The morning after the night before

Campaign diary: The morning after the night before

8 June 2001

Right now as I type it’s 5am on Friday and I have been awake for 24 hours. It seems a lifetime ago that I was delivering ‘good morning’ leaflets in Twickenham, but it was only 6am yesterday.

Where to start? It was quite a day, and quite a night too. I spent almost the whole day in Twickenham helping Vince Cable’s ultimately successful re-election campaign, delivering leaflets, giving lifts, and knocking-up recalcitrant voters. It was the most laid-back election machine I have ever seen, but it increased Vince’s majority.

I broke off part the way through the day to visit a school on the boundary of the two Hounslow constituencies, where they were holding a mock election. Most of the candidates from the two seats made it, and we were mobbed by cheerfully inquisitive children. Some wanted to ask serious policy questions, most wanted to wear Conservative stickers and then boo the Tory candidate. It was chaos, and enormous fun, even when I rashly told the organising teacher how glad I was that he had not planned for the candidates to make speeches. He immediately grabbed a megaphone and announced that each candidate would speak for 30 seconds. The Labour speech was inaudible, the Tory speech was recycled from meetings for grown-ups (Europe, tax, and so forth – not killer material for 14-year-olds). Myself and Danny Faith of the Socialist Alliance stood on chairs and did our best.

The counting of my votes is a blur right now, and I will have to let my head clear before I can sort what happened into proper order. I do however vividly remember being called a fascist by a Tory, whose colleagues sidled up afterwards and apologised for him.

It was clear early on that both Gareth Hartwell and myself were going to improve on our 1997 positions, and so it proved. Both of us were the only major candidates whose percentage vote went up in our constituencies. My vote went up to 4,998 – 13.8% – a third place indeed, but a third place that is knocking on the door of second and demanding to be let in. Gareth’s final share of the vote was slightly lower, but his rise was greater.

Success on both counts, then, and success nationally too, but marred by the low turn-out, just 49% in Feltham and Heston. It’s clear that when people don’t think their vote will affect the result of an election, they are more likely to stay at home. No clearer argument for proportional representation could be advanced.

But right now the argument that is convincing me is the one that says: “Head. Pillow. Now.” I’ve enjoyed the election, I’ve achieved something of note, but now I’m going to sleep for a week.

And when I wake up I’m going to write an immediate letter of application to be considered for the candidacy for the next election, whenever it may be.