I’ve spotted a few people landing here after googling for the result, so here it is.

Will Quince (Conservative) 18,919
Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat) 13,344
Jordan Newell (Labour) 7,852
John Pitts (UKIP) 5,870
Mark Goacher (Green) 2499
Ken Scrimshaw (Christian People’s Alliance) 109

That’s a 100% swing for me from contented to gutted.

The local elections aren’t counted until later this afternoon, and I’ll post those results as I get them – they’ll also be on the Colchester Borough Council website, and I recommend Colchester Chronicle’s website and Twitter feed for live coverage. Click here for the Colchester Council local election results.

One of these days I’m going to start believing exit polls. I thought the 2010 one was wrong as there was no way we’d lose seats, and when tonight’s came out I joined in the chorus of people who thought there was no way it could be the correct result. If anything, it now seems to have underestimated the number of Tory seats,

I’m doing an exam about public opinion and polling a week on Monday. Might be time to shred a whole bunch of my notes and just scrawl ‘nobody knows anything’ across the paper, as that seems to be the message. Something happened that the polls completely missed, but I have no idea what that factor might be.

At the moment, there are just six Liberal Democrat MPs, a number we last had after the 1970 election, but was pretty much our default number during most of the 50s and 60s. We’ve still got local election results to come tomorrow, and given the absolute slaughter of our general election vote, we’re likely to face another long day of terrible news from around the country. And as I write this, the Colchester result has come through, and Bob Russell’s lost by over 5,500 votes. This is a potential extinction level event for the party.

But we can’t let it be that. The country’s now going to get to see just what we spent five years holding back as the Tories have their bare majority, and David Cameron has to govern while keeping the right wing fringes of his party happy. Watch in awe as the Human Rights Act goes, as welfare budgets are slashed, as housing associations are plundered and most of all, as we spend the next two years obsessing over Europe and wondering just why no one wants to renegotiate our EU membership. The Tory campaign has whipped up fear and division across the country, and now they’re going reap what they’ve sown with more than 50 SNP MPs sitting in Westminster, just waiting for the opportunity to make Scotland independent.

The country needs a strong liberal voice, and we need to make sure that we are still that voice, no matter how small the platform we have to shout it from. However, we first need to gather ourselves, to talk and think for a while and not rush into any decisions about the future, and that includes a leadership election.

To be clear, the responsibility for this catastrophe does lie heavily with Clegg and all those in the leadership who decided we needed to be a party of centrist managerialism, offering the public little more than an offer to moderate the bad things the other parties would do. But if you break something, it’s your responsibility to stay around and help with the clean up. Clegg can’t stay on as leader, but the last thing we need right now is to be plunged straight into a leadership election. He needs to stay on as effectively an interim leader to give us the space to have the reviews, the analysis and the discussions we need. This was not a conventional defeat, and we can’t respond to it in a conventional way. We cannot turn in on ourselves and fight over what little remains, we need to get ourselves together before we can work out where we’re going.

This isn’t the end, but we need to work harder than ever to get out of this hole.

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When Sunderland South first made election history

Some of the discussion in the comments on my previous post, sent me off to look at the 1992 election coverage I discussed a few days ago to see if I could find the moment when Sunderland South began its run of being the first constituency to declare. Thanks to BBC Parliament showing old election coverage and the existence of YouTube, here it is:

The moment we’re looking for starts at around 1:09:50 into the video (just after the interview with Ken Clarke in Rushcliffe) where there are three reporters (Kate Adie in Torbay, Philip Hayton in Guildford and Gavin Hewitt in Portsmouth South) at the constituencies that were thought to be in the race to declare first. Unfortunately, no one had told them about Sunderland’s plans.

There’s a whole eight hours of election video there for you to enjoy (enough to keep you going until 10pm tonight, if that’s your desire) and you too can marvel at the sheer 90s-ness of it all, perhaps encapsulated best by a green-jacketed official election funnyman Rory Bremner in front of a shot of Manchester flagging up its bid to host the 2000 Olympics.

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Via John Band, I found this very interesting chart on Australia’s ABC network’s coverage of the election:
counttimes
First, take your moment to be jealous of those in Australia who can have a good night’s sleep before watching the results, then take a look at the figures and see if the same question comes to you as me: why have election counts slowed down so much over the last twenty years?

In 1992, we had the majority of results by 2am, from 1997-2005 it took until 3am, then last time it took until past 4am to get past 50% of the results. There looks like a general downward trend over time, though turnout obviously has an effect – 2001 seems marginally quicker than 1997, as turnout fell from 1997 to 2001 – but 1992 was noticeably quicker than the subsequent ones, and 2010 involved a lot of waiting for results.

There’s a few possible explanations I can think of:

Impact of local elections: 1992 was the last time we had a general election that wasn’t concurrent with the local elections of that year, so the process of verification of the votes didn’t need to involve sorting and checking the local elections too. 2010 also broke the cycle of the previous years of being at the same time as mostly County Council elections, happening instead at the same time as London boroughs and other boroughs and districts across the country.

Postal voting: The change to postal voting on demand happened after 1997, meaning returning officers now had to devote more time to opening and checking postal votes, though much of the grunt work in this could be done before the day itself, so I’m not sure how much of an effect it had.

Fewer people counting: I don’t have any evidence one way or the other on whether budgets for counts have gone up or down over the year, but obviously if fewer people are being employed to do a count, it would take longer.

More candidates: As anyone who’s been part of a count will tell you, it takes longer when there are more candidates, as sorting the votes into an increasing number of piles takes more time, then each one has to be checked separately and larger ballot papers take longer to unfold.

There are probably other explanations but those are the ones that spring to mind first for me. Now, if someone wants to give me a large sum of money, I’ll gladly undertake a research programme to find out exactly what the cause was, and how we can make them faster in future.

Election Polling Station SignA…it’s make your mind up time. Polling stations open around 12 hours after I’m writing this, and close 15 hours after that. Then Britain gets to make its real decision: BBC, ITV or Channel 4 for the election night coverage. Or you could even go for Sky News, the informational equivalent of a spoiled ballot paper.

But before then, there is another decision to be made, and here’s my view of the candidates in Colchester:

One can’t really say much about Ken Scrimshaw of the Christian People’s Alliance as he’s been nowhere to be seen for the past several weeks. As far as I’m aware, he’s not been at any of the hustings, and his knuckles have not rapped at my door or his leaflet landed upon my mat. However, from what I have seen of him and his party, I’m quite confident in saying that voting for someone who regards the Bible as infallible truth is not something I’m likely to do anytime in the near future.

Likewise, as I believe that being in the European Union is a positive for this country and immigration brings massive benefits to this country, there’s no chance of me voting for UKIP’s John Pitts. However, in a spirit of generosity I will say that I agree with Nigel Farage that we need electoral reform and the poisonous air a lot of our elections are carried out in is a result of the ridiculous electoral system we currently use. Beyond that, though, we have very little in common.

Green Party candidate Mark Goacher has impressed me during this campaign. He’s a thoughtful and intelligent man and at the hustings events I’ve seen, he’s engaged with the questions and given honest answers, not merely what people have wanted to hear. Unfortunately, while the Greens do have some very good policies, they also have some incredibly bad ones, to the point where I wonder if they have an overall aim of trying to balance their policy offering between eminently sensible and complete woo. Mark deserves to be congratulated on having a good election campaign, and I think his party’s best days are ahead of it, but for now I couldn’t justify voting for him.

During this election, my impression of Ed Miliband has improved to the point that I think he’s perfectly capable of being a good Prime Minister. He’s an obviously intelligent man who’s thought through issues in some depth and shows remarkable calm and resilience in the face of the attacks he’s undergone over the past four and a half years. If I was living in a different constituency where Labour could defeat the Tories, I would consider tactically voting for them (as I did in 1992). However, Colchester’s not that sort of constituency and Jordan Newell definitely isn’t that candidate. An on-message neo-Blairite robot is not the type of Labour candidate I would consider voting for.

In contrast to Ed Miliband, my opinion of David Cameron has fallen during this campaign. He’s run a campaign based on fear, lies and division, preferring to risk tearing the country and the continent apart if it means he gets to cling to power. Will Quince, his candidate in Colchester would be nothing more than a rubber stamp for Cameron’s dangerous policies, be it cutting billions from support for the worst off in society, risking our economy with an ill-conceived plan for an EU referendum or being prepared to discard our human rights. He wins the award for the most disingenuous bit of politico-speak I’ve seen in Colchester this election:

Which of your parties specific policies do you LEAST agree with?
I pledge to be an independent-minded MP and will always put my constituents first. If that means voting against my party, then so be it. There will always be difficult decisions to take but I will never forget that the people of Colchester are my boss.

For all the fine words about being ‘independent-minded’, he neglects to mention any issues he might be independent about or even mildly disagree with his party on. You can judge a man by the company he keeps, and whether it’s the glee with which the members of Colchester’s Tory group have suggested sacking hundreds of Council staff or the negative campaigning and dog-whistle politics of his party, both locally and nationally, it’s clear that the Tories remain the nasty party, and sending another Tory MP to Parliament would be a bad thing for both our town and our country.

Which leaves us with Sir Bob Russell, MP for Colchester for 18 years and a man you may or may not be surprised to learn I’ve had many arguments with during my eight years as a councillor, but who I will still be voting for tomorrow. I don’t agree with Bob on everything, and over the past few years, I’ve disagreed with many of the things he and other Liberal Democrats in Parliament have voted for. However, no matter how much we like to talk about Doctor Who within the party, we don’t possess time travel and we can’t go back and do it all again with knowledge of how it will all turn out, but we can do the best to make the future a better place. I don’t agree with Bob with Bob on everything but I trust him to represent Colchester in Parliament far better than any of the other candidates. He’ll continue to infuriate me on a regular basis, but I would far rather be infuriated by him than by any of the other options. The Liberal Democrat manifesto (and party leadership) may have plunged down the road to centrist managerialism, but it still contains more good idea than any of the others and a heart and humanity that are sorely lacking in most of the other parties.

Aside from telling you how I’m intending to vote here, I’m not going to make any recommendations or endorsements, though I would ask you to sign this petition for electoral reform so the issue doesn’t get forgotten about as soon as the election’s done. I have been looking through some of 2010 election blogging and found this that I write about who or what to vote for, which I think stands the test of time:

You have a choice today when you go to vote. It’s a simple one: do you choose hope or fear? Do you vote because you’re scared of what the Daily Mail predicts, scared of all those nasty foreign people, scared of changing things that people say have worked for them for so long, scared of your neighbours, scared of those young people with nothing to do, scared of everything somehow going wrong unless the media’s designated strong government in waiting is allowed absolute power to tell you they’re dealing with all these problems while spending your money on finding new ways to terrify you? Or do you choose something else?

And so that brings 38 days of election blogging to an end, which has felt like a particularly nasty route march at times, but has generally been fun and interesting to do again. Now I get to shift to results blogging, then interminable government-formation negotiation blogging until we finally find ourselves with a new Government and I can get on with boring you about my Masters dissertation. I’d like to thank all of you who’ve been reading these posts, all the parties who are standing, especially those who were my minor party of the day, and all the people who’ve uploaded things to Election Leaflets to allow me to point and laugh at them. Please make sure you get out and vote tomorrow, even if it’s just to spoil your ballot paper, and let’s just hope we don’t have to do it all again later this year.

Just like last time, whatever happens:

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There’s one question that’s been predominant in my thoughts today: as the leaders set off on their final legs of their great campaign tours, some of them are promising to campaign day and night and go without sleep. So, how exactly do you campaign at 3am? Yes, there are a few people working overnight shifts and people who happen to be up at that time for one reason or another, but is loitering around a police officer on a night beat really the best use of anyone’s time compared to sleep?

John Thurso on a casual day.

John Thurso on a casual day.

Nick Clegg’s on a tour of the UK from Land’s End to John O’Groats (both conveniently Lib Dem-held and giving us a chance to review John Thurso’s facial hair at the end of the campaign) which gives me an idea for a fundraising challenge to coincide with the next general election if it goes on the same schedule. If you go at around 20-25 miles a day and stick to the more direct routes on the roads (I was on a more roundabout route), you can walk Land’s End to John O’Groats in less time than it would take to run the entire election campaign. So you could start on the day the campaign begins, get to John O’Groats and still have time to get back and vote. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for 2020, and count the posters on the way.

In local election news, I went to the Meet The Candidates event at the Mercury Theatre yesterday evening, which was an interesting experience even if I didn’t learn that much new about any of them. Indeed, the biggest mystery of all remains to be answered: just who is Ken Scrimshaw, our Christian People’s Alliance candidate? From chatting to seasoned hustings-goers it seems he hasn’t turned up at any of them, which does make me wonder if he’s been Raptured and taken away from search Earthly considerations as elections. So have any of you seen CPA candidates at any time since the election started, or should we be concerned?

For a more detailed analysis of the hustings, see Jason’s report at the Colchester Chronicle. For me, it reminded me why these sort of things are very frustrating to be at when I’m not a candidate as there are so many things I take umbrage with and want to interject into the debate and argue about them. Especially when a discussion about the economy gets derailed by the household fallacy and repeating mediamacro myths straight away, its hard to stay silent. I did manage it, though, and just kept most of my grumbling to angry ranting on Twitter which I hope amused someone.

hugemanateeBig election complaint today: I’ve had several emails from the Lib Dems about Operation Manatee today, and not one of them has used the ‘oh, the huge manatee!’ meme. I mean, what is the world coming to when a party can’t spot the obvious image that all it’s internet-savvy members think of as soon as they see the word ‘manatee’? Unless this is all just a big wind up, and the plan is merely to drop that image on millions of voters on Thursday morning, but with Paddy Ashdown’s head superimposed on the manatee.

Perhaps fittingly as we approach the end of an election that’s revealing all sorts of issues with the way the UK works, today’s one candidate party with a dream of greater things is the Democratic Reform Party. And linking to an earlier election update, their candidate in Lewisham Deptford is a badger. Well, he’s called Phillip Badger, which is close enough, even if he’s not a nocturnal mammal. Their policies are actually what their name suggests – reforming the way Britain works to bring power a lot closer to people – though someone in their party seems to have got a bit carried away when coming up with their ‘Online Parliament’ policy process, which makes the Liberal Democrat one look simple and streamlined. They also appear to have a penchant for stock photography on their website, which does make them look oddly generic at points. Still, good luck to them, and maybe the people of Deptford will rise up and demand reform on Thursday.

Some interesting stuff on Election Leaflets as the end gets nearer – I’d love someone to explain the issues on this one, or point me to somewhere I can find out more, for instance – but today’s featured leaflet has to be King Arthur Pendragon, standing as an independent in Salisbury. Yes, the King Arthur Pendragon often seen protesting at Stonehenge who believes himself to be the reincarnation of the ‘real’ King Arthur, and here described as ‘Titular Head and Chosen Chief’ of ‘the Warrior/Political arm of the Druid Movement’. Which is a much better title than leader of a party, I suppose. He’s stood at elections before, gaining 459 votes in Aldershot in 2001, 581 votes in Winchester in 2005 and 290 in Salisbury in 2010, so he hasn’t yet come close to retaining his deposit, let alone getting himself elected.

Only one more election blog post to go until the day itself! The finish line is crawling closer and we’ll soon find out whether the voting public can match up to the opinion polls, or if we can reject the result as it was a self-selecting sample and therefore not a statistically valid test of public opinion.

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Media endorsements are building a narrative to keep Cameron in office, whatever the result

Those of you who read Simon Wren-Lewis will understand his concept of ‘mediamacro’ – the tale of the UK’s macroeconomic situation over the last few years as reported and explained by the media. It’s a simple morality tale where the country overspent and now has to repay its debts, because just like a family budget, you have to pay off your credit card eventually. It’s easily repeated, easily expressed and also completely wrong in depicting how a national economy actually works. However, it’s a very useful story to have as the official narrative if you want to justify a certain set of ‘austerity’ policies.

What we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks of this election campaign, amplified over the past few days is what we could term ‘mediapolitics’ if it wasn’t such an ugly word. However, like mediamacro, it’s an attempt to report and explain the possible post-election situation in simple and easily-understandable terms that are completely wrong but very useful in pushing forward a certain set of political parties as the next Government.

As with mediamacro, it’s an attempt to create a framing narrative for post-election discussions. Just as mediamacro doesn’t question the assumption that all debt is bad and all debt must be paid off as soon as possible, so the political narrative is based on the idea that any Government formed post-election must be ‘stable’ and ‘legitimate’. These are useful words because they sound like they should be objective definitions, capable of being used to discriminate between different outcomes, when in terms of the way British politics and government work, they’re entirely subjective and capable of being used however you wish. It’s effectively the media accepting the Tory ‘coalition of chaos’ slogan and assuming that there would be questions over the potential stability and legitimacy of a government relying on the SNP, but not of one that needs at least the passive acquiescence of the DUP, UKIP and the Better Off Out wing of the Tories to survive.

This narrative then sets the tone for reporting on Friday and beyond, if the result is in line with the current forecasts: David Cameron will be portrayed as bravely staying in Downing Street to out together a stable government that can run the country, while Ed Miliband will be said to be cutting back room deals and threatening the stability of the country by refusing to denounce a backbench Labour MP who suggests talking to the SNP. The Tories will be portrayed as ‘winners’ for having got a handful more seats and votes and will thus possess some sort of ineffable momentum that gives them the right to form a Government, while Labour will be the sore losers, standing in the way of the will of the people.

(If there’s one lesson British politics in this election needs to learn from American politics it’s the way these sort of media narratives were used to spin the 2000 Presidential election. The right-wing media aggressively pushed the line that Bush had won Florida, and all the attempts to show otherwise were just being sore losers. Rather than fighting fire with fire, the left meekly decided to let the courts decide it, letting the right create the accepted narrative of events.)

One of the interesting things about this narrative is its flexibility. For the early part of the campaign, the message was simply about getting the Tories a majority to ensure they could be a stable and legitimate government but as the election has progressed, it’s become clear that the public are stubbornly refusing to break the ongoing opinion poll tie and so the Tories will likely not be able to stumble over the finish line by themselves. So, all the media endorsements of who to vote for aren’t a simple ‘vote Tory’ but add in a ‘vote Lib Dem in a few places as well’. As Jennie Rigg pointed out last week, no matter how gleefully you quote sections out of context, that’s not an endorsement of the Lib Dems, it’s an endorsement of the Lib Dem role in coalition now it’s become clear that the party is needed to ensure the Tories continue in Government. The Independent’s endorsement says that almost explicitly, and when even the Sun is recommending that people vote Lib Dem in seats that threaten Labour, it’s clear that something’s up.

Those endorsements aren’t about backing Liberal Democrat principles or wanting to see the party govern on its own, they’re about binding the party permanently into the right-wing bloc within the Parliamentary arithmetic to ensure Cameron can stay in office. ‘We backed you as part of the coalition, so now you have to go ahead and be part of it again’ will be the message given out on Friday and afterwards with the expectation being that negotiations won’t be over whether there can be another coalition with the Tories but merely what shape it will take and which pledges the Tories will symbolically shed to let it happen. Unless Labour can confound this narrative by winning both in terms of votes and seats, there’ll be extraordinary pressure to ensure that ‘the winner of the election’ be allowed to form a Government. It’s highly unlikely Cameron will find the press calling him ‘the squatter in Downing Street’.

And yes, Liberal Democrat members will have a say in deciding if the party goes into coalition again or not, but the same pressure of the narrative will apply here. How dare you presume to go against the winner of the election? The people have spoken! We must be in Government to ensure it’s stable and legitimate, etc etc The membership will get a vote, but they’ll only get to cast that vote once the media have decided the frame it will be cast within – do you support a stable government for the country, or do you want to bring the illegitimate losers to power and send the entire country into chaos? Besides, we’ll likely here how the Federal Executive and Conference are just arcane committees stuffed full of sandal-wearing bearded weirdos who shouldn’t be allowed to hold the country to ransom. And what’s all this about a two-thirds majority being required? That’s just some bizarre procedural foible that’s standing in the way of us having the stable government we need.

The narrative is being built and the rest of the media will fall in line with it, just as they have with mediamacro, because it makes it so much easier if you can portray elections as having clear winners and losers. Complexity – especially the idea that elections might not be about simple winners and losers – takes time to explain, the narrative wins out. We need both to challenge it and build a counter to it, or everything will be settled by the time our brains are working properly again on Saturday.

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