Ninety minutes after the polls closed in the General Election of 2024, and the exit poll revealed a Labour landslide, I arrived at Harrogate Convention Centre with my invitation to support my friend Tom, who was a candidate. After a day of preparatory naps, I was ready for the night ahead.

Arriving to the hubbub of police, council staff, politics nerds, and the media, I sat next to Tom, who was going over the numbers. Not long after – and I shall remember this moment always – we realised that he had won by a mile. Within an hour, Tom would officially become the new MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, representing the Liberal Democrats. He was to be the first of many Lib Dems elected that night.

For me, it had been obvious that Tom would win for the last year. The national polls had been terrible for the incumbent Conservatives, and there was a general lack of affection for our MP of 14 years, given his unfailing commitment to party loyalty. No constituent, regardless of political hue, has time for an MP controlled by the whips.

The Tom I know is a top bloke – clever, kind, experienced, energetic, real, and locally involved. When Tom answers questions from the public, I know he would make a far better MP than me. Watching him closely, there’s an ease and effortlessness to the way he speaks, because he holds his views to his core and is on top of the details. Top sports professionals make their game look easy; Tom is the same. And he’s human, too, confident and comfortable in himself.

Now you’d imagine that within his team of twenty or so, there would be smiles, high-fives, and general hysteria. But it wasn’t like that at all. The magnitude of the moment was beyond comprehension. Not even a smirk from anyone on the team. And no knowing looks. Shortly, the country would know what we already knew.

The whole team, of which I played the most insignificant role, knew the outcome, yet nobody said anything about the result or what it would mean. The vibe was one of stupefaction. The final scene of the film Ocean’s Eleven nearly captures how we felt: proud, fatigued, expectant, stupefied!

Since that night, I’ve wrestled with how to explain the emotion of that moment because I’ve never experienced anything like it.

In big life moments like a wedding, you sort of know what’s going to happen unless your spouse runs away at the last minute. With the birth of a child, you’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea, and, frankly, it’s a common experience. University grades? You’re likely to get one or two outcomes, and your life will be fine regardless.

But here, your friend’s life is about to dramatically change, along with the politics of your town. Nearly half the voters in this area placed a cross next to his name – that’s quite something to mull over. The German language probably has a word for such events. If you could remove the element of death and capture the melancholy felt at the funeral of an elderly relative who had lived a happy life, then you’d broadly nail the feeling.

For my friend, a life of scrutiny now follows. Tom’s votes in the House – perhaps on matters of war and peace – will be consequential. While his life goes one way, over on the other table that night, staffers were losing their jobs, and the now-former MP was contemplating what the future would hold. Their man was out, and our guy was in.

Until that evening, our town had been represented by a member of the Government, but now we have an opposition MP. With an opposition MP, has our town lost or gained something?

Clearly, life will not be the same for Tom. I don’t envy him. As the saying goes, all political lives end in defeat – which doesn’t make total sense given that some politicians retire before they are evicted. The tables will turn eventually, but when? General elections are supposed to be every five years, but of late we’ve had elections in 2015, 2017, and 2019. I wish him the very best.

Regardless of which team you supported, let’s root for every elected representative. May they be kind, public-spirited, smart, tough, hard-working, and wise. Finally, I thank the previous MP for his service.

(N.B. Other than for extremists, I like all political people, for they nobly want the best for their country, and they are prepared to commit vast amounts of time to their mission. Of course, I would prefer not to live in a country dominated by political parties, and I detest the outdated First Past The Post system, but until such things change – and I have tried my best to change them – I have had to pick a team).

 

(The image is a still of a BBC report from that evening sent to me by a reader. As you’ll agree, its s an unfortunate pose, but if you look closely you will see that I am filming Tom’s speech).