Saturday, 1 May 2010

elections, depression and the changing nature of life

I have been studiously avoiding commenting on British politics and the election campaign. It's too depressing and only serves to underline a certain sort of disconnectedness I feel. For the whole of my youth and young adulthood I was very involved in local politics. Thatcher's election in 1979 was a key event in my life - it was the first election I stayed up to watch. My father, local leader of the labour party on the council, waited for the first result to come in and then went to bed, resigned to the polls and consigned to opposition. My involvement in politics in 1987 led to quite an existenital crisis of faith for me. Thatcher was reelected with a big majority and I felt totally disenfranchised, I was at the end of my first year of training for the ministry and ended up questioning everything I was committed to. I went off to stay in France for a month with my father's right-wing cousin. The 1992 election was if anything even worse. Stephen was working in Labour Party headquarters for the whole campaign and we were on the steps of Walworth Road in the early hours of the morning as Neil Kinnock resigned from the party leadership, then we also set off for France where we were already living.
That commitment, involvement and those experiences of defeat taught me a great deal about resistance and spirituality. One night from the public gallery, I watched my father in opposition on the town council fight every single ammendment with enormous integrity and verve. By doing that rather than falling into resigned depression he actually managed to convince the majority on some key small issues and won several votes. It's a lesson of tenacity that I forget too often.
So next Thursday I suspect I may do the same as my dad in 1979, though we are due to have friends of a similar political persuasion with us. No doubt drowning our sorrows together. I suppose going to bed is a bit like hiding behind the sofa at the scary bits of Dr Who.
Somewhere I still have a semi-vague hope that results may be more unpredictable even than I expect. In the end though I shall stay up because what I hope happens will be a real culture shift in the way elections and politics happens in my home country. Democracy needs to be vibrant and meaningful, politics needs to connect with people and effect real change for the good. Perhaps a hung parliament will help British society become more fair.Britian is still a country which has the highest gaps between rich and poor in Europe, can it re-imagine politics and the practice of democracy or will it still hold to privilege. Really though I'm just expecting a Tory win and I cannot bear David Cameron - and yes our 18 year old nephew is planning to vote for him.

What I am learning through all of this is that things change and that old tribal allegiances may not serve democracy best all of the time. People have to feel engaged by both a meta narrative and to feel that they can be involved and make a difference. If I were living in the UK now I would very likely consider voting for the Green Party, yet I am still a member of the Labour Party. Because I have been living outside the country for more than 15 years I no longer have a vote. I can quite see how Tony Blair's war in Iraq and lies about what led him to take us to war (supported by Tory MPs rather than Labour ones by the way!) and the hubris of parliamentary life over recent years have disgusted and disenchanted huge parts of the elecctorate.
Hard to know what I hope for in my home country but I would hope for a more vibrant civil society that doesn't treat politics as something dirty and laughable but as decent, fun and necessary.
Meanwhile to stop me from ranting on, I've just come across this on Kester Brewin's blog (hat tip tp Maggi Dawn). Kester's been commenting with more wisdom than I on the current British campaign.

Now the Electorate was out in Middle England, and Sky News and other members of the Media brought Gordon Brown to them. They made him stand before the group and said to the Electorate, ‘Voters, this man was caught in the act of speaking rashly in private. He left his microphone on, and it caught him accusing a woman of being bigoted.’ They were using this question as a trap, in order for having a basis for people not voting for him.

But the Electorate bent down and started to write something on their Twitter accounts. When the Media kept questioning them they straightened up, and said to the them. ‘If any of you - journalists and or other party leaders – if any of you has never spoken rashly in private, let us cast our votes for you.’

At this, those who had heard began to go back to their campaign buses and leave, one at a time, the older ones first, until only the Electorate was left, with Brown still standing there. The Electorate straightened up and asked him, ‘Prime Minister, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one Sirs.’ he said.

‘Then neither do we condemn you.’ the Electorate declared. ‘Go now and DON’T BE SUCH A BLOODY IDIOT AGAIN OR WE’LL CERTAINLY NOT CAST OUR VOTE FOR YOU.’ (With thanks to John 8: 1 – 11)

And just in case you're interested, I am not a French national but, as a European, I do have a vote in French local elections for the centre of the universe in Ferney Voltaire, and in the European Elections, so I am not completely disenfranchised. Of course in order to get rid of Nicolas Sarkozy I may well consider becoming a French citizen, meanwhile Dr B and I are still trying to run a stealth campaign to get Daniel Cohn Bendit as the French left's next presidential candidate. He's speaking in Geneva on May 20 and we might just go along.
So I suppose what is changing is that I am still tribally of the left but as I see society and politics changing I am more interested in promoting democracy and debate than in being blindly a member of the party I support.