I FOUND the British general election last week fascinating to watch, for several reasons.
Firstly, it showed once again that the people least trusted with the timing of elections should be the politicians themselves.
Secondly, it showed that opinion polls are increasingly unreliable. This is where it may be worth inserting a phrase about opinions being like backsides because everyone’s got one.
I think there may be a perverse pleasure being taken by many people in actually lying to the pollsters during election campaigns. Or there’s a degree of embarrassment among some people about who they’re actually going to vote for so they don’t admit it to the pollsters.
Thirdly, and this may be the most important, because they get the counting – largely – right. The only official numbers you get are presented when an official, quite often wearing some robes and something resembling a piece of a goat, stands up in front of a room with the official proclamation of the votes. It’s much like in the old Monty Python Election Night Special sketch, but without silly, slightly silly and very silly candidates. One set of numbers and then the analysis begins.
I appreciate it’s much easier to do this in the first-past-the-post voting system they have in Britain than in the multitude of preferential systems we apply to elections across Australia, but it streamlines the whole election-night coverage. There’s none of the early over-excitement from our election nights here. You know the stuff: “We have some figures from the electorate of Manangatang, they’re only based on 0.6 per cent of the vote, but I think we can learn something from these 403 votes…” And followed by several talking heads trying desperately to draw national implications from a handful of voters in an isolated booth. It’s all about being first!
Yes, I appreciate this may sound as a bit hypocritical coming from me as I chaired the 2CC election-night coverage for the Legislative Assembly poll last year, and we did call the eventual result very early in the night, and got it correct. Right down to the seat numbers. But how often do you see those early calls being completely wrong? Most of those early incorrect calls are understandably whitewashed from history fairly quickly, no network wants to remind their viewers that they got it wrong. And none of the competition will point it out for fear of schadenfreude turning around on them.
There have to be ways to improve our electoral counting processes. I don’t know if fully electronic voting is the right way to go, but if the various TABs across the country can calculate how much to pay out in the hundreds of types of bets placed on the Melbourne Cup from the millions of dollars bet in a matter of minutes, there has to be a better way.
Perhaps this is a path the next ACT electoral commissioner will be able to take us further down.