It was late, Thursday 1 May 1997. I had worked all day and knew I had to get to Winchester before polling closed because I hadn’t updated my address for the elections and this was one I just couldn’t let pass. The Conservatives had been in power since I was 12. I was now 30 years old.
I was in Bath and the route was not direct. What should have been 60 odd miles turned into 150, with all the detours we had to take. My (then) husband and I locked up the office, jumped in the car and revved up to vote! We jumped lights, took ill-advised byroads and ignored one-way street signs to avoid the rush hour traffic jams.
Finally arriving at the Winchester poll station we saw the doors closing, the flimsy paper signs directing the public to the entrance being dismantled and the lights switched off, seemingly along with any hope we held of voting in the most important election in living memory.
Conservatives mired in sleaze
I had had first-hand experience of Margaret Thatcher and her antics in Russia, the country was embroiled in Conservative sleaze scandals and, my God, we needed a change. To think we had missed the deadline by minutes was too much to bear. We had already decided to lend our votes to the Lib Dems, who in the hunting, shooting fishing, gin and Jag belt of Hampshire were the only viable alternative to the Conservatives; surely a few markers on a watch couldn’t possibly deny us the chance of having our democratic say?
The charming lady behind the door confirmed that there was 1 minute and 20 seconds left before the official closing time. They re-opened the doors and let us in to a silent and deserted voting chamber. We cast our votes and went home.
Hope for the future
The next morning, Britain changed. The positive headlines, the wind of change, the young, the untainted had won the election. It felt like a much-hoped-for positive medical outcome!
I literally cried. Then we looked at the local results. Our MP was challenging the local result as he lost by only two votes. Breakfast that morning was euphoric as we realized that it was us! Our two votes, rushing out of work, driving too fast, determined to make a difference! We were the last two votes and it changed the result for our town. If we hadn’t have done that he would have maintained his seat.
The MP and health minister Gerry Malone, could not comprehend his defeat. So sure was he that there were several mistakes made by the counting officers, he insisted on a legal challenge in the High Court.
This resulted in a by-election being held in the November of the same year. He went on to lose by 21,556 votes. Voting tactically in May 1997 meant two votes gave rise to a solid defeat of over 20,000 when challenged, which in turn changed the direction of Winchester in 1997.
We have important elections this week. Think on.