I've managed to grab a few hours sleep. It's been a remarkable 24 hours, with the ramifications of the poll result country-wide still being played out in Westminster. But what about here in Darlington? As Chris Lloyd notes on his excellent Echo blog, all three candidates from the major parties seemed positive after the result last night. And here's why.
There were some grim predictions from colleagues about the size of Jenny's likely majority - I had a £1 on 2,780 in Tom Nutt's sweepstake, and wasn't a million miles away.
10 days ago, I was even gloomier (though I always tend to see "the glass half-full" at election time), but in the last few days there were tangible signs of the Labour vote firming up appreciably. In football-speak, a win's a win, but in this election, with a new candidate and a very difficult national backdrop, a majority of over 3,000 is a good result in what has always been a marginal seat.
Moreover, Jenny was an extremely strong campaigner, and I was genuinely surprised just how many people she had helped who I came across in my own patch, given her relative youth and short time on the Council. It made campaigning for Labour so much easier - for all the sneering from some opposition circles that Labour overplayed the "local" nature of our candidate, in fact it really did make a difference on the doorstep.
Finally, we can be confident that Jenny's impressive start will continue as she gets to work, which will help continue to re-energise Labour in the town. It was a very happy post-count party afterwards for Labour supporters.
I spent quite a bit of the last couple of years mocking the Tories and their candidate on this blog for the torpor of their campaign. And in truth they squandered the advantage they had with a candidate in the field, especially in the hiatus for Labour after Alan Milburn stood down. I also wonder whether had they not selected so early (for example after rather than before the expenses scandal broke) they might have looked harder for someone local to contest the seat. Up against 2 councillors with impeccable Darlington credentials, Edward was always at a disadvantage and that told on the doorstep.
There was ample evidence in the last few weeks, however, that the Conservatives and their candidate Edward Legard got into their stride. Edward is to be commended for finally pushing the local Tories out of their West End "comfort zone" and into Labour's territory, perhaps for the first time in 15 years. From what I hear, they were pleasantly surprised by the reception they received.
Until February, I wondered whether any Tory constituency organisation would look at Edward again, given the hopelessly complacent nature of the Tory effort to date. Having seen him now at the Darlington Churches Debate and after the Declaration, I think he's grwon appreciably as an aspiring politician. Whether he sticks around to fight Darlington again (as Tory activists were speculating afterwards) remains to be seen - somehow I doubt it.
Mike Barker fought a typically feisty, insurrectionist campaign which played to his and his party's strengths. The LibDem vote wasn't squeezed as happened elsewhere in the North East, despite the clear evidence that Darlington is returning to its traditional role as a key Labour/Tory marginal. He is easily the most impressive thinker and campaigner in the local LibDem ranks - without him they'd return to being an irrelevance hereabouts.
It was a shame then that Mike spoilt the positive aura he'd built-up (in my opinion anyway) by bunking off to Durham City on polling day. For me, if you tell voters that your party has a real chance of victory, and that voting LibDem is not a "wasted vote", you have to spend the rest of the campaign behaving if that's true, even if the majority of your local supporters (understandably) are ordered away to the likes of Durham City. I thought Mike let down those people who believed him and did vote LibDem on the day. If they'd been aware that in fact the LibDems knew they never had a prayer here (as I and others pointed out) the LibDem vote would have been far smaller.
A brief mention for the BNP, if only because they were completely marginalised here. Unlike the European elections, almost nobody mentioned them on the doorstep to me - I don't think I saw a single BNP activist at the count for the first time ever. After the catastrophic result in Barking for Griffin (where they also lost all 15 of their council seats too - a great result), and beset by factional strife, they are truly on the way out. Fantastic news about the ugliest party of my generation.
Mike has come on to comment that he was only in Durham for the last couple of hours of polling day apparently. I'm happy to clear that one up.