Author Archives: Ed Fordham

Ed Fordham joined the Liberal Democrats in Spalding, Lincolnshire, in 1988 and is the campaign co-ordinator for Ross Pepper, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Sleaford and North Hykeham Parliamentary By-election.

The emotions of an election count

Editor’s Note: Ed sent us this post on Thursday night but we were all out at our own counts so didn’t get the chance to put it up. It is all the more poignant given that Mark Williams was defeated by a mere 104 votes, meaning that we no longer have an MP in Wales. 

I talked to Ed and we agreed that his heartfelt post should still go up, so here it is….

As I arrived at the count, the ambition of our hopes crashed to the floor as what was hoped for and planned had slipped away. And so it was that I lost (third) in the closest result in mainland Britain in 2010: Hampstead and Kilburn.

Tonight I will return to the General Election fray and will go as a staffer: the Election Co-ordinator for Mid, North and West Wales for the Liberal Democrats. I will attend the Ceredigion count in far rural west Wales to support Mark Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Election counts are odd, grim and puzzling – you are enclosed in a tight space, the count changes little and it is the verification that matters. Few elections are knife edge close – it’s the campaign that has the drama and the frisson is the declaration at the end.

For my own part I now find I struggle at counts: you have a job to do scrutinising and getting the box count data, you need to co-ordinate the team and spot the gaps and potential problems and be in control of your emotions and all senses racing. Adrenaline is a real drug and you get no choice as it courses through your veins and the only antidote is calm and fixed smiles. For my own part I resist triumphalism and yet the venom often expressed at said occasions lingers in your mind, in your memory and in your heart. My own election count of 2010 is seared into me and will never leave. For several years after 2010 I lost all emotion and it has taken a long time to come round to understanding my own psyche since. Now I can cry at the smallest, simplest and most natural things – then I suppressed emotion and pressed on.

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Winning in Stoke-on-Trent: The foundations that YOU laid

On Tuesday, Ian Horner and I as Agent and Campaign Co-ordinator respectively cleared the by-election HQ for Stoke-on-Trent Central.   Unlike many such events from former by-elections, this was no sad or weary wake.

As we loaded up the bags and boxes, sorted out what could caravan into the next election portal we laughed, smiled and exchanged anecdotes of a campaign well fought.

1. Over 60% of the constituency that voted had voted against the Stoke Labour Party nominee, Gareth Snell. This result ws no ringing endorsement.
2. UKIP – the party that was going to win this unfairly designated “capital of Brexit” – were beaten and their Leader sent packing to fight his own internal civil war with no mandate, no victory and a clear rejection.
3. The ramifications of Labour’s strategy of total compromise and to become the party of Brexit Plus has lead to them voting with the Government. Yes, on Brexit Labour supported the government – now arguably the suicide note of history just got shorter.
4. The Tories, with a young shiny candidate did well to consolidate their support, build in their local councillor base and to almost supplant UKIP for second.

So with these elements at play, what worked for the Liberal Democrats?

We ran a campaign that was bold, confident, almost audacious. I recall clearly the moment in Sleaford and North Hykeham when it emerged that Ross Pepper was the only remain anti-Brexit candidate. With Labour fleeing the field, it is now clear that that will be the norm now going forwards.

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P-0: Polling day for Stoke-on-Trent

And so it arrives… finally. Always too short, yet campaigns last forever. At the beginning they take ages, in the middle you wish it was over and at the end you want more time. The day after you are left with a sense of regret at the gap that re-opens in your diary.

So what precisely has happened and been going on?  Let’s go through the outputs.

1. The Conservatives have selected a councillor from Stoke-on-Trent and he’s young, enthusiastic and done himself no discredit.  What we know is that, assuming he loses, he will duly be given a safe seat to be a Conservative MP.  It’s how the party structures work for the Tories.  But do not lose sight of the electoral roots of UKIP. A breakaway more extreme Tory Party.

2. The Green Party stood a local Stokie as their candidate – genuine and sincere, but unable to add to the dialogue in a City that needs a focus on renewables, resources and the environment. In advocating progressive politics, this election has not worked for them.

3. It is entirely possible that we will see, tonight, live, a Party Leader lose an election. In the myriad chaos of a General Election Nigel Farage was able to stand and lose. But tonight, Paul Nuttall will, I predict, be seen to commit political suicide. His ambition, his bravado and his arrogance deserves to rebound in way that I hope will crack UKIP asunder. Is this the first Party Leader, in a major league era (thus excluding Farage) to lose since Archibald Sinclair? And let us note, that Archibald Sinclair came third when he lost…

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P-1: Deep breath

Well after a few weeks, numerous days, endless hours and given my tiredness, countless minutes – polling day is about to commence. And yes, we have reached that point. ‘No more leaflets’ shout the notices on the doors. Some of the notices scream ‘NO MORE LEAFLETS’, some of the house don’t want UKIP leaflets specifically and some of the residents are quite articulate in their resistance. The most receptive and consistent in welcoming the avalanche of the leaflets have been the recycling boxes and bins.

What has been striking and fellow Liberal Democrats will appreciate this – has been the warmth of reception that we have had. Without a doubt the candidate who has emerged as kind, honest, respected and yes distinctive has been Dr Zulfiqar Ali.

I have worked with many many candidates and I can confidently say that you can be proud of the work, standing and respect of Dr Zulfiqar Ali. Zulfi has been beset by media and unlike virtually all of the other candidates he has not been on the run – he has been calm and accessible.

So we clear the office, bundle the good morning leaflets and prepare for a full-on count where no party really knows what will happen. Can I on behalf of the team here, and perhaps on your behalf, thank Dr Zulfiqar Ali, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

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P-2: Feeding the team that delivers on its stomach

I always found one aspect of military history interesting – yes, army logistics.  It’s all very well sending 200 people out but how do you feed them at breakfast, in the morning, at lunch and in the evening and then when they are randomly hungry?

So we have sought to run a HeadQuarters that is warm, friendly, welcoming and well stocked.  Now there have been a few local stalwarts who have been champion at ensuring our kitchen has been well stocked – croissants, biscuits (most variants), savoury biscuits, bread, oranges, bananas, apples (most variants), and yes we also have oatcakes, cheese, tomatoes and some bacon.  And how could we forget the ever ending supply of samosas.

And the atmosphere – well you have all been very willing, cheery and prepared to go out again and again.  It has been really noticeable how many of you who have travelled have a) arrived early, b) have stayed for a full day of work and c) stayed overnight and d) returned again and again.

Now I can say the team here have been bouncy and energetic and focused on making sure you left with a positive impression.  Now I realise that risks sounding flippant, but we have deliberately constructed the campaign in a way that places huge value on a quality and warm reception.  Under the attentive gaze of Simon Drage we try and make sure that you are fed watered and rested between and after your campaign activity.

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P-3: Could the Labour campaign be any more selfish and arrogant?

Go round Stoke-on-Trent at the moment and there are a number of noisy clusters of posterboard and cortex signs – but slightly curiously when you compare them to the electoral register, residents there you will find none.  Now what I am referring to is of course the age old power of the Trade Unions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no union basher – when it comes to staff and workers right, on pensions, on health and safety and working conditions the history of the trade union movement has much to its credit.  But it’s modern and indeed recent historical context of the political engagement of the union movement is less honourable and, I believe, deeply corrosive.

The Hanley branch of the Unite Offices is currently a forest of Labour and Snell Boards, the Communications Workers Union is almost a barricade of Labour monster boards, specific houses around the city have posters clearly supplied by Usdaw – in short, those workers who fund the union, in turn are funding the price of Tristram Hunt’s resignation and resulting by-election.  (And yes, I know about the political level but that levy has not authorised the main high street building locations that are resplendent with posters).

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P-4: David Vigar comes to Stoke-on-Trent

When I was growing up in Lincolnshire one of the great ‘urban myths’ in the school ground was that Jimi Hendrix played Spalding. Only recently did it emerge that in fact this was no myth, but a hard solid evidential truth. On Spring Bank Holiday Monday May 29th 1967 he played at the Buld Auction Sheds. Now it is a matter of some legend as to whether people were there or not.

In fact, given the truths emerging in Stoke-on-Trent I am wondering if Paul Nuttall saw Jimi Hendrix in Spalding back then – I better check his website… (joke)

So why is this important? Well in the folklore of Liberal Democrat by-election campaigns I am going to put my neck on the line. In the way that Leeds Central, West Derbyshire and perhaps cruelly given the geography Newcastle Under Lyme were important.

Leeds Central was lost in 1999 by 2,293 votes and felt painfully close
West Derbyshire was lost in 1986 by just 100 votes
And Newcastle-Under-Lyme in 1988 by a mere 799.

Now in all of these instances the Local Party and in fact the entire Liberal Democrat Party has had to go through a process of mourning and claim that they had the badge of honour – “I was at X election.. we nearly won…” and their eyes sink regretfully. Now please help us make sure that Stoke-on-Trent Central is not on that list of regrets.

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