Local Elections Portsmouth — I infiltrated the ‘behind-the-scenes’, & here are my findings:

Unlike most other Elections, where I just mark my X and move on with my life, this recent round of Local Elections found me traipsing the streets campaigning for a friend of mine, Malcolm Chewter, the Conservative Candidate for Milton Ward, Portsmouth South, and discovering that, no matter their affiliation, each Candidate commits their blood and soul to their cause.

We may not all agree with them but I know with certainty that Malcolm cares for the community he serves.

Behind the smiles of the Candidates are teams that commit just as much of themselves as the Candidates they support, and although I’ve no idea of what it is they actually do by hour and day, every time I returned to the office they were always in the middle of something that was keeping them out of trouble, or in trouble, depending on how you want to see it.

What I didn’t realise, since my experience in such matters extends to only an X on a ballot paper, is the sheer volume of work that goes into a campaign — it is staggering. It starts, I suppose, by telling someone you want to be a Candidate — exactly whom you tell, *shrug, I don’t know, I never asked — and it ends on Election Day, which is a near enough non-stop 24 hours of mayhem. In the meantime there’s photo’s to be taken, and leaflets to be written and printed and disseminated throughout the Ward, and not just one leaflet but a fair few different ones depending on the stage of the campaign; and there are residents to be engaged with, either on the street, in public meetings, or by knocking on their door. There are even phone calls to make, but from my understanding this is more of an Election Day thing since I only saw the office team do this yesterday, but I could be wrong, I wasn’t exactly a fly on the wall.


Thursday, May 5th — Election Day

My day began 4 hours late due to this damn cold that is determined to see me laid up in bed, but once I’d eventually managed to cease the stream of my nose and eyes long enough so I could actually see to dress, and once I’d unfuzzed my head enough to work out exactly how to dress, I met up with Malcolm on some obscure street corner and got to work.

Our first order of business — actually, it was the day’s main order of business — was to ‘Knock-up’ people. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I did initially think this very frisky, but in reality it is knocking on voters doors and enquiring if they’ve been to vote. If they have been then we’re sorry for disturbing them, but if not we were there to give them a lift, if needed. Most often, no-one was home.

At one point, and I suppose this I should class as a ‘break’, I did something called Telling, which has nothing to do with telling someone about something but is more being sat outside a Polling Station jotting down the registration numbers of passing voters, which are found on the Polling Card — these numbers get inputted onto a database by the office team, and ultimately give a breakdown of who has voted and who hasn’t yet, allowing the team to draw up the ‘Knock-up’ form, which they did, allowing them to send us back out again to knock on doors.

About 6pm Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond joined us on our knocking up — when I say ‘joined’ I mean she became my lackey as I ordered her to this door and that, and she was a good sport whom I found easy to manage, once I’d realised she was a chatter. I was the man with the overflowing clipboard, and she, her assistant, and Malcolm, nothing more than pawns in my clipboard game.

I ruled that clipboard — I defy anyone to say they were better because I was just fantastic.

On a related but totally random note, I quite like Flick — she humoured all of my probing questions on what it’s like to be an MP, and although I could’ve taken the opportunity to discuss political stuff, and really dug deep into the matters of the Country, I’m more interested in the person behind the smile, and I found her to be a very nice lady who is both passionate for Portsmouth and Britain, and for her family, and for me this matters (I am a nosy writer). She is very easy to talk to and she cares, and she easily tolerated my interrogation, and all this makes her alright in my book. Same goes for her assistant, Tom. Both of them were human, which is nice to see when all you see is the image of monsters on the news.

In need of sustenance and a bit of a spritz, Malcolm and I retired from our knocking-up just after 8pm.

By 930pm we were heading to Guildhall for the Count…


The Count — it is exactly what it says on the tin

Count.

When Malcolm invited me to the Count, and sold it as ‘exciting’, I was ridiculously expecting some Count von Count from Sesame Street type version of counting, not with puppets (that’s just silly) but with bright colours, dazzling lights, and maybe a bit of fun repetition. Maths, after all, is not my strongest point, and I was keen to learn something.

Boy, did I learn something…

I learnt that excitement is subjective.

So we arrived about 10pm and were directed to the main hall where were laid out two big squares of tables. One square was for Portsmouth South, the other for Portsmouth North. Inside the squares sat the counting people and outside them mingled the rabble. ‘Rabble’ is the best way to describe the throng of Candidates, Agents, Media, and other assorted guests.

Malcolm, being the social butterfly he is, was off, leaving me chatting to the lady who was the Campaign Co-ordinator for the Conservatives. She gave me a piece of paper and a pen, and she told me to tally things — I said “okay” but wasn’t 100% on what I was supposed to tally, but I figured I’d work it out as I went along. I didn’t. I ended up tallying nothing but drawing a pretty picture that really should be hung in Tate Modern.

But I digress — it is remiss of me to deny you all the excitement.

I was pointed to the Milton Ward count section where I sat before a lady I knew — Stephanie. I’ve no idea how I knew her, but it turned out she knew me too and had no idea how either, so for 2 ½ hours we sat trying to work this out. We narrowed it down to a period between 2002 and 2006, and figured the drunken haze of our youths were working against our memories.

This is how the Count rolled: For Milton Ward there were 5 Polling Stations with 2 ballot boxes for each, one for the Counsellor, the other for the Police and Crime Commissioner. Each box was opened and emptied onto the table, and I verified that the box was indeed empty, and then Stephanie and her 6 companions sorted the ballot papers into 25s, and then consolidated them into 100s, with the odds noted down with a post-it.

They then re-counted, and counted them again, and again just to be certain.

At one point a Labour lady tried to muscle in on my empty box verification duties but she didn’t demonstrate the will I had to verify the box’s emptiness with my degree of certainty — I found it hard to believe her when she verified the box as ’empty’, and she was really only humoured by the Count Supervisor for Milton Ward who still showed me the box for a true and accurate verification. After all, beyond drawing pictures and trying to work out how I knew Stephanie, I had nothing else to do, and I’ve a clear knack for being able to tell when a box is empty, and being able do so in a manner that assures people it is devoid of all but air.

Once all the boxes were empty (I got thanked by the Supervisor for my commitment) and the ballots within were verified, the count began and the real excitement began, also — Stephanie and her people sorted all the ballots out by candidate. They physically broke down the mix of ballots into piles of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, UKIP, and the Green Party.

Around me I was surrounded by excitement — there was a Medic on site just in case it got a little too much, and seeing the frenzy some of the people were getting themselves into, I fear the Medic may have felt in need of a companion.

After a recount, and another, and just one more for luck, the result was called.

Unfortunately, Malcolm didn’t win — he came 3rd, and I’m not certain if my pep-talk on 3rd being better then 4th (or heaven forbid, 5th) worked, but I most certainly felt better for saying it. It was 330am and I was just longing for the comfort of my bed.


So all in all, what have I learnt?

    1. Excitement is subjective.
    2. There is more to posting a leaflet through the door than actually posting it — some letterboxes are really difficult and I’ve a new found respect for the Postman. PLUS, dogs just run at doors and head-butt them!
    3. The Count is boring — it is 5 ½ hours of watching someone count the same thing over and over again, and again just to be certain.
    4. Candidates, like Malcolm, really and honestly care for the area in which they live — much more than I do, and I thought I cared.

Should Malcolm want me, would I help him again?

Most certainly.

Although throughout I was happily thinking of more exciting things I could be doing, like revisiting that time my dentist pulled my exploded wisdom tooth from my mouth, looking back it has been a real pleasure to help a good friend to try and achieve what he believes in.

Also, I’m holding Flick to her inviting me to Parliament — I really want to see how that malarky rolls, and see whether-or-not these folks who run our Country are human like her, or if their media taint is true.

Tomos James