- guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 May 2010 18.01 BST
On the campaign trail a few weeks ago I watched as Nigel Farage give a TV interview in a Buckingham pub. He was saying he wanted to send an earthquake through British politics. A Ukip member who had been looking on admiringly turned toward me and said: "If he went under a bus tomorrow, we'd be buggered."
On election day Ukip got a glimpse of a future without its most famous candidate. While counters sorted ballots in the Aylesbury Civic Centre, Farage was in John Radcliffe hospital, recovering from injuries sustained in a plane crash. He stood down as leader of Ukip last year in order to throw his hat in the ring in Buckingham, defying convention by standing against the Speaker, John Bercow.
With the result not being announced until the day after the election (Buckingham and Aylesbury both use the Civic Centre; Aylesbury went first), this was, in the circumstances, a count of no account. There was no Labour or Lib Dem candidate; Bercow is no longer officially (or ideologically, his critics would say) a Tory. And the most entertainingly outspoken runner, Farage, would not be present. The scene at the count was a perfect picture of the brisk gentility by which Britain's broken electoral system conducts itself. The count took place at 12 tables, in near silence. There were cardigans on the backs of most of the chairs.
Ukip and a crowd of other independents – there were 11 candidates on the ballot in all – had been seeking to capitalise on a tide of anger surging through Buckingham. Voters were unhappy about being asked to return the Speaker to the Commons unopposed, particularly in Princes Risborough, which had been moved into the constituency. They said they felt disenfranchised. But they were also upset about Bercow flipping his second home – a man dressed as a dolphin called Flipper campaigned on behalf of independent candidate John Stevens. On the doorstep voters seemed to be in a mood to protest, but they were largely undecided as to how to proceed. They would have voted for the dolphin if they could.
As the returning officer brought the candidates to the stage, the result was a foregone conclusion. Bercow was defending a majority of over 18,000. The constituency is overwhelmingly Tory. He was returned with a reduced but still unassailable majority of 12,529. John Stevens and Flipper came second with 10,331 votes, ahead of Farage on 8,401. The BNP vote was outstripped by the number of spoilt ballot papers: 1,067. "You should have seen some of the comments on them," one observer said. But in the end the anger blew itself out. There was to be no political earthquake, at least not here. The protest vote was split, and eight of the 11 candidates lost their deposits.
In his speech Bercow, wearing a green and yellow rosette with his own face on it, thanked his wife Sally, an approved Labour party candidate, for her vote, and alluded to the disfranchisement issue and the large number of voters on the doorstep who expressed "surprise, confusion …" "Disgust," added a woman behind me. "… or plain discontent," said Bercow.
Farage's agent read out a polite, good-natured and conciliatory statement, during which Bercow nodded approval with vigour. Farage was all the more missed.
The only exuberance came from Colin Dale, the Monster Raving Loony party candidate, who received 856 votes. "I don't know about you lot," he said, "but I'm having a whale of a time."