Shouldn’t we spice up election nights with a real family fest?

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

For retirees such as us, polling day in Westminster elections is a leisurely one where we don’t plan anything in particular.

How different it was when we were working parents, trying to fit in voting with supervising homework, making dinner, preparing for the next day’s work and hoping the polling station wouldn’t close before we got there.

Would young people be more inclined to vote if there was a party atmosphere?

Would young people be more inclined to vote if there was a party atmosphere?

I’ve always thought that a Friday would be a better day for such an event because those of us who like to sit up all night watching the results come in can eschew sleep since Saturday, for most, isn’t a work day and children don’t have to go to school.

I have an American friend who tells me that her friends and neighbours make a point of staying up all night for political results. Not only that, bars stay open and coffee shops and cafes also stay open 24 hours to provide food and drinks for those who skip out for a break, many in their dressing gowns. Few can resist the lure of that moment when it’s announced who the next President is going to be.

Here, towns and villages all over the province are expanding rapidly with new housing close to the built-up areas so, it’s quite possible, that our future election nights may mirror the American style, a social event in fact where families gather together for an all-nighter in the house which has the biggest screen and the best carry-out food.

West, south, east and north Belfast could launch the 24-hour Election Fest with pubs and cafes offering enticing ways to keep everyone awake.

Those of us living in the country could plan our own mini fest for neighbours and friends maybe with accommodation thrown in. It could even provide a boost for the economy.

Young people are reluctant to vote but if they thought there was an all-night party in someone’s house for the big event they might take more interest. How depressing it is to see young people of voting age being interviewed on television not even knowing who is standing for election in their own area. ‘‘I’m not bothered,’’ is a common refrain. So shouldn’t our elections be made more exciting?

The News Letter ran a front page story this week that audiences for this week’s two televised leaders’ debates had plunged. I have to confess I switched them on then quickly found myself something useful to do because watching shouting matches are not my thing. Even the national televised debates were dreadful.

Theresa May made the right decision to avoid the first one. I suspect she is too polite to argue and shout. This paper’s political editor Sam McBride had his own take on why viewing figures were down for the local debates. He wrote it could be “that due to this election having been fought on far more overtly orange and green lines than that in March many voters know who they are voting for and therefore did not watch the debates’’.

With the possibility of another Stormont election this year that could mean another couple of depressing televised debates over the virtually unsolvable, protracted political problems we have here, problems which could take a couple of generations to shift. I certainly won’t be sitting up half the night for any results. But I will have sat through Thursday’s results.

In the midst of our politically charged times, last weekend I went to a wonderful open air concert on a beach in south Derry. I struck up conversation with a young English concert goer who ran a business in London. He thought the concert venue and the entertainment fabulous.

Yet he had never heard of Lough Neagh, probably the largest fresh water lake in the United Kingdom.

Hopefully he knew nothing of our convoluted politics either. Northern Ireland is a great place yet we are so bad at getting that message to the wider world.