It was an honour and a pleasure for me to represent Anne Marie Waters at the count undertaken at the premises of Electoral Reform Services Ltd in Wood Green North London on Friday 29th September.
I left Milton Keynes before 8am and took my place in the customary congested M1 motorway traffic. Arriving at the ERS Clarendon Road premises just after 9.30 am, I found I had just been pipped to the ‘first to arrive’ honour by Susie and Frank, Henry Bolton’s reps, how prophetic for what was about to emerge.
A little after 10am Adrian, the ERS manager, showed us witnesses, now including John Rees Evans young colleague Johnathon and our main man Piers Wauchope, the wheeled cage containing sealed envelopes with what would soon to be known as containing nearly 13,000 ballot papers. Swiftly these sealed, purple-flashed envelopes were being opened by an impressive, automatic envelope-opening machine. These opened envelopes were then quickly distributed amongst the 10 ladies sitting nearby whose first job was to remove the ballot papers and separate the unnecessary covering letters that some members had posted back. Piles of A4 ballot papers were then placed in 6 padlocked ballot boxes. The time was now noon. An hour or so’s lunchtime was called.
I took the opportunity to depart the premises, stretch my legs with a walk in the London air to Wood Green town centre now accompanied by my previously confiscated mobile telephone. Answering some business calls whilst walking I came across a local authority sign in the centre of the High Street saying “Free Speech area”. I smiled, I had never seen such a sign before, and my imagination kicked in with thoughts of my right shoulder displaying a placard stating “Mrs May is weak, she is betraying the British people and she is a rubbish negotiator” and on my left another saying “Islam is killing British culture”. I trundled back to Clarendon Road, most impressed with the London Borough of Haringey’s noble effort to protect our most cherished and presently threatened right.
The actual count began at 1.15.
First job was for us reps, by now including Joe, Peter Whittle’s man, and Katherine, Jane Collins lady, to verify the handful of proxy votes that Piers had received from members who for one reason or another had not received a ballot paper. Agreement was soon reached.
The 10 ballot separators were now at beaverish work, separating the papers into 7 piles whilst looking out for anything suspicious or ambiguous. The atmosphere took a tense turn. For me, with what I was seeing whilst walking between the separating personnel during the first 20 minutes it was a neck and neck contest between Anne Marie, Henry and JRE. It seemed to me various parts of the room had one or other table with a bigger pile, or was I employing hopeful imagination again?
After an hour or so it was obvious who was going to be the winner, not with a great number, but it clearly emerged. What also emerged was that Aidan and Jane were going to be a distant 7th and 6th. Politics is a cruel game! The atmosphere between all in the room remained friendly, respectful and professional.
The counters now jumped into action at the counting tables. It was clear who had the bigger pile. Piers unofficially measured the piles with a standing pencil, Henry won by 5 pencils to 4! Forlornly I stood over the lady counting Henry’s pile hoping that inadvertently one of those pencils’ worth was lurking at the wrong counting table. They were not.
The last job was to jointly decide what to do with the small numbers of spoilt or ambiguous papers. Again, decisions were quickly and happily reached. The final numbers were then agreed between Piers and Adrian, acknowledged by us witnesses. Piers then made the phone call, to, I assume, Paul Oakden.
We all then sat down in a meeting room to watch the live feed to Conference and kill some time before the World would know what we already knew. I took this time to congratulate Susie and Frank on their man’s victory and jointly commiserated with the others reps who were left in a similar position to me. The winner takes all. Finally the World knew. Piers distributed our confiscated telephones back. Our quarantine was over. We were free to face the new World.
Driving back to Milton Keynes I listened to LBC Radio. The presenter was joyful that my girl had not won, he was also joyful that his work colleague Nigel Farage had come on his show to also speak some unkind words about Anne Marie. Some would say that Nigel’s words were those of a control freak speaking immediately after finding out his potential hefty slap in the face turned out to be a lighter-than-expected slap in the face. Another big moment for me: from rarely ever being critical of Nigel’s words I was sitting driving my car utterly disgusted with his chosen words.
I must confess I did not expect Henry to win. 3874 members do not see it like me and 2754 other members see it. For me, UKIP has missed the opportunity to secure the services of a shrewd, capable and popular politician. I am sure Henry is a nice man, Susie told me so. But rather than being an effective pressure Party on two important contemporary issues, Brexit and Islam, UKIP members have chosen the safe route of not facing up to the growing big issue.
In my view British politics is already over populated with middle of the road, provincial Home Counties golf club member types (yes, I know that I am one). UKIP is nothing if it is not radical. Henry is a non-radical person from an establishment background.
I am entirely satisfied that the manner in which ERS Ltd handled the member list it was given by HQ was wholly professional. The final numbers announced were accurate. I trust that other ordinary members somehow verified that the members data initially given to ERS ltd was also accurate and fair with no hint of chicanery.
For me, with what I saw on Friday 29th September in Wood Green North London, I can say that on the surface, democracy and free speech are alive and kicking in Britain.