MP for Hornsey and Wood Green
I’ve become a political pundit!
Having watched pundits pund on election night over many years, I always wondered how those poor sods who have to sit up all night manage to find such interesting (not) things to say for the hours before the results come in. And how they manage to say it was a wonderful night for their party – whatever the result!
On election night, I was booked to be on the outside broadcast from a pub in Liverpool Street with Emily Maitlis. The BBC heavy mob was in the studio with Dimbleby – and we in the pub were the light entertainment in between the heavier pontificating in the studio.
It had been a long, hard, day – starting at 4am. Why we deserved a one day heat wave as we slogged the streets I am not sure – but numerous interesting tan marks and somewhat burnt bits indicated quite clearly who had been out in the midday sun – delivering leaflets and knocking on doors to see whether supporters had voted. The polls closed at 10pm – and as my colleagues made a dash for Ally Pally for the Haringey count, I went off to do my media duty.
Arriving at the pub around midnight, chaos is reigning – organised chaos however. Little vignettes of ‘real’ people talking to Emily who would then come to a panel of experts made up from any combination of: Michael Portillo, Oona King, Ed Vasey, Tony Travers, Trevor Phillips, Rod Liddle – the list was endless (and me of course). There was no sound feed to the huge TV monitors for most of the time – so none of us could hear the results coming through – which made commentating a bit tricky.
I guess it makes good television – but after my nano-second interview I was not too sad to have to leave for my second booking which was at BBC London radio from 2.00am to 4.00am. Much more civilised! On panel with me were my old GLA opponents – Bob Neill for the Tories and Jeanette Arnold for Labour – plus Peter Kellner (YouGov) and Jules interviewing.
The results started to dribble in and were a mixed bag. We all kind of agreed that the main thrust of the voters seemed to be against the incumbent – whichever political party it was. Labour took the worst hit both from Lib Dems and from the Tories. Lib Dems in Camden, Haringey, Lewisham and Brent made substantive gains. However, Lib Dem Islington didn’t fare so well – suffering the consequences of tough decisions they had had to make. Tories took a hit and lost Richmond to the Lib Dems – but did better in the suburbs, but we saw them off in Kingston and the Tory leader there lost his seat.
And so it went. Just as we were finishing at 4am – the Haringey result came through. So we stayed on a bit longer so that I could comment on my own neck of the woods. We didn’t quite take the Council – cutting Labour’s majority to just three as we gained 11 seats from Labour. Thanks to the quirks of the voting system, there are actually Lib Dem councillors in a majority of the wards in Haringey now – and we topped the vote across the borough. So much for Haringey being a Labour borough any more! Particularly pleasing were our first two councillors in Tottenham.
And the Tories – who had been working to try and get back onto Haringey Council – failed to get a single seat back. So good for us in Haringey – but all in all – a mixed bag of a night.
I suppose that the conclusion that I came to was that London is angry. The incumbency kickings seem to be about a frustration with local government. Powers have been stripped from local authorities. What power they do have is so controlled by Government that local authorities frequently have to jump through hoops specified by the Labour Government to bid for funding to do what the Government wants – not necessarily what local people want.
I leave the radio station around 4.20am and head for the Three Compasses pub in Hornsey where we are privately celebrating our results in Haringey. Seeing a room full of Lib Dem Haringey councillors, it’s pretty amazing to think it is only eight years since I – along with June and Julia – won our first seat.
The real secret is engagement with local residents. It’s not just about political persuasion – it’s keeping it real and caring about the everyday world we all meet when we step out of our front door.