All through the campaign I intended to simply switch on my laptop before going to work on Friday to find out the outcome. On the polling day I saw there would be an automatically updated page on the BBC website, so I changed my mind and decided to have an early night and an early rise to find out in a more leisurely way. Still, I expected to know the winner when leaving for work, or at least after getting there – certainly before the three-hour morning break of the BBC radio broadcast here.
It turned out to be a thriller instead.
Thu, 6 May 10, after 7 pm CEST (local time) / 6 pm BST – I go to bed, feeling anticipation but not too nervous.
Fri, 7 May 10, 0108 CEST / 0008 BST – my first alarm clock goes off, but I decide to wait for the other one, set for 0216 CEST/0116 BST.
0209 CEST / 0109 BST – notwithstanding this article I’m getting up before the second alarm, switch on the laptop and while it’s starting do the morning hygiene, dress up and have my first fag of the day.
0235 CEST / 0135 BST – sitting down to the comp I notice the first [Scottish] result – Rutherglen and Hamilton West Labour hold (actually appearing on the BBC site at 0106 BST*).
0236 CEST / 0136 BST – Labour have three seats already (0132) when Lib Dems win their first (Fife North East – 0132), and Brown holds Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (0133).
0238 CEST / 0138 BST – I’m already awake enough to realize that the page I’m watching only shows Scottish results, but I find and open in another tab the one showing the whole of the UK. It says Lab 19, Con 5, Lib Dem 4, which looks encouraging. (It also says “326 to win”. It takes some time before I realize the number doesn’t change and find out through Wikipedia that it means the number of seats needed for overall majority, not those still unclaimed.)
0239 CEST / 0139 BST – a more detailed list says Lab 20, Con 5, LD 4, SNP 1, Plaid 1, others 8. A minute later I find the percantage to be Lab 31.5, Con 21.7, LD 16.3, others 30.5 – but I’m not interested in percentages, the morning is about seats.
0241 CEST / 0141 BST – Labour gets to 21 and from then on I’m not just sitting there with my eyes glued to the election pages. I’m doing some things I hadn’t done the day before, on account of the early bed; but I’m having a keek at the updated results pretty often:
0302 CEST / 0202 BST – Lab 31, Con 16, LD 4, SNP 2, Plaid 1, others 9.
0310 CEST / 0210 BST – Lab 39, Con 21, LD 4, SNP 2, Plaid 1, others 9.
0343 CEST / 0243 BST – Lab 61, Con 47, LD 8, SNP 4, Plaid 3, others 11.
0403 CEST / 0303 BST – within a quarter of an hour the Tories caught up with Labour and my screen shows Lab 76, Con 76, LD 9, SNP 5, Plaid 3, others 14. It seems quite obvious already that Lib Dems will fall very short of expectations, but for a while Labour get back to the first place:
0407 CEST / 0307 BST – Lab 82, Con 78, LD 10, SNP 5, Plaid 3, others 15.
0414 CEST / 0314 BST – Lab 88, Con 85, LD 11, SNP 5, Plaid 3, others 15.
0407 CEST / 0307 BST – Tories are the first over 100 seats and won’t lose the first position again. The score is Lab 99, Con 102, LD 13, SNP 5, Plaid 3, others 15.
0428 CEST / 0328 BST – 40 of the 59 Scottish seats were pronounced: Lab 33, Con 0, LD 2, SNP 5 – with Labour recovering their two by-election losses, no result differs from its 2005 election counterpart [as will ultimately prove to be the case with all the Scottish seats].
0450 CEST / 0350 BST – Lab 115, Con 133, LD 22, SNP 5, Plaid 3, others 16. On the election map England appears almost exclusively blue, ie Conservative, with the first [and last] blue spot appearing in Scotland (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, 0347).
0500 CEST / 0400 BST – by now, Tories have more seats than the other two main parties combined: Lab 120, Con 148, LD 23, SNP 6, Plaid 3, others 16.
0508 CEST / 0408 BST – I’m switching my browsers and laptop off as I have to leave for work, while over half of the results are already in and the score is Lab 123, Con 159, LD 23, SNP 6, Plaid 3, others 16.
Walking to work I’m further depressed by remembering having read somewhere years ago that usually the Labour strongholds tend to be pronounced earlier than the Conservative ones, which appears to be true and gives little hope for future results. Considering the geographical distribution I consider posting an afternoon blog going along the lines “I won’t make any comments yet as nine times out of ten I bear the English no grudge and I don’t want to write something I would later hate to read.”
0600 CEST / 0500 BST – I arrived at the workshop, turned on the BBC World Service radio station and I hear that Tories have a safe lead, but Lib/Lab coalition remains a possibility. They don’t tell me the numbers though, only the votes’ percantages.
0605 CEST / 0505 BST – they do tell me the numbers: it’s Con 226, Lab 168, LD 36. They don’t talk the other parties, only mentioning numbers of seats left, but by now I know that the SNP are most probably irrelevant as even partial “kingmakers”. Nevertheless the BBC calls a Tory overall majority “unlikely”. I’m far from convinced.
0630 CEST / 0530 BST – Con 264, Lab 204, LD 40; unknown 142.
0655 CEST / 0555 BST – I hear the Greens have won their first UK seat ever. Good news, but at the moment I’m no more interested than when ten minutes later they say the turnout was around 65%, more than in the previous two elections. I want to hear the numbers of the seats.
0725 CEST / 0625 BST – Con 269, Lab 214, LD 44; unknown 142.
0736 CEST / 0636 BST – Clegg is pronounced winner in Sheffield Hallam, which surprises me as I thought the leader’s constituencies would be counted up among the first. He’s broadcast live and admits disappoinment.
0750 CEST / 0650 BST – I hear the last numerical update before the BBC (like each day) hands the frequency over for the following three hours to a local radio. It’s Con 276, Lab 225, LD 48. I do some counting with these numbers and some estimates – and although the Cons are still 50 seats away from the overall, with probably reasonably less than 100 seats to be pronounced, they’re still having more than Labour plus Lib Dem. I remember slapping the shelf behind my machine and shouting “It won’t be enough! It won’t be enough!” I’m a very optimistic guy, you know.
For three hours now I’d hear no news. I’m trying to convince myself that there aren’t enough seats left for the Tories to get fifty of them, but with little success. I even consider asking my boss to let me for a minute or two on the Net but decide that, after all, it’s a general election, not a world war. Yet as my break officialy starts, half an hour before the BBC gets back on air, I work on to keep my mind at least partially distracted, then with some ten minutes to go have a fag (a tenth or so at a time when usually I’d have a fifth at worst) and then just pace around the radio until
1100 CEST / 1000 BST – BBC World Service states overall majority is now out of the question. Huge relief, immediately followed by the realisation that this can still mean a Tory government. I want to hear the figures please!
1107 CEST / 1007 BST – Con 290, Lab 247, LD 51; unknown 25. This means even a Lib/Lab coalition with overall majority is out of the question. I begin to realize the unpleasant possibility of a Con/Lib Dem coalition getting more and more probable, and try to console myself with the argument that it would be a lesser evil than the Tories being able to govern on their own.
1417 CEST / 1317 BST – shift over, I’m leaving for my gaff while the results stand at Con 299, Lab 254, LD 54, SNP 6; unknown 16.
1514 CEST / 1414 BST – results are of course still coming in, but the general outcome is settled, so that back home I have another fag before looking at the latest: Con 301, Lab 255, LD 55; unknown 12. I do some chores, but I’m what (as I’ll learn the next day) is called disjaskit, in both senses of the word, so I just post a brief blog and decide not to wait for the last (except for the Thirsk and Malton postponed vote’s) result.
1744 CEST / 1644 BST – just then, however, it arrives. The score is Con 306, Lab 258, Lib Dem 57, SNP 6, others 22, postponed 1. At half past six local time I finally go to bed, knowing that the story is far from finished.
All through the campaign I intended to simply switch on my laptop before going to work on Friday to find out the outcome. It turned out to be a thriller instead, and one of the best I’ve ever experienced – except that I’d prefer a happy ending. At least it’s not so bad as it appeared, in the early morning, it might well become.
PS It’s Sunday, 9 May, 1448 CEST / 1348 BST now. Gordon Brown is technically still the Prime Minister and apparently Nick Clegg and David Cameron are at this very moment negotiating to find out whether they can come up with some compromise acceptable for both parties.