"the blogger whose youthful effusions have won him bookmarks all over Whitehall ... horribly compelling" - The Guardian
Monday, May 30, 2005
Well, my exams are over, so hopefully I shall have a bit more time to blog - no doubt much to the particular relief of certain bored pensioners with £1.90 a day food bills and endless time to complain in my comments section about my absence.
Before I write about what I think the election means for each of the parties in turn, I'll write on a personal note. For me, it was a great election. It's the third time I've been actively interested in the result (I was eight years old in 1992), but the first General Election in which I've fought. The campaign was rewarding, enjoyable and throughout, I felt encouraged by the sense I had of understanding the mood of the British people.
In the immediate pre-election campaign, up to the sacking of Howard Flight, when asked what Labour's majority would be, I gave a range from 40 to 60, based on that feeling and informed by opinion polls. When the campaign proper started, and things clearly moved somewhat back in Labour's favour, my answer changed to 60 to 80. So I was perhaps less surprised than most when the eventual result of 66 came in. I never believed those ridiculous polls that showed the Conservatives ten points behind, and which were so widely interpreted as a public snub to our immigration policy. I suspect if those who had made such judgements spent more time on the doorsteps in marginal constituencies they would have known it, too.
I was able to campaign in a lot of the key seats we won back on May 5th: Reading East, where Rob Wilson was - so fruitfully - taking teams canvassing late into the evening; Guildford, where I'd helped out in last year's European Elections, and where Anne Milton ensured all of Surrey was once again true blue; Newbury, another place I'd campaigned in 2004, where Richard Benyon turfed out the Lib Dems' long-standing MP David Rendell; and Hammersmith & Fulham, where Greg Smith ran a masterful campaign for Councillor Greg Hands, who turned a Labour majority above 2,000 into a Conservative majority over 5,000.
As for seats that did not change hands, my home town of Darlington had a small but active team running a good, positive campaign under Anthony Frieze - a university chum of England Swordsman Iain Murray - but obviously we couldn't this time hope to dislodge Alan Milburn. Maidenhead was another of those places where the Lib Dems' decapitation strategy faltered miserably, and I was pleased to help ensure that. In Eastleigh, Conor Burns shamed Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem drone and europhile MEP, by how hard he worked against the odds in a great campaign run by James Cutts. A flavour of Huhne's politics can be seen in his mind-boggling claim a few weeks later that the interests of "black or gay people" are under-represented in parliament compared to those of others. The silent majority could try screaming out its lungs before space cadets like Chris Huhne would hear a whisper.
I'd really hoped to help out John Harrison in Ceredigion, but time, exams and distance prevented it. Anne Main, who won St Albans, I met during the Leicester South by-election when put in charge of one of the offices. Normal, cheerful and quite happy to tell me when I got too big for my boots with assigning everyone to particular deliveries, she's just the sort of woman the Conservatives need in parliament. Lorraine Fulbrook was another candidate I met in Leicester South, and again is instantly recognisable as an improvement on the Blair Babe model Labour has put forward. She came close in Ribble South, but not quite enough this time. Ewan Cameron, fighting the other Reading seat, was very active in last years locals there, and of course in the General Election campaign this year, but sadly it wasn't enough to kick out perhaps the smuggest man in Parliament, Martin Salter.
When discussion in Eastleigh turned to betting on the election, I realised it was an option I too could seriously consider. I'd never placed a bet before, but having seen the Maidenhead and Hammersmith & Fulham campaigns in action and chatted to Phillip May and Greg Smith about how each was going, I felt safe staking as much money as (i) I could access instantly and (ii) could more or less afford to lose, on the outcome in those two seats. I was only annoyed Reading East, which Betfair.com thought not marginal enough, was not a seat available.
On the Wednesday morning, I bet £246 that the Conservatives would hold Maidenhead and £154 that we would gain Hammersmith and Fulham. I also decided to take a bigger risk with a smaller stake and place £33 at 2/1 (3.0) odds on Conor Burns winning Eastleigh. My total bets on the election came to £433, and I lived at a level of excitement unusual to me for the next two days. Thankfully, I won the two major bets of the three, and emerged £159 better off, minus £8 in Betfair fees.
I went back to Hammersmith & Fulham on election day, a new financial incentive also now in my mind, and had a great day knocking up Conservative pledges all over Fulham. One woman I remember in particular, hardly the stereotype of a Conservative voter, was especially enthusiastic about Greg Hands because it was his help that had got her the flat in which she now lived. In a lot of campaigning in recent years, it's the most personal reason I have yet to hear for anyone to support a candidate.
On the way back to Essex at about 7.30pm, I saw Greg campaigning vigorously outside Parsons Green tube station, and far from certain of the final outcome. I reassured him of how well things had gone where I had worked, and wished him luck before departing.
Essex University had a special election results screening in one of the lecture halls, and people of all parties got on surprisingly well there, although noticeably sat in party camps. Maddeningly, the channel they chose was ITV, so from when it started at 11pm, we weren't able to hear anything from Anthony King - surely the most distinguished professor in the university's short history - on the BBC. Banter was good and light-hearted, and we lapped up the drink provided, and so tended to be less reserved than normal. When Margaret Thatcher was briefly interviewed, the Labour crowd led the booing while we (or was it just me?) sang the Tory drinking song "Margaret Thatcher Walks on Water". When David Burrowes kicked Stephen Twigg out of Enfield Southgate in one of the night's best results, I couldn't help but stand up, turn around and point with a flourish at the Labour students and shout: "This is for Portillo!". I was relieved by the Maidenhead result and elated by the result in H&F, which confirmed I'd end the election quite a bit richer - or less poor - than I started it.
The oddest moment came just as the election party was ending at 5am Friday morning, and the Westmorland and Lonsdale count was shown. Even given how much alcohol and how little sleep I'd had the previous two nights (three hours), I seemed able to calculate who had won and lost in a way the Lib Dem students couldn't. To their seconds of confusion, I was charitable: "You won," I said. "Cheer!". They did. I hope Tim Collins will be back.
I ended the night on a high note partly because I'd had a great campaign, partly because I'd not lost hundreds of pounds, but most of all because the result is a very positive one for the Conservatives, a dark one for Labour. But more on that in the coming days.