So the campaigning was over and the votes were in. Overnight, early predictions had swayed between a thinnest of victories for the Conservatives and a Hung Parliament. As day broke over Westminster, it was looking like we were about to enter an a very rare era in British politics. The question now remained; how the hell was this going to run itself out?
While it became clear that Nick Clegg‘s Liberal Democrat party had failed to take advantage of any of the unexpected support that they had gathered during the campaign, it was also obvious that his next decisions would be vital as to deciding who formed the next Government. As expected, the media descended on Cowley Street to await the arrival of the “Kingmaker”.
When he finally arrived back into London from his constituency in Sheffield, he called an impromptu press conference on the doorstep of the party headquarters. With general expectation being that he would be either non-committal or make overtures towards the centre-left Labour Party, he managed to throw a perfect curve ball, stating that it was now up to David Cameron to prove he could form a strong Government. To those that don’t follow politics or are in far off lands, he’d managed to create a situation where the Lib Dem’s natural allies (Labour) had to be a second choice after stating that he would respect the voting figures. With Labour coming second, it was up to Cameron’s centre-right Conservative party to see if they could make a decent offer first. I hope you were paying attention there as there may be a test.
With the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour headquarters all being within quarter of a mile of each other in Westminster, it didn’t take long before you had the unusual sight of young Conservatives gathering outside the left wing Lib Dem offices for news. On a side note, I have to state that when I saw some of the guys loitering around, I actually thought that they were Lib Dems in fancy dress as stereotypical Tory Boys but no, it seems that some do wear blazers, jeans and deck shoes at all times..
With no outright winner, Downing Street remained eerily quiet as no-one knew what was going to happen and where. After each leader returned from their constituencies, word soon passed around that they’d all headed to bed in preparation for the coming days.
The next day arrived and the pro-Cameron newspapers and channels began to pile the pressure on Brown to resign. Westminster became a web of photographers and camera crews criss-crossing each other as they rushed to Government departments, offices and meeting rooms where talks were rumoured to be taking place.
While shooting Clegg’s arrival for a meeting with his senior party members, I caught wind of a memorial service to mark the 65th anniversary of VE day that was to be held at the Cenotaph on Whitehall that all three leaders may attend. Too good an opportunity to pass up, I rushed over and managed to talk myself onto the media stand. Thankfully, as I was driving, I’d thrown a 400mm into the boot of my car so was able to follow all of the eye movements and body language displayed during the service. It must have been such an unusual situation behind the scenes as neither Labour or Conservative had announced formal talks with the Lib Dems but what on earth else could they have talked about? Diplomacy skills set to full power, I guess.
With that rather nasty surprise out of the way, it was time for the talks to begin. First up, senior members of both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems met for a day of talks at the Cabinet Office on Whitehall. On the way in, I managed to get a reasonable position as both teams walked up the steps so on their departure, I figured the best place to shoot would be from head-on to the door, in the middle of the street, between two parked satellite trucks. The problem with this stroke of genius was that, due to nobody knowing when the talks would end, we all had to stay pretty much on guard at all times. This would have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that the trucks need to keep their engines running to power the broadcast gear, resulting in me consuming more lead than a church window factory.
When the meeting eventually ended, the media scrambled to get clear shots of the politicians as they walked from the building and down towards the Houses of Parliament. As we crossed the road, a cameraman fell back over the bonnet of a queueing car, dropping his camera onto the paintwork causing a lovely dent and big scratch on the shiny new car. As he scrambled to get up, his producer yelled at him to continue as she stayed behind to calm the rather concerned motorist. Being in these moments is often such a surreal thing as you rush and push your way through passing tourists who all stop and stare at this circus working it’s way along the pavement towards them. Great fun!
By the next morning, the mood in Westminster was getting impatient. 24 hour news channels began to run out of content as meetings continued between the parties behind closed doors. The revelation that the Lib Dems were now also talking to Labour caused some interest for a while but the general feeling still lay with the formation of a Con:Dem Nation.
By now, any picture of the leaders had become a necessary shot to get in the bag each day, just in case some big announcement was made and a new photo was needed in a hurry. This involved camping outside Cameron’s West London home, Clegg’s South London home and number 10 Downing Street. Not a glamourous job by any means but thankfully I got to spend the day talking drums with Reuters photographer Kieran Doherty. Anyone straying over to join in the chat soon walked away again after hearing enthusiastic descriptions of the decay rates of Paiste Signature crash cymbals and the qualities of Evans hydraulics.
While waiting outside David Cameron’s office in Westminster with Getty photographer Peter Macdiarmid, he decided to check the windows for signs of life and not long after joining him, Conservative Policy Chief Oliver Letwin appeared. Long range pictures like this aren’t really my kind of thing but when it gives an insight into the pressure that the negotiators were under to broker a deal with Nick Clegg, it added an extra ingredient to the picture story.
By the following day, Cameron was losing patience and issued an ultimatum to Clegg to declare his intentions and news channels started to suggest that something was about to happen. I rushed to Downing Street and dug in for a long wait. As the news helicopters gathered overhead , a podium was carried out into the street and after a few heated shouting matches as to where to place it for the best angle, Gordon Brown appeared with his wife Sarah at his side.
A short but emotional speech later and the Brown family walked to a waiting car, before heading to Buckingham Palace where Gordon would formally tender his resignation. Smiling and waving to the cameras as he walked, I dashed down to the car and managed to catch a more candid moment before he left the street for the final time as Prime Minister.
While attempting to keep my impartiality in this blog, I have to say that I don’t think he did that bad a job during his time in office. In the three years he held the reins, the UK suffered severe floods, terrorist attacks and a global economic collapse. This all came without the customary honeymoon period that a new leader can usually enjoy after taking office, due to the handover happening between elections. That’s hardly an easy term.
Anyway, out with the old and all that so after having a total nightmare as I tried to file my “BrownExit” (ooerr) shots, it was time for the Cameron show to begin. As we all scrambled to get back into position with a few sparks over which photographer was where as Brown left, we watched a small TV crew’s screen displaying a live feed of the new Prime Minister’s limo driving back from Buckingham Palace to his new home in Downing Street.
At this point, I’d like to write about some quirky fun thing that occurred here, but when something is happening that the news industry has been waiting months to witness, the only thought is to get a shot that you’re happy with so I can’t say I remember much about his speech or his entrance through the famous door.
Once the new PM was in place, the carefully-balanced pyramid of photographers collapsed into a frantic pile of editing photographers as we all rushed to get the shots out and on to the wire. Yet again, the sheer quantity of photographers trying to send their pictures in one location caused a complete failure of the system and I found myself running up Whitehall, desperately looking for a power point and a strong phone signal. In the end, I found myself half a mile up the road in a Charing Cross pub, surrounded by drinkers watching me edit. Even though the screens in the pub were showing a live feed of the day’s events, it became my job to tell the onlookers what had happened and who their new Prime Minister was. Now that’s what I call a personalised news service..