In for the count: the northeast derby
One prediction at least can be made with – almost complete – confidence about tonight’s general election results: the first declaration will be from northeast England, writes Chris Tighe.
Sunderland and Newcastle, rival cities barely 15 miles apart by car, provide manna from heaven for broadcasters trying to fill the yawning gap between the exit poll result, announced seconds after the polling stations close at 10pm, and the definitive results for the UK’s 650 constituencies.
One or other city, or both, are likely to announce a result within about 60 minutes of polls closing.
In the 2017 general election Newcastle Central was first with their results at 11pm with Houghton and Sunderland South following at 11.05pm.
Poll vault: Ballot boxes are run in during the count at the Silksworth Community Pool, Tennis and Wellness Centre as the general election count begins on June 8 2017 in Sunderland:
Sunderland holds the historical record with a 2001 declaration for the former Sunderland South seat at 10.43pm.
Although the cities’ individual constituencies are not representative of the whole UK, as all six have been Labour for many years, they provide factual data from which national swings and turnout can be extrapolated and are thus an early gift for pundits.
Officials in both cities insist they are not in a race and that accuracy, not speed, is their goal. But, given their centuries-long rivalry, it is difficult not to see a competitive spirit.
Being so quick does confer kudos for the cities, heightening an image of dynamism. Key to their success is exhaustive planning and preparation.
Yet Sunderland may well rue its speed in the 2016 referendum on EU membership, when it was the first place nationally to declare for Leave, in effect announcing the ultimate result.
Consequently a city whose economy depends heavily on Nissan and other inward investors has found itself indelibly associated with the vote to leave the bloc, engendering some unfavourable media commentary.
Who now realises that, when all the referendum votes were counted in June 2016, Sunderland was not the top Leave result by percentage but the 80th?