Election day is a great experience. People pop in to help and there’s no real checking of identity; a completely new face might be asked whether they’ve been involved before, but the assumption is they’re a friend. Committee Rooms are set up in houses in every ward, which serve as the base for activity there. The canvassing isn’t really there to change minds. It’s to identify who’s voting for you, and where they live. Voters are marked against a scale. Strong supporters won’t get a visit, but weak supporters, don’t knows and maybes will get targeted mail shots, repeat visits and the like. Occasionally, a candidate will go and visit an undecided voter to convince them. This is collated with previous elections, to build up a profile of voters.

This information is entered into a computer and by election day, you have a good picture of the constituency. This is tallied against the returns from the number takers at the polling stations, so by 5pm, you’ve a fair idea of how things are going, which areas are voting well, what proportion of your vote is coming out and where you need to focus your effort. As people enter the committee rooms, they’re given a slip, which contains a list of people to knock-up, and remind them to vote. It gets quite organised, with effort being concentrated on strong areas. By 9.30 though, you’re on your own, offering lifts to people, checking people in the area where you find yourself, checking with people who you’ve obtained a promise from to vote. Half get exasperated and annoyed with your visit, three-eights don’t answer, and one is sufficiently guilted by your appearance to leave the house and vote. By 9.45 though, there’s little to do except get down where the count is.

At the count, there’s a fairly predictable crowd. The media, bored with nothing to report but anxiously trying to get a feel. The party workers, tired, nervous and stressed. Agents – like the workers only they’ve been living it for years and have a job to do still. The Police, there in order preserve the democratic process is observed, but mainly bored and there to be thanked by candidates. Finally, there are the candidates, ironically the most useless people on the day itself – really quite peripheral, shuttled about by their agents who dictate their movements all day.

In a seat with rural wards, you wait longer for the ballot boxes to be returned. Then, the votes are verified as valid. The counters are usually local government workers, scrutinised by the party workers who watch as votes are scrutinised first. It feels incredibly intrusive as 10 pairs of eyes watch someone do their job, waiting for them to make a mistake and point it out – or if the mistake is in your favour, hoping they don’t spot it.

You’re also trying to get a feel for the vote to fill the vacuum of information. People watching your strong wards will be looking to get a rough guesstimate of the ratios; glances are thrown at their people looking at the their strong wards. Is that a worried look or studied seriousness? Democracy as poker.

By this time, I’d been awake for 22 hours and was mainlining caffeine. With stunning efficiency, the temporary sports hall containing several hundred people had stopped serving at 1am and we were relying on the machines. Some had drunk the booze smuggled in; they’d started to flake out. Others had decided to save it for when they’d need it, after the result.