So, Parliament is still in session for another few hours on Lindsay Hoyle’s first day as Speaker, but the dissolution for the election is coming tonight and everything will be kicking off officially tomorrow. However, despite some campaign launches having already taken place, I’m going to use this post to look back at the general elections of my life.
It occurs to me that even if we’re in a period of frequent elections, everyone’s life will include only a certain number of general elections, which means we only get that limited number of opportunities to officially and directly influence the way our country goes. If they’re at an average of every 4 years or so, then most of us will see no more than twenty, and vote in about fifteen of them. Which is rather morbid way of looking at politics, but also a reminder that you don’t get that many votes in your life so it’s a good idea to use them and use them wisely.
In my life so far, there have been 13 general elections, of which I’ve voted in eight. Here’s the story of them.
Well, eleven of them. There were definitely two elections in 1974, and I have seen some of the TV coverage of them on BBC Parliament, and seen them recreated for A Very English Scandal but I don’t have any memories of the actual events because I was far too busy turning two in the gap between them and doing all the things two-years-old do, none of which usually involves paying much attention to elections.
And by 1979, things weren’t too different for six-year-old me, except this election did generate my first political memory. It’s the day after the election, and I come downstairs before school to find that my brother’s watching television. This might not sound too remarkable to a modern audience, but in Britain in 1979, the TV wasn’t on in the morning because there was nothing on TV in the mornings, so finding him there watching it while eating his breakfast was somewhat surprising. So, I got to see the pictures that explained that the party led by a woman had won a lot of seats, one led by an old man had won not as many and one won by a younger man had won not many at all. I didn’t really understand what was going on then, and forty years later, I’m not sure I’m any wiser.
I remember being worried about the 1983 election because when they announced it, I realised the date was the same as my best friend’s birthday and I wondered if it would affect him having a party on that day. It didn’t. We didn’t even get a day off school.
1987 was the first election I can remember having an opinion on, in the way that fourteen year olds who’ve just discovered the wider world in a time before the internet could have an opinion on everything without need to even try to justify it with facts. There was a mock election at my school which the Conservatives won, the Alliance (who I’d been cheering on) came second and Labour third, so I was convinced that would be the overall result. This was the first time I was allowed to stay up and see some of the election coverage — I think until the first few results came in — but had to wait until the morning to discover that I’d made my first incorrect election prediction.
I kept a little Alliance poster I’d been given at that, and put it up on the wall in my bedroom for a while, until events and my music taste led to it being replaced. “The time has come” was the slogan, and we’re still waiting.
Then it was 1992 and I could vote for the first time, and not only could I vote, I could tactically vote. Mid-Worcestershire was at the time being represented by Eric Forth who had to be beaten and the best way to beat him was to vote Labour. So I went along to my old school (the one I’d been at for the 1983 election) and cast my vote for Jacqui Smith where it was one of the pivotal 130 votes that got Forth’s majority below 10,000. That kind of sums up an election that had a lot of hope around it, even past 10pm on election night when the exit poll suggested a hung Parliament, but then it became clear that John Major was going to do just that little bit better than expected and get himself back in.
1997? Well, I already wrote about that..
Twenty Years Ago Today (Been Going In And Out Of Style).
Looking out of the window at a rather grey and cool day, I remember that the weather on May 1st 1997 was nicer than it…
2001? Well yes, there definitely was an election in 2001. John Prescott punched someone during the campaign. Ask anyone who knows and they’ll tell you there was definitely an election in 2001 and John Prescott definitely punched someone during it. It definitely happened, election night didn’t feel like watching a new Beckett play called Hold as absolutely nothing changed, and other things definitely happened in the campaign besides John Prescott punching someone.
2005 was the first blogged election. Well, the first one I ran a joint blog all the way through with a group of other politics bloggers — it’s still visible in the Wayback Machine, and was perhaps the end point of that early age of British political blogging, when people were still figuring out what this new medium was for, and just what you could do with it, and not just use it as a platform to start your media and/or muckraking career. Lots of words were written, lots of things were discussed and at the end of it Blair and Labour were back in power for another term and the Liberal Democrats had won more seats than ever before. Surely after this brief Tory revival, things would only be on the up for the centre-left now?
2010 was the election where I was busiest, as I was one of the people running Bob Russell’s re-election campaign in Colchester as well as doing my first set of daily election blogs. I basically lived politics for about five weeks then, and while it was all very fun at the time, I was completely wiped out at the end of it, as was everyone else which was probably why we effectively sleepwalked into the coalition without considering the many many pitfalls that would be coming in the five years ahead. It was probably the most interesting and genuinely unpredictable election I’ve been involved in, and was the only time in my life that a tweet of mine got spun into a globe-trending hashtag. Maybe I should have realised then that #nickcleggsfault would turn out to be prophetic.
2015, of course, turned out to the the time that we’d all been watching the wrong election. What we thought was David Cameron and Ed Miliband battling over who got to be the first to negotiate with Nick Clegg about who his much-reduced (why, we might go as low as 20 MPs if it’s really bad…) Liberal Democrats would work with, turned out to be about about Cameron spotting the Liberal Democrat vote was weaker than we all though and using that to ear himself a majority. They all were the future, once. For me, it was an election that was interspersed with revision for my Masters exams and planning for a dissertation that had to be revised quite a bit when the Liberal Democrat vote went a lot further down than expected.
And finally, 2017, where I had my first “there’s something interesting happening here” moment on an election day. As ever, I spent a couple of hours telling at my local polling station which, for the first time ever, had long queues of people, most of them young, waiting to vote on the late afternoon of election day. I wasn’t quite sure what it was until just after 10pm that night when the exit poll came through and plans changed from “probably go till about midnight, see how huge a majority she’s going to get, then get to bed” to “I’ll try and get some sleep before the next round of leadership elections start”. In some ways, we’re still living in the after-effects of that election, and the one we’re having now is the one we though might be coming just a few months after that one, not thirty.
And now here we are, thirty-seven days from the 13th election of my life and my 8th vote. Some say 13 is unlucky and 8 is lucky, so let’s see which one’s right and for who.