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UK General Election 2017

June 12, 2017

Only a couple of months ago, I was drawing pictures of the UK Local Council Elections. This week I’ve been drawing pictures at a count for a UK General Election.

Just back in March 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May said she would not call a General Election until 2020. Then, almost out of nowhere on April 18th, she declared she was calling a ‘snap’ election as it was the only way to “guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead” – precisely the same reason she had given for why she would not call an election until 2020. Her election slogan became “Strong and stable government”.

For the last seven weeks we’ve watched Theresa May and the Conservative Party go from predictions of an overwhelming majority win to a very exciting and close contest which resulted in a minority win for them, eight seats short of a majority in the House of Commons. With Jeremy Corbyn, the person they claimed as a weak and incapable leader, who had only recently faced a challenge to his leadership of the Labour Party, ride an ever increasing wave of popularity as he went from town to town spreading his message of a Government “For the many, not the few”.

We now find ourselves with a Hung Parliament and the Conservatives holding negotiations with the Northern Irish DUP, Democratic Unionist Party, who won 10 seats in the election, in an attempt to form a majority government. Who knows how things will develop with many calling for May’s resignation and others claiming we’ll see another General Election before the year is out.

All that aside I managed to get myself into one of the election counts on the Thursday night, 8th June and on into the hours of Friday morning. This was not as easy as it was for the Local Council Elections. I have been working with the BBC leading up to the election and they tried to get me into the main Cardiff count but without success as there are time limits to media accreditation. Actually, being accredited media would not have worked so well as the media are not allowed into the actual count area. It would have been hard to get the close observations I prefer. As it turned out a friend of mine managed to get me in as a Liberal Democrat Party observer in the Caerphilly count. Caerphilly is a town just north of Cardiff.

The work I’ve been doing with the BBC was connected with trying to find ways to increase awareness and participation with politics and the General Election. I produced sketches and illustrations to accompany online pieces under the project heading “My Manifesto”. Members of the public were asked to submit suggestions stating what they would do if they were Prime Minister. Some of these people were then interviewed and their story and manifesto suggestions put on television and online.

In one case I was lucky enough to accompany the crew as they were ‘gathering’ the story. During those few hours I managed to make some live sketches. The first one shows a woman from a place called Butetown (originally known as Tiger Bay) in Cardiff who was concerned about the rise of race related crime and behaviour since the Referendum on the UK leaving the European Union (EU), where the vote went in the favour of leaving the EU.

These drawings are made on a largeApple iPad Pro that the BBC loaned me for the duration of the project. I’ve tried tablets of one kind or another over the years but never been very impressed. The latest iPad Pro using an application called ProCreate proved to be irritatingly good. I say irritating in that my preference has always been for pen and paper, if only because there is effectively no original with equipment like this.

The BBC and myself made the decision to try the iPad as ProCreate offers a time-lapse recording of the drawings you make on it which added an element of animation and movement to the work which we felt important due to the video nature of the pieces we were producing. I was strict with myself in that I did not use the ‘undo’ feature at any time and stuck with a pen option and a watercolour brush as I would have had I been using my usual, more traditional, equipment. The sketch of Gaynor Legal I made in three stages. The portrait element during the interview process and the buildings after they had finished the interview. To be accurate with the things Gaynor was saying I recorded her interview on my phone and then annotated the sketch at the end. Just an issue of timing really.

The other live sketches I made were done during other interviews that took place on the same day. They were of Jenny Rees, a BBC journalist and Gwion Jones, a cameraman as they interviewed the people of Butetown.

So, back to the day of the election. Prior to the count came the voting of course. As I was in the mode of trying to generate interest in politics and the election using drawing I made a couple while I was making my own vote. These two were done in my sketch pad with a real ink filled pen rather than the very clever, if electronic Apple Pencil. I made them outside, and with permission, inside my local Polling Station in the north of Cardiff.

The following sketches were all made during the count in the Caerphilly Leisure Centre. The layout within the hall has a stage at one end where the TV cameras and press can film and record the result. Then about three quarters of the hall is fenced off. Only those involved with the counting, candidates, agents and observers are allowed in this area. It is split up again with fences stopping everyone other than counters entering the centre. Candidates, agents and observers (me) can observe from a fenced off area on either side of the central count area. The central count area is filled with tables, each one numbered and assigned specific elements of the counting.

In the first instance the ballot papers are simply counted to make sure they match the records taken at the polling stations – that is that there are the quantities they are expecting. Then the ballots are split into candidate piles and checked and then they are actually counted. At one point the candidates and agents are called forward to agree any spoilt papers. A spoilt ballot is one that has been left blank or one on which there has been more than one vote made or marked in such as way as to invalidate it, such as putting a line through it and writing ‘none of the above’.

At the end of the count the candidates are called together and advised of how close the result is giving them a chance to challenge it and ask for a re-count. If no re-count is requested they go onto the stage and the Presiding Officer announces the results.

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