Archive for May 5th, 2010

Undecided – updated and downcast

May 5, 2010

In which Dr Aust wavers

Dr Aust first voted in a general election in 1983. I voted for the losing side that time, both locally and nationally. The MP elected in my constituency was a Tory mediocrity, later to be an Education Secretary whose record I recently saw described as “appalling”. He is now in the House of Lords.

At that General Election, as at every subsequent one, I voted Labour.

Though I come from a middle-class academic, rather than working class, background, I come from a long-time Labour family. My parents were students socialists in the 50s, and CND marchers in the 60s. I sometimes joke with my friend Professor David Colquhoun that we must have gone on some of the same Aldermaston Marches -though he was walking, while I was there being pushed in a pram. Newspapers in the house I grew up in were the Guardian, the Observer, the (long pre-Murdoch) Sunday Times, Private Eye and the New Statesman.

My father was even a two-time Parliamentary candidate for Labour, and came within less than 600 votes of becoming an MP. As children my brother and I used sometimes to get towed along canvassing with him, and I even have an old election leaflet with a family portrait of us all on it.

When we had a class election at my school a few years after my father’s brief political career, I naturally stood as the Labour candidate, plastering the classroom with my dad’s old Labour posters (they had the advantage of only bearing his and my shared surname). I ran on a platform of redressing inequality, stressing the fact that the richest 5% of the population owned almost everything. (Sound familiar?)

I lost.

In mitigation, I should say this was at a private school. And the Tory candidate did bribe any wavering voters with cash money to use at the tuck shop.

After that first 1983 vote, and despite Mrs Thatcher, I managed to vote for a winning Labour candidate at following election (1987), and at the three after that (1992, 1997 and 2001).

1997 is, of course, the one that sticks in the memory. I sat up into the small hours watching the results come in. For me, as for many others, what summed up the night was the downfall, seemingly totally bemused (though in today’s Guardian I see he claims he knew what was coming), of that arch-symbol of Tory smugness Michael Portillo. Once that result was in, I knew I could go to bed. It felt like the world had actually changed. The following election, 2001, was again a cause for some celebrating, though more muted.

And then came 9/11. And the “War on Terror” And the War in Iraq. And the succession of Anti-Terror Acts authorising extended detention without trial.

The last of these made me more angry than the War. Hundreds of years of hard-won civil rights gone. All in order for politicians to strike poses about being “tough on terror”.

Come the election of 2005, the sixth one I have voted in, I wrote a long email to my sitting Labour MP telling him why I felt I could not vote Labour again, citing the Iraq War & extended detention without charge. He wrote me a plaintive letter back telling me he had voted against the war.

That time I walked into the polling station having more or less decided to register my protest by voting Liberal Democrat. But the Labour loyalty of a lifetime was too strong, and I voted Labour.  I ended up on the losing side, though, as the sitting MP was ousted on a large swing to the LibDems.

And this time….

Well – I am a floating voter – something I never thought I would say – vacillating between Labour and the Lib Dems.

What are my friends in the blogoverse doing?

For most of mine – with the lone exception of that right-wing maverick Henry Gee – the choice seems similarly to be between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Gimpy is sticking with Labour – he explains why here.

Dr Petra Boynton articulates some of the reasons many Labour supporters I know are drifting to the LibDems.

Prof David Colquhoun is voting Lib Dem, having given up on New Labour as early as 2001.

The Jobbing Doctor, like me, is still undecided.

Dr Grumble is keeping his powder dry, though it is clear he is not a fan of the Tories.

The commentators at the Guardian and the Observer are seemingly also divided. Among them, George Monbiot sums up, perhaps most eloquently of all, the reasons why many Labour supporters feel so disillusioned after thirteen years of Blair and Brown

In one way I am lucky. As I live in a LibDem/Labour marginal. I can be sure that, whichever way I vote, I will not end up with a Tory MP. And both the sitting LibDem MP and the Labour hopeful would do good jobs for the constituency.

But still. It is a dilemma.

And my family, once rock-solid in Labour unity, is split too, between Labour and the Lib Dems.

And I am undecided.


I suppose I will just have to sleep on it.


Update 1 – Election Day: lunchtime

Usually vote in the morning, but had early class this morning so couldn’t make it.

Anyway, now lunchtime and still wavering. Stomach uneasy.

There is a general atmosphere of foreboding around the University. This is typical when people are anticipating a Conservative government.

The typical reason given by my fellow academics for not wanting a Tory Government: “They don’t care about the poor. Or the North. Or anywhere outside the South East.”

Update 2 – early evening:

Nip out to vote at 6.45 pm, figuring to make it back in time for The Archers.

No chance – huge queue at the polling station means a 25 min wait. And as I leave the queue has lengthened considerably, suggesting more like 40 min. Turnout must be unusually high. Usually this favours Labour rather than the Tories. Not sure what in means in a LibDem-Labour marginal.

The kids have given Mrs Dr Aust and me a  low level fever/’flu bug so likely I shall always associate 2010 election with a feeling spaced out / shaky and slightly detatched from reality. Perhaps that is appropriate

Talking of Election Day associations, as I tweeted a couple of hrs back:

“Similarly, always associate Mrs Thatcher’s 3rd electoral triumph of 11 June 1987 with vicious attack of norovirus. Oddly appropriate.”

Update 3 – 10.30 pm

Watching the first results come in – swing against Labour, but in rock-solid seats so “protest” votes will be making size of margins largely meaningless. And less impressed  with Exit Polls since I found an online one earlier today which predicted result in my constituency on basis of how 26 (!) people voted.

Crikey – turns out I was lucky to actually manage to vote!  The BBC reports that 200-odd people in this constituency – which is a marginal, of course – were locked out at 10 pm and didn’t get to vote. Not clear if this was at polling station where I voted.

Similar reports from other parts of country. What a total balls-up.

Despite the lack of hard data, have sense of foreboding that am going to wake up tomorrow to Tory Twit Boy braying about how he has a mandate. A nasty thought. Fingers crossed for hung parliament and electoral reform.

Update 4 – 2.00 am.

And, contrary to this time in the morning at the last “key election” in 1997, haven’t got a blind clue what result is going to be.

And neither have any of the experts on the media.  Though it doesn’t stop them talking.

Seems pretty likely Tories will be largest party, but swings all over the place, tactical voting rife, prospect of legal challenges in constituencies where people were locked out.

And no Portillo moment as yet, though Peter Robinson losing his seat in Northern Ireland to a “cross community” Alliance Party candidate was pretty good.

Anyway, time to go to bed and see what tomorrow will bring.


The Day After – lunchtime:

Been busy lecturing this morning. It is all rather as I would have predicted when I went to bed. The biggest disappointment for me personally is that Dr Evan Harris lost his seat, by less than two hundred votes, to a  Tory airhead of rather unctuously religious tendencies.  As others have pointed out, science is the loser – though also the people of Oxford West and Abingdon, at least in my opinion.

On the overall picture, I think the Jobbing Doctor and Dr Grumble have it about right.

PS Talking of evangelical Christian Tories, at least Phillipa “Purge the demons” Stroud failed to get elected. Although sadly we still have the truly appalling Nadine Dorries – Britain’s answer to Sarah Palin – in Parliament as the standard bearer for the religious right.