My Week: To compare a post-election wake with a funeral ignores one important fact: there is a finality about a funeral. Election wakes occur with monotonous regularity

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The Independent Online
"Are you going to win?" they ask every candidate who has a snowball's chance in hell.

"Absolutely, come and join our party on Friday night," is the reply.

"Will it take place, win or lose?


Most people have the good manners not to turn up for political wakes.

On the morning after the results have been declared, when the defeated candidate is drunk and his minders move around like latter-day lotus-eaters, the phones ring ceaselessly with excuses for staying away from the jollities - unexpected memorial services, contact with contagious disease and visits to the vet all feature highly.

But when you invited your friends and your helpers and the local dignitaries, you did say "whatever the result" and some of the bastards thought you meant it and turn up.

To compare a post-election wake with a funeral ignores one important fact: there is a finality about a funeral. Election wakes, often featuring the same dramatis personae, recur with monotonous regularity.

When I was first elected an MP, at a by-election in July 1973, the count was held on the morning after the vote, and the result announced in the early afternoon, only a few hours before the Conservatives' "victory" party at the most prestigious banqueting venue in the constituency - The Maltings in Ely.

Seven months later, at the general election in February 1974, and then nine months after that, at the second general election of that year, they again booked The Maltings, though each time it was we who celebrated, in an upstairs room at The Griffin Inn.

"It was deja vu all over again," said a man on his return from The Maltings in Ely after the 1979 election, the fourth in a row the Conservatives had lost.

Celebrations that mark success at the polls are entirely joyous, even better than office parties because the next morning you do not meet those with whom you behaved so disgracefully the night before.

When you win, guests bring food and drink, and all that a sensible victor need do is provide glasses, ice, mineral water and damp cloths.

Losers' parties are different: only drink is important; never mind what drink, so long as there is a sufficiency, and do not worry about food.

I have yet, at such occasions, to meet a citizen who complains that the man has not only lost his seat but also served corned beef sandwiches past their sell-by date and in need of pickles.

The planning of a celebration in a marginal seat is not easy: Guinness and champagne are best. The former is seriously sombre in colour, bitter to the palate and helpful to those seeking slow oblivion. Provision of the latter shows you never expected anything other than to win.

And if there should be some niggling hope of a replay in the not too distant future ... investigation into levels of campaign spending, the ill- health of the winner ... you can always pour the one into the other. (Champagne poured on to Guinness makes less fizz than vice versa. An Australian fizz called Yolumba is a good all-purpose sparkler; only morons corrode Dom Perignon with stout.)

Sit-down meals, when you are uncertain which way the vote will go, are not to be recommended.

Caterers need notice. To ask them to provide alternatives for victory and defeat - lobster or black pudding followed by raspberries in eau de vie or seed cake - is outwith their capability.

Making the most of other people's good fortune is ever a sensible modus operandi. At the end of the last war, my father, who was a gourmand and bon viveur, frustrated by years of rationing, had a map of Europe pinned to his office wall in London and a book of ethnic restaurants on his desk. As the Allied armies advanced and liberated Greece, Hungary, Belgium and then France, so did my father arrive at the eating-houses of those lands and joined in the jollity.

How did an anglicised Austro-Hungarian get away with singing tuneless anthems while drinking free vodka, munching complementary pojarski in a Polish hostelry in Soho? The answer is: the greater the joy, the lighter the security. The same is true of political victory parties too.

Rather as I used to advise my supporters to accept lifts to the polls in Conservative vehicles, which were usually smarter than those of the Liberals, so in 1987, when I lost my seat, only about a third of the folk who usually came to my victory parties made it to the wake

But there were unconfirmed sightings of many of my usual suspects at the reception given by my successor, a veritable soiree with a binge on top, it appears to have been.

For those to whom a good party is more important than the result of the election, now is the proper time to make contingency plans for Friday.