Cambridge GuildhallThrough the Looking Glass

The General Election May 7th Cambridge Guildhall

8. Cambridge Guildhall on the Night of the Count and the Morning of 8th May 2015

As the night of the count got progressively nearer to the close of the polling stations at 10 pm there was a real buzz of anticipation in the air, as the months of General Election preparation drew to a close and the official announcement of 650 constituency results all across the UK began to be made by the respective Returning Officers. One by one the television and radio stations reported the gains and losses of the political parties.

It became the "Were you up for Ed Balls?" night when Labour's Shadow Chancellor who many expected might soon be in government as the actual Chancellor got defeated and lost his seat. It reminded the political pundits of Labour's huge gains and victory in the 1997 General Election when the Conservative's Michael Portillo got defeated in what became the "Were you up for Portillo?" General Election.

The first Exit Poll at 10 pm drew gasps of surprise and even denial as they predicted the Conservatives would after all win an overall majority and could indeed form a government without other parties and coalition, talk of which had dominated the election coverage.

The Conservative's coalition partners the Liberal Democrats were the biggest losers including in Cambridge where Julian Huppert lost to Labour's Daniel Zeichner by just 599 votes. There were recounts in some of the 14 Cambridge wards, but not of all the results meaning that Antoinette Jackson, the CEO and Acting Returning Officer had to wait until after 5pm before making her official announcement of the winner.

The voter turnout was 63.2 per cent.

During the term he had been in office as the MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert, regularly told Hustings audiences, and in his conceding speech in the Guildhall on the morning of May 8th 2015 that he had dealt with 32,000 pieces of casework during his time in office.

Labour took 36 per cent of the vote, Liberal Democrats 35, Conservatives 16 per cent, the Green Party 8 per cent and UKIP just 5 per cent. The new Rebooting Democracy Party didn't really get a percentage share, but 187 votes are better than none and after Keith Garrett did tell us that it was really easy to set up a party and stand as a candidate. We applaud him.

As Ms Jackson delivered the results in alphabetical order, cheers went up for every candidate who had stood, but the winning cheers for Daniel Zeichner and Labour's victory were ear splitting. If you listen in you will hear them as they happened.

The Cambridge result was:

In this final section of our eight part audio podcast we captured the night of the count as it unfolded and let other members of the media narrate it for you. It is a good listen. As John Vale, political correspondent of the Cambridge Evening News told us, there was a real buzz all night long.

As we stood in the Gallery overlooking the count and the many tables, chairs, and people beavering away John said poetically and profoundly: “This is the people's heart of the Election.”

Ashley Perry the City Council's Marketing and Press Officer managed to keep the press “sweet” and the vote secret until the declaration even if new media presented problems that were not there before with mobile phones and laptops able to photograph it all. They had of course been sworn to secrecy.

Like the winning and losing candidates did after the vote was declared we also wish to thank Antoinette Jackson CEO of Cambridge City Council and Vicky Breading and her team from Electoral services for making the night such a memorable and successful one.

Over the course of the six weeks of the General Election campaign in Cambridge we managed to capture over 60 interviews with voters, candidates, council staff and campaign teams, and we would like to thank them all for working with us to produce this moment of history that will now never be forgotten.

After all a journalist is the first Teller of the story.

The Night of the Count - Part One

Alison again with friend Juliet: On the night of the count at 6pm we returned to find our St Matthew's voter Alison Litherland with a friend, Juliet, in front of the telly waiting for the close of polls. Both had already voted.

Alison said: "Because I have spent time living around political people I realise the enormous amount of work that goes into running an election and all of it behind the scenes. Workers have to deliver leaflets and knock on doors and they suddenly come out and do an awful lot of work. They gather the lists of names and tick them off, they give a huge amount of time it is impressive."

Juliet said: "I read all the literature that came through my door, it was just a whim. I had left it all sitting there and then a couple of days ago I thought I would just read through it all. It took me about half an hour and about 20 leaflets in all. I was probably going to Vote Green but I read them all. It could have influenced me if there was something in there that had really grabbed me. I thought long and hard because it is a marginal here, and then I thought 'No' because Labour and Lib Dem are ultimately the same and I won't get the things I want like end of austerity and end of Trident."

Kevin Blencowe, Labour Councillor. Labour Party HQ, Alex Wood Hall, Norfolk Street.

We found Labour activist and councillor Kevin Blencowe at 9pm at night in the Alex Wood Hall in Norfolk Street still working and getting his 'knocker up' list to go out and encourage other Labour supporters to vote.

Kevin said: "The people we have identified as probable Labour voters and they haven't voted - we try and dig them out, we either phone them or knock on the door and say you have another hour to vote. It was a very good start to the day, lots of people queuing up to vote and I think that the good weather helped. I am always hopeful."

Ann, another party worker had given Kevin the 'knocker upper' list. She said: "We have been very busy, we are working away like mad, we are still phoning some of the area, but in others where there are elderly people living it is not appropriate. Kevin is taking the last batch of the knock ups. I won't celebrate until I get the result, we are hoping for a good result!"

Students: Rob, India, Eleanor and Raff: We then at 9.20pm captured the very last Hustings of the campaign at the famous Cambridge Union Society where the Footlights team were engaging students in political satire and spoke to four students.

These four first time voters, who had all cast their vote, collectively concluded: "Every student and everyone our age should be out there and voting."

Listen to the interviews:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 10.5MB)

The Night of the Count - Part Two

Ashley Perry, the Council's Marketing and Press Officer, gave us two minutes of his time at 10.10 pm when he was busy helping the media ensure they could get their results back to their respective bases.

Ashely told us: "Vicky is down there with her Electoral services team and working on it all. We have Sky, ITV, the BBC, local bloggers and some student reporters from student media here in the Gallery tonight overlooking the floor of the Guildhall and the count. It is a real mix, and it will be a busy evening and we are tight for space in the Gallery. We could have the first box of results coming in soon as there is a polling station very close by."

That same night we spoke to two media studies students working for Sky, Anthony and Laura, who had been employed specially to send pictures back but not report on the count for Sky. Their camera showed just one shot all night, but it was a new innovative media practice for Sky.

Anthony said: "It is fantastic to be here. We definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't' for the fact that technology allows so many people to be given a job on the night". Anthony also read out that first surprising Sky and IPSO Mori exit poll for us.

Laura said: "We are students working with Sky tonight and we are one of a 150 live links across the Country. We got one days training and we are media students, and we had an hour's tuition on how to use the live links. It is an amasing opportunity to be here tonight it is going to make our future."

The Cambridge Evening News political journalists John Vale and Chris Elliott again narrated the scene for us from the press balcony overlooking the count at the Guildhall.

John said: "I can see and feel buzz. The Exit Polls are giving the Tories a majority which has got everyone on the ropes a bit. The CEN did its own Exit Poll when between 5.30pm and 8.30pm I stood outside a polling station and asked 150 people in West Chesterton, which is a tight seat between Lab and Liberal Democrats, how they would vote. It was 54 to LD and 53 Lab, 23 to Greens and 20 to Cons and none for the others. I stand by it. This is the practical heart of the election when you stand in the Guildhall Gallery and look down on the count."

We listened in as Chris Elliott interviewed Daniel Zeichner for the Press Association just after 5pm when Daniel told Chris he had "quiet optimism". Chris asked if he had in fact taken the seat? Daniel replied: "Never believe rumours, I have a fantastic team around me, we don't know yet!"

We captured the audio of the count and proclamation being made by Ms Jackson. And then we heard Daniel Zeichner tell the people of Cambridge: "Well good morning Cambridge!"

Daniel also thanked: "Vicky Breading and her staff who worked tirelessly" and thanked "the voters of Cambridge for entrusting me with your vote in Cambridge". Daniel also acknowledged how hard Julian had "worked for this city", as had David Howarth and Anne Campbell, the two former MPs one LD and one Labour. Daniel told the gathered supporters and activist: "I will try and follow that tradition."

He said it was: "A tremendous victory for Cambridge Labour" and thanked his team, his colleagues and organisers and campaign manager. A loud cheer went up.

Julian Huppert also thanked his team, as did the other candidates as they took to the stage on the Guildhall floor one by one. Julian repeated what he had said at many of the Hustings meetings that he had in fact dealt with "32,000 pieces of casework" as the MP for Cambridge.

The CEN political reporter John Vale then quietly told us, as the results were being announced by Ms Jackson, that there was just "599 votes in it" and that there had been a few recounts from individual wards but that the Electoral Services team were saved from doing a full recount of all the wards and that he for one, due to the late hour of the declaration was: "grateful for that!"

We spoke again to Richard Howitt MEP, Labour's regional Campaign Spokesperson about Labour's success in Cambridge but failure nationally.

Richard told us: "There have been some difficult results tonight but it is a fantastic one in Cambridge. It was a slim margin but a clear victory for Labour. We won the City Council last year and the Parliamentary Seat this year. It has been a challenging night. Tuition fees were a millstone around the neck of Julian Huppert."

The winning candidate for Labour, Daniel Zeichner, spoke to various media outlets soon after the vote was declared about his success and we stood by his side to record his interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire's Breakfast Show presenter Dotty McLeod. You will hear Daniel's voice but not Dotty's.

Daniel told Dotty: "Cambridge Labour has been working very hard to win the City back for Cambridge and I will now be working closely with the Labour Council. We will be tackling the problems of transport, the cost of housing for young people and many other problems the City has. We will be working Nationally with people from the other parties to sort out these problems."

Daniel's closing remarks to Dotty were poignant: "I feel for people who have lost their seats all over the Country, including Julian Huppert."

But for Daniel his first comments on hearing he had indeed won Cambridge for Labour were profound: "Good morning Cambridge." It was for him one of our six PPCS - Prospective Parliamentary Candidates - a very good morning indeed.

Listen to the interviews:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 22.2MB)

Daniel's Last Hustings - 34 and he is still smiling!

This is how Daniel Zeichner, now the Labour MP for Cambridge, greeted his freedom from Hustings events after the 30the one on Europe! Do listen - it is fun!

Daniel told us: "I am free at last!" And what did he find most challenging?: "The tedium, hearing the same arguments time and time again and remaining civilised. I think there were too many, next time I will organise it so we have a more rational approach. It is talking to people one to one that makes the difference not the Hustings."

We then asked two students at the Husting, Seana and Chris to tell us their reaction to what the panel said on Europe. The absence of UKIP was commented on. As students they found registering to vote easy but said: "Why can't there be an app to vote?", said Chris. While Seana said: "The debate has informed my voting I will be more progressive in voting in a General now!"

Listen to the interviews:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 13.7MB)

July 21st 2015

We return to the Floor of the large hall at the Guildhall to restage the Night of the Count

Vicky Breading, Electoral Services Manager, Cambridge City Council

Voting with a "smiley"!

The Night of the Count at the Guildhall is full of tension, drama and even it seems mystery. While journalists are allowed under supervision to stand in the Gallery and look down at the arrival of the ballot boxes and the counting of the votes on the floor of the large hall they are not by tradition allowed to step one foot onto the floor itself. Only certain approved "Observers" are allowed to do that, such as the candidates themselves, their agents and their counting agents. We asked Vicky Breading, Electoral Services Manager, to take us onto the floor of the large hall and restage the Night of the Count.

Vicky told us that only two counting agents are allowed per candidate, so there is an equal number of staff and observers. Their role is to observe that the ballot papers, which are put into small bundles, are put into the right piles for the right candidate. Three Deputy Returning Officers and Antoinette Jackson, the Council's CEO, can be called on to adjudicate if necessary. People get tired and mistakes could be made, so it's good to have the counting agents there to ensure there are no mistakes!

Apparently Vicky's rule book says that not only can crosses, and even ticks against a candidate's name be counted as a vote for them, but now "smiley" symbols are allowed too. That's a first.

Every area can be counted up to three times, before the RO is happy with the accuracy of the result, but even so there were some recounts on the Night. Given that the Council counts in Ward areas, so called mini counts, there would never be a need to recount the whole lot. However, electoral turnout was down, due to the new system of individual registration, and some voter entries probably should have been taken off the register from last time. Vicky told us there was far more interest in voting this year, and social media played its part too, so in all likelihood more people actually went to the polls.

Vicky said: "The result isn't important to us, making sure the result is correct and accurate and within the law is our role. Whoever comes out top at the end of the day makes no difference. In five years' time, there will definitely be different rules. With more use of iPads and mobile phones we need to observe the confidentiality of the vote. It is important not to allow people to take pictures of the vote or the numbers on the back of the ballot papers.

"I would like to see a move towards online voting, that would increase turnout. It could be that in five years' time the Night of the Count will be different. If say, 30 per cent of people are voting online, the landscape will look very different. It might even have been the last time we have an election in this large hall. The team of four I work with in electoral services and the wider team that I have to manage, they do an invaluable job and we really couldn't do it without them. I am immensely grateful for the help they gave."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 9.23MB)