Labour's Rushanara Ali finding out she retained her seat in Bethnal Green and Stepney. Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
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A night at the Tower Hamlets election count: a photographer’s view behind the scenes

Normally hidden from public view, our photographer took his camera to capture the emotions and logistics of election count night.

Arriving at the election count at the ExCeL Centre, just as the doors opened at 9:45pm, the magnitude of the event was immediately striking. The room was expansive, dominated by a stage set for the announcement of results for two constituencies in Tower Hamlets: Bethnal Green and Stepney, and Poplar and Limehouse. Two large televisions broadcast the latest news, while a refreshment area provided a brief relief for those gathered.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

Counting commenced at 10pm sharp when all the final ballots of the day had been hastily cast. It took place in a secured area, accessible only to those with proper authorisation. For photographers, the guidelines were strict: no close-up shots of ballots that might reveal voting choices. Despite these constraints, the excitement in the room was palpable.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

Ballots were transported to the ExCel Centre by car from various polling centres across Tower Hamlets. The logistics team carried black bags filled with ballots and arranged them on tables in the centre of the room. These were then emptied, and the ballots were spread out for initial verification. After this stage, counters took a brief break before commencing the actual count.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

As the night wore on, candidates and their supporters began to fill the room. By 10pm, the exit poll had been released, predicting a Labour landslide of 410 seats compared to 131 for the Conservatives. It was good news for other, smaller parties. The Liberal Democrats were forecast to get 61 seats, and Reform UK a shocking 13 for such a new party

Richard Flowers, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, shared his mixed feelings. He said:

‘It’s a mix of feelings at this point because I’m obviously tired from the campaign but buoyed up because it’s election night and we’re still full of adrenaline… There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty still because obviously the polls this time have been particularly volatile.’

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

Tony Glover, Reform UK candidate for the same constituency, was optimistic. ‘Based on the exit poll, 13 seats is incredible for what is a start-up party that’s very tiny… I’m feeling very excited,’ he said.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

Nathalie Bienfait, Green Party candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, was joined by Phoebe Gill, the Green candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney. They echoed this sentiment, finding the campaign both energising and exhausting.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

Late into the night, Rushanara Ali, the incumbent Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney, arrived at the count. She had led an exhausting six-week campaign, facing staunch criticism every step of the way from independent competitor Ajmal Masroor, who hoped to win on the pro-Palestinian vote.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

As the early hours of morning approached, the initial excitement gave way to fatigue. People gathered around the televisions, watching as results from constituencies were reported. Some of the candidates’ earlier optimism turned to disappointment as the night progressed.

At around 5am, the first results were announced: Apsana Begum, the incumbent Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, retained her seat as expected, with a 12,560 majority. The counting continued, and by 6am, the second result confirmed another Labour victory. Ali retained her seat in Bethnal Green and Stepney, though Masroor was a close runner-up, with only 1,689 votes separating them.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

By dawn, the process concluded. Despite the exhaustion, there was a sense of accomplishment in the air. Attending the count was a demanding yet enlightening experience, showcasing the dedication and complexity behind the scenes of the electoral process.

Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC
Photography by Emil Lombardo © Social Streets CIC

For more of our coverage of the general election, read General election 2024 results: your MP for the new constituency of Stratford & Bow


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