Last night in the UK one thousand years of parliamentary tradition boiled down to a long discussion about swinging. The talking went on all night and by the end of the British election it seemed the Conservatives were by far the better swingers. They swung more than anyone else, more than Labour who seemed unable to rise to the occasion and more than the Liberal Democrats who had flirted well at the bar but lost their nerve when the lights went down. British politics only gets exciting once every five years when they have an election. People make a big fuss about the election but nothing really changes, no matter who gets into power. People still queue politely at bus stops, the weather continues to be a source of unending fascination, schools and hospitals fall short of expectations, beer is too expensive and the football team will always slip up just when greatness is within its reach. And expats everywhere – whether they be on the Silver Coast or the other side of the earth – will always love the place no matter what colour ties the people in power are wearing.
It is not a country that likes to talk much about swinging. But on election night the entire country is gripped by television coverage of how the vote is swinging from one party to the next as the results come in from around the country. It goes on all night – parties are held, celebrities are dragged out to comment on things they clearly haven’t a clue about and in the darkness of the regions the really serious competition is taking place. Forget the question of who will be the next British Prime Minister. That is not really important on election night. Last night what was important was whether Sunderland could beat its own record and count the votes faster than any other constituency in the country. This is the kind of politics that makes Britain great. The good folk of Sunderland were the fastest to return a result last time around and this year they wanted to do it again, but better. They drafted in a legion of high school athletes to train with ballot boxes filled with dummy ballot papers. The cameras showed them running from the delivery vans into the counting hall with big black boxes in their hands. They were aiming to get a result just 43 minutes after the polls closed. But this year someone made the ballot paper heavier and the athletes felt the strain. I think the whole country sighed when Sunderland came in ten minutes later than last time. After that I think the spark went out of the election. And this morning when Britain woke up to a hung parliament I wonder whether many people cared. Just knowing that Sunderland didn’t make it would have been enough to subdue most of the country’s bus queues.