Nearly a week on since election night and the dust has settled.
But what’s it like being there at a count, as events unfold?
I’d been sent to Loughborough, the seat of the Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan, to cover what looked like being a big story! With a majority of just under four thousand it was a marginal seat and a key target for Labour. The opposition knew that if they took the seat of a serving cabinet minister it would be a major scalp for them. It was also a bellwether seat– one of those constituencies where, for the past 40 years, its outcome has reflected that of the general election itself. So the result would provide a good early indicator as to which party would be forming a government come Friday.
With the polls showing the Tories and Labour neck and neck (polls which we now know were all too wrong), the night ahead was looking tremendously exciting and unpredictable.
But election nights are long – and if you are a journalist at a count – involve a lot of sitting around! We were told the earliest we would get a result was around 4:30am!
We arrived at a pretty much deserted Loughborough Leisure Centre at 8pm – raring to go, and fully stocked up on chocolates, sweets and high caffeine drinks!
Sky News’ election special was on air from 9 – it was live across, and up and down the country – showing just how many locations our presenters and correspondents were at – more than any other broadcaster in the UK!
Around 10pm – the dozens of counters whose job it was to count the ballots arrived – alongside the dozens of ballot boxes containing those crucial, potentially life changing pieces of paper. Around the same time the candidates from the 5 different parties who were standing, also started to trickle in, proudly wearing their rosettes. It has to be said, some were clearly looking more optimistic than others. The sense of anticipation was palpable.
The woman we wanted to talk to was of course Nicky Morgan, but her “people” told us she wasn’t going to come down until the result was imminent. Was this a sign she was expecting a bad outcome? We were left to guess as to her reasons why.
So we bunkered down in front of the TV screens in the canteen – each displaying a different broadcasters output.
The exit poll at 10pm was a shock to everyone! No one was expecting it to show the Tories ahead by a clear majority. What would this mean for the outcome here in Loughborough?
As the night wore on -we watched the counters counting, some, to our frustration, clearly feeling the urgency more than others! We also watched the faces of the candidates.
Gradually their expressions started to tell the story of the night. Labour’s team was looking more and more despondent, the Tories ever more hopeful, as each hour passed.
Around 1:30am we were told Nicky Morgan would come and talk to us – her aide was very jolly and upbeat! Did he know the outcome? I don’t think he knew for certain – but he seemed to have a good idea victory was on the cards! We interviewed a very positive sounding Nicky Morgan – she clearly didn’t want to take anything for granted – but she was a woman who looked and sounded confident. But after the interview I took some time to look at the others who were standing that night. The Lib Dem team looked utterly dejected and downcast. It’s unlikely they thought they had much chance of success in Loughborough, but the scale of the defeat unfolding for their party was momentous and in Nick Clegg’s words, you could see it felt cruel. As for Labour – no doubt they had started the evening, if not confident, then for certain, optimistic and hopeful. But as the evening wore on the team looked more and more disheartened.
As journalists we obviously want a good story! – One that will seize the audience’s attention and grab the headlines. But on election night the human side of the story can often get lost in those headlines. All the candidates – whatever their odds of winning – had dedicated huge amounts of personal time and energy to fight for what they believed in. I couldn’t help but feel for all of them as I saw the night wear on and their emotions writ large on their faces.
4:30 am came and went…and by then so had all our supplies. Every half an hour or so we were told it wouldn’t be much longer. Finally at 6:00 am, with the exit polls proving accurate across the country, the result in Loughborough was upon us.
Before it’s read out officially, all of the candidates huddle around the returning officer who shows them the results. They then have to brave the cameras. We waited with admittedly, by this point, not too bated breath….
It was a resounding victory for Nicky Morgan.
Politics isn’t for the feint hearted or thin skinned. But however tough you are, it can’t be easy seeing your hopes and dreams, all that effort and work come down to what happens in the space of just a few hours.
As I left the leisure centre at 6:30 am – the sun was coming up and the blue birds starting to sing. Victors and losers alike were trudging out into the car park for the start of a new day – but not the dawn of a new political era as most in that room had thought, and some had hoped, they would be seeing ten hours earlier.