Jonathan Schofield attends a 'delightfully boring' evening in Manchester Central

“I just walked up Peter Street and there were a group of men doing the conga outside Revolucion de Cuba,” I said to some of the people at the count in Manchester Central.

“Was it the Labour Party celebrating?” one of them quipped. I wasn’t sure about that. The conga men had been using language unbecoming to the new party of power although having met quite a few MPs it could have been possible.

Parties dividing on cultural, religious or ethnic lines is deeply disturbing

The crowd at Manchester Central, where the count for six constituencies was taking place, were far more restrained than the party-goers on Peter Street. Everybody had seen the Exit Poll which had put Labour so far ahead the tension had relaxed. Labour councillor Joan Davies said: “It’s like watching a film with no jeopardy in it.” A nearby Labour person heard that and said: “It’s so delightfully, deliciously boring. It’s all going our way.”

Some people had made the effort beyond a lapel rosette. There was one young man with an electric blue trilby which was straining my early morning eyes, another man was dressed like Timmy Mallett on acid, he looked like the world’s most dazzling children’s entertainer. A Workers Party lady of advanced years was vigorously knitting; perhaps she was knitting a hat for George Galloway or maybe a gag.  

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One of the two halls where the count took place Images: Confidentials

At about 2.30am there was a cheer halfway down the hall. It was the Labour Party celebrating the demise of George Galloway’s brief five-month tenure as MP for Rochdale. The woman with the knitting looked crestfallen, she may have dropped a stitch. Later I overheard a conversation with a man saying to a woman: “Did you hear about Galloway? The little shit couldn’t even be arsed turning up in Rochdale for the count.” Little shit? Maybe that conga group had been Labour Party members after all.

A big topic of conversation was how the vote in towns and cities with large Muslim populations across the country was marring the Labour victory procession. Four seats across the country which should have gone predictably red went to Independents fighting on Pro-Palestinian tickets.

The biggest casualty was the much-respected Jonathan Ashworth, the Labour Party’s shadow Cabinet Office minister. He lost his Leicester South seat by under 1,000 votes with the independent Shockat Adam saying: “This is for Gaza”: whether a somewhat preoccupied Gaza was listening is hard to say. Closer to home Blackburn was lost to the independent Adnan Hussain by 132 votes.  

Parties dividing on cultural, religious or ethnic lines is deeply disturbing. This is an increasing trend and a baleful one. It plays into the hands of splitters such as Galloway with their manipulation of identity to win votes. 

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Media gathering at Manchester Central Image: Confidentials

Another topic of conversation was how Reform UK, led by swivel-eyed Nigel Farage, was helping destroy the Conservatives and coming second in so many constituencies including many in Greater Manchester. This was great for Labour on the night but long term might pose problems. The argument, articulated by several people, goes: “If Labour largely fail in government then the Reform Party might fill the Tory void at the next election. This would result in a very right wing popularist opposition which might seriously challenge the usual centrist approach of most UK governments.”

The night wore on with cheers or groans as Grant Shapps lost, Jeremy Corbyn won and Nigel Farage triumphed at his eighth attempt. Meanwhile it quickly became apparent the ghost of 2019-past had been exorcised. “We’ve rebuilt the red wall, only higher,” said a red rosetted activist looking at a TV map of the North West of England. 

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Manchester Central and the count under way Image: Confidentials

The whole of Greater Manchester had reverted to Labour aside from Cheadle which chucked out the Tories and returned a Liberal Democrat, Tom Morrison. A stir was caused by the fall of normally solidly blue Altrincham and Sale West, once the sinecure of Sir Graham Brady who represented the constituency for 27 years until standing down for this election. His replacement candidate Oliver Carroll was overwhelmed by Labour’s Conor Rand. Altrincham and Sale West had been Conservative for more than 100 years.

Back in the first half of the nineteenth century after the Liberals had routed the Tories, John Bright, MP, had said if he could find a Conservative working man in Manchester he’d put him in a glass case and exhibit him. You could say the same in 2024.  

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Lucy Powell speechifying at Manchester Central Image: Confidentials

Lucy Powell was predictably elected the MP for Manchester Central with a majority of 13,797. She said: “Change is coming, change is happening tonight but change comes with huge responsibility.” Perhaps the Labour Party could use another word other than ‘change’ for a bit now.

The Manchester Central turnout was pathetic at 47%. It was worse as Graham Stringer, our occasional correspondent, easily won in Blackley and Middleton South with just 44% turnout. In the city where people died for the vote at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, and so many had fought for the vote and for basic rights down the years this seemed a betrayal. Earlier in the day I had taken a group of visitors around which had included several Australians. It’s illegal not to vote in Australia. Maybe it’s time to think about something similar here.

I left the count at Manchester Central at around 5am. Dawn had broken.

Gareth Worthington, Lucy Powell’s election agent, was leaving with colleagues at the same time. “Well done,” I said to him. He grinned and said: “Glad we got the job done. Hey, do you want to join us for a beer?” “Where?” I said. He pointed at Impossible bar on Peter Street: “I’ve hired it for the colleagues who worked for us on the election.” “Odd choice of bar with that name, you should have hired it for the Conservatives,” I said.

The roles between the two main parties had been reversed. What had seemed Impossible for Labour in the 2019 election had become very much the art of the possible in 2024. 

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