Crisps, cheese and curaçao: how to have a fantastic election night party

Zoe Williams
Composite: Getty

It may be a bit early to bring this up, but on the other hand, it is only a week away: what are you going to eat on election night? On 1 May 1997, a journalist named Gavin Hills held an election party that became the stuff of fable.

There was a firework for every Tory, let off when they lost their seat, and the sky was ablaze. I wasn’t there, as I didn’t know him, but people talked about it so fervently afterwards that it has entered my memory as the best election night I ever had – the one I wasn’t at. Hills died in a freak drowning accident the same month, tragically young at 31, and the magic of the election party died with him. Now, instead, we have snacks.

In the 00s elections, it tended to be pretty clear who was going to win, because Labour was going to win. I remember doing a Question Time-style panel for some sixth formers in 2010, and some bright spark asked Gus O’Donnell whether the civil service was ready for a hung parliament. “Never mind a coalition, we’re not ready for a change of government,” he said.

Even though elections are inherently exciting because you get to stay up late, there was very little to get excited about, few marginals and even fewer surprises.

You can have a lot of fun with colour coding when the stakes aren’t very high. I used to make cheesecakes decorated as a bar chart of the vote share, which was a shame as people actually prefer blueberries to strawberries, and kiwi to lemon. You can do the same with tiny quiches (cheese, chorizo, spinach), so long as you pretend to think aubergines are blue, when they are actually purple, and you ignore Ukip for disambiguation, which we all did, anyway, probably for too long.

That was quite a lot of work in 2001; 2005 was entirely crisps. Cheese and onion for the Tories, salt and vinegar for the Greens, roast chicken for the Lib Dems and spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies for Labour, which are – when in the right mood – the most delicious crisp imaginable.

In 2010, the accepted wisdom was that Labour would probably scrape through again. There was just a residual sense that the country would give Gordon Brown one term of his own, because of fairness, and how long he had been waiting. Subconsciously, I must have known that wasn’t true, because my hosting strategy was to get everyone completely hammered. It had taken a decade, but having finally acknowledged that there were no blue foods apart from fruit, and that nobody wants fruit at a party, I went nuts with blue curaçao (plus vodka and lemonade to make a blue lagoon), very red negronis, greyhounds (which are yellowish) and caipirinhas. When the results started to roll in, nobody could understand them – it was like watching dogs try to do crosswords.

There is a salient point to make here about how often accepted wisdom is wrong; not because polling is flawed or the country has changed in invisible ways, but because of the baseline assumption that things will probably be a bit like they were last time.

So, in 2015, everyone was expecting another hung parliament, and the mood turned to ash at exactly 10pm with the exit polls. I can’t remember whether or not people immediately went home, but they definitely didn’t eat the colour-coded macarons, which was good, as they are mad expensive and I hadn’t bought enough.

I didn’t have a party for the EU referendum, because it was a stain on democracy. Nor in 2017, because, again, even though I didn’t believe the prevailing certainty of a Tory landslide, I didn’t think I had the stomach to toast it if it happened.

This year is different, because I’ve had an epiphany it would have been helpful to have in 2010: whatever the result, the day after will demand more energy and fellowship, not less.

So this year, I’m focusing on people rather than parties – which, in any case, are more fun to represent. I’ll take a bunch of marginals and make a finger food out of regionally appropriate snacks. A lot of them will be by the sea (North East Fife, Hastings and Rye, Workington), so fish finger sandwiches. All anyone eats in Richmond and Cheltenham is vol-au-vents. Brecon and Radnorshire is, of course, in Wales, which cracks open the world of the welsh rarebit. Anywhere not by the sea probably has its own cheese.

I’m not promising to enjoy it: I might just sit in and eat all this stuff on my own. But I do plan to unite the kingdom in buffet form, and if that means getting in the Staffordshire oatcakes (Newcastle-under-Lyme), that’s fine by me.