Sentinel columnist Martin Tideswell was covering his fifth General Election – his first being as a cub reporter at the King’s Hall in Stoke back in 1992…
“Evening”, said one of half a dozen blokes holding anti-fascist placards standing outside the King’s Hall.
“Owrate youth,” I replied, and he stood down – realising I was far too scruffy to be representing the BNP.
By 10.50pm we hacks were huddled around a TV in the press room as the teacher’s pets of the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency broke the land speed record to declare the first result.
Stoke-on-Trent’s ballot boxes were still being carried in at this point and the counters hadn’t even taken their seats.
“What’s going on?” asked the incredulous city council chief executive, as he watched people sipping coffee and leaning against walls. “Why haven’t we started, yet?”
I just shrugged my shoulders.
Three quarters of an hour later the feeding frenzy began – 220 counters going at the ballot papers like so many battery hens.
As they worked, the footsoldiers of each party hovered around them, grim-faced and taking copious notes in the fashion of over-zealous GCSE exam invigilators.
“What are you doing?” I asked one of them.
“We’re trying to get a sense of how it’s gone,” he answered, rather sheepishly, by way of explanation for his pointless scribbling.
Despite the mind-numbing inevitability of Labour winning all three city seats for the umpteenth time, the party faithful were still rather twitchy.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” said one veteran campaigner.
Certainly Stoke North’s long-serving MP Joan Walley wasn’t.
She had arrived at the count long before the ballot boxes, bless her – welcoming every vote home like a shepherd counting her flock.
The same couldn’t be said of her Labour party colleagues.
Curious, I went on a, er… Tristram Hunt.
“Bit of a poor show from your new bloke,” said a journalist colleague to a Labour party activist at 1.30am. “You’d have thought he’d have been here by now.”
“Actually, he is on his way,” said the man. “I’m Lord Hunt, Tristram’s father.”
He must have been confident of victory because Haringey’s finest didn’t arrive until after 2am – finally justifying the hordes of BBC staff who had descended on Stoke, doubtless using Multimap to find their way to the Potteries.
Now you know what Auntie spends your licence fee on.
Surprise, surprise – there were no surprises here in The Land That Time Forgot.
Which leaves our city very firmly in the red… in more ways than one.