Monday, 14 September 2009

Save General Election night

Hats of to David McLetchie and the Scottish Conservatives for their valiant but perhaps futile campaign to save the drama of General Election night.

There are fears that a large number of local authorities will opt to carry out election counts on the day after the ballot, to save money, and not throughout the night.

David McLetchie MSP, Scottish Conservative Chief Whip, says that the long established tradition of the late night count in British politics shouldn’t be allowed to disappear.

“Overnight counting has yielded some memorable political moments from ‘did you stay up for Portillo?’ in 1997 to the moment we realised the Conservatives had won the 1992 election, when we held Basildon,” says McLetchie.

“Election night is full of drama and excitement, which is exactly what we need when there is so much public disenchantment with politics, “ says the former Scottish leader.

I agree with him but there is another aspect of 24/7 news coverage that is undermining the theatre of an election count.

It’s been evident from the last couple of by-elections - starting with John Mason’s triumphant entrance to the Glasgow East count half an hour before the result was officially announced - that the role of the returning officer has been completely compromised by e-mail, tweet, the mobile and plain old Chinese whispers.

In the old days the result is usually known at a count some time before the declaration. It was only agents and candidates who were given the figures and sworn to secrecy until the declaration was made. Now the result is known far and wide before the candidates even come to the town hall.

The technological sprint to be first with the news has already wounded the theatre of election counts and now financial strictures might deliver the knock out punch . Ach, sad day we left the Olivetti.

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