December 18, 2019, by Emma Thorne

Live from the BBC – politics student Megan goes behind the scenes for election night

Final-year Politics and International Relations student Megan Collins took part in the BBC election night special and was one of several voters interviewed by BBC Presenter Sophie Raworth on the giant electoral map that was laid outside BBC Television studios. 

Megan was selected for the event by Stephen Vaccarini, Faculty Placements Manager, and Professor Katherine Adeney from the School of Politics & International Relations, who nominated Megan for this opportunity as they were both impressed by the accessible and articulate way she expresses herself and her opinions, and also because of the high levels of engagement Megan has had within both School and Faculty academic and careers-related programmes.

In her blog a week after the nation went to the polls, Megan reflects on her personal experience of voting in this historic election, and her unique perspective from behind the scenes at the BBC.

On Thursday 12 December 2019, I joined 31,897,333 people in voting in one of the most historic General Elections of recent years. Rather differently to those millions of people, however, I also had the opportunity to be part of the BBC coverage of the election result the morning after.

While most other students began winding down for the end of term, packing for home or celebrating the extension of coursework deadlines, I was on a train down to London. I was to give my take on the result that would be revealed the following morning – my very own ten seconds of fame. Despite being a third-year Politics and International Relations student at the University of Nottingham, however, I definitely do not consider myself a political expert; I am very much an ‘ordinary’ voter, and in this election, a very undecided one at that.

Voting behaviour is complicated

As a student, I am able to vote in one of two constituencies, at university or my home one of Cannock Chase, opting for the latter. Given that I am a 21-year-old student, most would predict that I voted for a Labour candidate, or perhaps a Liberal Democrat one. I did not, instead voting for my incumbent MP representing the Conservative Party. I found this decision very difficult. As far as I’m aware, no result has been decided by just one vote, but I felt that in such an important election my vote would say a lot about me, and the final result would hugely shape the country’s next five years. As I have learned in my politics degree, however, voting behaviour is complicated and inconsistent. I am no exception to this. As a Remainer, I voted for a party consistently vowing to ‘Get Brexit Done’; as a social liberal, I did not vote for a party committed to huge public spending. I am also no great fan of Boris Johnson, and hugely respect Jeremy Corbyn for his voting record supporting vulnerable members of society and encouraging huge numbers of young people to vote, reversing the trend of many years of declining youth turnout. However, like many, while I was concerned about Labour’s huge public spending plans, I also feel that the 2016 referendum result should be respected, and the issue of Brexit ‘done’ in order to move on to other issues of economic progress and social justice.

I wanted this to come across in the interview the following morning. The idea of ‘Shy Tory’ is often mocked, but I think it captures that many Conservative voters are unenthusiastic about their vote choice. Even I was shocked, however, watching the results of the exit poll come in my hotel room, predicting a huge majority for the Conservatives. I thought there would be a Hung Parliament, or at best, a small Conservative majority. I don’t think Johnson campaigned particularly well, and felt Corbyn’s slogan of ‘For the Many, Not the Few’, would cut through the Brexit debate as it did in 2017.

Exchanging views

I got up at 6am the next morning to see that the exit poll had been largely correct and my predictions very wrong. I discussed the result with the kind taxi driver on the way to the BBC Broadcasting House. He had voted Conservative, but like me, had been unsure of what information to trust during the campaign, referencing Corbyn’s leaked NHS documents. I arrived at the studios as 8am and met with the other people appearing on the programme. Among us was a Labour-voting student concerned about the cuts to her local area, a Welsh local government worker who had also voted Labour and a young entrepreneur concerned about the impact of the uncertainty of Brexit on her business who had voted for a Conservative candidate, as well as representatives from other parties dotted around the room. We sat discussing the result for a few hours before we were called up to be interviewed. There was no animosity and a lot of listening, something I feel politicians could learn from, as I did that morning.

Around half an hour before my ‘slot’, I was asked by a member of staff from the BBC to confirm my voting choice and discuss some of the reasons for voting this way. After watching the first small group to be interviewed by BBC journalist Sophie Raworth, it was then my turn. My group was made up of the Welsh local government worker and an SNP voter. Standing on the tiles outside the studios that I had seen on the TV that morning was completely surreal. Sophie was briefed about our names and how we voted – how she remembered (and stood in the cold) all morning I do not know.

The debate is only just beginning…

That’s the problem with having a General Election in December – it was freezing, which only added to my shaking with nerves. I would be interviewed first, and when we were given the cue that the cameras had started rolling, I was terrified. Watching Sophie walk over the many blue tiles, we were then told to stand in place. She turned to me and said: ‘A Conservative voter, the prime minister has promised to get Brexit done, do you feel confident he will do it?’. I can’t bear to listen to my own voice, but from what I remember, I answered that I hope that he does so that we can focus on other issues, such as education and the NHS, particularly as traditional Labour-supporting areas have voted Conservative this time. The Labour voter was then asked where he thought it had gone wrong for the party and how they should recover. Finally, when asked her view of the unity of the United Kingdom given that the SNP had won 48 seats in Scotland, the SNP voter outlined that she felt we were now in the ‘end game’ of the union, calling another independence referendum. Together, I feel we represent the issues facing the main political parties: how to keep Conservative voters and resolve the issue of Brexit, how to recover Labour support and how ‘united’ the United Kingdom will be in the next few years. I have no doubt all of this will be discussed and debated by far more qualified academics than me over the next few months/years, but I’m glad to have played my (very) small part in such an historic moment in British politics.

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