New Internationalist

Vote from a boat

That's it then. The first time I've been a member of a political party (the Green Party) during a general election in Britain. And it's over - or perhaps just beginning.

I did mean to get stuck in, go canvassing, that sort of thing - honest. But for one good reason on another it never quite happened.

I also offered to sail my barge down river in to Bristol's floating harbour and steam about bedecked with greenery. But that didn't happen either.

A shame, really. Quite by chance, the second of the revolutionary presidential Leaders' TV Debates turned up at the Arnolfini gallery, a renovated warehouse on the harbour quayside. The TV news media set themselves up on the other side of the harbour, facing out across the water to the Arnolfini. So I could, in theory, have insinuated myself into their picturesque backdrops, visibly bemoaning the absence of green participation, or whatever - for just so long, that is, as I evaded the Special Boat Section or the rest of the anti-terrorist militia saturating much of the city centre at the time.

Perhaps by way of compensation, I was granted two votes. Registering to vote from a boat is a tricky business. I was sure I had managed it, but rang to check all the same, and was told that I hadn't. So I tried again. Two polling cards with different numbers turned up a few days later.

At the big moment on 6 May I grasped a sawn-off pencil stub attached to a piece of string in a Methodist church hall and placed an X on just one ballot paper. Which was more than a few thousand other voters achieved elsewhere in the country. They queued for hours, only to have polling station doors slammed in their faces at closing time.

This was when I headed off for Bath, where my vote was taken for counting. The Greens were short of scrutineers, so I volunteered. The idea was to track ballot boxes as they arrived from neighbourhoods where we expected to do well, and make sure none of our votes went missing. But we couldn't find the boxes.

The hall was lined with picnic tables, official vote-counters to one side, scrutineers from the political parties to the other. There was an confrontational intimacy about this arrangement I found a bit disconcerting.

Besides, the scrutineers from the big parties were armed with clipboards and tally cards, which would apparently help them to target particular neighbourhoods next time around. We didn't have any clipboards. So we huddled, or peered over shoulders at the big parties' tally cards. Noticing the Green rosette I was wearing, one compassionate counter cheerily waved a Green vote at me whenever one appeared, like a needle in a haystack.

The incumbent Labour MP was duly unseated by a big swing to the Conservative - one Jacob Rees-Mogg, offspring of a famously toffish editor of The Times newspaper, another Tory scion of Eton private school (fees $47,000 a year), who was reported to count his nanny among his lavish election team.

Our Green man, Michael Jay (a beekeeper) notched up a respectable 670 votes - a marked improvement on last time, when we did not stand.

Nowhere near enough, however, to have saved the Labour incumbent, had we all voted tactically for him instead, to concentrate our progressive fire. Besides, he seemed unaccountably relaxed about the loss of 400 jobs from my local chocolate factory, closed down in disreputable circumstances after Kraft gobbled up Cadbury's. 

There was a great Green moment in Brighton with the election of Caroline Lucas, the best politician in Britain and the first-ever Green MP. But there were few such Green moments elsewhere. We still have some way to go. But then, so does everyone else, and at least we know where we're going.

Taken as a whole, the election campaign resembled a boondoggle - 'a pointless activity that gives the impression of having value' - when not a giant marketing exercise for the status quo. The certifiably insane political power of financial markets went unchallenged, the impending consequences scarcely considered at all, while the funeral march played on and on, unheeded, in Afghanistan.

'Hung' or 'balanced', the Mother of All Parliaments now seems minded to ordain a Conservative government elected by just 10 million out of 40 million voters - on the shared and no less certifiable assumption that voters cannot bear too much reality.

Unless - and quite possibly not even then - the status quo turns out to have disappeared...

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