Is there ever an alternative?

The beginning of May is traditionally voting time in Britain (so much more conducive to higher turnout rates than harsh Novembers across the Atlantic) and tomorrow sees us trooping to the polls for quite a historic occasion. For only the second time in British history, the entire nation will participate in a referendum.

The last one – in 1975, so not even in my lifetime – was to decide whether we should remain in the EEC (we did), tomorrow’s is on the issue of electoral reform. Specifically, whether we should replace the current First Past The Post (FPTP) system with Alternative Vote (AV). Sadly, there seems to have been little real debate on the issue, largely thanks (I suspect) to the small wedding that took place last week.

I am no political commentator and I know plenty of people reading this won’t even be eligible to vote tomorrow, but I felt a need to come out and make a few points. Yes, I’m pro-change, but even if you disagree with me, it’s worth exploring the issue…

1. This is a highly unusual event – we haven’t had one of these in over 35 years! Whatever your views, get yourself down to your polling station tomorrow and exercise your right to vote. If there’s a low turnout tomorrow, whatever the result is won’t actually be the views of the country and the whole exercise will have been pointless.

2. This should have nothing to do with your party-politics, it’s to do with what is the fairest way of making exceedingly important decisions. Yes, the majority of seats in the current parliament would have had the same result under AV, but what about the minority that wouldn’t have? Also, don’t vote No just because you’re annoyed at Clegg for jumping into bed with the Tories.

3. No, AV isn’t proportional representation (PR) – but it is the first step in a journey that could lead to it. If ‘No’ wins tomorrow, we may have a very, very long wait until electoral reform appears on the political agenda. (The last time it did was in 1928 – you do the maths…)

4. If you’re utterly clueless about what either of these systems involve, then get informed. We had an educational session at work today involving colleagues’ children and their cuteness factor – I’m sure some people found it exceedingly helpful. There are lots of articles out there that are useful, my occasionally informative friend Andy wrote a good one on AV that’s well worth a read (someone who read it on my recommendation was surprised how interesting they found it despite its length – now there’s praise). There are plenty of videos too, like the one below, which even uses animals to help make it super simple.

If that’s too much for you, how about this:

My political epiphany

After all my talk of political disillusionment, on Thursday – election day – I suddenly got my political mojo back and it made me very happy.

Where others [friends initiating political discussions, The Guardian, party manifestos, the BBC…] failed, surprisingly a colleague I’d spent little time with succeeded. We’d fixed up a lunch date the week before (she thought I’d need company as C was on holiday) and by pure coincidence the day in question was polling day.

Over lunch, we swiftly got onto the day’s hot topic of conversation. It emerged that she was a Labour Party activist and we swapped stories from our days of student political activism. We talked about the golden days of Labour’s first term, the first general election we’d voted in, the various constituencies in which we’d lived, our favourite politicians… By the time lunch was over, I’d realised that my decision (from before the campaign even began) to vote for my incumbent MP because he’s a good at what he does and has a sizeable majority, was actually flawed, because I wasn’t voting with my heart.

It sounds a little ridiculous, but I was remarkably relieved when I processed these thoughts. Perhaps one of the reasons for my political disengagement from the election campaign was because I was actually denying what I knew my political beliefs to be. Hang on, I think I might be coming over a little sentimental – excuse me for just a moment!

It’s been an odd season of life. On Saturday, while having a girly day out, my friends exclaimed in shock when I mentioned that I’d not watched any of the Leaders’ Debates. To quote one (if not all of them): “If there was one person sat round this table who I’d have put money on having watched them, it would have been you. I’m disappointed.” Truth be told, I was a little disappointed too – but it won’t happen again.

You can now see why I was so anxious that the gym’s fire didn’t disenfranchise me.

Writing this the night David Cameron finally became PM, it also makes me grateful that my vote did not contribute to the possible ConDem [how I love that contraction] coalition. I’m excited at the prospect of another election imminently [please, no fixed term parliaments!]. The main section of the Guardian is finally of interest to me again and the News Quiz will be even more amusing than it usually is.

And now, with my party in opposition once more, I can criticise the government all I want. I will concentrate on all the things this article tells me are positives about this unhappy turn of events and read Things Can Only Get Better [possibly the best political memoir ever written] again, to remember that however bad it gets this time, it can surely never be as bad as it was then.

Near disenfranchisement owing to fire

Thursday’s trip to the gym was already proving blog-worthy, thanks to the conversation I walked in on as I entered the studio:
“…it’s good. You know how Original Mint Source shower gel feels? Well, it’s even better than that…”
I have no idea what the two men were talking about, but I’d love to know what manages to surpass the tingly feeling that particular brand of shower gel induces!

Twenty minutes into my bike ride, with my iPod turned up loud to drown out the studio music, a trainer tapped on my shoulder and pointed out that the fire alarm had been sounding for some time and I needed to get out. We traipsed out of the gym and up the steps to the streets as instructed, passing through a cloud of smoke as we did so. This was no false alarm, there was an actual fire.

Dozens of us were left standing on the pavement, clutching only what we’d taken into the studio. In my case this was my gym kit (vest top and cropped joggers), iPod and book. Everything else, including my towel, phone, keys, oyster card & purse was locked inside a locker in the changing rooms. Needless to say, during an arctic first week of May I was rather chilly – chilly and embarrassed in fact. My gym’s rather centrally located, so our evacuation point was opposite both a major train station and one of London’s top tourist attractions. I don’t plan my gym outfit for its attractiveness, it’s solely practical and not meant for public consumption.

Anyway, I felt less conspicuous when I spotted the women in towels. Yes, the answer to the question ‘what do you do if you’re in the shower and the fire alarm goes off?’ is ‘you put on a towel and head outside’. Poor things. (The towels aren’t generous in size either…)

We were only (only?) on the street for half an hour, before being moved to a moderately warmer bit of the building. At this point we were warned that it might be some time before we got back into the gym (the fire brigade hadn’t been able to locate the source of the smoke – worrying), but that anyone who wanted to continue training could head over to the other branch down the road – how very helpful. My main fear at that point was that I wouldn’t get home in time to vote, kicking myself for not voting in the morning. [Though my midday political epiphany changed how I voted – this is an entirely separate story.]

So, we sat in the corridor for what seemed an eternity. I was still cold, but buried myself in my book to try and forget about it. Thank goodness for reading on exercise bikes, otherwise I’d have been severely traumatised. (Shame the book in question was a definite children’s book, but thanks Becki for the loan!) At one point there was the possibility we’d be unable to get in that night and I was facing the prospect of being locked out of my flat till 10.30pm, with no food and no means of buying any, clad in just a vest and shorts. (Though I could have voted, that would’ve used up some time.)

In the end, it was 7pm when we got back in – only an hour after the evacuation, but a very long hour. Barely taking the time to do more than throw all my stuff into my bag, I left as quickly as possibly and caught the train home. Talking to my mother on the phone, I realised that I was in fact on a train that I’d probably have caught if I’d done my full workout, so hadn’t lost any time at all.

It was 7.20 when I joined the queue at the polling station and I cast my vote 15minutes later. I probably needn’t have panicked, but I’d have hated to have democracy snatched from my grasp through no fault of my own – like these poor people.

Oh and as for my public dignity, I cast that to the wind and voted whilst still wearing my gym kit, with just my jacket over the top, such is my dedication to the democratic process.

Election live blog [Finished]

It’s an important day, so who cares if I blog more than once…

In the spirit of The Guardian’s classic live blog format, I will be sharing the best election related Facebook statuses (statii?) from my friends, purely for your amusement. Enjoy.

From the night before:
Mim [in Tewkesbury] wonders if it’s wrong to get annoyed with people asking you who you’re going to vote for. I was under the impression that since the Ballot Act of 1872, that was a secret.

Olivia [in London] I still agree with Nick…and you do too…yes you do, you said so…you did…don’t be a tit and change your mind now. Come on Cleggy.

From this morning:
John [in Birmingham] thinks this is the day, this is the day that we vote again, that we vote again.. we will rejoice and be glad in it! [And yes, this song will now be in your head for the rest of the day – thanks John!]

James [in London] Because competition is inherently good for Politics as well as business, I’ve voted Lib Dem. Looking forward to a permanent 3 horse race.

David [temporarily in the USA] managed to vote from San Francisco. If it all goes wrong, I’m blaming you lot.

Becki [in London] is reminding everyone to make use of their hard-won right to vote today!! Apathy will kill this country faster than ignorance, people… go vote!!

Rosie [in London] fears that Daisy [age 2] may be about to experience the unacceptable side of democracy if her playgroup is closed for polling day.

Hilary [in my very own Southwark constituency] yellow or red? [My wonderings exactly.]

Katie [in Tewkesbury] Old couple in front of me on leaving polling station… Man: You never voted for Cameron did you? Woman: Course I did! Man: You’re joking – he’s the local Lim Dem candidate [Alistair Cameron, Tewkesbury constituency]. Look of absolute horror on woman’s face as she stopped and realised her mistake. LOL!!!!!!!!!!!

Hannah [in Hull] loving the excitment of this election – it’s almost like when no one know who was going to win Pop Idol, Will or Gareth! For the record, I voted for Will. Oh the fun of it! [For the record that was a genuinely exciting moment in time – I voted for Will too.]

Katie [still in Tewks] has just taught Hannah (aged 3 and a half) to say ‘proportional representation’. She is also amazed to discover that using the cut out facemasks from the BBC Election Night Party Pack both Hannah and John (aged not yet 2) chose Nick Clegg as their favourite!

Katie [a different one, somewhere else] has been to vote- and eeny meeny minee moe gave the same answer as what I was thinking anyway so must have been the right candidate 🙂 [This scares me, for many reasons…] 

Richard [in London] There a was a young woman who sung/”My MP accepted a bung/He took cash for votes/And cleaned out his moats/Now parliament’s gonna be hung!”

Madeline [in London] Who still has not voted??? Come now, chop chop……. [I love the threat of violence.]

Lucy [in Bournemouth] went through a red light, smahed out 50mph through Bournemouth, jumped out of a moving car but GOT MY VOTE! (last person in Bournemouth too…) [I don’t condone such dangerous behaviour, but at least she got her vote in!] 

I gave up once the polls closed. Thanks to a ridiculous sense of conscientiousness I felt a need to get a good night’s sleep so that I could get a productive day’s work in, so didn’t stay up to watch the results come in. I also, in the space of a few hours, had a political epiphany that made me very happy…  

On election morning

The message is still just one word: VOTE.
Fortunately, it looks like people are doing just that and turnout should be above the pathetic 61.5% of the last General Election.

Despite all the excitement over the Lib Dems resurgence and the transformation of the campaign into a proper three horse race, the result is still likely to be what was predicted months ago. It’s my right – according to the Ballot Act of 1872 – to keep my vote secret (thanks Mim for that nugget of information) but I will disclose that I’m not in favour of the result the polls have predicted. 
The last time that particular party won an election was in 1992 and I was nearly 11. It was the election which we thought would change everything (we were proved wrong), but I definitely wasn’t aware of it at the time. My main memory from election day itself was that we had the day off school (polling station), went swimming and had a picnic. However, the morning after marked a momentous occasion – it was the day I began a diary. Admittedly, it lasted all of one day and wasn’t embarked upon again for another two years, but still, an important moment. 
Though the mists of time have lost the entry itself, my insane memory can remember the opening sentence: “The Conservatives won the election. I’m pleased, because it means nothing will change.” 
Ahhh, my poor befuddled young mind – always one to be paranoid of change. Still, if one good thing came out of that election it was the fact that 1997 was all the sweeter. 
I’d be tempted to have some kind of election party this year, if it weren’t for the fact that it’ll probably be depressing; involves staying up all night; and will have a negative impact upon the work I need to do tomorrow. Instead, I will continue to amuse myself with the fabulous election playlist a friend of mine has created and fall asleep with the TV so that my subconscious absorbs the result before I wake up and face the reality.