It’s been a very odd couple of days. From the optimism of the “Clegg surge”, the sheer slog of the end of the campaign and polling day itself, I found myself in the count for Shrewsbury and Atcham last night, awaiting our result. I had really no idea what to expect of the result, but I felt moderately cheerful, despite hearing the exit poll numbers in the car (dismissed: silly uniform national swing predictions). It was becoming clear from the piles of ballots that we were going to be quite well up on our vote last time, having pushed Labour into third place. Of course, we’d have liked to win, but as a non-target seat, that was always a tall order. Following on from a campaign in which Labour squealed about every leaflet we put out suggesting that they weren’t going to win, we were being proven right in our assertion that we are now the main challengers locally. As it turned out, we’d increased our share of the vote by 6%, Labour’s had plummeted by 13.5%. It seemed to be going OK.
Then someone told me that Lembit had gone. I wasn’t sure what they meant for a moment. Gone? ..oh.. huh. Personal vote eroded, I guess. Doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s a shame, but I can think of worse people to lose.
Then I had to go back into the count to do more tedious watching of counting. It was quite slow going. By the time we got to the result, listened to the speeches, and went home, I was pretty tired. I’d heard a couple of less encouraging things from other seats in the region.
Then I turned on the TV when I got in, and David Dimbleby told me Evan had lost his seat.
That’s really not the sort of thing you want to hear when you’re knackered and feeling a bit down about the disappointing absence of the much vaunted Clegg surge.
And then today, in spite of this, we’re in a position of real influence, and the party has a minefield of political intrigue to navigate. It would be so much easier just to curl up into a navel-gazing ball and have a thorough post-mortem of the campaign, but it seems that’s going to have to wait.
So where do we go from here? I think I have to agree with Jonathan Calder on this one, which doesn’t happen all that often. I really don’t see that we have much option than to take the Conservatives’ offer seriously. The maths of a Labour deal is just too far a stretch. That doesn’t mean I want to see us smothered by the Tories, but even though I’ve always thought of myself as a progressive, left-of-centre type, I don’t think we have the luxury of discounting it. I’d rather see a Tory programme for government tempered by Lib Dems than one left to its own devices. I simply don’t think a Labour programme for government is an option, and I think the public will recognise that.
We live in interesting times. I’m knackered from the campaign, but it looks like it could be some time until this election comes to a complete conclusion.
But hey, if there’s another election any time soon, I’ll see you all in Oxford!