It all kicked off in Fallowfield tonight when administrative chaos, incompetence and mis-calculation of the number of voters who would turn-out resulted in hundreds of people being turned away from the Ladybarn Community Centre polling station at 10pm. From first time voters to older local residents, the reaction as the clock edged towards the cut off time and the queue didn’t get any smaller grew from amusement to disbelief to anger. No-one came out to speak to us, to let us know what would happen, there was absolutely zero communication. We’d first gone at 7 but couldn’t stay as had a work appointment at half past, then finally got back there at 9pm to vote. We’d thought that coming back at 9pm was a good idea as things would have quietened down – they were worse! Over three hundred people with their polling cards stood in line as the queue barely moved. It was so slow. The police arrived and there were rumours of more helpers on their way, but it was way too late. It all seemed a bit surreal (and after a week which included a Spencer Tunick shoot that takes some doing let me tell you) and I tweeted to ask if anyone knew what would happen at at deadline time if people were still queuing. That was one question even Twitter couldn’t answer. I sneaked inside at dead on 10pm through the ‘out’ door and videoed the crowds of people inside. It was chaotic.
It seemed that there was just the presiding officer and just two clerks manning the station, with four booths – completely pathetic, they were totally overwhelmed. The inside of the polling station was a shambles and it appears the whole organisation of the station had been a failure. They KNEW this at 6pm, could see how busy it had been, but called for no more help or help wasn’t sent. First time voters were frustrated and disappointed that they couldn’t participate, older voters had never seen anything like it. I certainly hadn’t. The young people I’d been standing with outside had been really looking forward to voting, they’d watched the debates and this election had caught their imagination and enthusiasm, to let them down in this was was appalling and they were furious, as were we.
It was after 10pm now and the queue was still on the street, with still no official word despite the Lady Mayor of Manchester being inside, when finally people who’d been admitted into the station but hadn’t been able to vote angrily came out and said the ballot box was shut. Funnily enough the Mrs Mayor had scarpered. I managed to get back inside just before they closed the doors. There were angry scenes as people demanded to know what had gone wrong but all the returning officer would say was that we had to write to the Electoral Commission or the town hall, what a cop out. I don’t think the police couldn’t quite believe there was a mini riot at a polling station, in the UK! There was a lot of shouting and raised voices but slowly over 200 non-voters drifted away, denied of their right to vote.
I uploaded the footage to YouTube and Twitter and god bless social networking, it went viral on the news within the hour, it was on the ITN coverage all night and GMTV this morning. They even sent a crew to do a quick interview with me and Mr Moregeous at gone 12am (swift bit of lippy required).
So, now it’s the morning after the night before and it’s been a very busy and odd day. The most exciting election run up in history and Mr Moregeous and I didn’t get to vote, what a complete buggar. My phone was ringing off the hook all night with the BBC, ITV, GMTV, Granada all wanting to use the video and the YouTube comments coming through every five minutes on email. I went into town to do a piece with ITN, then an interview with the lovely Clare Fallon and then a Five Live radio chat with Steve Blears. It’s possible I may have done more press today than Nick Clegg 😉 Complete media whore. Me, not him.
There’s been talk by Geoffrey Robertson QC of ‘compensation’ of circa £750 per person due to our constitutional right to vote being denied, but how would they prove that anyone had been at a station? And besides, it would just be yet another bill picked up by taxpayers for the bureaucratic and administrative failings of government. Where there’s blame there’s a claim, eh? Except we’d ultimately foot the bill for their failings. Again.
I’m just disappointed. Disappointed I didn’t get to take part and vote after watching, digesting and choosing the best candidate and party I thought would do the best job. Angry that such poor organisation too away my right to vote. In our constituency there was a majority of 1200, so even though it ‘doesn’t matter’ that I didn’t vote, it bloody matters to me! Let’s hope the next lot sort it out and never let a fiasco like this happen again, that is, unless they’re too busy hanging themselves……