Nothing beats the drama of a local election count

by Lucy Ashton

If you think the X-Factor is a stage for traumas and triumphs then you need to get out more – and attend your local election count.

While TV talent shows manufacture the drama, election counts are a real-life culmination of blood, sweat and tears.

The prize is having hundreds of thousands of people put their faith in you to control everything from their child’s education to the crematorium.

So there’s no wonder that in many years of attending election counts, I’ve seen everything from male candidates throwing punches to female candidates screaming at each other across the ballot boxes.

Most people think standing around at 2am watching town hall tellers flick through thousands of bits of paper would be as thrilling as watching paint dry but the results pale in comparison to the range of human emotions which crackle through the place.

The count comes after months of campaigning by candidates, which is both mentally and physically exhausting. On the day itself, they will have done a 7am to 10pm shift pounding the streets, cajoling on strangers’ doorsteps and frantically trying to second-guess the results by accosting people outside polls.

So by the time they arrive at the count, they’re physically exhausted. And given a lot of counts are still done in the early hours of the morning, when the Returning Officer takes the stand, candidates are punch-drunk on adrenalin, fear, anticipation and Mars bars.

Then there’s the way the results are announced.

If your boss makes redundancies at your company, you’ll  get called into his office or a staff meeting. Compare that with a politician whose whole future is played out in front of hundreds of people. Get the sack when you’re a councillor – or even worse a council leader – and its public humiliation.

You have to stand on stage to hear your fate, endure cat-calls from your successor’s team then plunge straight into media interviews as you smile grimly and trot off baffling figures about the share of the vote in an attempt to save face.

Is there any wonder counts are electrically-charged places when people’s whole careers and livelihoods depend on those scraps of paper.

A handful of crosses in the wrong box and people literally lose their job and their salary in one fell swoop. There is no redundancy pay for losing councillors, they’re not redeployed into another department or even get a leaving gift and card from colleagues.

The loser walks out of the count, blinking into the dawn light and they have to figure out not only what to do next in politics, but also how to pay the gas bill.

Lucy Ashton has been a journalist for almost two decades and is a former political editor of a regional newspaper. She is currently a news editor.

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2 Responses to “Nothing beats the drama of a local election count”

  1. swatantra says:

    I think people have forgotten that being a councillor is a public service, and you shouldn’t expect to get money out of it. The allowance and the expenses, you get should be just enough to carry out that public duty. So the answer to the predicament posed in the last paragraph is quite easy: get yourself a job and pay that gas bill, like the rest of humanity.
    Admittedly the allowances and expenses should be sufficient to do those duties but this does deter younger people with a career to forge not in politics, from considering standing, and say people with care responsibilities from standing, and that is why we have a great number of pensioned off elderly councillors which is not very representative. I’m not sure what the answer to that is other than secondment from your job for a couple of years just to bridge that income shortfall.
    What is not healthy is career politicians, who determinedly set out to make a career out of politics.
    Last night I was also at my local count, and lost, so I felt all those emotions expressed above. But thats the way the cookie crumbles and you learn to accept it. Perhaps next time.

  2. uglyfatbloke says:

    Spot-on Swatantra! Too many old cronies making jobs for their pals and relatives and setting up AL busineses that they ‘just happen’ to get directorships in….and gett quite tasty salaries for doing nothing much and doing it rather badly. Of course there are masses of councillors who work hard and effectively and don’t line thier pockets, but the minority get the rest a bad name.

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