I walked into the count steeled for a Remain win. We’d spent the last few hours, in grotty weather, ‘getting out the vote’ in a strong Remainer area – but someone had to do it as of course every single vote counted.
I heard the poll prediction: 52-48 to Remain. I’d psychologically prepared myself for such a tight result – I joked with fellow Outers that there was always the Conservative civil war to look forward to.
Then the Newcastle and Sunderland results came in. Were those margins expected? The markets said not. Then the results from elsewhere trickled in. Radio in my ear, it was clear that the North was doing the country proud. Swindon was for leave – was that expected? Swansea, too – that was supposed to go the other way. Alistair Campbell was admitting he was nervous, Prof. John Curtice and the other talking heads were now speaking in terms of when Brexit happens, not if. The markets also continued to give their verdict.
Over those hours I had done the job required – vote tallying as the ballot papers tumbled out of the boxes, then watched as the count staff sorted them into Leave or Remain. In that time I was responsible for picking out a half dozen Leave votes that had found their way onto the Remain piles during that time. No conspiracy there, just the girls getting tired.
At about 3:30am, the votes had been sorted. I came back from a tea break in the ante room, where the council had set up a television and the national results were coming in. I looked across the counting hall and stopped – realising, at that moment, that I was witnessing history in the making. A vital moment in my country’s history, in which I had played a tiny part. I stopped and savoured that feeling. At home my children were asleep in their beds, unaware that during their hours of slumber, we had bequeathed their country – the country that their great grandparents had fought for – on to them.
For much of the time over the months leading up to then, I had dared not believed that it could be done, shielding myself from the emotional rollercoaster; the unrepresentative feedback from individual areas, the volatile polls, and the deflation the week before when news of the Jo Cox murder came through and I knew the liberal left would not hesitate to exploit her terrible death.
Now though, it was actually happening.
Not long later, Nigel was on the radio giving a victory speech. Shortly, one of the team ran out of the ante-room. “We’ve won! They’ve called it for Leave!” And there it was, on screen.
“This is a revolution” said a fellow Leaver, an African chap “only with ballots not bullets”. Another colleague, a Chinese-Australian agreed. (A right xenophobic lot we are, eh?)
I wondered back down to the counting hall floor. Almost every ward had finished, most of the boxes, trays and other paraphernalia packed up, the gaggle of officials in the middle of it all reconciling and checking the numbers. Then I looked around and it became clear…
The Remainers had gone. Disappeared. Melted away, but for their agent and a glum looking assistant. I was reminded of the stories of POW camps in the path of the advancing Allied forces; where the prisoners woke up one morning to discover that the guards had simply fled in the night.
It was done. The night was ours and, after 43 years, so was our country again.