Though I don’t have much to say. I went to the trouble of getting a postal vote, though the Greek postal service did not deliver it in time. At least I assume so, as the Greek Easter and my heavy cold after arriving back from England, meant that I didn’t get to the office in time to pick up the papers.
Also I was shocked that electoral fraud is now an issue in Britain as a result of making it easier to get a postal vote. I shall tease the people in my office about whether they were tempted to vote for me, if indeed the papers did arrive.
One of the problems with postal votes for expats is that you can’t choose where you vote. I can see why that makes sense, as no doubt people could gang up and vote in marginal seats, or at least parties could campaign that way. However for me to vote in a rural constituency in the South West doesn’t make a lot of sense. The normal urban Tory/Labour standoff isn’t played out there, since there isn’t a large industrial work force to vote Labour, and traditionally the South West “establishment” tends to vote Liberal like in Scotland. Monmouth was always a place from which rebellions were launched, although these days it is thoroughly Tory. When I last lived there (1997) it was clear that tactical voting to keep the Tories out was what mattered so I voted Liberal.
When we lived in Brecon, the boundary was gerrymandered several times so it became a very marginal seat. There too I voted Liberal since the incumbent Liberal MP was working hard and was very visible, even appearing at the village agricultural show, though there must have been several every weekend he had to get round in the summer. When we first bought our house, the constituency was a Tory stronghold, which seemed strange given it was so close to the coal-mining Valleys. I remember being visibly shocked when before election time, the candidate’s wife arrived in the local pub and bought everyone a beer. And they all drank it and there was almost an invisible forelock being tugged in thanks. I was only marginally reassured when Gwyn MM (because he had seen the world, winning the Military Medal somewhere in the African desert and therefore was a bit more outspoken than the rest) gave her a V sign of the wrong sort as she left, indicating that the beer was accepted without any obligation. But it gave the impression of what might have happened in the 30s when the local mine owner might have done the rounds to get the vote out in his favour.
But apart from 1997 (and everyone still remembers Portillo’s face on his defeat) elections have had little excitement now that the result is known so quickly. Only the fanciness of the computer graphics advancing in proportion to Peter Snow’s age and Antony Howard’s pomposity vary from one election to the next. It’s a long way from student days in London in the 60s when even then, the result was known by midnight in Trafalgar Square and you could all go home and drown you sorrows.
I suppose these days party affiliations are no longer so tribal, in that they followed the way your family had always voted. My mother introduced me to the all night waiting up to hear the results over the radio, carefully taking out the Guardian supplement with the constituency lists which could be crossed off one by one as they came in. In time the strange names of constituencies (Liverpool Toxteth, South Fylde) became familiar to me in the same way as football team names from the football results on the Saturday radio (Hamilton Academicals, Arsenal) and the strange list of places round the British coast which were relayed on the Shipping Forecast (Dogger Bight, Finistere…).
My father would retire to bed, ready to sneer in the morning no matter who got in. He would have only voted for a Gaullist candidate and had no faith at all in Labour, having lost all his socialist beliefs by the 50s. In any case, he didn’t have a vote. However, his long explanations of French politics, including an early hatred of Mitterrand (which always produced a sneer and a curl of the lips) meant I had a similar long list of French politicians in my head long before it was necessary to understand EU (and hence French and German) politics. I suspect he had a sneaking respect for Margaret Thatcher as a strong leader though I don’t remember hearing him say anything about her politics. He was Gaullist in his approach to immigrants, seeing French colonial struggles in North Africa as the correct attitude towards the increasing numbers of Pakistanis coming to work in Preston at the time. Though I didn’t know any Pakistanis myself, his racist remarks were unpleasant.
My mother was an active member of the Labour Party (they sent someone to her funeral!) in a Tory stronghold. She enjoyed putting up posters in the local Church Hall advertising “You have heard Goliath, now come and hear David”. At a Tory meeting she complained they were using the Union Jack for a table cloth and shamed them into removing it. I remember being taken to hear Harold Wilson speak in Preston, in 1964, when both seats were marginal. He was heckled because the government had just cancelled the TSR2 aeroplane (a defence contract at English Electric, now part of BAC) causing huge job losses. However the workers were counterheckled by all those who had lost their jobs already when the cotton mills had closed in the 50s and at British Leyland in the 60s as part of the downward spiral of the British car industry. So no one really had much sympathy locally for these highly skilled (I suppose also highly paid) workers who were now out of a job. I remember having to calm my mother down as she was shouting at someone who was actually agreeing with her.
This was all a different world from the grammar school debates which were allowed to happen just before the election. There I was the only Labour voter, and the debates were conducted without any serious preparation or discussion of what elections were for. Needless to say, the tribal voting meant the Tories got in whatever the country voted for. This only reinforced my sense of isolation.
I think my mother always hoped I would go into politics. I suppose there is still time.