How did general election night in 2017 go on the Wirral?
I was always planning on publishing a report on the first general election I have been an election observer for and this is it.
Polling station – Holy Cross Catholic Primary School (AC – Birkenhead Constituency (Bidston and St James ward))
When I visited this polling station along with my wife (who was also an election observer), we were both there to vote.
So I told the Poll Clerks who we were and our addresses. Unfortunately they initially didn’t give us ballot papers as one of them was too tired to look up our address properly. We live in Boundary Road and the poll clerk instead of looking at the page for 134 Boundary Road to mark the register, was instead looking at a different page for a different part of Boundary Road where there is an elector with the number AC 134 instead. This caused a delay in receiving our ballot papers.
They were apologetic about it.
The Count (Wirral Tennis and Sports Centre)
We then walked the short distance to the count centre which was to be held inside the Wirral Tennis and Sports Centre.
Unlike in May, for the Mayoral and Claughton byelection, the gate to the footpath was padlocked, so we went round to the entrance to the car park.
We were immediately stopped by Wirral Council’s Community Patrol who insisted we wait by the entrance to the car park (this was while Wirral Council staff, councillors and others arrived unchallenged).
I explained we were both election observers accredited on an individual basis by the Electoral Commission and therefore entitled to attend the count. I showed them our photographic ID.
Obviously this was a part of elections Wirral Council hadn’t planned for or expected as Community Patrol insisted we wait while they find someone.
We waited for about 15-20 minutes (which is fine for myself but Leonora after the walk from the polling station was suffering a little from the standing as there was no chair to sit on). Even the police officer was feeling sorry for her!
Eventually Kate Robinson started walking in our direction with two men either side from Community Patrol.
We walked towards them.
We then had to explain again that we were election observers accredited by the Electoral Commission, here was our ID etc.
She wanted to look at our ID and didn’t seem happy with our presence.
She insisted we wouldn’t be allowed to use recording equipment in the count. I pointed out that in my opinion wasn’t a lawful instruction and that we only had to follow lawful instructions from the election authorities. I pointed out that in my view it breached the Human Rights Act 1998 and asked for the name of her manager to appeal the decision to. She said that was Eric Robinson (Acting Returning Officer) who she said wasn’t there.
I pointed out that I didn’t have recording equipment on my person anyway. I had an iPad to use but that was for making notes as I have a writing disability (that makes it painful to write).
She then gave us both a short lecture about not telling anyone anything at all about what happened during the count for “secrecy” reasons.
Anyway, she went with us to where people were checking in by the turnstile and it was insisted (despite me pointing out earlier about the writing disability making it painful to write) that I write our names and individual observer numbers on the attendance list.
We were then instructed to go through the turnstile, which Leonora pointed out she couldn’t do as it’s impossible for someone with a walking stick to go through that design of turnstile. So she went round through another side door instead.
We then walked down a corridor past the refreshments area. Unlike election counts in previous years where the tea and coffee had been free (but a voluntary donation suggested) Wirral Council was charging for drinks and food this year. From memory hot drinks were a £1.
It is also to be noted (unlike the Mayoral count and Claughton byelection in May) that this time the whole Wirral Tennis and Sports Centre was closed to the general public from 6 pm on the Thursday to 6.30 am on Friday morning (the tennis hall where the count was held was closed to the public from Monday to Saturday).
The count itself was being held in a large room in the leisure centre called the tennis hall which is usually tennis courts. The netting to catch balls around the sides was still in place, but the floor covering had been covered with a white floor covering kept together with tape.
One half of the hall was for the count for Birkenhead and Wallasey constituency and was also where ballot boxes arrived.
The other half of the hall was used for the Wirral West and Wirral South constituency counts and a raised stage for the platform for announcing the result.
Both halves of the hall had a projector and a screen showing the BBC election coverage.
In the middle in the raised area up steps was an area for the media where they had their video cameras set up and other equipment. From memory the Wirral Globe, Liverpool Echo, BBC, Radio City and others from the media were all there.
At 10.00 pm Eric Robinson (Acting Returning Officer) announced over the PA system that the count of the postal ballots would start. Around this time the BBC announced the result of the exit polls.
A short time later, the ballot boxes started arriving from the polling stations. Counters sat at flip down tables, with baskets on the table and paper clips.
Just before 11.00 pm I went for a walk past the Wallasey constituency tables and somebody dropped a large number of ballot papers on the floor. Thankfully they were bundled in bundles of 25.
The Birkenhead and Wallasey counts went quicker, therefore a result was expected earlier.
By twenty past twelve, Kevin McCallum (Head of Communications) (I had asked him earlier for turnout figures) told me that the turnout for Birkenhead was 67.9%.
A result in Birkenhead was announced at around 1:10 am, Wallasey at 1:45 am, Wirral West at 2:03 am and Wirral South at 2:12 am.
We had made earlier requests to film the speeches of the candidates after the result was declared but this was denied.
The candidates returned were Frank Field (Birkenhead), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) and Alison McGovern (Wirral South).
Mayor of Wirral Ann McLachlan announced the results for the Birkenhead and Wallasey constituencies. Stephen Burrows (High Sheriff of Merseyside) announced the results for Wirral West and Wirral South constituencies.
Here are some quotes from the speeches we would have liked to have shown you. Frank Field referred to it as a “disaster for the Prime Minister”, Angela Eagle said that the “country rejected Theresa May” and referred to her [Theresa May] as a “vampire avoiding the sunlight”, Margaret Greenwood referred to a “stunning victory” and Alison McGovern thanked many groups of people including the people reporting on the count.
There were also some speeches from the second placed candidates who in summary congratulated the winning candidate and then went on to make various political points.
Once all four results were declared, people started to go home.
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