Monday, 10 May 2010

Election - Feature

Hythe, New Forest, Thursday 6 April, 9:30 p.m

Outside the leisure centre, the car park is filling up with cars. The air is slowly cooling down as the sky gradually becomes darker. People hurry towards the entrance. Most men are smartly dressed, but it seems that some women have preferred to remain casual.

A BBC van is parked in front of the entrance; a very tall antenna sticks out of it. One journalist, who must be in his mid-forties, stands beside the van, chatting on the phone.

An odour of chlorine lingers at the reception indicating the swimming facilities inside. A woman and a man stand behind the counter, checking that everybody who gets in is on the list.

The count is being held in the main sports hall. Sports equipment has been pushed against the brick walls – gym mattresses, basketball hoops between others. Several big posters are displayed on the walls, showing people stretching, cycling and swimming.

Four rows of tables have been lined up – two assigned for the New Forest West constituency and two for the New Forest East constituency. A stage has been set up at the back of the hall; a microphone and two speakers stand on it. Some people who are here to count are already sat down, waiting for the first ballot papers to arrive. Most people in the room are over fifty; however there are a few exceptions.

Groups of party supporters are spread around the hall, chatting and laughing. Any group is easily identifiable thanks to the rosettes people wear. The majority of supporters in the hall wear a blue rosette.

10:00 p.m

Black boxes full of ballot papers arrive from various places. The ballots papers are slowly distributed on the tables, and the count commences. People who count – mostly women – seem pleased that it has finally started and put lots of energy into counting as fast as possible.

Upstairs a café has been set up for the occasion. On a table lie cheap sandwiches, muffins, tea and coffee. A few people are sitting around the tables, drinking tea and chatting with their neighbours. A television has been brought into the confined room, and a small crowd of people has gathered around to watch BBC 1. Many of them are waiting for estimations to be announced, as it is still too early to already get some results.

11:00 p.m

Back in the main sports hall, people are still counting at the New Forest East table. However, it seems that the ballot papers from the New Forest West are slower to arrive. People at the new Forest West table are waiting, some looking bored, and others are chatting, yawning, or drinking coffee.

Now there are a few journalists walking around the hall. The BBC journalist’s microphone reads “BBC Solent”. He is talking to many people, interviewing some supporters, asking candidates for their feeling about the election or if they know when the results will be announced. Several other people wear the badge “General election 2010: PRESS”, but it looks like they are waiting for more solid information before interviewing people. Another journalist is holding a heavy-looking camera; he takes pictures of the two Conservative candidates.

12:30 p.m

The returning officer climbs onto the stage and announces when the results are estimated to come through. The New Forest East constituency should have its newly elected Member of Parliament by 2:30 a.m. The New Forest West constituency should have the result by 3:00 a.m. Some people sigh, there is still a long time to wait before going home.

It is getting warm in the main hall; many people have dropped jackets and scarves, and some are seeking fresh air outside – but most of them are quickly back inside as the outdoor temperature is not welcoming. The rare people who stay longer outside are the smokers, or those who are on the phone.

2:00 a.m.

At the back of the room, tens of empty ballot paper boxes have been piled up against the wall. The sports hall is no longer crowded now, many people have already left. People are still counting ballot papers, and some party supporters are looking over their shoulders to try to get an idea of what the result is going to be like.

Upstairs a diabetic lady has passed out. A few minutes later, an ambulance arrives. The medical team quickly examines her before taking her into the ambulance. The incident went unnoticed for most people in the main hall.

3:00 a.m

The room is getting much quieter now. The results have not been announced yet, and people are getting a little bit impatient. A blonde lady – who wears a blue rosette – walks up and down alongside the tables, looking annoyed and stressed. Many tables have been cleared with only piles of ballot papers waiting to be picked up. However, on the New Forest West table, people are still counting.

3:30 a.m

The five candidates for the New Forest East constituency – Julian Lewis (Conservative), Peter Sopowski (Labour), Terry Scriven (Liberal Democrat), Beverley Golden (Green) and Peter Day (UK Independence Party) and the returning officer climb onto the stage. Everybody is now looking towards the candidates, and all the journalists are walking towards the stage. The returning officer announces that he has the results. Looks of apprehension can be read on people’s face. The returning officer says:

“UKIP party, Peter Day: 2518 votes” A few people applaud, but the noise quickly fades as the returning officer carries on speaking.

“Green party, Beverley Golden: 1024 votes,

“Labour Party, Peter Sopowski: 4915 votes” Two people start to applaud but they are not followed by anybody.

“Liberal Democrat, Terry Scriven: 15136 votes” A cheer of applause immediately breaks the silence. It however vanishes in a few seconds.

“Conservative, Julian Lewis: 26 443 votes” Everybody wearing a blue rosette applaud laugh and hug each other. They have the power for another five years.

People for the West constituency are still waiting for the results. Despite the several signs “no food/ no drink” in the hall, many people are now eating a muffin or a cereal bar and drinking tea or coffee.

4:15 a.m

The results are going to be announced for the New Forest West constituency. The five candidates stand on the stage. The conservative candidate Desmond Swayne is re-elected with 27 980 votes. The few remaining people applaud, but it is not as cheerful as it was 45 minutes ago.

People who were counting earlier are now tidying up the hall, looking forward to being home.


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