There’s more than a whiff of insurrection and rebellion in the air around Europe right now.
The French – may I say upfront that j’adore la belle France and her people – elected a man unashamedly calling himself a Socialist (their first Socialist president since Miterrand).
Mon dieu! Can you imagine the furore if a mainstream politician of the (lower-case) left in the UK was happy to be known as a Socialist?
Labour Party spads would be twitching uncontrollably and spinning like tops to stop that adjective ever being applied to their man or woman.
The Greeks, infuriated at the extraordinary fiscal restrictions imposed by the EU and IMF, stuck two fingers up to austerity and voted for left-wing parties who are openly talking about leaving the Eurozone.
The Left and protest parties made gains in local elections in Italy and in Germany, too.
Here in Blighty we had local elections in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland that gave the Coalition parties a kicking, provided Labour and the beleaguered Ed Miliband with a tiny shot in the arm and was both a boost and a boot to SNP confidence (they did a Devon Loch in Glasgow but had some excellent gains elsewhere).
My thoughts on it are altogether more prosaic.
For a start, didn’t the French and the Greeks put us to shame with the turnout? Around 80% of voters in France went to the polls, while around 65% of Greek voters took the time to go put their X in a box.
Here? A miserable 31% of us bothered to get to the polling station. Fair enough, these were local elections with the great British voting public still showing their disillusionment with politics and politicians in particular.
But come on! Voting is an essential part of democracy. Not only that but it’s only within living memory that universal suffrage – the rights of everyone over the age of 18 to vote – was introduced into this country.
And yet we treat this precious right with such disdain, with such casual apathy and even idiocy that it infuriates me.
If we get the politicians we deserve, maybe the politicians get the listless, ignorant electorate they deserve.
Mandatory voting isn’t the solution but I’m tempted by the idea that if you don’t use your vote, you lose the right to vote in the next election – that would certainly concentrate minds during local elections.
Of course, it’s all very well me demanding that you get out there and place your X in the box or your 1, 2, 3 of preferred candidates but what happens when there’s literally no one on the ballot box you’d be willing to elect?
My own personal coalition of the unwanted.
For the first time ever, that happened to me last Thursday. We were voting in two local elections – one for the local council, one for the parish council. As an exiled Scot, the parish council is not within my ken as ours went the way of the dinosaurs almost a century ago. I’m still not certain exactly what powers ours has except for running a summer-only car park by the beach.
And there it was – my worst nightmare writ large. 6 parish councils candidates to choose from – 4 Tories and 2 LibDems. My own personal coalition of the unwanted.
I stared in horror for a minute or so while I tried to process exactly what to do next. This was a Hobson’s Choice of the most unpalatable kind.
I’ve never spoiled a ballot paper before and I wasn’t quite sure how I should spoil this one. In the end I didn’t go for a dramatic message or a giant Get It Right Up Ye in caps but simply crossed a line through all the names.
My overriding emotion afterwards was one of anger, seriously pissed off at the paucity of choice. My esteemed other half suggested I stand myself next time and, all joking aside, why the hell not? An alternative voice that challenges the cosy status quo should always be welcome.
I’m a self-confessed news and politics junkie so it’s only natural I don’t get it when people say politics doesn’t matter to them or doesn’t affect them; when they dismiss all politicians as “just the same”; when they can’t be bothered taking five minutes out of their day once every couple of years to participate in something they’re lucky enough to be able to take for granted.
But the French and the Greeks showed us this week what collective power we have in our hands when we enter the ballot box. No wonder our Coalition partners have been frantically trying to reassure us they’ve got it all under control this week.
Rant over (for the moment). But the seeds of an idea have most certainly been planted in my napper … watch this space.