T.S. Elliot’s Journey of the Magi could equally apply to today’s General Election. I first read this poem for my Higher English back in 1965. General Elections have consumed me all my adult life and since I came to Ayrshire in 1981, I have campaigned for Labour up to and through every General Election Day (9 in total). Today is different. The election is different - I am different.
The election is different because electoral success for the Conservatives will complete the capture of state authority by private business. We are following the same path as Russia, Hungary, Turkey and the US. A representative parliament can be prorogued; only those journalists who spout the government message are granted access; the legitimacy of opposition parties and the most senior judges in the country are called into question. Abby Innes, Assistant Professor of Political Economy at the LSE describes it thus,
“The Conservatives have placed a landmine under the British constitution that they will detonate if gifted with a majority. It is there in the manifesto, where it says that ‘After Brexit we also need to take a look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts, the functioning of the Royal Prerogative…’. It is there in black and white that they intend to change the rules of the democratic game and by saying it here they can later claim this as an open mandate.”
Boris Johnson intends to lead a Cabinet that subscribes, as no other Conservative British Cabinet before it, to the doctrine of full blown economic libertarianism. Economic libertarians are not democrats.
I am different too, because my health can no longer sustain the level of total campaigning that I used to commit to. Yes I have designed some election material and delivered leaflets round my village (even that required the help of family members to complete). But instead of launching into an Election Day of standing outside polling stations, then relentlessly knocking doors to Get Out the Vote right up to 10pm, I am sitting at my iPad writing a detached piece for my blog.
It used to be so different. My first election in Ayr was 1983. The fight that year was not to win but to hold off the challenge for second place from the SDP/Liberal Alliance (a certain Chic Brodie who was later the SNP MSP).
1987 saw Keith Macdonald turn Ayr into Scotland’s most marginal seat losing to George Younger by 182 after a recount. It was my turn in 1992. We threw everything at winning but still came short, this time by 85 votes after two recounts. My agent, Brian Nisbet had every piece of canvassing entered into his computer and, although he never told me anything before the election, he knew we had 22,000 Labour votes if we could get them out on the day. With an army of volunteers that’s what we did. Unfortunately, so did the Tories.
1997 was the Blair landslide. Right up to the count we refused to be complacent, but Sandra, my wife, walked it by 6,500 and became the first ever Labour MP for Ayr winning the seat again in a much tighter contest in 2001. We were prepared for defeat in 2005 but were rescued by boundary changes that turned the constituency into Ayr Carrick and Cumnock, a safe Labour seat for life. Ayr Carrick and Cumnock with its 10,000 majority stayed that way in 2010 - a safe Labour seat for life. I once bought a ‘bag for life’ in Tescos. No idea where it ended up. In 2015 the constituency went the way of every other Labour seat in Scotland except Ian Murray’s in Edinburgh South. When Carol Mochan took up the challenge for Labour in 2017 we knew that, for the first time, in spite of our best efforts, we were heading for third place.
So here I am sitting typing this on Election Day 2019. I am not really involved. I can’t even go out and vote. I did this by post over a week ago. Of course, in reality my efforts in past elections probably made little difference to the outcome but it didn’t feel that way. I felt vital. I felt involved. I felt as if I mattered.
But today, 12th December 2019 I have only my poem to return to and the next two lines,
“The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter”