The Sketch: Witney remembers its manners on the biggest of all nights

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The Independent Online

The ballot counters sit facing the observers across the tables. Up in the bar, behind the glass wall, observers look down. I look up, observing the observers observing the observers. But who's observing me?

We're in the sports hall of the Windrush leisure centre to see the vote being counted. People have dressed up. Women have had their hair done. It's a big night out in Witney. How decent everyone looks. How respectable and polite. Later in the evening, there's no tribal reactions to results – no cheering, no groaning, but all parties are there in front of the screens.

When the first ballot boxes came in, there was a scattering of applause and I got a sentimental prickle behind the eyes. No, election night really is a big night. There are going to be 70,000 pieces of paper, all personally marked, to be unfolded, collated, counted by hand. In an electronic age, it's encouraging. Old ways are good ways. It's Conservatism in action. This is Witney, after all.

The Loony arrives. He's dressed for it with a cowboy hat, a Burl Ives suit and a rosette like a king-size pizza. He sounds very polite too. It's hardly the dress code for these parts but they let him in anyway.

Hello, here's Jesus Christ, in robes and a crown of thorns. He gets searched with extra thoroughness. He's on a publicity thing for asylum seekers. "Sam Cam is descended from an asylum seeker," he says. "Charles II fled the country to get away from Cromwell." A little far fetched, this argument, applied to Somali refugees. Cameron has left his home but he keeps not arriving. The rumour is he's in an Oxfordshire lock-in, down his local pub. It's well after closing time. A police raid would be embarrassing. Illegal drinking of diet coke. But they're blue, you'd assume, the boys in blue.

Then the radio traffic increased on the police radios, and in he came. Crisp, clear, tall, awake. That was impressive. We briefly ran through our campaigns together. "You were there for the halibut, weren't you?" he said. Yes, I was there at Wakefield. "Surreal," he said. "A distribution centre at 3.15. Amazing."

What's amazing is how he's up and about. Physical stamina, it's what you have to have, it's the first requirement of being prime minister: 36 hours without sleep. And then he's got to get up without having gone to bed to try and get Gordon Brown out of Downing St.

The results are in. "It looks for the first time that the Tories aren't quite going to make it," one of us from the BBC says. "If Brown tries to form a coalition with the Liberals, there'll be rioting in the streets, won't there?" There'll be rioting whatever happens.

At 2.59, the winner was declared. "Already clear," to cheers and one or two groans, "the Labour party has lost its mandate to govern. The national interest. Difficult times. Strong country. Good strong, stable government."

Well, good luck with that. If we get any early sightings of good, strong, stable government, maybe you can let us know. He's been chopping wood all afternoon. God, he must be tired. He's sung the equivalent of two full-length operas every day for a month. And that's the end of the overture.