>Election diary


I tried very hard not to be interested in the election campaign, avoiding the historic TV debates and most of the day-to-day media flim flam – although ‘Bigotgate’ offered a grim confirmation that politicians are exactly has depicted in the TV satire In The Thick Of It. In the end, however, the apparent Lib Dem surge, sheer uncertainly of the result and intriguing possibilities of hung parliament hooked me and pulled me and there I was on election night mug of coffee in hand up till 4am watching the TV results, pausing only to switch off the sound and dip into a Swedish crime novel when politicans and pundits came on to fill in a temoorary lack of any news. I, like they, could not work if it was a hung parliament, a Tory majority or another variant of hung parliament we were in until just before dawn the patter (or patterns) became clear: huge Tory gains against Labour in the South and Midlands, largely gains elsewhere, no gains in Scotland,; no Lib Dem surge, but a successful defence, with the odd exception, of seats held against Conservative challengers.
The oddest exception, of course, was North Irish-Estonian Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik, whose celebrity status on the chat show circuit and pop star Cheeky Girl girlfriend seemed no longer to endear him to Welsh voters he represented and he was overhauled by well established local Tory, who probably paid more serious attention to bread and butter issues. My colleague Allan Sikk mischeviously suggests that Opik could add a splash of colour Estonian politics by entering the race for the Estonian parliament in 2011 (party to be confirmed). Indeed, there is even a Facebook Group urging Lembit to enliven the political life ancestoral homeland with his own brand of eccentric liberal reformism. So far, however, it hasn’t exactly gone viral (supporters 3 including me). There is always an issue as to whether Lembit’s Estonian is as a good as Nick Clegg’s perfect Dutch.

A couple of days before the election I answered a journalist’s questions about the differences between British and UK parties for a mini-interview for the Czech financial freesheet E15. It wasn’t the first time I had chewed such things over but it was an interesting exercise. My thoughts? There is less more of an ideological divide in Czech politics, although not the gulf you would think from Czech parties in-your-face campaigning, and the UK has a post-Thatcherite consensus on certain fundamentals; the Czech Social Democrats’ high profile campaign defence of the welfare state and avoidance of the issue of how and when not if to make cuts makes it a very different political animal from the British Labour Party – although not necessarily less genuinely social democratic; the closest CEE equivalents to Blairite New Labopur were probably the market friendly ex-Communist parties of Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, but in the end they all got electorally roasted; if there is no Czech or Central European Nick Clegg is it probably because swathes of CEE voters tend to recognise themselves more in blunt spoken pugnacious strongmen like Orbán, Fico, Paroubek or even Topolánek than the role of clean cut middle class everyman (and, of course, it’s always a man) that British politicians seek to play – and English voters to go for. Interestingly, explaining the Liberal Democrats through a Czech prism is a convoluted and difficult exercise.

At 8 o’clock in the morning of 6 May, I walked down to polling station with my daughter before school, past a mass of Lib Dem hoarding that seems mysteriously to grow in size every day – perhaps a side effect of ‘Cleggmania’ – still wondering who to vote for. If there is a rising Lib Dem tide there is, the Guardian’s online poll-and-seat calculator suggests, an outside chance of this fairly solid Conservative seat changing hands.

There are no queues and I cast my vote, but instantly have h a vague presentiment that I had not quite done the right thing.

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