May 7, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
1. Rules for the poll booth – For those of you for whom today is your first opportunity to vote, congratulations, welcome to the purest form of participation in our democracy that exists. Many of you have a chance to have a say in who rules you and thus what policies apply to this country. Near where I live in West London there are numerous marginal seats, which makes every vote count. I’m sure you know this, but polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm. Last general election 1,200 people were left in a queue at polling stations at 10pm, and they weren’t allowed to vote. The rules on this have changed for this election so as long as you are in a queue you will be allowed to vote, but I still suggest you don’t leave it late. If you have registered you should receive a polling card telling you where to vote, and you can only vote at that polling station. You don’t need the card with you when you vote, you just need to give your name and address, and the staff at the polling booth will give you a ballot paper with the candidates on. You then go into a polling booth where you vote on secret, bring out the ballot paper and put it in the ballot box provided. That is it. Done. Every time I do it I feel proud to live in an open and liberal democracy. There are many people around the world who don’t.
2. Media Blackout – watching the TV or listening to the radio on polling day is a bit odd. The rules in this country and in the USA too enforce what is known as ‘election silence’. What this means is that all that can be said is that the polling stations are opening and people are voting, and that is it. You may get a picture of the party leaders arriving to vote, but they will not be interviewed about it. There is simply no political programming allowed on the day. No debates, no discussions, no interviews, nothing. This is so that whether or not you vote at 7am or 10pm you are voting with the same information. If you vote at 7am then something happens or is reported afterwards that might change your vote then you cannot change your vote. To avoid that situation, a media blackout is enforced.
3. Exit Polls – at 10pm the BBC will be allowed to announce the result of the official exit polls. These are some quote amazingly accurate results of polls that are taken at the exit of polling booths on Election Day. On Election Day in 2010 at 10pm, the exit poll result announced was almost completely correct in terms of how many seats it predicted the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats had won. The reason why they are so correct is because the polls are taken as people leave the polling booth so rather than with opinion polls before the election where people who end up not voting get asked their opinion and the lack of a landline can exclude you, everyone involved in the poll has actually voted. You are asked who you voted for and maybe some other questions, or you can fill in a questionnaire and give it back to the pollster. They record your gender, ethnicity and guess your age so that they can make sure the exit poll results are not skewed by those variables in voting, and they record the gender, ethnicity and guess age of those who refuse to take part so that they can give more weight to the results of similar people to try to provide some balance. The key point to know is that whilst these exit polls are sometimes wrong, as in the USA 2004 Presidential election and the 1992 UK General election, the results are normally pretty accurate. In the lull between the end of polls and when the results start filtering through, the exit polls will be dissected in detail.
4. What should I look out for on election night – if like me you are settling in to watch election night it is worth knowing what to look out for. As I have said the exit polls are announced at 10, accompanied by a seat projection. The good people of Houghton and Sunderland South then race to be the first constituency to announce their result, helped by hundreds of school kids running to and fro with ballot boxes and the fact that it is a safe Labour seat. That should be announced by 11pm. Some other North East seats will also announce by midnight and that’s it for a while.
By 2am we will know how some nationalist parties are doing as Na h-Eileanan an Iar or the Western Isles will declare, the first SNP targets. Also Yyns Mon or Anglesey will show us how Plaid Cymru are doing. Meanwhile, North Antrim will help us to know how strong the DUP could be in Northern Ireland. Nuneaton and Battersea will be tests of how well Labour are doing in their target seats.
By 3am we will also know about how well UKIP are going to do as Cleethorpes, Castle Point and Thurrock should have declared. In Scotland we should know if the SNP have taken Gordon Brown’s old Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat. If they have, we are in for a massive change. Bristol West will declare around this time too, and that is a Green/Lib Dem/Labour marginal. We will know more about the Lib Dem meltdown by 3:30 as Bermondsey declares and we find out whether Simon Hughes has held his seat for the 7th time. Back to Scotland, and if Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy hasn’t won East Renfrewshire we are really on for a Labour wipeout north of the border.
4am is the real hour of reckoning for the Lib Dems. In that hour Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badencoch and Strathspey) and Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) will know if they have held onto their seats. If Clegg and Alexander have gone, then the chances of a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition recede considerably.
At 5am we see if George Galloway has held Bradford West. This result will be worth watching just for his election night interview which has always been great entertainment. A key Labour target is Conservative minister Esther McVey in Wirral West, so look out for that result too.
By 6am we should be nearer to knowing the result and who might form the next government. But we should also find out around that time whether Nigel Farage has won Thanet South and whether Mark Reckless has held onto Rochester and Strood. If not, UKIP may be left with only one MP in Westminster. Talking of parties with one MP, Caroline Lucas will see if she has retained her Brighton Pavillion for the Green Party at around 8:30am.
5. The schedule for Friday – is that there is no schedule for Friday. What I mean by this is that without knowing the result we just don’t know what will happen. In the highly unlikely event of one of the parties getting a majority of seats we will see a concession speech by one leader and a victory speech from the other. Given the chances of that are minimal we are instead likely to see a few things:
Firstly, one or more of the party leaders may announce their resignation as leader. Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg probably will if they don’t win their seats, and Ed Miliband if Labour make no advance on their last seat count and David Cameron if Labour get more seats than the Conservatives. Note that even if he resigns as leader, Cameron will stay on as Prime Minister until a new government is formed.
Secondly, after a bit of sleep the party leaderships will convene at their central offices in the afternoon to start to discuss the next move. Cameron could come out and offer a partnership to the Liberal Democrats, as could Miliband, but it is more likely that they will be war-gaming their options at least until Saturday before talking about what they might do.
Thirdly, new MPs are able to go to the House of Commons and begin their orientation there. Expect some pictures of some of these people arriving, particularly the more well known new ones.
It is important to note that the Cabinet Manual reminds us that Parliament should reconvene on May 18th, by which time David Cameron should either put together a deal to keep him in government or resign as Prime Minister. The financial markets have built in 10 days as the limit for uncertainty on who will try and get the first Queen’s Speech through on May 27th.
The fun is about to begin!