It was about 6:30 and the Walsh family were nearly home from Windsor when Mr Walsh asked, “Anyone hungry?”. Jinnie realised she was famished, she had only managed a cup of tea and a scone with jam and cream. Her dad then announced that he had booked a table at a new Italian restaurant that had just opened in Potters Bar High Street as a final celebration for the day. Jinnie found a spot to park almost outside the Trattoria Trevi a few minutes before the booked time of 7 o’clock. They were the first customers of the evening and were shown to their table by what seem to Jinnie to be a native Italian speaker.
Jinnie was now in a quandary, she and her sister had been speaking to each other in French ever since she got home on Friday, but she hadn’t told the family that she was learning Italian. Listening to the waiters talking she suddenly realised just how good Cate’s tuition was, she could understand very nearly everything they were saying to each other. When someone brought them menus it was only when Penny started complaining that it was in Italian that she realised she had been reading it just as if it were English. As the other three members of the Walsh family had all served in the English Resistance Army she decided that perhaps it was time to let them in on a little of what she was doing so she started translating for them.
With the orders placed Jinnie’s Mum demanded to know when she leant Italian. Jinnie was very careful not to tell her the whole story, but related how the college had decided that her German was so good that she would be wasting her time in German classes and she had been taking Italian classes instead. Her parents were amazed but Penny just looked at her and said, “And you were the one who said I was a natural linguist.”
The food was excellent, but Jinnie wondered how much her chatting to the waiters in their native language helped. She had quickly learnt that they had all been conscripted into the Army of the Third Reich and sent to England as part of the army of occupation. They had hated the German Army and their German officers and when the fighting reached them they had surrendered at the first opportunity. They had been interned until the fighting stopped and then released with the option of staying in England or being repatriated. Having surrendered with out firing a shot the group of comrades had chosen to stay in Britain. They had decided to stick together and as in civilian life one of their number had been a chief and a couple of others waiters, the six of them had joined together to open a restaurant serving what they knew best, Italian food. Jinnie complemented them on their enterprise and promised to return when she was back in Potters Bar over Christmas. When one of the waiters complemented Jinnie on her Italian and asked her if she knew Rome well as he recognised the accent, she was delighted.
Wednesday was the eve of the election and the morning papers were full of the final opinion polls. They all concluded that it was going to be a very close thing between the Conservatives and the Reform Party, with Labour and Liberal Democrat’s trailing a long way behind. The nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales were predicted to win a few seats and in Ireland the seats were expected to be split on religious grounds between the Unionists and the Nationalists. The BBC said that the minor parties were not going to be able to win enough seats to have any effect on the results and it looked like a strait fight between the old Conservatives and the new Reform Party. Mr Walsh intended to spend all day out canvassing. His prospective ward included the Darkes Lane shopping area and as well as door knocking his colleagues were to have a stall near the bus station which was bang outside the railway station.
Jinnie decided as she had nothing planned for the day, the least she could do was help her dad. Although Penny was not quite old enough to vote she also volunteered and they agreed to help man the street stall. Even though he didn’t say so Mr Walsh was secretly delighted to get his daughters help, knowing that having two pretty girls on the street stall could only help attract young men who would never pick up a leaflet if he were giving them out.
Jinnie and Penny decided that as the mini bus went from almost opposite their home and could drop them at the bus station it was pointless driving down to town and paying for all day parking. They arrived just before nine to relieve the shift who had been manning the stall since before six am to catch the commuters travelling into London. The girls had volunteered to do the three hours to midday and then have three hours off before returning for the three pm to six pm shift. An older couple arrived a minute or so after the girls. Mr Walsh had told them that Mr Franks, the branch chairman, would be in charge and this was obviously him and his wife.
Jinnie noticed that the stall was looking a bit thin on leaflets and mentioned it to Mr Franks. He replied that the previous shift had already reported the problem and he had chased up a lot more from the local party organisation and a delivery was due imminently. They had given out a lot more leaflets to commuters than they had expected and he hoped that was a good sign. He continued to tell them that he expected the next hour or so to be fairly quiet as the commuter rush was over and shoppers wouldn’t be around for an hour or so.
Mrs Franks was given a bundle of leaflets and sent around to the other end of the foot tunnel under the station to catch late comers parking in the station car park, while Mr Franks manned the stall and the two girls were given bundles of leaflets for their father, the county council candidate and the candidate for MP. They were also equipped with rolls of party stickers and told to try to put them on the lapels of everyone they could especially children. Finally they were both festooned with large pale blue party favours. Jinnie couldn’t help thinking they would come in handy for supporting Cambridge in the boat race.
They hadn’t been there long when a car pulled up and the driver called to the girls for help to unload several large boxes of leaflets from the boot. Jinnie recognised the driver from the photo on the leaflets she was handing out, as the Parliamentary candidate. He was rushing around but made the effort to thank them for their help with the stall and to ask Mr Franks to give his regards to his wife. He then told them that the party leader, Nigel Farage, was doing a last-minute flying tour of North London and Hertfordshire constituencies in his battle bus and he had been tipped off that he might turn up in Potters Bar.
Mr Franks was proved right, after ten o’clock the shoppers started to appear. Mostly it was mums with kids in tow, it was of course half term, but there were also plenty of pensioners. Jinnie and Penny were kept busy handing out leaflets and putting stickers on the kids. It was noticeable how much busier they were than the Conservative and Labour stalls. Just before midday, the 12 to 3 shift arrived and Jinnie and Penny were able to go to lunch and more importantly get a sit down.
The girls had a quick discussion, should they go home or have lunch in town. They decided that if they went home they may be tempted not to come back, so the next decision was pizza or MacDonald’s, who had just opened a branch, or the pub. Jinnie had always liked the old world charms of the Willotts Manor, that was just the other side of the railway line, and as the German drinking age laws hadn’t been repealed Penny agreed and the pub it was. Penny had a half of lemon shandy and Jinnie a Bacardi and Pepsi Max, which they took to a corner table while waiting for their food order. The food had just arrived when there was a bit of a commotion at the bar. It was Nigel Farage who had just come in and was getting his lunch, a pint of bitter and what, from where they were sitting, looked like a prawn sandwich.
Several people went up to Farage and despite half a dozen fairly obvious burly minders approached him and shook his hand. He appeared to have a friendly word with everyone. Suddenly, across the bar he spotted their party favours and made a bee line for them. He said he assumed they were party supporters and would they mind helping him out. The MSM were looking for a photo opportunity and would it be OK if they posed with him for a few pictures. Jinnie explained that their dad was a local council candidate and they were volunteering on the party stall outside the railway station. Farage’s PA said perfect, let’s get some shots by the stall, get your dad and we will set it up for just as soon as Nigel has finished his lunch. She went off to talk to the press.
Fifteen minutes later, the girls, their dad, the Parliamentary candidate and Nigel where all posing for the dead tree press photographers in front of the little stall, as a crowd started to gather. Never one to miss an opportunity Farage made a short off the cuff speech which was full of patriotism and humour and soon had the crowd cheering and laughing. Farage made the excuse that he needed to get back to his Finchley constituency and to loud cheers and applause he climbed on his battle bus and was gone. Jinnie could only think of one word. Charisma, Farage had it in spades. She looked across at the deserted Conservative stand outside Sainsbury’s and felt a little sorry for them, she a had a feeling they were going to be trounced.
As the crowd drifted away the BBC TV News arrived, they had been filming the events from a distance and now wanted an interview to cut into the piece. The BBC reporter started off with the assumption that it was all a publicity stunt and the two girls were plants. She was quickly put right when they explained that they had been manning the stall in support of their father and they had only just bumped into Farage in the pub, never having met him before. With the interview over the girls drifted back to the pub for a longer sit down until their second shift began.
The girls had nearly finished their second shift when someone coming off the train from London did a double-take as he walked past the stall. The commuter unfolded his copy of the Evening Standard and showed them the front page. The picture of them filled half the page under a headline reporting a last-minute poll that Reform were going to win the popular vote by a narrow margin and reporting Nigel’s off the cuff speech. Jinnie thought that Farage would just love the free publicity even if he didn’t really need it.
When they got home Mrs Walsh greeted them with a load of questions. She had just seen her daughters on the Six O’clock News and wanted to know the story. But more than anything she wanted to know what Nigel Farage was like, was he really as nice as he came over on the TV? Jinnie and Penny decided that they would have to watch the ten o’clock to see if their interview was repeated.
Election Day dawned at last, it had been a long time coming and the populations of the UK nations had been looking forward to it with huge expectations. The Electoral Commission that had been set up by King Charles III had produced the election rules. It had approved the constituency boundaries, the number of MPs, the one man one vote first past the post system. Anyone over the age of 18 on the day of the election could vote on production of their ID card. Only those ill or infirm were allowed a postal vote for which you needed a doctor’s note. If you were on holiday or away on businesses, tough, you forfeited your vote. The only exceptions were the armed forces and embassy staff. Students had to vote at the address they had lived at before going to college, hence the half-term holiday and all constituencies had to start counting as soon as practically possible after the polls closed at ten at night. There was strictly no canvassing on election day.
Mr Walsh was up early, he intended to vote as soon as the polling stations opened at 7 o’clock in the morning and spend the rest of the day ferrying people to the polls in his Audi. Before heading to the count at the leisure centre. He had joked that he hoped his car would make it through the day and that it was still in one piece to be traded in on Saturday. Mrs Walsh and the girls were not in so much of a rush, they had a leisurely breakfast and washed up before venturing off to the church hall that had become their polling station for the day. Although Penny was just too young to vote she opted to join her mum and older sister on their walk to the Polling Station as it was such a momentous day. Jinny knew that she had to cast three votes, for MP, county councillor and town councillor.
They got to their designated polling station, a local church hall, to find a long queue of voters snaking around the car park. Jinnie and her mum joined the queue while Penny found a seat on a bench and waited for them. The queue moved forward fairly quickly but it didn’t seem to be shrinking as more people kept joining it. When they finally got to the desk to collect the ballot paper they realised that the procedure was working smoothly but there was a delay in that voters were taking some time in the polling cubicle and there seemed to be a little confusion caused by the local council election. They were handed a white ballot paper for the General Election, a pale pink ballot paper for the county council election and three pale yellow papers, for the town council election.
The yellow papers were prominently labelled 1,2 and 3 and had the instruction to vote for only one candidate on each paper. This is where the confusion came from. One-third of town councils were to be re-elected every year so as this was a totally new council all three parts were to be elected, however one third were to stand for only one year before a new election, another third for two years and the final third for three years. There had been a huge advertising campaign on TV and in the newspapers explaining all this but it seemed to be beyond many people to comprehend what was required. Jinnie wondered if such people should be allowed to vote.
The ballot papers were to be posted into five new clear plastic sealed ballot boxes clearly labelled white, pink, and yellow 1, 2 and 3. Despite an election official standing by the boxes Jinnie could see wrongly coloured votes in the transparent ballot boxes. As she walked down the line of boxes posting her votes through the slot in the top Jinnie said to her mum, “Surely it’s not that hard,” pointing to a yellow paper in the pink box. As they walked home they discussed the colour scheme and Jinnie pondered on how much longer the count would take if all the paper were the same same colour and had to be separated by the tellers before counting started.
The lunchtime TV news unsurprising lead on the election and the huge turn out with long queues all over the country. There were the usual shots of the major party leaders voting early before rushing back to their election campaign headquarters. The news presenter made the point that the interim military government wanted to ensure that everyone who wanted to vote was able to vote and that anyone who was in the queue when the polls closed at ten would still be able to cast their votes. The analysts pontificated on what was developing into a very high turnout seemed to be due to a combination of patriotism, enthusiasm for the first truly free vote in many years and the nationwide decent weather, no rain being forecast and it being mild.
Just before six in the evening, Mr Walsh popped in for a change of clothes and something to eat, but Jinnie suspected he really wanted to see what was being reported on the Six O’clock News. He sat down in front of the TV with his mince, peas and mash on a tray balanced on his knees and hardly took his eyes off the set. Much of it was the same as at one o’clock, but Jinnie did glean that the queues hadn’t abated and were in every part of the nation, even those that hadn’t been occupied. The BBC had dispatched reporters to stand outside polling stations in every region. Due to electoral rules, they were not allowed to interview voters on screen but Jinnie pointed out to her dad the prominence of pale blue rosettes. Just before he left to go back to his taxi duties Mr Walsh told Jinnie that he had been shuttling the residents of the retirement home where she had worked to the polls. He said he had carried a group of 3 men, dressed in their Sunday best, who had recognised him as her father and asked him to give her their best wishes. He promised to be back when the polls had shut as he wanted to put his best suit on for the count, just in case he was lucky enough to be elected and had his photo in the local paper. Jinnie asked if she could accompany him to the count and he said if he could get her a party worker pass then he would be delighted by the company.
The BBC Ten O’clock News started at 9:55 as they wanted to build up to an exit poll result which was embargoed until the polls shut at 10. The three Walsh females were on the edge of their seats with expectations and they guessed many families all over the country were in the same position. The headline news was still the queues at polling stations and the cameras showed police in place ready to mark the end of the lines as Big Ben rang out the hour. As the clock struck ten the newsreader announced that the exit poll predicted that the Reform Party had achieved a stunning victory with around a 100 seat majority over all other parties. Mrs Walsh looked stunned, how could the opinion polls have got it so wrong. Only yesterday they had predicted a tight race.
The normal talking heads were soon being interviewed and predicting what prime minister designate Farage would do, who would be in his cabinet and how life might change when the military stepped back. It was nearly 10:45 when Mr Walsh got home after taking the last of the voters home. He looked shattered and in desperate need of a rest. He threw a pass into Jinnie’s lap and said, “Be ready in ten minutes, the count has already started.”
As her dad looked so tired she suggested that she should drive and he should leave his Audi in the parking bay. The count for the local council was being held in the local leisure centre, while the county council and Westminster counts were elsewhere. Now the colour coded votes made perfect sense. The first thing Jinnie saw on entering the count were the rows and rows of trestle tables with teller seated sorting piles of votes. The tables were divided up by ward and it appeared the first thing that was being done was a quick run through the ballots to sort out any that weren’t yellow. On a table at one end of the room, guarded by a police constable, were sealed ballot boxes where the rogue votes were being posted before being taken under escort to the correct count. The number of ballots in these boxes was low but growing. Jinnie guessed there was a similar initial sort going on at the other count and hoped it didn’t delay the count here.
Mr Walsh found the tables dealing with his ward and noted that one stack of counted votes was around double the size of the next tallest and hoped it was his. Just after midnight the returning officer called the candidates for all the wards together and announced the progress of the count, despite the huge turnout all correctly cast votes and postal votes had been counted, but they were still waiting for the arrival of some votes that had been in the wrong boxes. The votes were expected imminently as they were on their way under police escort. As soon as the boxes arrived, they would be counted and he hoped to start announcing results around one o’clock. However, a couple of seats were close and there may have to be recounts but that could not happen until the last boxes of votes had arrived and been counted. Jinnie and her dad decided that now was the time for a coffee and went to find a vending machine. Nothing was happening in the count, some of the tellers even had their heads down and were trying to get 40 winks. Jinnie had a quick look on her phone and the first General Election results were expected soon but due to exceptionally high turnout even Sunderland was later than normal.
Then the expected boxes arrived and it was all hands to the pumps. People we’re running around delivering bundles of votes to the various ward counts but the piles on Jinnie’s dad’s ward table seemed to remain in the same proportion. The returning officer called over the candidate’s for a couple of wards and after a brief chat announced recounts in two wards. Then he started calling the various ward candidates and informing them of the count before mounting the stage and announcing the result. On Jinnie’s headcount, the Labour Party had taken one seat, the Tories five and the Reform Party eleven but there were 15 wards each with 3 councillors so less than half the results were in. Then it was her dad’s turn, he was standing for the three-year seat and it was the first result in his ward so there was not clue to what direction the ward had gone. The returning officer informed them of what he was about to announce, but not a single candidate offered a clue as to what they had been told. Jinnie thought she would hate to have been playing poker with this crowd.
The returning officer read out the votes for each candidate but for some reason, Jinnie couldn’t process them. She simply had no idea who had won until the crowd of Reform Party workers started clapping and cheering as they had done every time there was a Reform Party winner. It was 01:45 when they got home to find Mrs Walsh and Penny glued to the election results programme. It looked like the exit poll was proving more accurate than the opinion polls. Reform were on track to the predicted 100 seat majority and it seemed that while the Tory vote had held they had benefited from a massive last-minute collapse in the Labour vote. Many of the northern working-class constituencies that had been predicted to go to Labour had actually gone pale blue.
In Chapter 12 – Able Section plays the Enemy.
© WorthingGooner 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file