One of the most valuable lessons I learnt at university was after I left. I’d spent a lot of time involved in student politics – while politically neutral, it was full of terribly earnest people and I suspect I was one of the most earnest of the lot. Of course, it wasn’t long after I graduated I realised that, actually, I made very little difference (except on a few individual levels) and most people just didn’t care.
And I wonder if it’s the same with the current hoo-haa about ‘election night’.
I love election night. It’s enjoyable and exciting. I’ve been involved in a general election count for each election since 1992 in varying capacities. Each had its emotions and memories. The unexpected victory of 1992. Pride in the face of rather unpleasant jibes from the victors of 1997. A defeated candidate of 2001. Multiple re-counts in Battersea’s close run thing of 2005.
But just because I love it, does everyone else? People who are involved in politics think it’s great. There’s something special about staying up and celebrating or commiserating the results on an election night. Cheering the victories you like, jeering the winners you don’t (and these aren’t necessary based on political allegiances). But does anyone else? If you aren’t involved, or at least very interested, in politics could you give a stuff about election night?
It’s not as if the result is a surprise. Opinion polls will give a good indication. Exit polls give an almost certain result. The vast majority of people go to bed with a fair idea of the outcome and wake up unsurprised – and probably with a sense of relief the election is finally over.
One of the biggest drawbacks of election night is the lack of distance between election and new government. After a gruelling three or four week campaign, and full night of election results, the new Prime Minister must form his government and his new ministers start the administration… all while suffering sleep deprivation. Hardly the best way to do it.
Instead of having fresh ministers ready to discharge their new mandate with energy – we are run by politicians spending their first week in office recovering from the campaign.
So we have politicos supporting the retention of a tradition that relatively few participate in, and probably means we have a less effective government for the first few days than we should – just because we like staying up with a pint to watch the results.
I love election night. And can’t wait for the next one. But it isn’t perfect, and, frankly, aren’t there better things to be worrying about?