Skip to main content

Election night

A retrospective diary.

Tuesday, 9.20pm. I'm going to London, to watch with a friend I haven't seen for a while. Standing in the rain at the bus stop, I consider tweeting about whether the wretched weather is an omen. Not a good enough joke, I decide. It rains all the time. It has to be a good joke, because I don't believe it: she's going to win. We all know this.

Some other jokes are good enough. The bus diverts, and the driver's phone reads directions to him from Google Maps. Omen! The tube is delayed at a station, and the announcement admits to not knowing why. Omen! The joke is that it's ridiculous; as ridiculous as counting Halloween masks or yard signs. In a few hours people will be saying that Bill Mitchell - mask-counter-in-chief - has had a good night.

I get here about midnight, and Indiana and Kentucky have just been called for Trump. Not very exciting. None of us really know what's happening, because CNN doesn't really try to explain, but we know that nothing serious has happened yet. I don't really know when the mood changes. It's not for a while. I know more about this than most of my friends, so for a couple of hours I'm sending messages reassuring people. It's going to take a while, but it's still hers to lose. This is the line.

We are in this big, beautiful house in north London, drinking red wine out of the kind of glasses that must have a name but otherwise just say 'sophistication'. There's also beer - Coronas, and something else in a small keg, which merits an ironic comment, and which almost none of us know how to use. There are probably ten people here, and I'd bet almost all went to Oxford or Cambridge.  It's a nice party, of happy, young well-off liberals, here to celebrate the safe election of our boring liberal candidate. We make fun of the CNN anchor, and make jokes about all the parts of this campaign that are so ripe for making jokes about. I don't think there's anything wrong with this, or anything we can do; I'd be annoyed if someone else pointed it out. But you notice it.

Then at some point she's not winning. We all know that if she gets Florida or North Carolina, it's game over. (This is not, in the end, true. But we know it.) She doesn't get either of them early, but they're still there in yellow and the numbers are still flying around the internet, telling us we can believe it's okay. But now they don't look like they're going her way, so you start looking other places, and everywhere you look it's... shaky. My friends still want reassurance. I'm reduced to offering that Hillary's going to win in Virginia after all, which is only saying that it's not as bad as it looked.

I brought a can of Red Bull, anticipating a long night. It's longer than I thought it would be, but by now I don't need it because of my nerves, my mind buzzing between all my open browser tabs. I'm worrying about Michigan. Then some time after three I blink and see that Wisconsin is slipping away. I tweet an electoral map showing a tie, which is by now optimistic, and anyway no consolation.
By 4.30 everyone is asleep and it's over. CNN has switched from the studio of people with maps and voting data to the studio of people with emotions and self-serving spin. I've never heard of most of them, but it doesn't take long to figure out who's on your team. More tweets: expressing allegiance to the good guys. A friend on the other side of the world is in an exam; he wanted updates. I send him a string of messages, filling him in. By the time he comes out I have to say: it's not even going to be close.

Metropolitan line, 6.30am. This tube is full of people who have not stayed up all night to watch a foreign election. I'm still in politics mode: who would they vote for? And I feel outraged on their behalf. These are urban people of colour, on this train to go to work, people who are just as honest and deserving as the Trump-supporting-left-behind and who are the kind of people this result lashes out at. But this is a strange thought, because most of them probably don't know what's happened, and they might not be that interested if I told them. I don't know anything about the people here. I only know that everything I see right now is politics, and all the politics I see right now is -

I get a little sleep on the coach.

Back in Oxford. Way back yesterday, I bought a lamp from Argos. I'm walking there, to pick it up on my way home. This is what I planned - I put a reminder in my calendar - but I didn't plan for it to be like this. I open Twitter again. It throws up its little 'In Case You Missed It' panel. The tweets are all from fourteen hours ago. It feels like a long time, of course, because I've been awake the whole time. It also feels like it's teasing me. Tweets about Hillary. Tweets about nothing. I smiled at these tweets, last night. I saw them - I didn't miss it, though I do now.

Argos is empty. It's still early. The woman at the counter asks if I'm alright, which is just an English question that she doesn't really mean - though she does sound a bit sympathetic, watching me fumble to find the email I need to show her. I get my lamp. I pay 5p for a plastic bag. She wishes me a good day. Has anything happened?

I get the bus home, and miss my stop.

-- I'm now semi-regularly writing more like this, but not on this blog. You can read and subscribe at