Houghton and Sunderland South wins race to declare first

Houghton and Sunderland South wins race to declare first

All eyes were on the north east of England to see which constituency was first to declare a 2024 election result, with Houghton and Sunderland South taking the crown.

For the six general elections from 1992 to 2015, Sunderland’s slick operation saw them declare their result first – becoming part of the election night TV tradition.

But at the previous two elections in 2017 and 2019, regional rivals Newcastle upon Tyne Central took the accolade.

This time Labour’s Bridget Phillipson was announced as the winner of the UK’s first seat to declare at around 11.15pm, just 75 minutes after the polls closed.

Top election administrator Bill Crawford, who previously worked in Sunderland then moved to Newcastle, has lent his expertise to the operation at the new Blyth and Ashington constituency in Northumberland this time.

Blyth Valley could have been first to declare in 2019, but for a recount when Conservative Ian Levy caused a shock in what was a traditional “red wall” seat.

The local authorities which run the Sunderland, Newcastle and Blyth counts insisted they have put accuracy and democracy over speed and claimed they were not in a race, but stressed they wanted to run an efficient operation.

In the past, Sunderland sped up its process by using bank tellers to count votes and in what became a live TV trope, young runners would dash in to Silksworth tennis centre with ballot boxes minutes after the poll closed.

Newcastle’s operation became even quicker when the count moved to a large hall at Northumbria University’s Sport Central, which accommodates basketball games, with boxes delivered by car to the door.

The Tyneside operation had initially counted itself out of being first in 2024, saying Newcastle Central and West would be declared at around 1.15am – but they revised that forward to around midnight.

Sunderland marked being made a city in 1992 by trying to speed up its election count process, aiming to declare the Sunderland South result on the night of the poll, and the habit continued in subsequent elections.

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