Tuesday 11 May 2010

Sunderland has a lot to answer for

Well done, us! It takes real skill and judgement to manipulate a simple first-past-the-post electoral system to achieve a result that absolutely none of the political parties wanted. That will serve them right for fiddling their expenses.

The only snag is that, being British, we are still not satisfied. The weekend newspapers were full of vox pop moans about that weird Scotsman still hanging around in Downing Street, and asking what on earth nice Dave Clegg thought he was up to, talking to nasty Nick Cameron.

And, with another election probably looming fairly soon, no one in any party dared answer “Because you willed it, dimwits.”

My own election day went very satisfactorily until about 11pm. I dropped my postal vote off at my nearest polling station, impeded only by two nonagenarians attempting to dodder through the door simultaneously, and enjoyed a fine lunch with two fellow scribblers, both lifelong Labour supporters.

Funnily enough they had both suddenly discovered an urgent need to support the Lib Dems, cheerily noting that the party stood to the left of Labour on most issues. Vote Clegg, get Miliband seemed to be the calculation. How could Nick possibly do a deal with “oily Dave” the PR man?

Of course, they may yet prove to be right, but at least I have enjoyed a few days sporting a wry smile.

Having viewed the BBC exit poll, I should have headed straight for bed, but the wait for those promised Sunderland results seemed tantalisingly short. And then the massive Wearside swings of 8.4% and even 11.6% to the Tories made me think that a night of genuine excitement lay ahead.

After all, if Sunderland was prepared to swing so strongly towards “Dave” after his candid predictions about how the North East could look forward to many fewer comfortable public sector jobs not answering the phones in call centres, or casually losing computer discs full of sensitive information, just imagine how well he might do in regions to which he was not actually proposing to lay waste.

Which is how I came to be still up at 4.30am, completely knackered, my bottle of Champagne still unopened, before I finally grasped that the ultimate result was going to be bang in line with the exit poll I had seen six and a half hours earlier.

Now one of the few areas in which I am in complete agreement with our (probably soon) ex-Prime Minister is the operation of a strict blame culture. With him everything was Tony Blair’s fault for about 13 years, then poor old Sue stepped forward to take his place. Luckily for me I acquired a wife not too long after I stopped being able to afford a PA, and fortunately for her baby Charlie came along quite soon afterwards to share responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the Hann household.

Sadly we spent election night 200-odd miles apart, but even if we had been together it is quite clear that this particular debacle was all down to the Makems. Either they weren’t paying attention to “Dave”, or they were too dim to understand what he said, or in the rush to win the race for first declaration (which isn’t too much of a challenge, really, considering that they are the only entrant) …

No, they could not have miscounted, could they? The British electoral system is beyond reproach.

My only compensation for a needlessly sleepless night was going live to Montgomeryshire to see the look on the face of chief asteroid worrier and Cheeky Girl fancier Lembit Opik as he was turfed out on a scarcely believable swing. But it was not enough, really. Next time I’m off to bed at 10.05 sharp. And the right advice for Sunderland is surely this: start training for a marathon, not a sprint.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne

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