It is fair to say that at 9pm on Thursday evening, we had a few jitters. We had the polling station turnout figures and in a raw state, we started to think that an increased turnout was taking place in the two districts where Labour's vote is more concentrated. We ran the figures by Connect and compared them to the other polling districts and the postal voter numbers. The two districts where we are stronger were performing much better but that was no different to the last elections. Those two districts always have higher turnouts. Was the small increase in the two Labour-leaning districts in this marginal ward meaning that Labour had succeeded in getting out their vote? After all, their entire campaign was all about energising their supporters to turn out. Had they succeeded enough just to slip ahead of us? The answer turned out to be No.
By the end of the verification the next morning I had enough presumptions and figures, including the actual turnouts in each district, and the total of returned postal votes, to work out a projected result. There was a gap of about an hour before the actual counts were due to begin so everyone shifted over to the cafe where we were able to work out the figures. My projected result is below (the actual results are in the first brackets, the results from 2012 are in the 2nd):
- Lib Dem 1221 (1264) (1282)
- Labour 904 (963) (1188)
- UKIP 545 (445) (-)
- Con 135 (144) (164)
Whilst generally, the projection is sound, the bit that was noticeably different to the actual result was the UKIP vote. We have some conclusions on this but we aren't going to share them with political opponents by publishing them here, other than to say that UKIP were able to make modest inroads in this election into layers of Labour vote which Labour should be concerned about being vulnerable, but they were not able to attract other groups of voters to the same degree. Hence the reason for detecting increased turnout in Labour areas but a lower Labour vote.
The conclusions we have drawn can only be taken as a small jigsaw piece in a bigger picture. Whickham North is a ward that used to be safely Labour but went Lib Dem first in 1992 and has remained Lib Dem ever since, sometimes comfortably so, sometimes as a marginal. It has been thoroughly worked by the Lib Dems for a generation and for the last few months by Labour. The ward therefore does not count as representative of the bigger picture, but is simply a part of what is an overall complicated political landscape.
One conclusion however that I am happy to share with Lib Dems and opponents alike is that where we have continued to work a ward, we have a much better opportunity of weathering whatever political storms the national situation throws at us. It doesn't always save us, but it not half helps!
Anyway, last Friday in the cafe we were able to relax a little after I finished working out the projected result. We could see the Labour people a couple of tables away. Their body language said they knew they had lost. A couple of hours later they knew for real.