News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Voting in Bristol North West

Just back from casting my very precious votes in the general and local elections.

This election seems to have captured the public imagination in a way I cannot remember since 1997.

Walking to the Library on Falcondale Road, our nearest polling station, it was obvious that turnout has been high, in Bristol at least. Reports of queues in polling stations in Bishopston have been circulating this afternoon and the banter from the rather tired-looking electoral staff at the Library was that numbers arriving to vote here in Westbury had been "very high". This was certainly the first time I have ever had to queue to vote.

This was also the first election in which my two daughters were able to take part and I felt strangely proud arriving at the polling station as a family. Between us, we gave our support to several of the major and one of the minor parties, which is all the information I intend to share about my personal vote this year, beyond saying that, to me, every vote is tactical.

There were other obvious first-time voters present when we arrived, and word from the college dining hall is that many 18-20 year olds in Bristol are very positive about taking part in this election and having their say in choosing the next government.

It's worth sparing a thought for the army of electoral staff and volunteers who make this great democratic event possible. Despite the odd murmur about fraudulent postal ballots, the reality is that British general elections are renowned for being fair and transparent. That great anti -democrat Josef Stalin once commented that elections are not decided by voters but by vote counters. It's something to be proud of that, unlike elections in some parts of the world, in Britain we are justly confident in the integrity of the rather unglamorous system of electoral administration that means our vote will be counted accurately and, therefore, will count.

Hung Parliament or not, we can also celebrate the fact that whatever the outcome of the election, as the votes are counted overnight, the losers will recognise the result and accept it. One of the factors that contributes to the strengthening of democratic institutions in younger nations around the world is the simple fact of the losing candidate accepting defeat at election time. Where this does not happen, instability rules, in the worst cases even precipitating armed conflict and civil war.

Call me an anorak (as I settle down with my nachos for the BBC's election special) but I actually love British general elections.

As for the result in Bristol North West? High turn outs and dry weather have historically been regarded by political scientists as beneficial to Labour, but it is less likely that leafy Westbury on Trym will reflect this trend. Anyway, what do I know? My predictions of last June's council elections were less than impressive.

What is more certain is, that since October 1974 (the year of the last hung Parliament) Bristol North West has always returned an MP belonging to the party that went on to form the winning government. The final word from the staff at the polling station was that , because of the high turnout, the counters of the Bristol North West votes (at the Bristol City football ground) would be up all night.

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