It’s the hope that kills you

Well, there are now only four days left until the general election. Relax, I’m not going to tell you who I think you should vote for.

Five weeks ago, I wrote my Franifesto of the policies I wanted to see from political parties to persuade me to vote for them.

My final point wasn’t a policy at all. It was more a plea for vision, for inspiration, for hope.

It’s about what kind of society we want, not whether we can afford that kind of society. Ask people to invest in their community, to feel they are a genuine part of something bigger than just their household and they get it, they understand it and they value it. Think about more than just numbers, politicians, give us a vision of a nation that we’d all aspire to live in.

Well, I’m sorry but not surprised to say I have seen little or no vision, zero inspiration and not a lot of hope.

The Tories have run the most shambolic electoral campaign I have ever witnessed – incoherent, contradictory, relentlessly negative and horribly personal. It shouldn’t work but it just might get them over the line. How depressing.

Labour has been unable to throw off the shackles of its New Labour past to present itself as the shiny reborn version of Old Labour that many voters claim they want to see. Ed Miliband has at least articulated an idea of a fairer Britain but not enough to win over the justifiably wavering if the polls are right.

Obviously, there’s no SNP in my constituency, but you’ll forgive me for watching events in my native land with great interest. Many of my friends and family in Scotland will disagree, but even the tremendously popular SNP’s biggest selling point seems to be “vote for us to give Labour a bloody nose”. Oh and then that elected army of Nationalist MPs will march on Westminster and, er, work with Labour to keep the Tories out. Work that one out if you can.

The Liberal Democrats push themselves as the compassionate politicos the Conservatives refuse to be and the hard-hearted economists Labour cannot be. Embodied by Nick Clegg, they’re even more nakedly hungry for power than the Tories – and that’s saying something. Like the SNP, their plea to voters is a negative one.

The Greens are probably the most radical of all parties but then, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would be, wouldn’t they? With little chance of any of their policies being enacted, the Greens can afford to think outside the box.

I’d like not even to mention UKIP for their very existence is so horrible that it pains my soul. No to Europe. No to immigration. No to equal rights. No to welfare. No. No. No. I can’t say no enough to them.

So, here we are with four – actually just three – campaigning days left until we cast our votes.

I already know who I’m voting for. I nailed my (a)political colours to the mast on Twitter on Saturday.

The National Health Action Party (NHA) has put up candidates in key Coalition ministers’ seats to challenge the reforms that are slowly strangling the NHS in England and Wales.

I support their aims 100 percent and so I’m backing Dr Carl Walker in his attempt to unseat Tory Tim Loughton in East Worthing and Shoreham.

Unfortunately, it does feel as if my voting for him is yet another negative in this long, draining pessimistic campaign.

I’m doing my best to sell it to myself as a positive. My x in the NHA Party box is more than just a vote against a party I despise; it’s a vote for something I passionately believe in, a national health service free to all and free from the ideological straitjacket that it must somehow make money out of ill-health.

When I walk into the polling station on Thursday, I’ll be doing it with – if you’ll pardon the expression – hope in my heart.

And just as I did when I voted for the very first time as a naive 18-year-old in the 1983 general election, I will do so with conviction that I’m doing the right thing and a belief that my voice, like those of every single person in this country, is worth hearing.

Please, do the same. Because sometimes hope is all you’ve got left.

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution

There’s more than a whiff of insurrection and rebellion in the air around Europe right now.

The French party like it’s 1981

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).

For proper analysis of what all this might mean, go here and here and here.

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.