Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Better Late Than Never. No Just My Views On Election Night

I was going to write about my reasons to keep counting of the General Election votes on a Thursday night last night. However, due to my own local difficulties with Internet I'm now somewhat late to the boat and a little anti-climatic.

Therefore, I reckon I've got to make it good. Though I do make a couple of points I don't see made anywhere else down at the bottom if you want to scroll past the impassioned prose of the rest of this. Readers who want to know what Marvin the paranoid android is up to have clearly opened the wrong page.

Being Northern Irish I'm well used to the votes being counted the next day. The reason that happened the whole time that I was growing up, was security. Not as some have argued the security of the votes, but of the count staff, attendees and their cars parked outside in the dark on a Northern Irish night. There are other seats, such as Orkney and Shetland or the Western Isles were on occasions of course attempts to get all the votes into the count on the night come to naught because the vehicle that was meant to be doing the transportation is called out on its day job as an air sea rescue helicopter.

Maybe it is because of my Northern Irish school days that you think I'd agree with Anders Lanson. However, the first election that I was sent to bed during was 1983. But I snuggled under the covers with Radio 4 playing rather my usual night time listening of John Peel, then rushed home from school to catch the Northern Irish results. Counting the next day doesn't even mean it'll be over by lunchtime. In 1987 after a convenient gap for my parents to go to bed I snuck back downstairs to turn the TV back on, where I was still sat in the morning when my father came down for breakfast to me saying, 'It's Thatcher. Again!'.

As a adult in 1992 it was back to radio, as I wasn't actually living in a house with a TV. But there was preparation to be done ahead of heading off to Preston for OM's Easter Evangelism so that breakfast I wasn't quite able to say it was Major, that point occurred somewhere on the M6. '97 of course as dawn broke Tony and Cheri arrived at the after show party too late to stop Prezza and Mandy dancing to D-Ream. 2001 I almost choked on my tea in Stoneyburn when they announced the size of Ed Davey's new majority. Nervous, me!

So why should we keep as many counts as possible on the night itself. Firstly as Andrew Reeves points out the campaign staff and activists have literally got to the point where adrenaline takes over. Many will have even taken a week, fortnight or longer off in the build up to the election. Their body may be telling them enough, but there is still more to be done. So as Darrell points out arising the next day refreshed can help but there often are times where there are also council votes polled on the same day.

In 2001 the Northern Irish council vote had been moved due to Foot and Mouth to GE day. Some of the results weren't known until Monday (you can't count on the Sabbath in Northern Ireland). In 2003 in Scotland we did rise afresh for our council counts, although I'd not been to bed. In 2007 of course many of us went back having had nothing resolved overnight. I'd also disagree with Mark Valladares that we're not as sharp after being up all night after the 1999 Scottish counts the local activists in West Lothian were alert enough the next morning, ok 4 hours later, to call three recounts in a tight council ward. Admittedly it ended up slightly safer as a 21 vote SNP majority than the original notification.

In 2005 I was out on the eve of poll delivering to almost 10pm, then not home much before 11. Ready to get up suited an booted to get to my first polling station at 7am to greet my first voter. My first supporter was at 7:02. The first comment about us Lothian candidates looking like a scene from Resevoir Dogs as we saw the Kennedy's off at Prestonfield House Hotel the night before came at my 3rd polling station at about 7:30 standing beside Fiona Hyslop MSP. Of course I had to explain it to Fiona because the one thing that the real political activists don't get to do much of during the campaign is actually sit down and watch the news. We catch snippets, read the paper while on the move, listening to the radio, or going through the post and emails at the end of the day. But to actually sit down and watch the news, that is a luxury. We may have tipped off to a good story being lead so we may manoeuvre our way to a TV set for 6pm or 10 pm, for a couple of minutes, but no more than that.

Even the start of the election night coverage is largely lost on us. We'll be at the count, possibly even on the TV as the camera's pan the various halls up and down the country where the counts are taking place. Too busy looking at ballot papers rather the couple of screens that may be dotted around in restful locations around the venue. You see we still cannot rest, there is a job to be done. Leaving the count all over the country until the following day, isn't going to help us get any more rest. Candidates will still be pacing their houses frantically waiting until it is their appointed time to enter the count hall. Agents will still be a mixture of a bag of nerves wondering if their candidate, their campaign has done enough to hold on, or to overcome. The only points through the night at which the agent will not be a panic is when the candidate calls knowing that at least one other person won't be asleep.

Of course we can't all be activists in Sunderland, able to pack up shortly after 11pm to head home, result declared MPs elected, and get in front of a TV with maybe 5 or 6 at most declarations made of imminent. Although we do hope for a quick count, or at least one on time with the timetable the Returning Officer has giving in their briefings in the weeks before, or first thing on the night. But a bundle check or a recount doesn't mean we are ready to slope off, no it merely gees up up ready for action. As we know that the TV cameras will be honed on us beaming our image to the insomniacs, political anoraks, the campaigners from Sunderland and whoever else has declared and is off to their party with a glass of wine, not a cup of coffee, in hand. The 6 millions BBC viewers at a peak before 2am in 2005 didn't include me as my count was only declared at 1:45. The first TV I saw was on leaving as the SNP (someone will tell me who) then Jo Swinson swiftly took two seats off Labour as we were leaving the hall.

Caron has written about the faboulousness of election nights and having shared with her the heartache of 405 votes in Edinburgh South*, the joy of Dunfermline and West Fife in a full office in the wee small hours, plus breaking down on the way back from Glenrothes. She mentions the last as her cure, but I guess she'll be up until dawn and beyond with the rest of us next time. For those of you who know Caron that is 'way' past her normal bed time.

Some have muted the idea of a weekend poll, that isn't necessarily the best thing. For starters the weekend after Tony Blair strode into Downing Street for the first time was the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. If we'd had a poll that weekend, what would the turnout have been? What would the result have been? Unless you have fixed terms in which you know 4/5 years in advance the polling day, and that is doesn't clash with major times when people are away. You don't think a Government would try and use a holiday to their advantage? Look only as far as last summer when Labour moved a quick writ for Glasgow East. The last two weeks of that three week campaign coincided with the Glasgow Fayre holiday.

Of course Friday isn't necessarily a free day on the campaign trail. In West Lothian, and Edinburgh, as other locations, the lamppost posters and/or stake boards have got to start to come down, they have to be down within 3 days of the polls closing. So after a few hours sleep, it is up again with the radio tuned in to try and listen to the Northern Irish and other remaining counts. Others will be at the office starting to clean it up, the lease may well expire at 5pm on the Friday. As these are often loaned on a week by week basis any delay in the clean up would incur an extra week of rental on possibly a redundant office space. This is a hidden another extra cost that maybe Mr Quist should factor in as well as the overtime, or loss of service through a Friday count. Also has one Mark reckoned for this potential knock on effect to a delay in the count.

Yes there are pros for moving the count to the next day, but there are also cons to be considered. I hope I have pointed out a few of them. To be honest the campaign the for me doesn't end at some small hour of the Friday morning, it still has 3 days to go. Any lost hours at the end of that week might limit my commitment beforehand. Especially if the election is moved to a weekend and weekend days to clear up are lost. Therefore I have signed up to the Facebook Group and felt the need, even after the delays of last night, to write about this.

*Though never again will I be left with a box of 'white' wine sat beside me all night, we'll get a working corkscrew for the red.


  1. My god Stephen, that blockage really built up didn't it.


  2. So the reason for wanting to restrict a handful of returning officers from making a decision based on cost and accuracy is that you - Stephen Glenn - have had a great time on several election nights - yes?

  3. No not quite all of ot Paul. I did highlight differing costs to the parties and indeed local services in the above.

    There is as I pointed out the issue of sort term office leases (clearing out by the end of the Friday).

    There is also the issue that the Friday/Weekend after the count are when party activists are also meeting criteria laid down by the EROs to remove temporary street furniture (if this is allowed).

    As well as the fact that the amount of telling staff that will be pulled from other duties, on some occasions for a second consequtive day in the same week.

    I happen to be lucky and have a very well organised count, which makes the job of every body, tellers and party reps, not that tiresome. Which from what I've read is some people's issue elsewhere.

    The fact that I do enjoy them is not the crux of the matter.