed a vocation as a primary school headteacher.

Not sure how full time a job "returning officer" is but i'f its anything like the US some of them probably ARE a primary school headteacher for the other 364 days of the year.

The Returning Officer is normally a different hat for the Electoral Registration Officer, who is employed full time as head of the local council department dealing mainly with compiling the electoral register. I think they get paid extra for acting as Returning Officer.

The ballot box stations are manned, and the ballots later counted, by local government employees from across the council who also get paid extra for doing it (I think it's £85 this year, for the local elections). They have to commit to a full day, 7 am to 10 pm at least, plus debriefing afterwards.

Doesn't seem to be blocked, hurray!

A couple of things I don't think have been mentioned:

- campaigning is forbidden on polling day itself. So though your candidates will have been busy, they will not have been rushing round giving last-minute speeches and the like.

- media coverage is required to be extremely limited on the day itself until the poll has closed (10pm – if the election is, as usual, in May, it will only just be dark). There will be bland TV footage of the PM and Leader of the Opposition going into the polling station in their own constituency, but that’s about it. No discussion/analysis of election issues is allowed. This includes no publishing of the results of opinion polls or exit polls until after 10pm. So your characters will not have been able to get a feel of how things are going by following the news during the day (though of course private people can say what they want and no doubt will on Twitter etc.). Nor are they likely to put a lot of reliability on early reports of exit polls alone, as there are known reasons that these are unreliable.

There's a good general overview of how the system works on the official parliament website:


one thing worth mentioning is that postal voting has become a big factor in some constituencies, which can potentially mean extra delays.

Also, see the Monster Raving Looney party for a "joke" party that has never quite won a seat but has had some political impact.

I do so miss Screaming Lord Sutch!

Guaranteed so would some of the characters, at least from their youthful memories.

Watching the ITN Election 2010 video someone posted a link to gives a good picture of what David Cameron did on election night, if you know where to skip to in that five-hour long video!

At the start of Part Three, there's a TV reporter at Conservative HQ in London, where party election workers are gathering to watch the results. There's also a shot from a helicopter hovering over Cameron's house.

At just over ten minutes into that video, (so at around some time after midnight), they go to a reporter standing outside a pub in Witney - there's some joking about that between him and the presenter - where it's said that Cameron had spent the day at home. Apparently he'd been chopping logs for a couple of hours, and his wife cooked dinner for him. However he was now on his way to that pub where he'd arranged to meet supporters.

At 47 minutes in, they go back to the reporter. Cameron has now arrived at the pub, and is in there surrounded by around a dozen supporters and party workers. The journalist got to speak to him briefly. He was drinking Coca-cola, his wife had sparkling water. He was there for about half an hour.

At the 57 minute mark Cameron has arrived at the council building where the count is taking place, shaking hands with the other candidates etc. He was there for an hour and a half until the count was finished.

If you then skip to Part Five and to to 43 minutes in, you'll see the returning officer declaring Cameron's own constituency result. His victory speech is at 45 minutes.

I assume he would then head up to London both for interviews and to visit Party HQ, but since this was a hung parliament, there was no celebration on election night itself.

I have a distinct memory of the 1997 Labour landslide, where in the early light of dawn there were party activists dancing to the tune of 'Things can only get better' in the street outside their HQ!

But in general, in Britain the expensive and glitzy election night parties with champagne tend to be attended by celebrities, journalists, media pundits, retired former politicians, political fund-raisers, and so forth; and if actual politicians show up at all, it will only be for a brief meet-and-greet.

Oh wow, thanks! Very different scenario than I was picturing, but it gives me something else to work with.

Having seen your comment below - I certainly can't picture Harriet Jones having a big, glitzy party with champagne! Not even in normal circumstances, let alone after a catastrophe. As a very broad generalisation, lavish displays of wealth and conspicuous consumption tend to inspire resentment in Britain, not admiration. (Unless you're the Queen, and sometimes even then.) Not really the sort of image a future prime minister would want to present.

It would be expected that she'd spend the evening in her own constituency, talking to party workers and supporters and then going to watch the count in person. It's possible she might meet supporters and other candidates during the day in London or wherever, then travel back to her constituency for the evening: but that would involve a lot of travel, and she'll be anticipating a sleepless night. Also, it wouldn't be a party - they'd be too nervous waiting for the results!

As you've seen, the vote count usually goes on until around 2 or 3 in the morning before she knows the result, and then there'll be meetings and speeches afterwards. It wasn't in the ITN video that was linked to - or if it was, I missed it - but the news cameras usually show the main party leaders getting in a car, or possibly helicopter, to travel down to London around 3:00 am once they've heard their own constituency's result. By then, they're probably too exhausted to do much celebrating; just watch the results coming in until they're sure who's won, and then perhaps give a brief speech or interview.

Flydale North is a fictional place, but from the name I'd say it was likely to be an urban constituency somewhere in northern England. (The '-dale' part of the name suggests Yorkshire.) That means roughly a three-hour drive to London unless she's important enough to rate a helicopter.

A minor technical point: once Parliament has been dissolved (either figuratively or literally, into goo) then nobody is an 'MP'. They can't use that title again until the election is over and they won.

I'm a little confused by you saying: "For all intents and purposes, they're currently the ruling party." and " soon-to-be Prime Minister's election night party"

Has this person been PM until parliament was dissolved? Or have they never been PM before because their party has been out of power, but now expects a landslide victory?

This is where the 15-minutes-into-the-future, circumstances are significantly different than normal. Massive catastrophe, parliament was more or less literally dissolved, Harriet Jones, M.P., the PM filled the vacuum with an incredibly interim government for a few months, elections happen once civil order has been restored.

So the new, properly elected government is expected to include people who've been serving in the interim government, but now re-elected with a clearer mandate? (Note, by the way, how that didn't work out for Churchill in 1945.)

parliament was more or less literally dissolved

Only the sovereign can dissolve parliament. If the PM has lost the confidence of her party and can no longer command a majority in the House of Commons, she goes to the sovereign to tender her resignation and advise the sovereign who to send for in her place. The sovereign may also take advice from other senior or retired politicians and members of her staff.

It's quite possible to have a change of Prime Minister without a General Election - the key thing is being able to command a majority in the House of Commons.

If no MP is capable of commanding a majority in the Commons then Parliament is dissolved and elections are held. From the moment of the dissolution there is no Parliament.

If it's not possible to hold elections due to civil disorder, and the Commons can't agree among themselves, it will be the sovereign's job to get the party leaders together and bang heads together until they come up with a solution. It might be to continue as they are, it might be to have some kind of National/coalition government under the current PM. Then either they might go on until the next General Election is due, if it's fairly soon, or when the current emergency is over the PM goes to the sovereign again to ask for a dissolution so that a General Election can be held.

The nearest parallel to your situation is probably May 1940 when Neville Chamberlain lost the confidence of the Commons and Winston Churchill became PM of a coalition government.

And going back to your original question, if the elections are being held because of a major national emergency in which lives have been lost, then glitzy victory celebrations probably wouldn't go down well with the electorate.

My impression is that the OP's election party is before the disaster (note the phrasing , and that the dissolved connected with the disaster is meant very literally and physically indeed. "Harriet Jones M.P." seems like a Dr. Who reference, so possibly Daleks or other aliens are involved in said dissolution.


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