BEHIND THE SCENES OF AN ELECTION COUNT

Posted on July 9, 2024 by Categories: Uncategorized

Last Thursday night saw me attend my first ever general election count where I was in the room with my journalist hat on. 

I’ve covered several General Elections before, however usually in a newsroom writing and taking phone calls, this was the first time actually in the thick of it. I was sat in a tv newsroom back in 1997 when Labour swept to power and I’d interviewed Tony Blair some years previously when he was part of a Question Time panel in Swindon. The feeling then was very positive and upbeat. 

I’ve also interviewed David Cameron and Gordon Brown on different occasions. I’ll reserve my opinion on both of them. 

Last night I arrived at the count at STEAM and thought I’d share some of the ‘behind the scenes’ things which happened. First of all, I had to register as a stringer for ITN (someone who calls in results by phone to a special telephone line and also reacts quickly to anything unexpected) as this is a fast-moving situation and not everything can be anticipated. So there was some prep to be done before I even stepped into the room. 

I get to the car park only to be told I can’t park there and have to go back to the main outlet car park. This is a pain but I was on my own and didn’t fancy walking back to my car in the dark at 3am which I pointed out to them. Luckily the team at STEAM said they would not let that happen and would walk me to my car. 

I had to register at the entrance and have my ID checked. Then on entering the count I soon spotted my media colleagues from the Adver, The Link, ITV West, ITN, local commercial radio and loads of people from the various arms of the BBC. You are probably wondering why would people be there from ITV West and ITN if I was a stringer. 

It was simple – I had the sole job of relaying back the results for the national programme which was on air constantly so needed to be constantly updated for the ‘chat tv’ element to work.  The other team members had the job of conducting interviews and general filming. As it’s all so fast-moving, you can lose the chance of an interview if you are faffing about collating results – and you can miss important results if you are faffing about with interviews. 

What I didn’t realise until about half an hour in was that I even had my own media seat upstairs on a balcony overlooking the count. For a nano second that made me feel rather important. However you don’t learn what’s going on by staying in your bubble with all of the other media types. You have to talk to people in the room. 

By doing this I was able to get in with a very early result for Swindon South and tell the national team that it was a Labour Gain ie. Conservative Loss. Within seconds that news was scrolling all across the screens of ITN and the whole of the declaration and speeches were shown in real time on ITN. Given that the Swindon South count was the fourth constituency to declare in the UK and the first in the South West, it was a slightly slower pace for the national team chatting through the events minute by minute so Swindon got a big chunk of time on national tv. This might not have been the case if that result had come in much later on. 

During this time I talked to many of the candidates including Sir Robert Buckland KC, Justin Tomlinson, Heidi Alexander, Will Stone and Rod Hebdon. Over the years, I’ve got to know most of them quite well. My political views are my own but there’s one thing I will say. I’ve known many MPs in my career and seen what their daily lives are like, both in Parliament and in their constituencies. 

They may earn good money but they live lives where they are owned by us – especially if their seats are marginal – less so if they have a so-called ‘safe’ seat (though that definition has somewhat changed now). Sir Robert Buckland has been particularly kind to me personally and tried to lobby for me when I campaigned for Forgotten Ltd during the pandemic – I will never forget that. 

What we saw on that night and into the early hours of July 5 was a movement which was bigger than the personality of one single person. It was a declaration, in my view, of absolute loss of faith in the old government. There were other interesting elements and not all of them good. The Liberal Democrats were rightly thrilled, the Greens made gains and for me, sadly, Reform did okay too though a lot less than predicted by the earlier exit poll. 

What I think we also saw was the rise of the tactical vote on a scale I’ve not experienced previously. One of my contacts, a natural Labour voter, ‘swapped’ his vote with a natural Liberal Democrat voter in another part of the UK via a website for tactical vote swapping. I had no idea there even was such a thing. I’m behind the curve clearly. 

My friend and client registered to vote Liberal Democrat in his community to get the Conservative candidate out – in partnership with a natural Liberal Democrat voter who was in an area where the Lib Dems were never going to win and Labour was the second party. So, through trust they ‘swapped’ their votes thus feeling that they had both voted for their party of choice tactically and made a difference. I was fascinated by the concept. 

It wasn’t just that though. Through talking to clients and contacts throughout this campaign, the tactical vote was hugely important and with that in mind, Labour now has to deliver big time on its ambitious promises without bankrupting us all through tax rises in the future. How on earth will they square that circle?

Also one thing which did come across to me in spades at the count is something we might not see too much of  in the coming days – the friendship in the room across all political parties who talked with each other, greeted each other, congratulated, commiserated and were adult with each other. The only slight ‘hiccup’ was a fringe candidate who decided when the North Swindon vote was called to yell a protest about Gaza & Palestine directing her ire at the Labour supporters in the room. It was a tiny moment of drama in an otherwise well-behaved count.

As the count died down and emptied very quickly, I didn’t need to ask a security guard to accompany me to my car. A local Conservative councillor and a local businessman who I’d not seen for some time walked me to the car park as it was gone 2am. The evening ended in true kindness regardless of the political intent of the evening and I’m grateful for that. I’m equally thrilled to have had this experience – so many thanks to the team at ITN. 

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