Sunday, May 04, 2008

A day at the count

On Friday Bill and me spent nearly 12 hours at the count, from 11 in the morning till half-ten at night when the result for our constituency was announced (though I must admit to slinking off for a couple of hours in the afternoon). We could have stayed longer to hear Boris announced as mayor and the BNP announced as having an Assembly member.

The count took place at Olympia, not just for Lambeth and Southwark but for 5 other constituencies in the western part of London. Other counts were taking place in Alexandra Palace and the Millenium Dome (which we are now supposed to call the O2 dome after the mobile phone company). The mayor and party list votes were counted by constituency and then transmitted to city hall for collation (the old county hall is now an aquarium). So we saw these too.

As the count was to be done electronically we were met not by the traditional rows of counters seated at tables but by rows of people seated before computers and scanners into which they fed the ballot papers. This was supposed to be faster. May it was, but it wasn't fast enough for the media (too bad) as no results were ready for Newsnight let alone the 6 o'clock or the 10 o'clock news.

One fascinating side effect of this was that spoilt or unclear ballot papers were projected onto a large screen which anybody present could see. Previously, such papers were only seen by the election agents going into a huddle. So we spent much of the day sitting or standing in front of these screens (not just for Lambeth and Southwark and not just for the constituency election but also for the mayor and the party lists) looking at these papers as they came up, as did everybody else. In other words, these papers assumed more importance than the valid ones. Though there were other screens showing, as a bar chart, how each party was doing in each constituency (the equivalent of the old piles of ballot papers as a clue to who was in front).

Most of the papers were rejected because the voter had voted for more than one candidate. Some of these combinations were bizarre. People voting for both Boris and Ken or for the BNP and the Left List, but others were more logical, eg voting for the Greens and Labour or for the Liberals and Labour or for the Tory and the Liberal (there seemed to be quite a lot of these last ones, indicating what was going to happen, ie that more of the Liberal's second preference votes for the mayor were going to go to Boris).

Others deliberately spoilt their papers by writing "None of the above" (sometimes at the top of the paper) or "None of these represent me" or "Nobody" or "Void" or "spoilt paper" or "Bollocks, Crap to the lot of them". Others wrote in the name of some party not standing (as we do). We noticed a few for the BNP and one for the SLP (presumably the Scargill Labour Party not the DeLeonists , but you never know) and one for Anarchism. There was one paper in our constituency marked "SOCIALISM - SPGB" (perhaps some out of touch supporter, but perhaps a disgruntled ex-member). One person cast a write-in vote for Mugabe and others for various popstars and DJs and, I nearly forgot, for Jesus and Jehovah (not sure if these are the same person). There were quite a few blank papers.

All these must be regarded as deliberate abstentions but this is not the way non-valid papers are recorded. They are simply divided into "rejected votes" and "blank votes". It has to be admitted that most votes were rejected for voting for more than one candidate, which may well have been intentional but against the rules. Overall, there were 2,406,289 valid votes, plus 47,799 (2%) rejected votes and 39,894 blank papers(1.7%). In Lambeth and Southwark the figures were 163,762, 2583 (1.6%) and 1919 (1.2%).

In our constituency there was the scandal (recorded here in a previous blog) of the polling clerks in one polling station writing the elector's number on the ballot paper. What idiots. There were some 130 of these but, on legal advice, they were all ruled invalid on the grounds that this allowed the voter to be identified (again, against the rules). This, even though the vote was otherwise clear enough. This deprived us of at least 3 votes. 3 out of 130 is quite a lot (for us) but we know which ward was involved (Larkhall, turn right out of Clapham North tube station instead of left for Head Office). Maybe this has identified a ward to contest at the next borough elections. In fact, we are going to get a breakdown of votes per ward. Which will help us see if we got more votes in the wards we leafletted compared with the wards we didn't.

The fact that, with electronic counting, spoilt papers are now seen by many more people suggests that we should take our policy of writing "WORLD SOCIALISM - SPGB" across our ballot papers more seriously (looking at the rejected votes in the London South West constituency suggests that the 10 or so members living there didn't do this, but simply abstained). Even 10 of these in one constituency would be noticed and commented on.

Everybody was there, including the BNP (East End taxi drivers and barrow boys in suits) and the Christian Party (an African in robes). When there was a disputed BNP vote, the UKIP counting agents were in favour of accepting it, all the others were against. (We weren't involved as there was no BNP candidate standing in Lambeth and Southwark). I have to confess to talking civilly to a BNP agent and to making a gaffe when another African in robes asked for the result of the vote for his party in Lambeth and Southwark. I gave him the result of the Christian Party. It turned out he was the Left List candidate in the London West constituency (since the split with Galloway the SWP has turned to blacks rather than Muslims as their targeted minority but with hardly any success).

Galloway retained a following from Muslims in East London but everywhere else was beaten by the Christian party. Logical enough, I suppose, since it you are going to try to split the working class on religious lines there are more Christians than Muslims in this part of the world. In fact Galloway was also beaten by those who wanted to abolish the congestion charge. It's hard to think of an ambitious politician like him sticking for long with the electoral failure Respect is turning out to be for him.

Will Boris as mayor make any difference? Well, Ken's cronies will be kicked out of city hall . . . to be replaced by Boris's (under the US-style spoils system). Gas-guzzlers (or large family cars as Boris calls them) will not be charged extra for entering the congestion charge zone. It's doubtful that bendy buses will, as promised, be replaced by a new-style Routemaster with a conductor. After all, who's going to pay, and it is difficult to see the Tories imposing more costs on the bus companies. Otherwise life will continue as before.

The next elections will be those for the European Parliament in June next year where the constituencies are even bigger and when the count could last even longer. Anybody want to be the Party's Election Agent?

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