Local Elections 2016 – Telling and Counting

These last 24 hours or so have been “interesting” and much of that time I have been involved one way or another in yesterday’s local elections. The two key activities, and where my role was very much as one of the supporting cast, was “telling” outside one of the polling stations and when the stations closed attending the count. I will make this a part one of a two parts blog. Part two will be titled “Local Elections 2016 – More Reflections”, after all the results are in and pundits will have given their thoughts, and there will have been no doubt some early interesting developments as a result.

I often feel telling is an anachronism, reminiscent of a bygone era yet part of the election tradition. For those who don’t know, it involves representatives of the main contenders asking voters for their polling card number before they vote. Not everyone knows their number, especially if they don’t bring their polling card with them, and not everyone volunteers that information even if they know it. But I am told that information can be used by the parties to work out who has or had not voted, so they can later go out and gently cajole those who have yet to vote, especially if they said they would. I have yet to work out how effective these operations are but that isn’t a factor why I offered my services to one candidate.

Spending over six hours outside St. Edmunds Hall, with the sun shining and blossoms seen on the nearby trees, along with tea and biscuits, was a pleasurable, not to be missed, experience. Since it is also my own local polling station, it was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and neighbours, some of which I had not seen for some time, usually given they had called in during the day in order to cast their vote, as well spending agreeable moments chewing the cud and putting the world to rights with representatives of the various parties who were also involved in the telling operation. Later on, after the polling stations closed (at 10pm), it was onto Garons Leisure Centre, where counting the votes was going to take place.

I have often commented that the Count is the best show in town and for good reasons. This is yet another occasion to catch up with old friends and meet with new ones (often the movers and shakers in our town) as well as to enjoy the drama of the night as events unfold and the result outcome is revealed. I arrived at 11.30 when there was a lull in proceedings and everything appeared fairly calm. Because the PCC elections were going on at the same time, there was a need to check those votes first (count takes place today) before starting on the local election count. While this activity interested some, I used the opportunity to have many interesting conversations.

As for the result outcome, the penny has still not fully dropped and it will be my intention when I come to Part 2 to go through each of the wards, one by one, reflecting on what had taken place in each, as well as consider the PCC not yet in results and the results wider field and what we can learn from these and where things may go next. For now, I will make some general points and will elaborate later on having thought further and learned more.

  1. The facts and stats concerning results are available (see here) – more of which in my next blog!
  2. The turnout for the local elections (30.9%) was disappointingly poor, no doubt reflecting voter apathy.
  3. Besides a good number of veterans and folk reaching their sell by date, although many of which have served well in the past, there was a refreshing number of younger candidates taking part.
  4. While most who voted in the local election also voted in the PCC election, it became evident than many who did had little clue who to vote for and the issues at stake – a lost opportunity! I was surprised that I could vote for my second choice – and while I had one, it was something I was unprepared for.
  5. I felt the Count went smoothly and in good humour. While some of the speeches were fairly pedestrian, it was also evident how much this election had affected many of the candidates.
  6. The net gain of 2 seats by the Conservatives is enough to topple the Rainbow administration but not enough to form a majority in Council – I await with interest to learn the outcome of the various backroom deals that will inevitably take place.
  7. While there were some tight run races in some wards, there was always clear water between first and second places.
  8. While there were upsets, there was nothing that surprising – more of which in my next blog!
  9. UKIP polled well (often in the region of 300 votes) and it was enough to confound the outcomes. I was disappointed they did so well as this was in part down to those who voted for them with an eye on next months EU referendum, and issues like British identity and immigration, all of which seem remote from local issues, yet main parties will ignore such concerns to their peril.
  10. While some of my Green friends were disappointed their long awaited breakthrough has not come, they still make their presence felt and continue to punch above their weight in ensuring their concerns are considered. Many wards saw Greens receiving 100 votes or more, which I see as a good result!
  11. Looking at the main political groups, Conservatives and Labour are slightly improving their position at the expense of the Lib Dems. Independents are holding their own as is UKIP, with the Greens continuing their gradual ascend.
  12. How this relates to the national picture needs further consideration but it seems that nationally as well as locally that Labour are not making the gains they had hoped and the Conservatives are not losing ground as might have been expected, and the UKIP and SNP bubbles have not yet burst and are both doing well, maybe more than many might have expected.

Perhaps my highlight was a bet I had with my local councilor, Paul Van Looy. We were “on” together for much of the time I was telling at my local polling station, chatting about this and that, often agreeing. While agreeing that his Independent colleague, Brian Ayling, would be the likely winner, we disagreed by how many (he thought more and I less – settling on a 150 margin threshold). We decided we would have a bet on the outcome with the winner donating his winnings to help the homeless. As it happened, Brian won by 365 votes! Paul thus won the bet and kindly gave me £50 to buy sleeping bags and such like. It was a bet I was happy to lose but it seems quite evident that a career as a political pundit is not going to open up for me! It perhaps also illustrates something we do agree on – that we all need to work together for the good of the town!

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