Behind the scenes at the general election count for Tottenham and Hornsey & Wood Green
PUBLISHED: 15:55 20 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:00 20 May 2015
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Simon Collins gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the evening of the election count at Alexandra Palace.
Arriving at nearly midnight I walked the length of Alexandra Palace looking down in the cool air on the sparkling lights of London. Then threading through the considerable security presence I found the Palm Court abuzz with the expectation and gossip of groups of party supporters.
We occupied only the western end of the Palace. But the marbled hall with its trees, Egyptian features, and high glass-vaulted roof will hum and echo through the early hours.
It would not be easy to fall asleep here on a night like this.
More than one person remarked that we were lucky not to be located in a sports block or anonymous school assembly room as at many other counts across the land.
Tonight the fate of two constituencies, Tottenham, and Hornsey and Wood Green, will be decided, one an ultra-safe foregone conclusion, the other in the balance ready to unseat the LibDem minister, Lynne Featherstone.
In the chatter of party workers unwinding after weeks of frenzied activity this was an evening of numbers, percentages, swings, voter turnout, postal ballots collected, of careful counting. Finally, only one vital number would matter: the majority of votes carrying a candidate first past the post on to Westminster as a Member of Parliament.
There were several distinct types of people here. Foremost were the 15 candidates themselves from the main and minor parties along with their immediate supporters and deputies, party agents, press officers, leaders of the campaign teams.
Then there were the key party supporters. These merged together sitting at tables in the open café at the corner of the Palm Court. There was a mood of exuberance even among those without hope of votes. Small groups gathered in front of large televisions watching the national coverage, cheering or groaning when notable results came in.
The BBC had a crew of 16 on a podium opposite the platform where the candidates will stand and the Returning Officer make his declaration. The rest of the journalists, about twenty, moved back and forth with shorthand pads and cameras from their base in the enormous Loughborough Room off to the side.
They tapped way on laptops anticipating whatever may occur.
The huge hall was neatly arranged with half a dozen very long trestle tables in parallel. On one side the seated counters rapidly sorted the ballot papers into piles. The other side without chairs was open for party monitors who closely watched and filled in charts. In this way they could develop a picture of how the race was progressing.
Stefan Mrozinski, the Conservative candidate for Tottenham, wanted to sit down. He told me his feet were aching as he had personally delivering over 10,000 leaflets while canvassing Tottenham in the previous weeks.
Dee Searle, the Green candidate, was impressed by the efficient organisation of the Labour supporters who had brought carrier bags of food. She said, “Look at the way they occupy the space. That’s how confident they are. They clearly feel Tottenham is their territory.” She was accompanied as ever by her good-natured, supportive husband Mike, now often referred to as Mr Dee.
The LibDem, Turhan Ozen, had a quiet stoical attitude, ready to suffer the inevitable bad news.
Across the country LibDems were losing seat after seat paying the price locally for disapproval nationally. “I’ve been up since six o’ clock this morning,” he said, “to help campaign for Lynne Featherstone.”
Tariq Saeed of Ukip, always charming, already knew he would lose his deposit.
As always he had the leisured air of a man relaxing on a yacht or at a cricket ground. He complained about the hostility TUSC levels at him. Just then Jenny Sutton walked by with a sneer.
When we spoke she was unapologetic. She is ferocious towards them, regarding Ukip as an outright racist party disguised by a veneer of English pleasantry. She blames Ukip for dragging the entire political spectrum to the right. But her ire was focused on Labour. She believes many voters opposing the government mistakenly support Labour without realising Tony Blair changed it to a light blue version of the Tories.
David Lammy strode by looking neither right nor left while Tania Mahmoood, stood serenely with the Peace Party’s agent, her mother, telling me she intends to use her time at university to learn more about how politics really works.
The Returning Officer, Nick Walkley, the Chief Executive of Haringey Council read out the votes cast in Tottenham. Labour had increased its lead to two-thirds of the 42,558 votes cast. The Conservatives were in second place and the Greens increased their share by 7%; LibDems, TUSC and Ukip hardly figured. David Lammy made a smooth, proficient speech pleased to be re-elected to a fourth term. There remains the prospect of a by-election if he succeeds in becoming London mayor.
I talked with the woman standing beside me, Sharon Grant, wife of the legendary Bernie Grant, who stood within the party to replace him when he suddenly died in 2000. But it was 27-year-old David Lammy who was selected. Later, in a touching moment, I saw her embracing Lammy’s wife, Nicola.
The more dramatic announcement an hour later was for Hornsey and Wood Green. LibDem Lynne Featherstone, MP for ten years, was soundly beaten by Catherine West. The cheers and whoops of Labour supporters were unconfined. Men in suits punched the air and jumped for joy. Ms Featherstone looked utterly broken yet somehow maintained her composure on the platform without collapsing.
The night wound down. I saw a very old woman like a shabby duchess fast asleep in an armchair, her walking stick fallen. Away from the throng in a shaded corner I found Tariq Saeed, weary, alone on a sofa.
“How are you feeling?”
He sighed. “I’m okay. You know, for years in Barking and Dagenham I had to face Margaret Hodge. This was not as difficult as that.”
Slowly people started to leave, heading out into the silver light and gently sweet birdsong of dawn in Alexandra Park. Already they were dusting themselves off looking ahead to a changed nation, David Cameron exultant leading a government without a strong opposition.
However it has gone for those who were there they would probably agree with the Conservative Stefan Mrozinski’s verdict.
He told me: “In the early hours of this morning, a shift has taken place in British politics which will have profound implications for years to come. It’s a night that will long be talked about.”