What a couple of days!
As most of you will know, I was standing for the local council elections. When I say I live in True-Blue Toryville, I'm not sure many of you appreciate just what I mean. There hasn't been a Labour party in my town for decades. Some years we didn't even field candidates and if we did, we were usually beaten into 4th place by UKIP.
We were encouraged to put all of our time and resources into fighting for the marginal seats a few miles along the coast. Labour simply ceased to exist where I live. The Lib Dems were the opposition here, and we colluded to allow them to eat away at the vast Tory majorities, slowly building up a broad base of support.
We were rewarded with unpleasant leaflets sneering at our lack of presence and a sprinkling or dirty tricks.
I decided to stand for Labour a few years ago. I couldn't bear the fact that Labour voters didn't even have a candidate to vote for and stood as a paper candidate so that, if nothing else, democracy would be served.
Slowly, others joined me and this year, with the coalition leaving many feeling upset and betrayed, we managed to persuade our CLP (for the first time) that we should actually do some work in our own constituencies.
It won't sound like much to those of you who volunteer in busy cities and thriving Labour heartlands, but for the first time, we managed to field a candidate in every ward and I wrote a heartfelt plea to Labour voters, appealing to them to vote with their hearts. I suggested that we test the old Lib theory that "Labour cannot win here" "Vote with your hearts, just for once" I suggested, and let's just see what happens.
We hoped to put a leaflet through every door in my constituency, and amazingly, volunteers popped up from everywhere with offers of help to deliver them. It took a herculean effort for a party so fragmented, but we did it with just a day to spare.
And that was it. That was our election campaign. Other candidates used my leaflet too and made their own massive efforts, roping in family and friends to help. We were a team again and it felt amazing.
I love polling day. I always dress up to the nines (always good to out-Tory the Tories I feel) and smile and nod my way through as much of the day as I can. on Thursday, we'd also managed to put together a rota so that my polling station would be manned all day. For the first time in decades, three pretty yellow, blue and red rosettes sat side by side.
And what an odd day it was! For the first time since 1997 people were actually glad that I was there. Normally, no-one really speaks to me all day. A few defiant voters hand me their polling card pointedly and shake my hand, but other than that I am roundly ignored and have to content myself with good natured opposition-baiting and friendly banter.
Thursday saw me nearly as busy as the other three, with voter after voter smiling or winking or patting me on the back, delighted to have a voice, delighted there was somewhere they could register a vote of protest. I knew the result was likely to be a bit better than last year, but I'm used to false hope and over-excitement. At the last election, the Libs got 38% of the vote, while I got 15% - we were only on the very first step of an endless staircase.
Let's not forget I'm not well. (This is a diary, after all.) By the end of Thursday, I staggered home at 8.30, ate my dinner and fell into bed. I was so exhausted and in so much pain, I nearly collapsed in the hallway.
The following day, colleagues from all over the town reported similar popularity and we even arranged to go to the count, hoping for the first time that it wouldn't be too humiliating to venture in.
I couldn't get there until 10.30 ish and when I arrived, they'd just started to count.
Something extraordinary started to happen. As I watched my friend's count, her pile was going up as quickly as the Lib one! It couldn't possibly be true, but she seemed to be in second place. I scurried off to my table and sure enough, my pile of ballots was equally large. I'd got on very well with the Conservatives at my polling station and they confirmed that I seemed to be in second place, almost as excited for me as I was!
The next hour or so was just brilliant. I am a self-confessed election geek, and seeing the delight of my colleagues, the grim faces of the Lib Dems and the piles of Labour votes right across the count, I was practically dizzy with excitement. Suddenly, I was being mobbed by scores of Tories all shouting "congratulations" and trying to shake my hand at once*. I'd come second!! With a massive 29% swing to Labour, I'd overturned decades of tactical voting in just one campaign.
Soon, other seats declared and we managed three second places!! Three! for a party that hadn't even existed a year or so before. For the first time in living memory we got to enjoy a little reward for all our hard work.
Anyone looking at the results would simply see a sea of blue. The same old blue they always see. But underneath there is a story that no paper will report. Labour became the opposition again and the Lib Dems took a knock from both sides.
You see, they rarely play fair locally. They attack the Conservatives violently while sneering at us at every opportunity. You could argue that it's "just politics" but it doesn't win many friends. I'm not sure who was more excited yesterday, us or the Tories. They are heartily sick of the Libs in opposition, and celebrated the return of us reds in a way that was almost unseemly - so much so, that in a case of dreadful sour grapes, the Lib Dem leader referred to a "New, blue and red coalition in town" in his speech and was heckled by a Conservative shouting "Long may it last!!"
So, from now on, there will be a Labour voice in my town. Our group has doubled in numbers in the last year and we finally have the manpower and commitment to run successful campaigns. We have a web designer in our little group and a marketing expert. We have a few old time, battle hardened experts to help with organisation and a band of leaflet deliverers and voter-id volunteers to start to find our vote and target it more effectively. We are going to pool resources with our neighbouring constituency and work together. There will be street stalls in the centre of town every month and we're running debt counselling drop-ins for local residents, manned by two other volunteers from legal professions.
If we never win a council seat, I can at least promise that we will oppose, we will give our voters a voice.
Today feels very nice indeed.