European elections

Tomorrow I will be voting in the European elections, having my say as to which party should represent me as an MEP. It is an election that traditionally encourages protest votes as most policy changes enacted by the European parliament are decided by unelected officials. MEPs are well paid members of a talking shop with little real power.

I would like to discuss with my friends why I will be voting for the party of my choice, to enter into an intelligent and nuanced debate on the pros and cons of each candidate and their policies. I find that I cannot. The campaign has been littered with the negative, with finding reasons to despise this or that candidate and their party. There has been little discussion of the positive change that any plan to offer.

I have seen sweeping statements appear on the feeds of my friends’ social media: ‘If anyone I know even thinks of voting for x I will unfriend them’ ; ‘How can you consider x when y from their party has done z?’ It would appear that some think I should not consider all options, even if only for long enough to find a valid reason to reject. I wonder if I am unwise even writing about this in case someone feels offended enough to cut me off because they think I may not be acting in a way that they can approve.

The big three political parties in Britain are now held in general contempt due to their recent history of governance at a domestic level. The changes that they have enacted are littered with broken promises, hypocritical treatment of the rich compared to the poor in society, and endemic milking of the system for personal gain. During this recent campaign a certain smaller party has been subjected to an orchestrated smear campaign to ensure that the unsavoury prejudices of their candidates overshadow any chance to debate policy. The message has largely been ‘Don’t vote for them’ rather than ‘Vote for me’.

All of this leaves a bad taste in the mouth, an inclination to feel such despair as to make it seem hopeless even to exercise my right to vote, because none of the parties appear worthy of support.

But I will be voting, even if it is with a heavy heart. I will be placing my cross on the ballot paper having thought long and hard about my options. I will not be discussing my decision with friends though, because emotions are running too high amongst those who care.

Politics is such a tricky topic to debate. Each of the parties standing have some policies that I agree with, and many that I do not. Those who have exercised power in the past have a track record that is enough to preclude them from even being considered, yet consider them I will because there are no other options. I see voting as a duty. Many women fought relentlessly to win my right to vote and I will exercise it, even if I cannot fully support any of the candidates who stand.

When I try to discuss this with friends though, all of our most deep seated prejudices seem to come to the fore. They will cite individuals behaviour, the calamitous results of policies from the past. They will point out the suffering inflicted as a result of a party’s actions, even when their own party of choice did nothing either then or subsequently to right the cited wrong. We each dredge up evils to illustrate why a particular party should not be considered, whilst selectively downplaying the evils of those we support.

There are obvious policies that we can all agree with: a desire for equality, justice, support for those in need. The debate rages around how these tenets should be defined. There are policies that we can all agree are desirable, yet few examples of any party enacting these in a way that we can fully applaud. Each party has members who say or do things that are almost breathtakingly appalling, yet we cite only those who back up the points we wish to make.

It is messy and personal, full of judgement at perceived foolishness. It is not worth losing a friend over.

I do not regard tomorrow’s vote as hugely important, except in how the outcome may affect future policy decisions made by our home government. In a years time we will have the chance to vote in a general election, and that one matters a great deal more. Given the contempt in which MPs are now regarded, they are likely to fight a dirty battle for the votes that will ensure they continue to live in the manner to which they have grown accustomed. Deciding which of these ne’er-do-wells gets my vote will be a very tough call.




Local council elections

Yesterday evening, after a day of recovery from the previous night’s delightful celebration, I walked across our warm and sunny village to cast my vote in the local council elections. Our polling station seemed to be pleasingly busy and I will watch with interest as the results start to come in later today. I am rather hoping for a bit of an upset when the votes are counted; the political system in this country could do with a major shake up.

I rarely go out in our village in the evenings and was surprised by how quiet it seemed. There were a few children playing in the field and a small number of dog walkers taking their evening exercise, but the most notable change from my regular, daytime excursions was the number of cars on the road. Most of them appeared to contain local residents heading towards the centrally located polling station. It still perplexes me that so many drive from one end of our small village to the other, especially as it was such a lovely evening. All will happily fill their recycling containers, and the visual blight of solar panels on roofs has not escaped our picturesque location, but still they feel comfortable using their car for such a short journey. Many of them even choose to drive to the local gym which I find bizarre.

It seems to me that elections have become more frequent events in recent years, or maybe this is just time appearing to pass more quickly as I get older. When I was a child I used to enjoy the seemingly rare election days as the primary school that I attended was used as a polling station, meaning that I got the day off school. This also used to be the case in our village but, since the new village hall was completed at the turn of the century, the primary school opens as usual and it is the pre school and other local groups who must close for the day to allow the hall to be used by voters. Unlike the joy of a day off school, my youngest son was most put out when his badminton club was forced to cancel their planned session yesterday evening. Despite the lovely weather, he used the unexpected free time to play on his Wii. I was still feeling too weary to remonstrate with him over this choice.

Local council elections do not, understandably, induce the same level of excitement as national elections. As London was not involved in this round of voting there has not been the coverage that can be expected when the media capital is included. There has been much comment about the possibility of a fourth party gaining enough seats to oust the comfortable incumbents of our established, three party system. If this happens, it could make next years European elections and the following year’s general election much more interesting. I think that this is what I am hoping for. Too many people seem to have given up on the possibility of changing the way the country is being run. A little more interest and participation may be the only way to sort out this situation and orchestrate improvement in the lives of the many rather than the privileged few.

Despite my interest, I am not a political activist. I am not convinced enough of the merits of any particular candidate or party to be willing to fight for their corner. I am generally suspicious of anyone who chooses to put themselves forward for an elected role that provides an element of power over others, particularly those who wish to run for national government. I guess that there must be some honest politicians but they seem to be few and far between. The current crop seem more interested in pursuing their own pet projects for the benefit of friends and relations than in improving the lives of the constituents they are handsomely paid to represent.

Local elections are, of course, a very different power game. There still seems to be that element of corruption though. In my area there are particular land owners who seem to be able to get anything they want through the system while ordinary people are charged exorbitantly for every change they wish to make and are thwarted at every opportunity. The cosy relationships and fawning attitudes do not suggest a representative fighting for improvements in individuals lives but rather an attempt to improve numbers and statistics while being photographed beside those who will show due gratitude for favours.

I do not expect a sea change this time around but hope for enough of a disturbance in the comfortable, status quo to make more people believe in the possibility of change. The denizens of power will not wish to be ousted and will switch their allegiances if they think that this will allow them to keep their positions. Those who are entitled to vote may do so in greater numbers if they can see that doing so may actually make a difference.

For today though, I have slept well and woken to another lovely, sunny day. I plan to walk to the local gym for a light work out and a swim before spending some time this afternoon in the garden with my chickens. We have a bank holiday weekend to look forward to which I hope to spend relaxing with my little family. Sometimes it feels good to shut out the rest of the world and just be.

Nouormand: Êlections au mais d'Octobre 2008, Jèrri