I’ve had a curious existence in the last few months. I have had to transform myself into ITN’s political editor John Serjeant. Not a pretty sight. But it has all been in the interests of making ITN’s election night coverage run as smoothly as possible.
Few people realise how many rehearsals the BBC and ITN go through to ensure their election nights are error free. Sitting next to Jonathan Dimbleby during several rehearsals (the real John Serjeant was doing far more important things, like reporting on the election!) I have come to realise what a difficult job he has. And as the political commentator interpreting the results for the viewer you need total concentration, as the words “So, John, what do you make of that” can come at any time – as I realised when I twice missed my cue. Well, it’s difficult getting used to being called John, when your name is Iain! Much as I would love to be sitting alongside Jonathan Dimbleby on Thursday I am rather relieved I shall be elsewhere.
Like millions of others I shall be at home savouring the 17 hours of live coverage that makes up Election Night TV. It’s quite a feat of broadcasting expertise as the Programme Director has to make instantaneous decisions over which count to go to and which politicians to interview next. The way the director communicates with the presenter is the key factor in making an election night programme a success or a failure. How we all remember the look on David Dimbleby’s face in 1987 when he was cued to speak at the very moment he had just put a whole Mars Bar in his mouth.
But most of us watch BBC’s coverage to see exactly what Peter Snow is going to do next, or what technical wizardry he can conjure up to bemuse us all with. He is a true genius and is almost in danger of becoming a political cult in his own right. This time he will do battle with ITN’s Dermot Murnaghan and without giving away any ITN election night secrets I think I can safely say that his virtual reality graphics are truly amazing and will give Snow a run for his money.
Every election night has its defining moment. In 1983 it was Tony Benn losing Bristol East, in 1992 it was David Amess winning Basildon. In 1997 Michael Portillo losing Enfield was probably the moment most people remember, but following closely behind was the David Mellor/James Goldsmith bunfight in Fulham and the result in Tatton. My guess is that the Tories will again provide the most memorable moments this time. If the polls are right (and I wouldn’t bet on it) the most memorable moment could well be William Hague’s immediate resignation as Tory leader. Even if things aren’t that dramatic, we shall all be deciphering the coded language used by Messers Portillo, Widdecombe and Clarke. I can hardly wait.
Iain Dale owns Politico’s Bookstore and presents “Counting Chickens – Memorable Moments from Election Nights Past” on Radio 5 Live (909 & 693 MW) at 9.30pm on election night on Thursday..