David Williams reviews the election from his sofa
Phew. What an amazing, intoxicating, exciting three days on the tele. First there was the general election programme which went on all night. Then came the son of the election programme which went on all day. This was followed by the children of the son of election programmes which carried on more or less all weekend.
David Dimbleby, with only honey to sustain him, completed marathon hours in front of the camera and managed to look as relaxed at the end of it as he did when it all kicked off on Thursday night. Well, almost as relaxed. He got very cross when he saw that large numbers of people all over the country had been unable to vote because the returning officers had not prepared for a 65 per cent turnout. He described it as a disgrace and he was right.
BBC1 Wales’s own election programme, anchored by the affable and slightly theatrical Huw Edwards, somehow managed to miss the significance of the locked out voters. Perhaps it was because it was happening in England and not on their doorstep. Not only did BBC Wales miss the ‘locked out voters story’, their virtual graphics were at times virtually impossible to decipher. It’s not the first time that things have come unstuck with their graphics. Electronic wizardry is of no use if people cannot take in the information. The BBC’s Network programme was not without its horror stories either. Their expensive party aboard a boat moored on the Thames embankment sank without trace, aided by the soporific contributions of some of its motley crew. Bruce Forsythe and Joan Collins! What were they thinking of? These problems aside the BBC coverage at network and Wales level was, on the whole, superb. Gongs all round, but don’t let the presenters stray too far from the mikes because their services may be required again and soon.
I took a particular interest in the television coverage because, for the first time in 36 years as a journalist, I was not involved in reporting the event. It felt very odd sitting at home on the sofa watching rather than commentating and analysing as the results came in.
I couldn’t sit passively. I had to be doing something, so I tuned in my laptop to the BBC’s live feed and flicked between the TV channels to make sure that I didn’t miss a thing. This scatter-gun approach left me exhausted and by the early hours I didn’t have the energy to see what ‘the others’ were doing and settled down with my old employer the BBC.
What I found astonishing was the growing self-realisation that the broadcaster’s exit poll – a poll shared with ITV and SKY – was turning out to be correct. A hung parliament was emerging before my eyes. Inexplicably, the Liberal Democrats were going backwards. Labour had not been wiped out and the Conservatives had not won an outright victory.
What ever happened to those continuing poll results which showed, for a time, Mr. Clegg and his party basking in the warm afterglow of his performance in that first TV leaders debate. Like the fading influence of the volcanic cloud which stopped the world of aviation in its tracks the Liberal Democrats explosion of influence had dissipated and only wisps of what had been remained.
By early morning on 7 May it seemed that it was business as usual, but of course it was not. Just like that volcano, there were aftershocks, the consequences of which we are still witnessing. What will emerge from the fallout? Hopefully, a stable government which reflects the wishes of the electorate.
And I would dare to suggest that that electorate which saw the drama of the campaign unfold on its television screens had the nous to see through the flim flam of flickering images and come to a decision for itself. The electorate has spoken and it’s now time for the politicians to deliver. They know what they have to do. They have to put aside self-interest and replace it with the National Interest. The Television debates may not have translated into votes for the Lib Dems, but they did succeed in energising the campaign and I’m convinced that more people came out to vote because of them. That was good for democracy and good for TV. They are likely to be a part of the television landscape from now on.
The nation will be watching, waiting; trying to make sense of the nuances which emerge in interviews and brief asides delivered on our screens from the throng of photographers and cameras trying to capture the moment.
Those cameras and their blinking eyes have caught the mood of this campaign and sometimes they have captured more than they bargained for. They caught the Prime Minister describing pensioner Mrs Duffy as a bigot. They caught a certain Mr Paxman muttering darkly as he was being barbecued by Plaid Cymru’s own economic Rottweiler, a certain Mr ap Gwilym. And they caught the drama of the night as some paid the price for their indiscretions.
Yes, it has been a month of incredible images delivered to our screens and our newspapers. We now await the concluding images and headlines of the drama that has been the 2010 general election.
Of course, there may be more after shocks, even another election and another long night on the sofa. Don’t put those election sets away just yet. They may come in handy sooner than you think!