Sunday, 9 May 2010

Election Night

Swings and things; Takeaways from Efes and Labour (though not enough); A job well hung; The smoke-filled rooms

It's now over two days since the UK staggered into its first hung parliament since 1974 and, as of yet, no two parties have come to an agreement to get it back moving again. Talks are ongoing between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, and the consensus seems to be that a 'change coalition' will be agreed upon sometime soon. However, we shall see. I was going to write something about the election result on friday night but a hangover, a lack of sleep and 18 hours sat in front of BBC One's TV coverage meant that typing something up onto a computer screen was the last thing on my mind. The time that has elapsed since results night, and my alcohol enhanced state as David Dimbleby hauled my attention round the country, means that the chronology of the night is pretty hazy, but what follows is a rough recollection.

Having stocked up for the night ahead there were four of us who took our seats at ten o'clock for the start of the BBC's coverage. The exit poll had just been released, predicting a hung parliament and, more importantly to us- two of whom had voted Lib Dem, and one who would have had he sorted out a postal vote- a drop in the Lib Dems number of seats. The feeling in our living room was not to read too much into it, a sentiment echoed by the stream of politicians who patiently answered the obtuse questions Paxman barked at them like a grumpy St. Bernard.

Elsewhere in the BBC studio, Jeremy Vine was guiding us through a virtual world, that would have been enthralling for those who like their politics with a side-helping of hallucinogenics, but, for those of us not travelling through Interzone, left one feeling slightly queasy. Emily Maitlis had the job of analysing turnout, majorities and swing, within constituences, and was ably aided by Yougov pollster Peter Kellner and a giant iphone. Andrew Neill was on a seemingly pointless yacht moored by the London Eye, with seemingly pointless celebrities, seeking out their seemingly pointless opinion, while back in the studio David Dimbleby held the thing together. After an hour and a half of speculation upon the exit poll figures it was somewhat of a relief when the results started flowing in.

The early seats were safely held by Labour though with a significant swing towards the Conservatives. At about quarter past eleven Ryan bailed, leaving just three of us. He, like most other people in Britain, had normal life to live the next day. Slowly the Conservatives started to make gains, whilst the Lib Dem surge, as predicted, was proving rather shy in showing its face. The first real scalp of the night was the demise of Lembit Opik, who, on his way out will take his celebrity girlfriends and ego with him. Parliament won't miss him. Just after twelve o'clock, Richard also retired, a decision somewhat justified considering he had driven to Manchester and back that afternoon to vote. That just left myself and Digg, to-the-bitter-end veterans of the 2008 US Presidential Election and the 2009 European Elections, to watch the countries future unfold.

Whoever was doing the unfolding was making a right hash of it, tearing corners off and smudging bits all over the country. As we progressed through the Heinekens, each Tory gain was met by a drunken groan of discontent. Yet the gains they were making were scattered. While they took some seats far down their target list, they failed to take some marginals that they though were bankers. Goes to show, you can never rely on a banker. Post-Heinekens, during-Doner Kebab, the first personally important result of the night was announced as my Uncle John took Carlisle for the Conservatives*. Post-Heineken and Doner Kebab, during-Red Wine, my two residential constituencies of South-East Cambs and York Outer went Conservative. By the time the Greens took their first ever Parliamentary seat down in Brighton Pavilion, we were onto the Coffees. At seven o'clock, with a hung parliament virtually assured, I finally dozed off.

I woke again at about 10.30 to find David Dimbleby (who Digg assured me had been to bed for a couple of hours) still fronting the BBC coverage, with a hung parliament guaranteed. Richard rejoined us, fresh after his sleep, as the two of us sat groggy and unwashed, hoping for some quick developments during the day. All three main parties had reason to be disappointed. The Tories had failed to win an overall majority, Labour had seen a massive slip in both their share of the vote and in their seats, and the Lib Dems didn't realise the gains they had been hoping for. Its was as if whilst the three parties had been fighting amongst themselves, the electorate had stepped in and placed three very well-aimed kicks to the groin.

After four weeks of going at each others throats, by eleven on Friday morning, cooperation in 'the interest of the nation' was the new trend. First Nick Clegg announced that the Tories, through gaining the most votes and seats, had effectively 'shotgunned' first go at making a government. Brown followed with a thinly veiled plea to the Lib Dems. Then, at around 14.20, for a brief few minutes we though something might be on.

As the BBC's camera's remained trained on the lectern that David Cameron was due to speak from at 14.30, a banner ran across the bottom of the screen stating that Clegg intended to speak at 14.40.
'That doesn't give him much time to respond to Cameron's speech' I mused.
'Perhaps they've already spoken,' suggested Digg. 'They might both be announcing they've come to an agreement.'
'Or maybe they've spoken, and Clegg's rejecting the Tories and off to make a deal with Labour' I counter-speculated .
It sounded plausible to us.

It turned out there was no substance behind the Clegg rumour, and Cameron's speech was just the opening salvo in the negotiations between parties. If we'd thought it through a bit more we'd probably have realised that to come to a deal that quickly would have been rash, yet in our frenzied state it had seemed possible. As the coverage returned to the studio, an image of Jeremy Vine tumbling down the stairs of his virtual Downing Street flashed across my mind. 16 hours straight of election coverage can really twist the soul.

Two days later and it now seems likely that a Con-Lib pact will be announced soon. After the initial energy burst of election night I'm pretty burnt out by politics now, and my attention is turning to the rather more pressing matter of next week's exams. I've come to be pretty ambivalent about who forms a government, with all parties shaping up like over-exuberant surgeons, scalpel in hand, ready to slash away at public services. Some say this is the time to lose, with the post-operation diagnosis likely being to stay away from that particular surgeon. If if the Lib Dems can get the ball rolling on PR, whilst leaving the Tories to make the tough decisions on public spending I won't be too disappointed. Chances are we'll have the fun and games of another election in the not too distant future.

*Family ties override political allegiances with the Carlisle result. I spent an afternoon leafletting there back at the start of April, and my parents both spent the last week pounding the streets, sticking literature through letterboxes and knocking on doors. I met them yesterday, as they travelled back down to Cambridge, where they described the excitement of the count. With an eventual majority of just 853, at one stage they feared the worse as it looked like Labour may just cling on. However, after running a highly organised, near flawless campaign, the seat was won with a 7.7% swing. On Friday, my Mum, understandably very proud off her little brother, purchased a copy of every local paper going, so currently on my bed behind me, my Uncle lies grinning out of the pages of the Carlisle News & Star, and The Cumberland Times.

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