Vote for Change
I walk into the sports hall with my husband. I've been here many times before for karate tournaments, but this afternoon is different. The hall has been taken over by the count for the local government elections. The big space is ringed by tables, with a gap in the middle where rows of bins stand. It takes me a while to realise they are ballot boxes. Three or four people sit behind each table, sorting through ballot papers. Many of the counters are young men and women, but occasionally an older official joins them for a consultation.
Outside the ring of tables, a crowd of people mill around. Some of them wear party rosettes and many of these are candidates. I have a rosette too - green for the Green party. I was persuaded to stand for election by the local party organiser, who assured me I was only a paper candidate. 'Don't worry,' she said. 'You won't be elected.'
We wander round the ring of tables, meeting people and asking how counting is going. Each table has a label, saying which wards will be counted there. English local government is complicated. There is a district council, which has a number of wards. Within the district, there are several town and parish councils and some of them have wards. I am standing for election in a ward of one of the big town councils.
Gradually, the ballot boxes are opened and papers tipped out on a table for counting. The ballot papers are sorted into trays: red for Labour, blue for Conservative, yellow for Liberal Democrat and green. It seems a long and complicated process. There are doubtful votes, and some which are spoilt. Some voters have written messages, like 'None of the above.' From time to time, a portly official, who is the returning Officer, mounts a podium in the middle of the hall and announces the results of a ward, to a round of applause. My husband murmurs that the whole process should be computerised.
As the afternoon drags on, people begin to drift away, leaving the remaining candidates and their friends to sit on chairs dotted round the edge of the room. There is a flurry of excitement when the count for one ward suggests that a candidate has won by five votes. A recount is demanded and the margin of victory is reduced to three. My little ward is among the last to be counted. I stand and watch with my husband and the party organiser and, when it becomes clear I have won by four votes, everyone hugs me. The Town Clerk approaches, shakes my hand and gives me a file of papers. I stand, feeling overwhelmed.