The Public Gate

Voters at the polls 1945
Voters at the polls 1945

We are a month away from the next General Election here in the UK and in case you hadn’t noticed it is something I feel very strongly about. Cards on the table I despise the Conservative party for what they did in the 70s and 80s and especially for what they have done in the last 5 years. They have improved nothing but their own pocket lining and, yet again, ruined the lives of millions. I will also admit I am prejudiced against them by an inherited dislike courtesy of my parents, in exactly the same way as Tories have an inherited dislike of everyone that isn’t wealthy because of their parents. I am saying this now so you know I am biased against them and I have my own agenda in asking you to vote I do REALLY want you to Vote. Whoever it is for.

In the 2010 election the voter turnout according to parliament.uk was just 65% and we ended up with a hung parliament that no one wanted and a government that was elected on just a 36% share of the vote by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In the years since the Lib Dems have been sidelined so that it has essentially been a Conservative government for the last few years. In summary this was a mess, nobody got what they wanted, except the Conservatives perhaps but even then a lot of back benchers were made unhappy by the coalition. The reason I’m saying all this is everyone seems to have a very short memory and we could really do without a repeat of that. If you don’t want a repeat of that, you should vote.

To those who choose not to vote I fully understand your apathy. The system is broken and we live in a world run by banks and companies, not elected officials but I believe that because voter turnout is so low that is precisely WHY this has happened. People who don’t vote are ignored by policy makers and if you truly believe the anti-voting rhetoric that a “revolution is coming” that is the last thing anyone wants or needs. If anything we need more democracy not less. Abstaining from voting does not help this process at all, things have rarely changed for the better with a violent revolution. What should happen is that everyone turns out to vote and votes for whoever the hell they like. Then, if there still isn’t a majority the powers that be will recognise they need to change and diversify and actually structure themselves around these people who are voting. We are a large and increasingly diverse nation, the current main parties are not treating us as such; prove them wrong.

A former friend of mine published a ‘Zine prior to the 2010 election in which I contributed a piece about why you should vote and she contributed a piece about why you shouldn’t. I’m not going to be so fair minded. You should absolutely vote. My argument then was mostly centred around the fact that the right to vote is a hard won privilege that people within living memory have died to offer you. I do not take that lightly. During WWII there was no election and Churchill remained in office with the Conservative party with a caretaker Government and a wartime coalition. I admit the Conservative ideology is a much more practical and functional system of rule in wartime. We are not at war. But also, by comparison to what was going on in Europe in the 10 years Churchill was in power, the British were paragons of democracy.

1f80eb8d6a8f1abafbe15b483d085463In the Autumn of 1938 there was a by-election in Oxford as the sitting MP had died, Civil war was happening in Spain and the Munich agreement was being arranged, this served as the backdrop for an Epic Poem in 24 Cantos written by Louis MacNiece. It is an incredible piece of work that plunges you into the atmosphere of pre-war Britain but Canto 14 is to me an incredibly relevant poem at the moment. It would be histrionic to claim the Conservatives and UKIP are akin to Hitler but they are certainly doing a lot of damage and MacNiece’s defence of our system of democracy at a time when it was never more under threat is rather pertinent. As such I am going to replicate it in full here and I encourage you to read it but if not do skip to the end.

Autumn Journal – Canto XIV, by Louis MacNiece

The next day I drove by night / Among red and amber and green, spears and candles, / Corkscrews and slivers of reflected light / In the mirror of the rainy asphalt / Along the North Circular and the Great West roads / Running the gauntlet of impoverished fancy / Where housewives bolster up their jerry-built abodes / With amour propre and the habit of Hire Purchase. / The wheels whished in the wet, the flashy strings / Of neon lights unravelled, the windscreen-wiper / Kept at its job like a tiger in a cage or a cricket that sings / All night through for nothing. / Factory, a site for a factory, rubbish dumps, / Bungalows in lath and plaster, in brick, in concrete, / And shining semi-circles of petrol pumps / Like intransigent gangs of idols. / And the road swings round my head like a lasso / Looping wider and wider tracts of darkness / and the country succeeds the town and the country too / Is damp and dark and evil. / And coming over the Chilterns the dead leaves leap / Charging the windscreen like a barrage of angry / Birds as I take the steep / Plunge to Henley or Hades. And at the curves of the road the telephone wires / Shine like strands of silk and the hedge solicits / My irresponsible tyres / To an accident, to a bed in the wet grasses. / And in the quiet crooked streets only the village pub / Spills a golden puddle / Over the pavement and trees bend down and rub / Unopened dormer windows with their knuckles. / Nettlebed, Shillingford, Dorchester – each urolls / The road to Oxford; Qu’allais-je faire tomorrow / Driving voters to the polls / In that home of lost illusions? / And what am I doing it for? / Mainly for fun, partly for a half believed in / Principle, a core / Of fact in a pulp of verbiage, / Remembering that this crude and so-called obsolete / Top-heavy tedious parliamentary system / Is our only ready weapon to defeat / the legions’ eagles and the lictors’ axes; / And remembering that those who by their habit hate / Politics can no longer keep their private / Values unless they open the public Gate / To a better political system. / That Rome was not built in a day is no excuse / For laissez-faire, for bowing to the odds against us; / What is the use / Of asking what is the use of one brick only: / The perfectionist stands for ever in a fog / Waiting for the fog to clear: better to be vulgar / And use your legs and leave a blank for Hogg / And put a cross for Lindsay. / There are only too many who say ‘ What difference does it make / One way or the other? / To turn the stream of history will take / More than a by-election.’ / So Thursday came and Oxford went to the polls / And made its coward vote and the streets resounded / To the triumphant cheers of the lost souls– / The profiteers, the dunderheads, the smarties. / And I drove back to London in the dark of the morning, the trees / Standing out in the headlights cut from cardboard; / Wondering which disease / Is worse– the Status Quo or Mere Utopia. / For from now on / Each occasion must be used, however trivial, / To rally the ranks of those whose chance will soon be gone / For even guerilla warfare. / The nicest people in England have always been the least / Apt to solidarity or alignment / But all of them must now align against the beast / That prowls at every door and barks in every headline. / Dawn and London and daylight and last the sun: / I stop the car and take the yellow placard / Off the bonnet; that little job is done / Though without success or glory. / The plane-tree leaves come sidling down / (Catch my guineas, catch my guineas) / And the sun caresses Camden Town, / The barrows or oranges and apples.

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That says what I want to say better than I can but the main point there is that our vote is a hard won victory that must be used and make no mistake there IS a beast prowling at every door and barking in every headline. I would rather you didn’t vote for the Tories or UKIP but if you truly believe more cuts are a good idea and that class division is beneficial and that the poor are to blame for all that is bad right now and that millionaires should be subsidised and avoid fines or jail time and paying tax, if you REALLY TRULY TOTALLY believe that then for the love of God sign that box so hard the pen snaps. So long as you get up off your arse and go to the polling station. As you read there, MacNiece drove to Oxford just so he could drive people to the polls, he made an active effort in a time when the vote was most needed and valued to help people sign their cross. I don’t need to do that because you can vote however you like now (You can vote in person, by post or by proxy, couldn’t be easier! And most importantly there is still time to register! If you are eligible it takes 5 minutes, max and you’re doing your part. Click here and it’s done.) But this is my effort to drive people to the polls. From now till May 7th I will do all I can to get people into that booth but without telling them who to Vote for. But I may still point out who you shouldn’t vote for…

I am encouraged, however. The recent turnout for the Scottish Independence vote being so high was incredibly positive, Twitter is taking an active roll in reminding UK users when the cut off for registration is and initiatives like vInspired’s Swing the Vote campaign has incorporated the youtube generation to help get 18-25 year olds voting. With UKIP continually putting its foot in its mouth and THEN shooting it, they do bring (inadvertent and stupid) media attention to the debate and all publicity is good publicity. Add to that everyone’s unhappiness with the last election being dredged up and displayed as the wrong way to do it, I have a little hope there will be a pretty good turnout this time. What the result will be is anyone’s guess. It’s a worryingly close race all round so don’t let anyone tell you they know who the winner is, your vote could quite literally be the decider.

It is too easy to be lazy when it comes to voting. The great, and wholly incorrect, saying that “If voting changed anything they wouldn’t let you do it” is an easy shield to hide behind, said by ‘progressive’ people so they can feel free to pass comment on the political landscape without taking an active role in its shaping. It also recalls the Self and Other linguistic nuance I mentioned in the last post. Actively listening to the Other is what democracy should be about now. Voting is not a very loud voice but it IS STILL A VOICE. If you don’t use it you are not being heard.

If you are eligible please please please please please register and then vote in the General Election on 7th May. Keep your private values by opening that public gate.

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