The first election for which I had the right to vote was in 1987. I voted Labour. The incumbent was Conservative. The Labour candidate got in, and held the seat till this year, though (thanks to the expenses scandal – he was one of the embarrassing claims rather than one of the shocking ones) he won’t be standing this year.
Since then I’ve never missed voting in any election I had a right to vote in: UK Parliament, European Parliament, local council, or Scottish Parliament. My great-aunt turned 21 in 1929, the first year in the UK that women had the vote on the same terms as men: her first General Election would have been 30 May 1929, and I expect she voted Conservative, but Labour got in. Still, though she was quite aware that neither myself nor my sister nor her niece, our mother, would be voting the same way she was (lefties all of us) she was adamant that we should vote.
This year is the first year since goodness knows how long that none of the pundits or the bookies have really been sure who would be in government in Westminster the next day. (Seriously. 1992, it had to be either Labour or Conservative, and it ended up being Conservative: 1974, Labour formed a minority government: but mostly, really, you know.) But now?
No one truly knows. It doesn’t look likely that any one party will win a thumping majority – but the Conservatives can always call on the Ulster Unionists to give them enough votes to fatten up a slender majority: John Major did. Will that work this time? Incumbents usually have an edge because constituents tend to remember their names and what they’ve done for them – but this year, not only are a whole lot of MPs standing down because of the expenses scandal, those that remain aren’t always remembered fondly.
Will Labour win a majority of seats but come third in the vote count? Will the Tories win a majority of seats but come third in the vote count? (Either is possible.)
Will the LibDems do better than anyone expected a month ago? (Yes, almost certainly. Nick Clegg is a rare example of someone whom Murdoch’s press set out to destroy, becoming more popular as a result. Google #NickCleggsFault if you missed it.)
What about the SNP? (This is the first General Election to be held since the SNP took the Scottish government, and no one knows what effect that will have on the voting patterns of the 59 seats where the SNP are running.)
This is the first election where it’s looked fairly likely that a Green candidate will become a Westminister MP (Caroline Lucas, in Brighton Pavilion). Will there be a higher Green vote?
None of these questions have obvious answers. I have no idea when or if we’ll know, tonight or early tomorrow morning, if we are going to have a hung parliament – but if we have anything but an outright Conservative win, it’s pretty sure that we will have some form of proportional representation in the next UK election.
The Conservatives, always a minority party who are more frequently in government than their share of the vote deserves, are against PR: David Cameron plans a massive, very fast gerrymandering of constituencies, which will reduce the number of MPs in Parliament and will, he hopes, ensure a long period of Conservative power in the UK.
So this morning I picked up my polling card, walked down to the community hall behind my local library, received my ballot, and took it to the voting station: I made a good firm cross against the candidate/party I had chosen (I’ll say which tomorrow, and why, when we get the results back) and dropped it into the locked ballot box. There were no queues – it was early (I like to vote early) but people were already coming in to vote. The box will remain sealed and under observation, until polls close at 10pm, when it will be taken – under observation at all times by at least two people – to the counting station. The ballots will be counted by hand, and each candidate has a right to appoint observers to witness the count. If the count is close, ballots may be re-counted up to three times to determine the will of the voter.
The Conservatives may get in, even on a minority of the vote, thanks to the British system of constituencies and first-past-the-post. And if they do, I believe it will be a disaster for the UK. Cameron is no more fit to be Prime Minister than a shetland pony. But if they do, at least it won’t be because the election was rigged… small consolation, though.