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The Other Side of Everything

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Written on April 28, 2005, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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With only seven more days for the UK political campaigns to have an effect, looks like we are in a week’s time going to offer up Tony Blair the possibility of five more years of Labour at the helm of this great groaning creaking ship of a nation, HMS United Kingdom of Great Britain. Opinion polls show the merest flicker up or down, and pundits are exercised not by predicting the identity of the victor, but the size of his political penis.

Sorry, I should say, majority in parliament.

I am feeling it. For me it’s been like volunteering for a stretch inside, my crimes being political disengagement for the duration of my adult life, and a touching belief in the system against all likelihood of it delivering the kind of society I want to live in.

Channel 4 are running an excellent series called “Election Unspun” which takes the lid off politics, and Peter Oborne made a documentary as part of that about the political process, explaining how the politicians develop policies based on pleasing (and therefore winning votes in) key marginals using computer software called Voter Vault and Mosaic to identify likely voting intention on a house-by-house, street-by-street basis. A key marginal is not as you might expect the narrow sliver of metal running along the edge of a door to prevent fraudulent entry; it is a constituency where the vote is narrowly balanced between one party and another. These battle-grounds are the places of real war, where money is spent, and where big name politicians show up glad-handing and drooling over babies. These few votes – 800,000 or so out of our 59 million population – will determine the next government.

Why vote at all? Does it really matter? They are all the same… nothing changes… This line is peddled by the apathetic and the lazy, and also by people in whose interests it is that you don’t vote. Of course I will vote. They are not all the same. Men and women died to give us the vote. Public life has not degenerated to that extent. We don’t have much power, we the great unwashed, this is about the totality of it, but we have some. Of course you need a representative. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Then, who do I vote for? I wish I hadn’t set myself the task of being so damn thorough. Aside from the fact that I would rather be Hemmelling than listening to recording and interpreting political intentions, jargon and spin, I am examining my conscience. Is there REALLY no better option than a tarnished, clumsy, right-wing pseudo-socialist bluffer, or a Count Dracula who will sink his fangs into the nation’s jugular and drain all our lives and livelihoods away?

The single biggest issue which is losing Labour votes is Iraq. I went to a meeting on Tuesday which attempted to establish in local minds the sublime anti-war credentials of the local Labour candidate. There was a certain amount of preaching to the converted, but I was listening past that. I just wanted to hear that there was enough of the left still in Labour to take it back to being the party I voted for all my life.

Robin Cook, (pictured top) ex-UK Foreign Secretary, left the government because he wanted Hans Blix to finish his work looking for WMDs, and he didn’t want Britain to undermine the UN and go to war on an American pretext. He set a shining example of noble dissent and retained the respect of people from all sides. His eloquent speech as he stepped down was a carefully-aimed thing of great beauty, intelligence and precision, not like the public savaging of Thatcher by Howe which put a deadly hole in that administration. He came along, with Jeremy Corbyn, one of the leading lefties in parliament, a man on the steering committee of the Stop The War Coalition – no LibDems on that, he reminded us – to urge us all not to desert.

Cook talked long and entertained. He blended facts and anecdotes, wisdom, humility and twinkling wit, in an effortless, masterly way. I listened, and yet he still failed to convince me. I may have resigned from the government, but I will go to my grave clutching my Labour membership, he said. Of course you will Robin. The party is the only one that will work for single mothers and young unemployed. Probably correct. Vote for Emily, she is in the great tradition of independent lefties. Yes, she may be, that remains to be seen. I was impressed, pleased to be there, but not won over.

Then as questions dragged on, and the meeting looked spent, Cook quietly pointed out that one of the great achievements of the Labour administration has been to write off African (and other developing world) debt. When the UK takes the chair of the G8 in June, he said, the UK will be in a position to encourage the other richest nations to do the same, and Labour are intending to do so. If Michael Howard is there representing Britain, heading a Conservative government, this is not going to happen.

My heart sank at this point. I was tired, my legs ached, I was ready to leave. I was going to vote Green. Then Cook gave me a reason to vote Labour that I find hard to ignore. They need it more that we do. Vote for Africa, vote for ending poverty. Vote for the end of the iniquitous system that is tearing the world to bits. Damn, this is difficult.

Next day, I was visiting a friend, and James Humphreys from the Green Party called me while I was there. “Was Robin Cook on time?” he asked. Sure, I said, I think so. “It’s just that I didn’t see him arrive,” said James, “or leave. I was thinking of telling the papers they had smuggled him in and out.” I caught the mischief. I replied, “well, you know it is an Italian Trade Union building don’t you? One of the panels at the back of the room is a door. They have a sneaky exit built into the place – they like secrets.” Exit Robin Cook, pursued by the Mafia.

My friend then promptly told me he always voted Green, except for the time when he voted for the Mums For School Dinners candidate. “This time Green?” I asked. He said, “Maybe LibDem…” His local LibDem candidate being Laura Willoughby, we perused the mountain of paperwork that is piled inside the front door looking for the name of the Labour candidate, but it was all LibDem. He screwed up his forehead and pursed his lips, looking carefully at Laura’s besuited buxom figure in the carefully constructed photographs, and said “Mmmm, ooh, I dunno, she’s a bit of an eater, packing a bit of weight there. Maybe that means she’s too greedy to be trusted – how do I know?” He’s now toying with a return to the Green political fold, on the basis that their candidate is slimmer.

Even with this hilarity, he always votes, and takes the exercise of his right to do so seriously. He also told me about the woman he knew who always tore up her voting slip, until he remonstrated with her, “was maybe even a bit heavy on her, told her why she should vote.” Months later she stopped him in the street and said proudly, “I voted!”

I am at a loss to understand the internal processes by which people make up their minds, the whims prejudices and random shakes of mind and hand that put cross in one box rather than another, but at least people are still encouraging one another to make a choice.

Cook, Corbyn and Thornberry – 43MB Video

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One Comment

  1. Lucy
    Posted 29 April, 2005 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Laura is brilliant! Interview her and see!!

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