Saving general election night: round-up of reaction

Crikey, there has been quite a response to the launch this morning of a campaign to save election night. Amongst the posts such as Andrew’s and Jonathan’s agreeing with the campaign there have been a range of queries and criticisms, such as Darrell, MarkNick and Paul.

The issues people have raised over the campaign generally fall into four categories:

Cost: isn’t it more expensive to count on Thursday night? Yes – and no. Yes, in that often councils pay staff for counting on Thursday night (and whether or not that is covered by the central government election grants, that comes from taxes one way or another). But no, in that Friday counts often involve pulling staff from other jobs. That may not result in cash being handed over, but there is a real cost in terms of reduced services.

Anyway, count costs either way are closely related to how long a count takes – and as anyone who has been to counts across different councils is likely to have spotted – a major factor in that is how efficiently a count is run. If you really want to economise on costs (and overall I think we get democracy pretty cheaply), sorting out the inefficient counts is a good place to start.

Accuracy: overnight counts make for tired people and tired people make errors. In theory this sounds a good point, but in practice my experience of count errors – and there have been some real howlers that I have seen in person or dealt with at the end of a phone line – is that they have very little to do with tired people making mistakes.

In practice the big factor is how well or badly the count is being run – and that’s to do with issues like planning, the quality of the people running the show and their levels of interest in running a good operation. Being tired isn’t the issue.

Audience: do many people really watch the overnight coverage? The BBC’s figures for 2005 are:

Election Night on BBC ONE (9.55pm-2.00am) was watched by six million people at its peak last night, with an average of 4.3 million and a share of 35 per cent, according to unofficial viewing figures released today …  A total of 14.9 million viewers watched some of the BBC’s coverage between 9.55pm and 2.00am.

(Note: although the BBC piece says the figures were provisional, their Press Office confirmed today – thanks Helen! – that they have not been revised.)

To that you need to add the non-BBC TV coverage (BBC radio, other radio, other TV channels), and also the round of Friday morning media coverage – which was dominated by the news from overnight results. It’s not just about the size of the audience, because also for millions of people who are a bit interested in politics, this is the one time every few years when they get to see politics and politicians in action for more than a small slice of time.

Other issues are more important. Yes they are, but so what? There are some cases in life when you have to cut out everything but the absolutely most important – e.g. when penning a short speech or deciding what goes on the front of a leaflet. But there’s more than enough room on the internet for the most important, the not so important and the even less important. It’d be a pretty turgid experience if we only talk about the absolutely most important.

A final thought: given that I think we’re all agreed there are other, more important, things in politics it’s ironic that this morning’s post probably triggered off more posts on other blogs than any other I’ve done this year!

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