A Day at the Races

One of the other hats I wear, apart from writer of elegant fictional prose (!) is that of editor of Chudleigh Phoenix Community Magazine. In that guise I applied for a press pass to the count for the district and town elections earlier this month. Somewhat to my amazement, my application was accepted. In fact they also offered me one for the Parliamentary count the previous evening, but as we live in a constituency with a very safe Conservative seat, there weren’t going to be any surprises there, so I declined.
So, I spent Friday 8th May at Newton Abbot racecourse, sharing the press room with journalists from two local newspapers. I found it fascinating, not just for the results, but for everything else that was going on around me.


The information pack talked of a press room with beverages on tap; free wifi and our own toilets. Such glamour! I told my husband, a candidate in the town election, that I would be too busy to spend much time in the public rooms with him, but that I’d pop out and see him from time to time. 
The count was to begin at 10.30am, and doors opened at 10am. So, at 9.59am, I was in the car park, raring to go. To my surprise, the press room, when I finally found it, was empty. The more experienced hacks, knowing that no results would come through for at least an hour or so, gradually made an appearance, greeting each other like long-lost friends. But at least, by then, I’d managed to grab a good location, next to one of the very few power points in the room.
On a silent television above our heads, the national picture was continuing to crystalise: the number of Conservative MPs  gradually crept towards, and then exceeded, the magic number of 325. Party leaders were falling on their swords: first Farage, then Clegg and finally Miliband. But that was only a background to the main event.
The more experienced journalists never made it to the counting hall. They stayed in the press room and had the results—and successful candidates they wished to interview—brought to them. They’d seen it all before and it was just another day of work for them. In fact, there was more excitement when one poor man fell on the outside staircase than there was when each set of results was announced.
The District counts came first. Wards and table numbers were announced over the tannoy, followed by calls for candidates to go and discuss disputed papers, further calls for candidates to hear the results, and then the results were publicly announced. Kenton with Starcross; Ipplepen; Teignbridge North…the list went on. The colour of the new council became obvious quite quickly: by the time 21 wards had been declared, there were 24 Conservative seats against seven for the Lib Dems and five Independents.
Finally it was Chudleigh’s turn. And I could stay in the press room no longer. Grabbing my notebook, I paced the floor in front of the counters’ table with the candidates and their supporters. The system for counting votes may not be high-tech, but it certainly works well. Ballot papers are fixed to a sticky strip, lined up side by side, and then counts for each candidate totalled at the edge of the paper. As the sheets began to pile up on the collating table, even reading the numbers upside down, it was clear that we had a three-horse race and by the time the results were announced, they were no surprise to any of the observers.
I found the count for Town Councillors much harder to observe; not only because I had a personal interest in the results, but also because it’s more difficult to get an impression of how the numbers are going when there are 16 candidates to keep track of. The outcome of this poll was not certain until the official results were announced. By that time, we’d been there for nearly eight hours, and the glamour was beginning to wear off. Wearily, I collected my newly-elected husband and we headed for the car park and home.
As for that information pack; well it wasn’t quite accurate. Tea and coffee were provided, as was milk – but as no-one seemed to know where the kettle was kept, we ended up in the snack bar with everyone else. And as for our own toilets – I never did manage to find them either. But it was a fun day and I will definitely do it all again; although I might turn up just a bit later next time.
By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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