As the final days of the campaign drifted on, there was further canvassing, leafleting, school visits, racing round to rally troops, up early to catch commuters and so on.
At this stage we noticed a disturbing trend – people who had considered voting for us were now drifting back to the two main parties. David Cameron had impressed in the last leaders’ debate and the continual media attacks on us were hitting home.
The big day arrived – and I got up at 4am for a 25 hour day. The defence of Murston remained our primary target. Roman was our secondary target, where we figured Labour might be weak (we were partly wrong here, Labour’s vote did fall but the Conservatives scooped the seat). We had leafleted and canvassed both areas and by 5am I was in Murston delivering the ‘Good Mornings’.
Anyone who has worked in an election campaign would know how busy the actual day is. Lots of good mornings leaflets, checking tellers are in place, collecting numbers, and knocking up supporters. I also had to remember to vote myself of course and give my neighbour a lift, and I was surprised to see a queue at the station. I had heard that Gordon, the Conservative candidate, was visiting all the polling stations. I would have loved to do the same but alas was too busy.
By 9.30pm I had knocked on my final door. If they were not going to vote now, they never will! It was time to go home for a shower and a change of suit. The election campaign was finally over.
Now sporting my great new large yellow rosette (specially purchased for the count) I drove to the Swallows Leisure Centre.
Parliamentary counts are exactly like you see on the telly. Rows of people, furiously counting papers, while everyone else wears a rosette and aimlessly wanders about. There are the media there however so I spoke to the local press, and BBC Kent asked me to go on a few times. In return, they kept me in touch with our target seats – that we had got Eastbourne but not Maidstone.
I stood next to one table while a box was being emptied and sorted and, as the papers were sifted through, could see that the Conservatives had about half while Labour had slightly more than we did. I estimated 50-25-20 which, on the basis of just a few dozen votes, was not a bad guess.
Mad Mike, the Loony candidate, kindly offered me a banana which, as there was no food about, was appreciated. With David Miliband in mind, I was wary of photographers but looked around to find everyone else was also munching on a banana so it would be all right.
As the night went on (and on) a table was set up in the centre of the hall and bundles of papers put in. When they had to get a second box for the Conservative vote we knew that it was quite clear. However there was further delay because the numbers would not match – they were 30 votes out. As it was obvious that the Conservatives had won by a mile, the popular view was to give the 30 votes to Gordon so we could all go home. But the law is the law.
As 4am came and went, I suggested calling for a recount – although no-one seemed to find that very funny.
Finally we were all called together, agreed the result, and then mounted the stage. Having seen this moment hundreds of times on election nights over the years it did feel strange to stand up there myself.
I later discovered the BBC covered the result by just a blue box appearing on-screen ‘Sittingbourne – Con Hold’ (Sorry, Sheppey). The long haul was over.
Coming soon: the epilogue – where do we go from here?