I’m not a particularly open political animal. Through a habit cultivated as a newspaper journalist, I deliberately leave my political colours un-nailed to any publicly visible mast. It doesn’t help your efforts to be an impartial observer if you’re known to be an active Labour, Tory, Lib-Dem or even Green supporter. That’s not to say I don’t have political preferences, I’m an intelligent woman interested in current affairs. I have children, I pay taxes, I want to know the country is in safe hands, economically, morally and politically, so of course I have views. But these are known only to my husband, a few close friends and the ballot box. Since learning as a teenager that my right to vote was hard fought-for by suffragettes and suffragists and cost women their lives, I’ve wanted to stand up and be counted. Wherever I’ve lived, Tory stronghold, Labour heartland, I’ve voted.
So, all that said, I’m feeling particularly annoyed that by a quirk of peculiarly-drawn boundary lines I live in the Buckingham constituency of the current House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow. The fact that I’ve only been to Buckingham twice, and I actually live half-way between David Lidington’s seat and Boris Johnson’s former seat, now occupied by John Howell, makes very little difference to any preference I might care to exercise. The land around here is as blue as the grass is green. My single vote is a drop in an ocean – whether it’s for or against the Tory tidal wave engulfs it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to exercise my democratic rights on election day. I like to think that as well as being counted my ballot paper is examined and the party I choose knows where my loyalties lie regardless of whether or not their candidate is returned.
Real choice, however, is something not offered to the electorate of the Speaker’s constituency. Traditionally, thanks to an age-old courtesy, the three main parties don’t contest the Speaker’s seat. This year, though, the ballot paper will have insults and injury to choose from besides my non-choice sitting MP. The UK Independence Party, the British National Party and a couple of independents are planning to stand against John Bercow. As the off-white product of very mixed British, European, Middle-Eastern and Asian heritage, born in Norwich and brought up in Norfolk, (apart from an overseas spell when my father was in the forces) I consider myself British – latterly, since devolution, English-ish. If I’d won anything while representing my country in a sporting event I would have been proud, I’d have blubbed loudly. I DO blub loudly, if ever that rare thing, a British athlete who wins, stands a-top a podium watching the Union flag being hoisted and listening to our rather un-nationalistic National Anthem being played. But I dream and digress.
What does this mean for me as a voter then? Well, I’m not about to reveal my political preferences here, but as you might guess, I’m not going to waste my vote on the xenophobic BNP or the ranting Nigel (I stab people in the front) Farage either, though I reckon I’m as British (I can trace that part of my line here back to the 12th century) as any latter-day ancestor of the Romans, Vikings or Saxons (for which read Italians, Scandinavians and Germans), who settled on this island centuries ago. I consider anyone less white and less recently settled in the same light, no matter where they’ve come from.
I’m resigned to thinking that for as long as John Bercow (who, as it happens, is a very diligent MP with a strong attendance record and cross-party support) is Speaker, my vote counts for nothing unless proportional representation comes into being or the Speaker’s constituency is automatically re-represented by another MP as soon as his appointment is made. I feel dis-empowered and disenfranchised. I might as well be living in 1910 as 2010.
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