Election Fever

by Nigel Heneghan

Following an engaging and robust campaign culminating in polling on Thursday (6th May 2010) and a compelling overnight count into Friday, it is likely that political stability of sorts will in the next day or so return to the UK, probably with a David Cameron led Conservative involving direct (coalition) or indirect support from the Liberal Democrats.  There has been a clamour throughout the weekend to get things sorted out quickly for ‘The Markets’.  But surely ‘The Markets’ would be better served in the long-term by a carefully constructed Government as opposed to a quickly cobbled together arrangement.  

Much of the post-election focus has been on the electoral system and the fact that a hung parliament, the first in 36 years, is not the best outcome.

Maybe proportional representation (PR) is the answer, we are told. I may be missing something, but to me this demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding in the UK, particularly in the British media, about PR.  The introduction of PR would almost certainly mean the end of single party Government and the apparent ‘stability’ that brings.  In this election, the Liberals on 23% of the vote achieved just nine per cent of parliament seats.  Under PR, they would likely command, a seats tally closer to their vote percentage, and could well do better, as they could receive high preferences from both Labour and the Conservatives in tactical voting.  From a position of self-interest it is reasonable that the Conservatives resist such change, while it is completely right for the Liberal Democrats to make electoral reform a central negotiation point. They have much to gain as PR does produce a fairer outcome. 

I sometimes wonder if some elements of the UK media would be capable of explaining PR to the viewing and voting masses. In the unlikely case of PR being introduced, they should come to Dublin (as should advisors from all British political parties) for our next general election count as a learning exercise.  It would stand to them. 

What is it about elections that keeps (some of) us from our beds well into the small hours. Aside from the obvious elections at home, it happened to me a number of times during the US presidential election conventions and election night, and again last Thursday. Maybe it is to witness human nature at its barest. A person seeking popularity among his or her peers and then facing the fact that they have been accepted or rejected. Aside from that, the statistics, the politics, the combat, the winning, the losing, the media debate and general colour. Thursday night and Friday morning did not disappoint.

In Northern Ireland, the stunning loss in East Belfast by Peter Robinson, First Minister, of the seat he held for 31 years was by a distance the highlight. Incredible early-hour viewing when the three major London TV networks cut across to Belfast for this breaking news. Trivial in the overall picture, but noticible to me, was the fact that most of the counts in NI were completed well ahead of those in Britain, an indication of the level of political interest and expertise on this island. 

Then the incredible blundering on the part of a sizeable number of Local Councils with many voters disenfranchsed throughout what is regarded as one of the world’s model democracies.  Amongst other things, running out of ballot papers!!!!  I can’t contemplate a response to something like that happening in Ireland.  We get a few things wrong in Ireland, but (other than the failed and brief experiment in electronic voting) that does not include elections   Nonetheless, events across the water might act as a pointer to stress-test the excellent polling systems we have in place here.

The highlight of the night for me was a heated interview with Alistair Campbell by Sky’s political editor and election anchorman Adam Bolton.  Their discussion at about 2.30am on emerging trends from the election counts evolved into a broader chat about media coverage where Campbell commented on what he regarded as the poor treatment of Gordon Brown by the media.  He went a step further and said Brown also was badly treated by TV and when Campbell further singled Sky News out, Bolton became defensive and challenged Campbell to produce the evidence.  A brief row ensued and you sensed momentarily if they were in the same room the jackets would have been off – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85RXPnXDkrc

I channel-hopped throughout the night; no surprise that RTE and BBC NI provided authority on the Northern elections, but of the three main UK news networks Sky News won the night for me, in terms of the simplicity of its presentation and quality delivery of results and images onto the screen.  I confess I even dipped into Twitter throughtout the count where RTE’s Gareth O’Connor provided excellent updates. 

I decided to call it a night at 4am and could have easily stayed up for longer, but a busy Friday beckoned. Bring on the next one.


  1. Emma on May 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Welcome to the world of blogging!

  2. Patricia MacBride on May 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm


    One of the main planks of the Good Friday Agreement is supposed to be the development of East-West relationships: a process that has far from reached its full potential in my eyes. I was fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate!) enough to be in London today for a series of meetings up and down Whitehall in various Government Departments and raised the issue of the implications of the Coalition with some senior figures, most notably election reform as proposed by Liberal Democrats.

    I have to say you’re correct in your analysis that the concept of PR is beyond the grasp of many of those I have discussed it with in the last two days. Perhaps in the spirit of the GFA, we should commence that outreach now with our neighbours to the east to help them prepare. How should we commence that process?

    A final thought…if we do go forward on teaching the British how to run an election, we might want to omit trying to explain the D’Hondt mechanism to them. It makes explaining the off-side rule seem positively simple!

  3. Nigel Heneghan on May 13, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    To be honest, while the Conservatives are offering a referendum they will not support PR in any manner. Neither will Labour. They both have too much to lose. That said, if the Lib Dems can sustain the level of support it has at present it could well continue to be a king-maker moving forward. Not dissimilar to the role enjoyed for many years in ROI by the Labour Party. The only real way to educate the ‘eastern’ politicos on PR is for them to try it out directly – maybe to trial it in a contained manner. The next best option is that they learn from experiiences in other democracies such as ours.