Paper Clips and rubber bands – The Count in Lowestoft May 2015

Studying Politics for the OU, has peaked interest in this election, that otherwise I may have let slip by in a lazy sceptical way . Now I can hear the word, value, know what FPTP electoral reform means. It was a natural step to partake. First step, commit to a party. My father was a socialist – I hear. My mothers family supported the Gang of Four, SDP and evolved into the Liberal Democrats. I’m guessing my Godfather was a Tory. The Guardian has been my conditioned source values. 10 years in India my comparative base. Like many I felt unattributed until the Greens came to the front, and I joined them along with a surge of others in January. I buck the trend of not being like half of the Green party membership, under 40. The Scottish referendum and unexpected inclusion of other parties breaking down the adversarial two party system is refreshing. So are the women.

Graham Elliot (standing for Green Party, National for Waveney, District and Beccles, and the only Green I knew) had secured me a ticket.
‘Just bring your ID and turn up at Lowestoft Water Sports Centre after 11pm.’

So at the time I am usually in bed, listening to book at bedtime, I drove on dark empty roads to Lowestoft. In the cavenous sports centre, I found Peter Eyres who guided me through the long night. To his years of experience I am a count virgin. He has his clip board, and soon after I arrived we are walking swiftly over to Area 1, Beccles and Bungay, along with a flurry of others, and to where the ballot boxes of votes have just arrived.

Observe all Green votes Peter instructs me, and count them.

We are the open eves droppers, the other side of the make shift long tables at which the counters sit, beginning the sort. They completely ignore us. Act as if we are not there. They separate the white from yellow from green, National from town from District. Why not have separate boxes in the first place, we all think?
I count. Loose count, begin again. What if both Greens are voted for on the same paper, does this count as one or two?
155, I say to Peter. Out of how many? he asked, and naturally I had no idea.

The other parties – with rosettes denoting tribal identity – are doing the same, clip board to chest, no revelations. Candidates arrive, (they have ‘Candidate’ on their ID card) I imagine keen for affirmation, to see their name crossed, supported. A spate of Labour roses are crossed. Then a Green.

An occasional paper is unmarked. Some marked too many times. Sometimes a whiff of revolution:
None of the above. Or Who are these people?

Once colour sorted, each bundle is grouped into 10, counted out with painted nails, one with a rubber thimble, and paper clipped together. Paper clips, I haven’t seen these in a long while. Will they one day be collectables in an antique shop, perhaps making a garden chime, or lampshade frond. One day, this whole process be antique, and all done electronically. There will be no communal count, where we gather united in our sleepless night to see the process through. The counters ignore us, our conversations our jests, their eyes are down, they have been instructed. It is pure theatre.

Each bundle is passed to a verifier, checked and re clipped. Our Area 1 takes the longest; it is delayed as there’s an anomaly in verification – the number of votes handed out is different from those received.

Over a much needed coffee, Peter and I move to the TV room, where the National results are coming through. At about 2, Nuneaton came in. A Conservative win. The first indication for the night, that the latest polls were right and all others wrong. It would be Conservative win, if not a majority. David Richie, a friend from St James and not seen for many a year, sporting a blue rosette, engages speaking of the success of his local collaboration across party lines with Graham on local issues such as planning. He has  respect for Graham’s attention to detail.

How cruel. The camera lingering on Simon Hughes face as he watches his history unfold, loosing his seat held for 32 years, his 8,000 majority lost to another candidate. The Liberal Democrats, who put country before party to join a coalition, are being punished. Oh the fickle voter.

The media starts to call them scalps, ‘And another Labour / Liberal Democrat scalp to fall. Vince Cable, (who was to eat his hat, earlier on), Kenedy, Danny Alexander.

The light relief or whiff of an olden day of more radical parties is spartan. Workers Revolutionary Party or Hoi Polloi or the ‘Beer, Baccey and Scratchings’ party did little to raise our spirits of what was becoming inevitable.

Along with the demise of Labour and Liberal Democrats we witness the rise of UKIP. I met my first UKIPers here, asking one Lowestoft woman why she’d allied her self to them. ‘The others didn’t care or deliver. I wanted a change. They spoke common sense.’ Douglas Cardell winning in Clacton, set the tone for one of the post election themes. The figures at the end: UKIP got close to 4 million votes for 1 MP. Greens just over 1 million for 1 MP. By contrast the SNP 1.5 million votes for 56 MP’s. Inevitably Cardell called  for a change from the FTTP to a more representative and proportional representation system. Will this be forgotten when we have the next referendum?

Over a coffee, I ask Graham how he got into politics. 2001, he said, and because of mad cow.
‘The Greens had asked me to stand, but I told them I couldn’t this time, I had work arranged and that month was impossible to take off. That evening the party organiser telephoned:
‘Graham, I’ve postponed the election by a month – you can stand.’
It was foot and mouth which caused the procrastination. I was running out of excuses, and when he funded me £1,000 to cover the costs, I could not refuse.

He has  stood (unsuccessfully ) in the last 4 general elections, but most successfully stood for Beccles and Waveney District, where the real work is done.
His mother was with us, and had been up like him 27 hours.

Eating an egg and Cress sandwich, we watched the Conservatives roll home. Suddenly lots of blue around. Our local representative, Peter Aldus, took to the stage, gracefully thanked all.

The important work, the local District and Town count will be tomorrow.

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