Once upon a time there was no political party in Britain I wanted to vote for, let alone join. As the 6 May general election in Britain approaches, I have changed.
The writing on the inner-city walls where I lived for many years suggested that if voting changed anything it would have been abolished long ago. I voted all the same. Along with the majority of my fellow citizens, however, I never managed to vote for my own government.
By established convention in Britain, the only way not to ‘waste’ your vote is to choose between Labour and Tory, or else engage in arcane ‘tactical’ voting. I tried it once, in 1997. By this time I lived in a Tory stronghold in rural Gloucestershire. The Liberal Democrats had come second in the previous election, so the best way to dislodge the ‘safe’ local Tory was - they said - to vote Lib Dem. This I duly did. In the event, support for sparkling New Labour rose, the Lib Dem vote stayed much the same and the Tory got back in again. Shortly afterwards, he defected to New Labour. Not long after that, the seat was occupied by David Cameron, soon to be crowned New Tory leader.
For me, the moribund political establishment in Britain rests on little more than public apathy and professional cynicism. Some people say that’s just as well, banishing as it does the evil of political ideas. The financial meltdown has, however, exposed the disconnection of the levers of power from anything even remotely resembling democratic control. Liberal democracy in Britain is broken, and everyone knows it.
For a long time, and as a socialist, I hoped that the disoriented Left in Britain would start to get its bearings, perhaps along the lines of the ‘Broad Fronts’ established with some success across much of Latin America. (In Uruguay, for example, their President is a former Tupamaro urban guerrilla, now in his 70s, who spent 15 years in jail, two of them at the bottom of a well.)
And I hoped that the Left in Britain would find a way of absorbing ecology, its implications for economic ‘growth’, consumption, class and inequality, into its core beliefs.
For reasons I won’t go into here, I think it failed on both counts - and, on both counts, time is running short.
Rather, it seems to me, ecology has proved more adept at absorbing the legacy of socialism.
It’s not immediately obvious to me why the Green Party should have remained less prominent in Britain than in much of the rest of Europe. But it is obvious that the political priorities in Britain now are climate change, inequality and replacing the market as the ultimate arbiter of everything - and that all three are mutually dependent.
It is obvious to me, as a result, that the political system has to change - starting with proportional representation in general elections - and the only wasted vote is the vote you don’t believe in.
So it was that yesterday, a radiant spring day, I set out on my bicycle along the railway path to Bath. There, opposite the Pump Rooms, beside a half-unopened shopping centre lavishly clad in stone, I handed out leaflets while chatting with a fellow Green who was brought up in Sâo Paulo, knows the Guaraní indigenous people and has built a replica of an old fishing boat in the Lake District.
I might even bedeck my Dutch barge with Greenery and raid Bristol’s Floating Harbour.
For once, there is something in a general election that’s worth doing.