Election stories III: polling day and the count

It’s an early start with my alarm set for 0530 because what were eve of poll leaflets last night are now good morning leaflets. It’s a fine morning so I’m off and running by 0600. 

I make sure that I’m back at the polling station by 0700 to say hello to our starting teller. That’s Jonathan Chatfield who’s ever present, does his bit and a source of good advice. There are no other tellers yet and I head off to deliver more good mornings and then have a decent breakfast. 

There’s actually not much to do on polling day itself once the good mornings are out and as long as you’re not an obsessive who believes in knocking up continuously from the middle of the morning. Believe me there are some who do that, it’s in the Lib Dem election handbook, and they continue with second and subsequent knock-ups. I don’t.

So during the day I engage in pastoral work chatting to tellers, we have a full operation, and shipping telling slips across to Christine Stapleton who’s in charge of the Committee Room and the Connect operation.

Labour tellers show up during the day and I get increasingly paranoid when so many voters seem to know them but don’t acknowledge me. However one voter says our literature has been so good he’s no choice but to vote for us.

Later in the afternoon I’m chatting to Dot Chatfield who asks me how I think I’ll do. I tell her about my paranoia and that sometimes I think I’ll do badly and sometimes that I’ll do really well. Samuel’s listening and opines that he thinks it’ll be the latter!

1700 and I send an ‘unbranded’ email to my monthly report list reminding/encouraging people to vote.

At 1800 I declare it’s time for knocking up and I’m joined by Martin Cahn, Stuart Lothian and new member Steve Hunt. Jonathan promises me he’ll do a bit later. Actually it’s just displacement activity but I do Mill Lane and it’s all positive. Doesn’t settle my paranoia though.

Finally I’m on teller duty during the graveyard shift at 2100. I’m joined by Huw Jones. We decide to liven matters a little by welcoming people to the polling station and then by thanking them for voting. Then at 2200 it’s all over but there’s more.

For some reason we have verification tonight so it’s off to South Cambs. Verification is when we get to see the polling station boxes opened and to (a) get an early indication of the result, and (b) see if there’s an difference between the boxes (polling stations).

I head off but not before I stop by the Railway Vue for a bottle of Becks and a bag of crisps. The beer didn’t touch the sides as it went down.

There’s a longish queue at South Cambs with cars bringing in polling station equipment and the all important boxes. I drive past it and am allowed quickly into the car park. I’m into the council chamber where the action’s taking place by about 2230 and there’s a lot already happening.

This year the counting process is going to be easier for me. In my previous three elections it’s been a two member division and it’s almost impossible to know how you’ve done but this year with it only being the single member Histon & Impington division I should get some good early intelligence. Will it settle my paranoia?

We’re interested in 4 boxes: King’s Meadows, Orchard Park, Histon and Impington. The first could be a shoe box and I missed it. You barely get a 100 votes from King’s Meadow and I probably would have lost it anyway.

Then it’s Orchard Park but that doesn’t take long either. Maybe 5 or 600 votes. It looks like I shaded that one with a 15% lead over Labour and the Tories a bad third despite the Tory candidate coming from Orchard Park. It’s what I should expect but it doesn’t help with my paranoia.

It’s quite a wait until we get Histon and that’s multiple boxes. But it’s worth the wait as I note multiple Lib Dem votes to every Labour or Tory one. By and large the Labour vote seems to have collapsed and I seem to be getting about 50% overall. There’s a handful of Green votes but it looks like my margin is such that they won’t be an issue. After Histon comes Impington and the pattern is repeated. My paranoia begins to settle.

I head off home and I’m in bed by 0230 but not before I run a quick update on my ‘voting model’. I reckon that maybe I’ll get a 700 majority.

Its been a 21 hour day and Fitbit will later record over 30 thousand steps. I sleep fitfully and wake in time to enjoy my regulation breakfast: croissants, coffee and the Guardian.

John Turner drives me to the count and that’s a lot less frenetic than last night’s verification. My role now is simply to make sure that my votes don’t go into the wrong pile. I needn’t worry. My pile grows and grows and is to prove bigger than all the other piles combined. I get 55% of the vote and a majority of 1100. Something to savour.

Elsewhere the Lib Dems secure all their existing seats and win Linton. This was especially sweet because the successful candidate was Henry Bachelor and it was his father John who lost by one vote four years ago.

But there was also disappointment. We missed Cottenham & Willingham by 2 votes, we came an incredibly strong second in Longstanton & Over (note that these are both new divisions and that Willingham and Over used to be together in one very safe Tory seat), and were close 3rd and 4th in the 2 member Sawston and Shelfords division. 

Adding up the votes in total it was 40% each for the Lib Dems and Tories in South Cambs but desperately disappointing that we didn’t get over the line in those other seats. 

Elsewhere in the County we successfully defended all of our seats but made no gains. Problem was that the Tories won all the UKIP seats and can now take control of the Council. How we will regret not pumping a little more effort into the seats where we just missed out.

Post script: The Tories have lost no time in becoming the nasty party again. They’ve taken all the committee chairs and vice-chairs for themselves which means that my short period of glory chairing the Health Com will prove to be just that: short. It’ll be into an adversarial council with all of the concensus-based advantages of the committee system consigned to history.

And finally: it was inevitable that I would have some reaction to the end of the campaign. Obviously I was able to relax and enjoy the thrill of its success but then on the Saturday night my body suddenly seized up most notably around my hips and my left shoulder. It was so bad that I had difficulty putting my socks on on Sunday morning. On Sunday night I just could not sleep so resorted to a couple of ibuprofen and suddenly it all melted away. I slept like a baby for the rest of the night and I’ve been largely OK since.

Election stories II: the campaign

2017-04-13 09.58.15

 We started this year’s campaign pretty early of course and certainly well before all the candidates were announced. That happens about 4 weeks before Election Day itself which results in a final election push when you know with whom you’re actually competing.

Because I was restanding I played a lot of the campaign by the book and early on I got a decent team in place. I attended an ALDC QuickStart weekend late in 2016 and then held a couple of workshops early in 2017 to share ideas about strategy. The latter were key because Orchard Park (Yemi and Gary) were involved and I signed up Almut/Eugenio and John Turner (a member transferring in from Norfolk) to wholesale. With Juni also involved I had a complete wholesaling team. The other members were David Collins and Eric Barber.

Other significant additions to the ‘core’ team were Martin/Aga Cahn (Aga having become disenchanted with Labour) and Stuart Lothian (one of the few ‘mature’ new members who’d helped out at the Richmond by-election).

The literature program was demanding but we stuck with it. It had the very positive feature of being high quality and we complemented that with good photography including several taken by Histon photographer Nik Pennycuick. I took advantage later on of another excellent Histon creative, Fiacre Mueller, who produced an excellent ‘not totally amateur but not over professional either’ video.

Everything was done of course in parallel and integrated with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoral campaign. That was positive for me because the Lib Dem mayoral candidate, Rod Cantrill, fitted the Histon & Impington demographic.

When the full slate of candidates was announced there were no surprises. The Tory was a Judge lecturer, Othman Cole, living in Orchard Park and the Labour candidate was a teaching assistant, Beccy Talmi, from King’s Meadow. There was also a Green, Darren Cotterell, from Impington and, thankfully, no independent.

If I had to choose an opposition slate I wouldn’t have chosen anything much different from that so it was an election for me to lose. But as Martin Rigby said to me on Election Day itself ‘to succeed you have to be a little bit paranoid’ and I was.

The campaign continued. I did some canvassing and it was generally very positive. I veered between being confident and worrying about a Hilary Clinton result. On a good day I imagined a majority of over 500.

In the meantime I got myself up to speed with Connect, the Lib Dems’ campaigning software that replace EARS some years ago. I was abetted in this by another new member, Christine Stapleton, who became our data officer.

Then came the bombshell. Teresa May called a ‘snap’ election to take place 5 weeks after ours. That confused everyone, campaigners and electors alike, but it also gave another boost to our membership with another bunch joining. They were to prove invaluable.

Surprisingly the competition seemed to be absent. We got a Tory calling card delivered by the postman even before nominations closed and although I’d seen a multifold leaflet it wasn’t delivered to 14 Pease Way. Similarly there had been a pretty scruffy and small Labour leafet but that didn’t make its way to my place either.

Life went on. The delivery network worked a treat with enough spares to plug gaps when people went away. Then we got the blue letters.

I don’t like blue letters but they are a Lib Dem tradition. They are hand addressed, but no longer blue, and the idea is that because they are not boring typed addressed envelopes they get read. Generally they cover 30% of houses: defs and probs and soft labour for example.

Given that the regular deliverers had delivered enough I sent a call out to the newer members for volunteers. It paid off and I was able to cover H&I with an alternative network. I decided not to do Orchard Park, because we had a special edition Focus to go out there, or King’s Meadow, nobody votes.

Problem was the blue letter delivery was about 60%. The filter was also set to include voters for whom we had no data. I grovelled and apologised and nobody complained. It went out.

That left the final week. Yemi, Gary and I did the Orchard Park special on the Monday morning. I got another alternative network to do the eve of poll delivery but there was a last minute printing hitch and they had to come from Peterborough but were with me by 1745 and into the right hands before 1830.

So we got to polling day but had we done enough (paranoia again)? We hadn’t done enough canvassing but what we’d done was very positive. We’d got all the literature out, we’d got 40 stakeboards up and I’d emailed 1200 people with my monthly report on the final Sunday. Would it be enough?

Apr 17: photo of the month

DSC05587Very prompt again this month but no posts between this and the March photo. These are horses in Oakington and I like the composition of the shot. I reckon it could be better with a little less depth of field but otherwise it’s pretty good.

This photo was taken with my Sony alpha 58 SLR. 150mm on the zoom and f6.3 at 1/250th. No post processing.

Mar 17: photo of the month

2017-03-06 09.48.18A bit more timely this one and the first with my phone for a few months. I was having a late breakfast at Waitrose in Trumpington and was joined by Bob Tonks and Tim Laws. This is Tim. He’s getting a sense of what the other side’s thinking by reading the Daily Mail from the free selection.

As I said it was taken with my HTC One A9 f2 at 1/47th. I reckon it’s just about perfect.

Feb 17: photo of the month

DSC05367Let’s get this one in quickly before I get another month behind. This is Julie Smith aka Baroness Smith of Newnham at the official ‘launch’ of Lib Dem Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoral candidate Rod Cantrill. It’s purely coincidental but I like the match of the black and white polka dot blouse with the black and white of the background.

This was taken with my Sony SLT-A58 1/200th at f6.3 with just a little light cropping.