Election results 2024: Early signs point towards a Conservative annihilation

“An electoral meteor has now struck planet Earth”, Lord Mandelson, the architect of New Labour, told the BBC News channel as the exit poll dropped at 10.00 pm tonight. 

It was a direct, and I expect deliberate, evocation of the late Anthony King’s words uttered in reaction to 1997’s exit poll. Mandelson was presumably watching on as King reflected on the result just-announced. “Landslide is much too weak a word”, he told host David Dimbleby. 

King’s assessment, delivered at 10.35 pm on election night 27 years ago, would have shaken even the most assured Tory: “I offer you the following metaphor — this is an asteroid hitting the planet and destroying practically all life on Earth.” 

Mandelson, suffice it to say, is a more overtly political figure than the unimpeachably unbiased King. But his assessment is just as true: forget the expectation management, on any metric, the Conservatives are on for one of the bloodiest nights in their electoral history. 

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In the end, the 1997 general election reduced the Conservative Party in parliament from 343 to 165 MPs. According to the exit poll, the Conservatives will be reduced to a mere 131 MPs on the opposite benches.

Back in 2019, the prevailing wisdom suggested not just that the Conservatives would be in power for at least another decade — but that Boris Johnson would be the politician leading the party and the country.

Today, Johnson is no longer an MP and Keir Starmer, then the much-criticised shadow Brexit secretary, is expected to walk into No 10 tomorrow with a 170-seat majority — surpassing the victories won by Harold Wilson and Clement Attlee. Starmer’s majority stops only slightly short of Tony Blair’s (and Lord Mandelson’s) 1997 triumph.

Of course, the other story of the exit poll is the surge recorded for Nigel Farage’s Reform UK. 

Reform appears to have exceeded expectations, taking a predicted 13 seats. If correct, this election represents a major electoral breakthrough for Farage’s party — marking its first real success in terms of seat gains.

The result will far surpass the record set by UKIP, for a right-of-Conservative Party, in 2015. Then, UKIP won 12.6 per cent of the vote but only one seat, Douglas Carswell in Clacton. Overnight, Farage’s status as an MP — also representing Clacton — looks beyond doubt. And his multi-MP “bridgehead” in parliament could soon be established. The assault on the Conservatives will begin in earnest tomorrow morning. 

“Something is happening out there”, Farage has uttered incessantly this campaign. That phrase — at once entirely unspecific (meaning it wouldn’t elevate expectations) and immensely ominous — served as no less than Reform’s de facto slogan. Tonight, going off the exit poll’s findings, we can see just how right Farage was. 

Indeed, the first few declarations of the night show the Reform surge is very real. In Sunderland South, the party won 11,668, pushing the Conservatives into third place (5,514). The night’s second declaration in Blythe saw Reform win 10,857 votes. The Conservatives were once more relegated to third place (6,121). 

It means, as the Conservative Party seeks to rebuild, Reform and Farage will be a constant presence. The arch Tory tormentor will find no shortage of vulnerabilities to exploit. And with a leadership contest on the cards, the opportunities for Reform to sow chaos will proliferate.

Elsewhere, the SNP has collapsed according to the exit poll. The pro-independence party has long held the position of the third party in Westminster — which gave the party a question at PMQs, more of a voice in London and extra office space. But the exit poll suggests that the party could move to fifth place.

It will be Ed Davey as Liberal Democrat leader who is granted two questions on a Wednesday afternoon as the Conservative Party’s PMQs follow-up. 

The exit poll predicts the Lib Dems will win 61 seats — the party’s best results for a century. The party needed to make 29 gains, bringing them to 37 seats, to have the highest number of MPs won by the party at an election since 1923.

Josh Self is Editor of Politics.co.uk, follow him on X/Twitter here.

Politics.co.uk is the UK’s leading digital-only political website. Subscribe to our daily newsletter for all the latest election news and analysis.