Friday, May 06, 2005

Family day out at the Polls

Election day was like a huge family party. They came in their sub- groups from every corner of South London. BBM has eight grandchildren now and their parents had escaped them from school to witness democracy in action. I suppose they reckoned they could spark a lifetime's interest in politics if they started early enough.

I started early. Leapt out of bed at five am and ran about searching for unwashed glasses and crumbed plates at every level. Emptied and refilled all the cleaning machines and pressed all their buttons.

Gave the loos a final scrub with my new disposable toilet duck brushes and hopped across the bridge for the morning papers. The paper shop is a very unlikely place for a provincial town. Half a dozen job sharing metro style gays- openly very right wing, prepared to tickle BBM gently but not enough to lose my patronage. Didn't exactly wish us well but said it should be an exciting day.

Long shower, careful application of makeup lite suitable for polling station appearance with BBM at 9am.

BBM appears and we eat breakfast pretty much in silence. We leave all the chat to John Humphries these days.

Town are warm hearted to us. Several people I don't know have come to the front door to wish us well. Not hard to find. We are right by the bus stop and there's a huge poster hanging from our balcony. It's the only Labour poster in town.

Others throw cheery comments as we pass by. "You'll be alright lad." "It'll all be over tomorrow" and "I've already voted for you three times!"

Of course the local paper does not turn up for the photo op at the polling booth. Why would they? They have been through this with us eight times before.

Agent M has instructed BBM and the Candidates Friend that they are to spend the morning in Starbucks in the shopping centre. This is not such a daft idea because it is an open Starbucks bang in the centre of the walkways with MandS on one side and Boots and WHSmith on the other. Do not really believe that BBM will sit in a Starbucks. Never seen him do it before but I think he is now on auto pilot and doing what he is told. He whispers to me that he hasn't got any money so can I come to pay for the coffee. He hasn't got a hole in the wall card and can't remember a pin number but doesn't seem to have any trouble ordering a vente caramel macchiato.

Loads of people stop to chat to him so I guess this expedition was a success. He keeps the change from my twenty quid the bugger.

First South London contingent arrives and BBM grabs two of the lads for a loudspeakering trip round town. One drives, one sits in the back blowing up Vote Labour balloons and chucking them out the windows. BBM shouts "Today is polling day. Vote Labour" until he can hardly speak at all.

By lunch time there seem to be 11 or so. We head for the fish and chip shop. Everyone has haddock and chips except the small children who are fed from their parents portions. I go off to pay and the bill is seventy five quid. Have fish and chips rocketed in price ? Is dandelion and burdock a fiver a bottle, or did they think I would buy lunch for everyone in the place because it's election day? I guess it will be a mystery for ever. They've got me. How could I question the bill today. Son in law offers a tenner presumably thinking it will pay for his family's meal. I use it for the tip.

Go to Sainsbury's with my daughter. We buy some champagne and a cake for later and run slap bang into the Tory chairman and wife doing their weekly shop. The woman on the checkout listens to our conversation and says "Well, he should be alright shouldn't he? But you can always bring it back if the worst happens!"

Filled in the time till close of poll driving canvassing teams of family enthusiasts out to understaffed committee rooms. They all seem amazed that BBM has so many children.

My sister arrives from Oz via Kings Cross and we go out to the local Greek restaurant for a huge family meal babies and all. We have only been there two minutes when the Tory candidate and his team turn up. I listen to the exit poll on my walkman and tell the Tories the good news for them that the predicted Labour majority is 66. I begin to feel gloomy because I sort of sense that it's all over and the result isn't really going to make anyone happy.

BBM's turn out is low. Just over fifty percent. I always knew his majority would be reduced but cannot understand why the whole family on the balcony look incredibly gloomy. Go upstairs and find that they are watchin the wrong count in the other part of the hall, and think that BBM is going to lose! Explain where to look and everyone cheers up.

It all ended about 2am. It's still a safe Labour seat, but the election sysytem seems nonsensical. A change to proportional representation should be the first bill of the new parliament.

Of course I am exhausted when I go to bed at four thirty but also depressed and miserable . Somehow it ended up being the gloomiest election yet for me and I don't know why.

We are off to Scotland with my sister for a few days. She's never been there and two of our granparents were born there. Mention to our party chairman how keen I am on the SNP and how I would vote for them if only they had a candidate here. She looks amazed and points out weakly that my husband is the MP for our constituency. I would still like to vote SNP if I could! My heart's in the highlands.


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