A brief apology to begin:
I said at the beginning this blog would be half-arsed and I was right. In truth, it’s been a little more so than I had hoped. Alas, other things have taken my time and attention since the first few days of the election campaign and so I haven’t really had the chance to keep it going. (I say ‘Alas’, but it’s those other things that keep me and my family in shoes and Coco Pops.) So, I’m sorry for not posting anything much these last few, well, weeks.
It seems odd – impertinent, even – to post something at this late stage as we limp, sated, into the final straight. Especially so since what I’m posting contains almost no jokes or even attempts at them. However, it’s something I feel passionate about, so… No, no! Stay where you are! It’s not religious or sales-based; you’ll be grand, I promise. It’s this:
Lots of people have asked me in person, or on Twitter or Facebook, about which way I intend to vote. Still more have presumed to tell me they know (they don’t). Well, I’m not going to say. My closest friends and my family know, but I still quite like the idea of the sanctitity of the ballot box and I certainly wouldn’t want to seem to be telling you what you ought to do come Polling Day. Except for this: vote. Go and vote. Whatever else you do on May 6th, get off your DFS buy-now-pay-later and walk the negligible distance to your nearest polling station to scrape out in pencil your own personal ‘X’.
I suspect that a good number more people will do that than thought they would when Gordon Brown called this election a month since. Back then I think there was a feeling abroad that staying at home and ensuring a low turnout would send a message of disaffection to the politicians. Now, though, I think that we, the electorate, have the bit between our teeth a little and can feel that perhaps our votes will make the kind of significant difference to politics that hasn’t been available to voters since my grandparents were young.
However, there will still be those who wish to stay away and who have somehow convinced themselves that that is a legitimate way to behave in a democracy. Personally – and you may think differently – I think that’s bullshit. Selfish, self-involved bullshit. Democracy is precious and not as common as we might like to imagine. Our system – First Past The Post – is an idiotic, morally indefensible farce; it’s like a starter democracy. It’s a Fisher Price ‘My First Democracy’. You don’t need me to rehearse the arguments here – in this of all elections that’s been done plenty elsewhere. But even so, there are people in less enlightened parts of the world who would die for a democratic system as stupidly imperfect as ours. It’s a privilege to have a vote, even if it is a basic human right, so we should all use it. You don’t want to vote for anyone? Fine – go out and spoil your ballot paper, they count those. They don’t count people sat on their thud in front of Loose Women.
Travelling up to Edinburgh by train a few years ago, I met an American politics teacher. She taught in a high school. She told me that after the 2004 presidential election, she asked her senior class – most of whom had reached voting age – who had voted. The names of those who had went up on the blackboard and stayed there for the rest of the semester. Whenever she asked a question which involved asking someone’s opinion, she would check whether the person with their hand up was on the list. If not, she told them they’d forfeited their right to have a say. That’s pretty much how I feel about it – you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about what happens afterwards.
So, vote. Whatever else you do, vote.
Back in 2006 I wrote a book of modern cautionary verse. The very first one I wrote (and the thing that made me pitch the book at publishers) was the tale of a man who didn’t vote. By way of light relief at the end of this pompous screed, and a signing off of this far-too-half-arsed blog, which I’d hoped to keep up during this most important election of our lives, here it is:
Ray, Who Refused To Vote (And Lost Everything)
There upon his sagging couch,Lazy Raymond – sloven, slouch And dullard – whiles away his time And checks his fingernails for grime, Or picks his nose and – lacking charm – Wipes snot all down the sofa’s arm. He’ll stir his stumps to eat or piss; Beyond such things, his motto’s this: “As sure as my name’s Lazy Ray, This couch is where I’m going to stay.”
Now, polling morning came to dawn.
The beercans out on Ray’s front lawn
Were glinting in the morning shine,
As up the path at half past nine
A canvasser – one Seymour Trout –
Approached, to Get The Voter Out.
Reluctant Ray came to his door;
Said he: “The whole thing’s such a bore.
Since none of you lot speak to me,
My party shall be Apathy.”
Thus disappointed, Trout withdrew.
Ray shut the door and went to stew
Upon his couch. He squeezed a spot
And flicked the pus into a pot.
He never went that day to vote.
(The chances always were remote.)
Nor did he see this come to pass:
A man he thought an utter ass
Was voted in to Number Ten
Before Ray went to bed again.
For he, alas, was not alone;
Ten million apathetic clones
Chose also to ignore the Poll.
The voter shortfall took its toll.
Next day – too late – they realised
That now a man whom they despised
Had won, whilst they, slumped in their chairs,
Had idly groomed their nasal hairs.
Yet none of them would take the blame
Or feel the smallest twinge of shame.
The weeks drew on, moons waxed and waned,
And with the mandate he’d obtained
The gentleman in Downing Street,
Who’d found his governmental feet,
Decided to enact a bill
The Opposition couldn’t kill:
Messy gardens, snotty couches,
Dullards, slovens, slatterns, slouches –
All of them would now be taxed.
More weeks drew on, moons waned and waxed.
The bill was law, fait accompli,
Ray and his clones had failed to see
They’d score this terrible own goal
The day they chose to snub the Poll.
Though Raymond and the rest were skint,
The Government had hearts of flint
And bailiffs came, in lieu of pay
To cart poor Raymond’s couch away.
He sighed and said, “Still, there’s no law
To stop me sitting on the floor.”
But Raymond’s floor was cold and hard
And Raymond’s arse was largely lard
And after sitting in this style
A time, the lad developed piles.
So now he stands all day instead
(The bailiffs also took his bed)
And spends his time – with still less charm –
In wiping snot down his own arm,
And with sore feet, accepts this fact:
It’s all his fault – he failed to act.
And so, dear child, as Seymour Trout
Would doubtless say, were he about,
Whatever be your party’s hue –
Green, Purple, Yellow, Red or Blue –
At each election get your coat
And put it on and go and vote.