Election '97: On the box: your guide to election night on TV

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Put this supplement next to the television now. You will need it at 10pm on 1 May, to fill in the gap between the BBC exit poll and the first actual results. If you want to get really posh, you could get some coloured pencils - red, blue, yellow and green (for the nationalists) - but nowadays, of course, Peter Snow does all that sort of stuff on our screens with millions of pounds worth of computers.

Anyway, here are the key facts you need to become an instant armchair expert - before they are explained to you in a television graphic.

Boundary changes

Most seats have been redrawn since 1992. The effect has been to increase the size of the House of Commons by eight seats from 651 to 659. So a party needs 330 seats for an overall majority of one, and if the new government has a majority, it will continue to be an odd number.

But the political effect of these changes has been small, despite the fact that redrawing was supposed to give growing Tory suburbs more MPs. The system is still biased against the Tories, who would be 33 seats behind Labour in a hung parliament if both parties won equal shares of the national vote.

Since the Boundary Commission completed its re-drawing of the electoral map, the psephologists have been hard at work trying to calculate the effect of the changes in electorial terms.

Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, of Plymouth University, have analysed demographics and data from previous local elections to work out out how the last election would have turned out if it had been fought on the new boundaries.

Their calculations show that - on the basis of the new boundaries - John Major would have had a majority of 27 instead of 21, with 343 seats (an increase of seven) to Labour's 273 (up two) and the Liberal Democrats' 18 (down two). The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru would have been unchanged on three and four seats.

These are the figures which provide the baseline for this election.

County council elections

There are county council elections in England and Wales on the same day as the general election. The main effect of this will be to delay the count in a number of constituencies. Interest will focus on whether the Tories will lose control of their last county, Buckinghamshire.

Northern Ireland

Gains one seat in boundary changes, which notionally increases Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists from three to four MPs. But the situation is confused by splits in the Unionist vote in several seats. At Westminster, the UUP and the DUP tend to vote with the Conservatives, while the UK Unionist, Robert McCartney (North Down) and the SDLP vote with Labour.

Gerry Adams's vote in West Belfast will be an important Sinn Fein barometer, but Northern Ireland votes won't be counted until Friday 2 May.

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