The Sketch: Simon Carr

Fear and voting in the corridors of ignorance
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The Independent Online

Down there in the oak-panelled Committee corridor, on the benches outside the voting room, experts, psephologists and statistical historians sat like a row of Madame Defarges knitting underneath the guillotine. No one knew what the dickens was going on. The future was entirely undiscernible. Ignorance, as we know, is the authentic condition of politics.

And we said to each other: Who's carrying proxies? Where's Letwin? Who hasn't voted? Taylor's in? Who's that one: is it Damien Green or Dorrell? It's Gary Streeter. And him, who's he? No idea. That's John Barron. That's John Barron! Who's John Barron? So many questions, so few answers. So many answers that could equally be right or wrong. The unknowable aspects of politics. Like who John Barron is.

The old, Victorian portraits looked down on us. On some of us more than others, it must be said. Some claimed that older Tories were so confused by experience that they believed they knew what was going on. Therefore they were voting tactically, for Portillo over Clarke so that IDS would beat Portillo in the country. Do you follow? Neither did I.

One thing was certain. Iain Duncan Smith was well ahead. Yes, that was the only thing that absolutely everyone agreed on. In the sordid scrum below Mr Duncan Smith's pedestal, Mr Portillo's people battled with Mr Clarke's people for third place. Both sides claimed it. "We've missed it. We've lost by one vote," both teams told us.

Of course, both losing sides believed themselves to be ahead, why else would they claim to be behind?

Mr Duncan Smith's people were quietly confident. Like gentlemen. That was the way to do it. Being well ahead.

Ken Clarke voted. He looked depressed. Wouldn't you be? He came out of the back door and moved at speed down the corridor avoiding the journalists. That wasn't how winners behaved.

Everyone knew what was going on. It had become obvious. Clarke hadn't the numbers. Look how quiet his people were. Duncan Smith had the momentum. Portillo's vote hadn't collapsed. At 5.20, the only available fact was that there was no route through for Ken Clarke.

Imagine our surprise. He was miles ahead. And look how well everyone was behaving. What ostentatious graciousness. Like Tories used to be. In the 1970s. It all bodes well. But for whom?