Dear Reader - Anxiety at Harrogate election count + death of Mr Harrogate

The body language said it all.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 4:00 pm
There can only be one winner- Andrew Jones MP tastes victory at the Harrogate election count.

Well before the count was finished at Harrogate Convention Centre last week on election night it was possible to guess who had won and who had lost simply by the atmosphere round the four candidates and their supporters.

The last time I’d been at the Harrogate and Knaresborough count was on the night of the Blair landslide 22 years ago when Lib Dem newcomer Phil Willis had caused a shock by overwhelming former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

There was to be no upset this time round in the wee small hours of the morning after a campaign which had turned a little tetchy at times.

It’s true, things had changed since 1997 but the hum of calm efficiency in which a small army of election staff rattled through a total of 57,103 votes cast looked just the same and was just as impressive.

British democracy in action in a civilised manner.

At around 2am the waiting came to an end when acting officer Wallace Sampson called the four candidates across into a huddle then asked them to line up together on the small stage.

Anxiety and discomfort was written across their faces with the exception of one of them.

All that effort, all those hopes about to be dashed in the full glare of the bright lights of Harrogate Convention Centre.

They looked a bit like a posse of kids who’d failed their exams and had been brought up on stage in the assembly hall in front of the whole school.

Except for the winner.

I was just setting off for the count in Harrogate last Thursday to cover the General Election when someone emailed me to say a friend had died.

Mike Hine was by no means just my friend; in fact, he was a lot of people’s friends, partly because of what he did for the town but mostly because he was someone who cared - plus he was always cheery and friendly no matter what the circumstances.

The terrible news made me think back to the start of the day when I’d had the privilege of chatting to Ian Anderson of prog-folk band Jethro Tull.

The interview was on the phone and, to avoid any disruptions or interruptions, as soon as the great man rang my mobile I’d dashed outside into the cold wind of a chilly December morning so I could talk to him in privacy.

In a bid to break the ice, I’d mentioned how much I’d enjoyed his last visit to Harrogate in 2012 at the Royal Hall.

A few hours later it struck me that, without Mike Hine and his love, knowledge and support for the arts in general and that magnificent venue, in particular, the concert might never have happened there at all.

Mike was that rarest of combinations, a do-er as well as a talker.

He did a lot for me, more, probably, than I ever did for him.

In the final weeks I’d heard he was ill but I didn’t know it was “serious,” whatever that means.

He himself would have played it down, I’m sure, if I had asked him.

To the very end Mike Hine was someone for whom the question “what’s in it for me?” never came up.