Thursday, 6 May 2010

In Praise of Elections

I voted twice on my way to work this morning.  Once in the council election and once in the general.  My elder daughter, who has just turned 18, voted with me for the first time.  It took me back to my first election.  It was May 1979, I was 19 years old, the Tories won and Maggie became Prime Minister.  And, in case you were wondering, there is absolutely no correlation between the two!

Despite those depressing election nights during the long reign of the Tories, I love polling day.  We live just round the corner from our polling station, and the sight of people walking down our road, clutching their polling cards in their hands, never fails to gladden my heart.  There are young people on their way to, or from work, mothers pushing buggies with toddlers in tow, elderly couples holding hands.  All of them on their way to exercise their right to chose the government that will determine so much of their lives over the next few years.  Marvellous!  And I've heard all the arguments about the unfairness of the voting system, the corruption of the political classes, the lack of any real difference between the major parties, the enormous power wielded by multinational corporations over which we have no control etc.  There's truth in all of them.  However I refuse to let it dampen my enthusiasm for a system that allows one person one vote, no matter who they are, where they live, how much they earn or what they believe.

Since I cast my first vote way back in 1979 (for the SNP, by the way!) I've always voted, with one unforgettable exception.  It was a local election during my time at university.  It had been a busy day, I was tired and I hadn't followed the campaign closely enough to have any strong preference for any of the candidates.  Big mistake!  When got home, the wife of the family I lodged with, asked me whether I'd voted.  I had to admit that I hadn't, whereupon, lovely woman that she was, she tore into me, reminding me of the sacrifices women had made to win me this right and accusing me of having betrayed their efforts.  I have faithfully voted in every election since!

My other lasting memory of elections is lying in bed listening to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme's coverage of the South African elections.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I heard Brian Redhead interview old women who had walked for miles and waited days in the queue to vote for the very first time in their lives.  We really don't how lucky we are.

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