25 of our undergraduate students assisted ITV with their General Election 2017 programme, which aired from Thursday 8 June until the early hours of Friday 9 June 2017. The work required involved taking calls from constituencies and logging the election results on a database, which were then subsequently broadcast live on television.
BSc student Naomi Potter details her experience working with ITV News on the General Election 2017 programme:
At 9:30pm on the 8th June 2017, a group of 20 excited undergraduates piled into the reception of ITN ready for the long evening ahead. We were those students fanatical enough about UK politics to spend our election night in a small basement room taking calls and entering information on spreadsheets. We were tasked with helping the ITV election night team to get the results from constituencies on to the television and, after two full days of training from our excellent supervisors, we were ready to go. This role gave us the opportunity to watch the UK 2017 General Election first hand and be in the middle of the action throughout the night. As undergraduate students at the London School of Economics we are given great opportunities to be at the heart of critical events such as a General Election, and my experience at ITV certainly drove that home for me. Indeed, it was for this reason that I initially signed up. Having grown up in an uneventful Conservative safe-seat in the midlands, the opportunity to have so much involvement in an election like this seemed like something not worth missing.
By around 10pm we had all gathered in our room for the evening and waited eagerly for the exit poll to be released on ITV. Shortly before the polls came out we had taken a quick vote of our own to see what result we were all expecting – every person in the room said their serious prediction was for a strong and stable Conservative majority. A fellow LSE undergraduate working with me at ITV on the evening told me she was ‘nervous’ about the results, predicating it would be ‘sad for us’ and that the sort of people who vote ‘don’t like to change’. As a group of young people, our expectation was that we would witness yet another election dictated to us by older generations and the right-wing press. From the moment that the exit polls came out, therefore, it was clear the night would be even more interesting than expected. This was only made clearer as the atmosphere in the room quickly shifted from silent anticipation to excitable chatter. With a good mix of political opinions in the room, from far-left Labour to UKIP voters, every one of us had something to say about what we had just seen.
As the night continued on into the early hours of the 9th June, and the results came through, it became apparent that the exit polls for a hung parliament had provided a fairly accurate prediction. In hindsight, our own unanimous certainty of a Conservative majority had been lazy – any serious thought about how an election might play out in 2017 should have focused more on the unexpected and transformative results from recent political shocks such as Brexit and Trump. Just because a particular group have been silent for some time, does not mean that is their fixed position. In the same way that many argue Brexit saw the expression of the white working class voice that had been silent for too long, the 2017 General Election saw young people wake up and finally take to the voting booths. Ipsos Mori have stated that not only is the youth voter turnout very likely to have increased above ‘historical figures’, but this in turn is likely to be responsible for the substantial boost in the Labour party’s vote share. While it is important to not exaggerate the results, it is undeniable that what occurred represents an unprecedented shift in the UK’s political balance: a youth vote propelling a Labour party led by the far left into a competitive stance against a centrist government.
Taking all of this in at the ITV studios, surrounded by fellow LSE Department of Government students, was truly fascinating. Indeed, if I take one thing away from the night as a whole it will be our opportunity for entirely original and uninfluenced discussion as the results came through. Although there was a TV streaming the live ITV coverage in the corner of the room all night, most of the time it was inaudible over the buzz of busy call-takers talking to the constituencies; this lead us in our short breaks between calls to turn to one another to reflect upon and discuss what we were witnessing. Not only did the election itself feel uniquely empowering due to the ‘youthquake’ results, but simply having this chance to witness and digest it first-hand gave me a sense of engagement with regards to politics that I have never experienced before.
By 5am, when our supervisors said some of us could go home if we wanted, such a prospect seemed to be the last thing we were thinking about. This was partly because our role in the ITV nation-wide election night programme had been such a novel and fun experience, but it was also because the unexpected developments of GE2017 itself continually prompted a great deal of thought and conversation amongst us. Given the chance (which may come sooner rather than later), I would certainly get involved in the ITNs coverage of a General Election again. GE2017 is an election that I will remember for a long time for many reasons and I am very grateful to have been at the very heart of it.
A second-year BSc Government student reflects on the excitement of working at ITV as the Election results came through:
My experience working with the ITV News was indeed a thrilling one. We were doing the very basic job of picking up telephone calls from constituencies and putting general election results into the broadcast system. It was not hard to become familiar with the tools, but the work involved essentially required a lot of attention to detail, since a slight mistake could be observed by the hundreds of thousands of people sitting in front of the TV screen watching the ITV coverage that night. I found it very interesting identifying reporters’ accents from all over the country, such as the strong Scottish accent and the distinct Liverpool one.
Two of the really exciting moments of the night were those results announced in Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg lost his seat, and that of Hastings and Rye, which was long-delayed as Amber Rudd only just saved her seat. The shock for Nick Clegg was indeed massive as we all stared at his disappointed face on the screen. It also revealed how fast-changing and fluid voters are becoming in the contemporary political world. A similar situation occurred in many usually ‘safe’ Conservative seats, such as that of Kensington, which shifted from Conservatives to Labour for the first time in its history. One of the reasons for these unexpected results is obviously the mobilisation of people who don’t usually turn up at the voting stations, especially young people.
As an international student, the experience really gave me a taste of how British democracy works. It is the first time I have been able to experience firsthand an election result that is both somehow unpredictable, and could possibly result in important changes to the society I am living in. What made the outcome of the election interesting is the lack of a Conservative majority brings the DUP into UK politics as a crucial player. Additionally the result, together with recent incidents, puts huge pressure on Mrs May who is now struggling to bring both her party, and the country together. Helping out at ITN made me to pay more attention to this election and try to analyse the outcome using skills I have learnt from my studies at LSE.
Naomi Potter is studying a BSc Politics and International Relations in the Department of Government and is also Event Manager of the LSE Undergraduate Political Review (UPR).
Note: this article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Department of Government, nor of the London School of Economics.