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Nick Robinson | 01:59 UK time, Friday, 5 May 2006

The Tories have lost a seat on the length of a pencil!

After three recounts in Wheathampstead in St Albans, the Lib Dems and the Tories both had 1132. The result was decided by whoever picked the longest pencil - and the Lib Dems picked a longer one, taking it from the Tories.

But they won Crawley won on the strength of picking an envelope.

And that's democracy for you!


  • 1.
  • At 02:04 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Ben wrote:

That is by far and away the most bizaar practice we have in politics in the UK!

Have to love the way that seats like this are decided. Surprised the loses didnt ask for best of 3.

  • 3.
  • At 02:07 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Tim Wood wrote:

It seems to be that sort of night all over the country. Some gains by the Tories, yet they are still losing where one would think they should be picking up more. Better nip out and get some new pencils or double headed coins guys!

  • 4.
  • At 02:10 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Colin T wrote:

Perhaps in the reshuffle tommorrow Gordon should make Tony choose a pencil!!

  • 5.
  • At 02:12 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

We are talking about cylical politics. The sad demise of the Labour Party is due to the same factors as the Tories lost in 1997. Loss of faith, Sleaze and lack of new talent. The only difference is that the Tories had ruined the Economy and Labour have helped it thrive. That I believe will result in a hung parliament at the next General Election.

  • 6.
  • At 02:13 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Phil wrote:

How eccentric. If only they'd tried this in the US presidential elections!

I wonder what the most important issue is that has been decided by a game of chance?

  • 7.
  • At 02:15 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Matthew Burdett wrote:

This is excellent - I'm currently doing AS politics and these will make excellent examples of the problems with First Past the Post for our exam in the summer - whole councils being won on length of pencils and envolope contents. Though, I thought traditionally it was won on the flip of a coin...

  • 8.
  • At 02:17 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • iain stevenson wrote:

Is there any significance to the fact that only Blairite ministers are representing the govt tonight both on the BBC and Sky?Are the Brownites keeping quiet till they know the full picture before they make any conclusions?

  • 9.
  • At 02:18 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Megan wrote:

How very silly of them, everybody knows that the international way of deciding things like that is by a game of 'scissors, paper, stone'.

  • 10.
  • At 02:18 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Amy wrote:

At least they didn't decide it on the length of a cocktail sausage!

  • 11.
  • At 02:19 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Stig wrote:

Truly ‘Gibbon’ politics, in all its forms tonight...

  • 12.
  • At 02:20 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Phil wrote:

Anyone living in Wheathampstead who didn't vote can't really complain about their council now. If just one of them had bothered to go to their polling station they could have made a significant difference!

  • 13.
  • At 02:25 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Simon Sanders wrote:

I find some of the pundit explanations less than convincing. If many of the results so far involve councils where only one third are up then obviously Labour's no. of seats won't appear too bad. However, once London is in I think you will find Labour's nett loss at near 300. Surely this is a wake up call that Blair is arrogant, dangerous and needs replacing.

  • 14.
  • At 02:28 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I’m finding the most assuming thing tonight (apart from Simon Hughes apparently borrowing my Granddad’s shirt) is the difference between the Government Ministers towing the unity / Tony will see a full term line and the views of the Labour MPs who seem to calling for a renewal of the Parties focus. I wonder if Tessa thinks her administration is stale?

The Crawley result was a bit strange what with each party getting 500 votes. A nice round number, almost as if the whole thing had been fixed.

Anyway you are wrong in saying the Tories won Crawley on the strength of picking an envelope. The Labour candidate was asked to pick an envelope and he picked the wrong one, and lost.

  • 16.
  • At 02:30 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb wrote:

So do you think its been proven that tony has no lead in his pencil?

  • 17.
  • At 02:37 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Amy wrote:

In case anyone else apart from me was wondering who Gibbon was.

Ties in the US are sometimes settled in a similar manner. Laws differ, but often allow a tied election to be broken by a coin flip, or by drawing cards. (Haven't heard of the longer pencil method here, though.)

  • 19.
  • At 02:49 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

"Anyone living in Wheathampstead who didn't vote can't really complain about their council now. If just one of them had bothered to go to their polling station they could have made a significant difference!"

Phil, I'm in South Marshalswick (Another Lib Con marginal in St Albans) and I spent ages fretting that it was my ward in which it had happened. My parents didn't go and vote today (They even refused to spoil thier ballots) and I'd be ashamed had the conservatives not won due to my parents lack of faith in democracy.

  • 20.
  • At 03:06 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • David wrote:


Another apparently close result that we have been told little about is what is happening in Hastings. An interesting gain for the Tories if true. Can you share any more light on this when you're back on air?

  • 21.
  • At 08:44 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • David wrote:

If memory serves the law requires a game of chance - so anything that involves Chance serves.
Whentwo councillors were elected at the same time one was for a by election so would only serve two years and I watched them take the pick out of two pencils.

Trouble is if the person holding the pencils is slightly biased then he/she can easily indicate to their preferred candidate which one to go for.

As some else said that is the problem with 1st past the post

  • 22.
  • At 09:56 AM on 05 May 2006,
  • Christine Brannon wrote:

As a resident of Wheathampstead (and one who did vote) I am very upset that Keith Stammers should lose his seat in this way. He has served the community faithfully for many years -
there must be a better way - perhaps each of the candidates sharing the term 6 months of each year

  • 23.
  • At 02:07 PM on 06 May 2006,
  • Chris Whiteside wrote:

I was devastated to see Keith Stammers, who has slogged his guts out for Wheathampstead for 18 years, lose his seat in this way, although I admired how well he took it. There is no ideal way of dealing with a tie but this really was heartbreaking.

One side effect of the fact that the result in Wheathampstead ward was literally determined by a lottery rather than a democratic choice, is that reporting of this ward has tended to drown out what really happened in St Albans and how the Lib/Dems won control. Even including Wheathampstead, the Tories made a net gain at the expense of the Lib/Dems, and were well ahead in the popular vote. Overall there were nearly 3,000 more votes cast for Conservative candidates in St Albans district than for Lib/Dems.

The Lib/Dems only gained control of St Albans because they took more seats from Labour than the Conservatives' net gain from them. Labour have now lost the last of the extra councillors they won in St Albans during Tony Blair's honeymoon, and this year they also lost a councillor in one of their heartland wards, Sopwell, which they hadn't previously lost for about thirty years. In most of the St Albans district Labour were fighting it out with the Greens for third place - and in several wards the Greens did push Labour into fourth position

  • 24.
  • At 09:51 PM on 13 May 2006,
  • Allan Witherick wrote:

I find Chris Whiteside's comment interesting and look forward to the Tory Councillords like himself joining the Liberal Democrats in their campaign for a proportional voting system.
Of course this will NOT eliminate tie breakers, but certainly reduce the chance of one.
But sadly both the Tories and Labour are against this step forward in democracy nationally. Why?
Liberal Democrats get 27%+ of the vote this year but have less than 10% of the seats in parliament. In a proportional system where would those seats come from?...

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