Rather charmingly, our local polling station is also the 13th century gatehouse to Nottingham Castle, which somehow survived the demolition of the original castle in the 17th century. This has the effect of making voting a rather pleasant process, in which I feel benignly connected to some sort of unbroken historical tradition. The process is made more pleasant still by the satisfaction of a) knowing that I’m voting for the right candidate and b) feeling more or less certain that he will retain his seat.
Note the use of the word “candidate”, not “party”. For although the cross has been placed in the Labour box as usual, the vote this time has been firmly for Alan Simpson – an unreconstructed Old Labour rebel with a voting record to match – rather than that Blair fellow or his gang of cronies. Because when push comes to shove, it’s the quality of the candidate which matters to me the most – and Simpson has impressed me in the past with his unspun sincerity, firm principles, and boundless passion for politics. There is even a liberal Tory of my acquaintance who votes for Simpson, despite disagreeing with him on many/most issues, because he feels that “we need people like that in Parliament”.
Which in turn makes me wonder whether there would be circumstances in which I might ever vote Conservative; and I suppose the answer would be “just possibly”. If an independently minded Ken Clarke/Alan Duncan/Richard Ottaway/Boris Johnson figure were up against a Charles Clarke, an Alan Milburn, a David Blunkett, or some ghastly, faceless, vapid, careerist, obedient lobby-fodder twerp, then I might find it a perfectly easy decision to make.
But what of the Lib Dems? The great surprise of this election (and let’s face it, surprises have been disappointingly thin on the ground) has been the discovery that I now agree with the Liberal Democrats on far more policies than any other party. And I’m not the only one; how many of you have completed one of those handy online survey thingies, and discovered that you too have turned yellow in the night? But how many of you have then thought: nah, wasted vote innit, and voted tactically for Labour in order to keep the Tories out?
One the one hand: keeping the Tories out has to be my prime consideration. Don’t listen to those who say that “they’re all the same”; bollocks they are. Howard isn’t fit to form a government, and his party is guilty of jumping on any small-minded, scare-mongering, single-issue bandwagon that comes its way. Most – yes, most – Conservative policies, such as they are, scare the living shit out of me. It simply cannot come to pass.
Nevertheless, I’d like to think that I would never vote tactically for a second-best party. The basic concept of tactical voting fundamentally annoys me, as does all the surrounding talk of “wasted votes”. If everyone actually voted for what they believed in – or at least favoured the most from the choices on offer – then maybe we’d have a Liberal Democrat government tomorrow. And on balance – and despite the odd lunatic policy like abolishing the Department For Trade And Industry – I would welcome that. (Tax and spend? Yeah, bring it on. And yes, I am well aware of the contradiction with my own material situation. If it was all right for me twenty years ago when I was broke, then it’s all right for me now.)
Four more years of Labour, though? Despite everything, and whilst acknowledging most of my old mate Chig’s points in his strongly worded rationale for not voting Labour, I can still just about live with that. Because of the economic stability, and a certain degree of improvement in certain public services (most notably the NHS, if personal experience is anything to go by), and all the gay stuff of course: equal age of consent, partnership rights, immigration rights, anti-discrimination legislation, repeal of Section 28. I won’t be cheering as Blair rides back into Number Ten, but I won’t be weeping either. Imperfect world, shades of grey, yadda yadda.
F***ing evil lying tossers over Iraq, mind you. To say nothing of detention without trial, and undermining of the legal system in general, and ID cards… dangerous, disturbing stuff. The sheer arrogance of it all, apart from anything else. So what I’ll really be cheering for tonight is a dramatically reduced majority. Preferably to the benefit of the Lib Dems, but I guess I can also live with the odd Tory gain here and there. The much vaunted “bloody nose” effect – if it causes Blair to curb some of his wilder excesses in the next parliament, then we’ll be all the better off for it.
Let’s make a prediction, then. The current overall Labour majority is 161. Although the optimist in me hopes for a larger reduction, the realist in me predicts a new majority of 109. And what say you?
In order to assess the accuracy of my prediction, I will – of course – be staying up super-late tonight, glued as ever to the whole gloriously batty spectacle, revelling in the statistics, cheering and jeering until the beer runs out. Care to join me? Come on, take the morning off work tomorrow. Or ring in sick. It’s your duty as an Active Citizen, or something.
(Not that I’ll be doing any live blogging, mind you. Heavens above, no. Learnt that lesson with the slow descent into drunken bitch-queen madness that was last year’s “live commentary” on the Eurovision semi-finals. But if you are, then good luck to you.)