Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Leap of Faith

Last Friday my faith in atheism was renewed by a hilarious Eddie Izzard at the Admiral Palast in Berlin. By the end of the evening, God was a scuba diving, spliff smoking being, with a high pitched voice, speaking a foreign language, and moving, as always, in such mysterious ways, that he was never bloody there when we needed Him.

But there was a serious message behind it.  Eddie Izzard doesn't place faith in a higher beings to solve problems on Earth but has faith, apparently, in politics, even in the Labour party, which I find equally hard to believe in. Apparently in 1998, he was one of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour party. His plan is to run for Mayor of London by 2020, and I just hope he can convince the likes of me to have faith in politics again. If there is anyone who can do that, then he can.

As a sixteen year old teenager I was political. At sixth form I was studying Government and Politics A level. Our school had combined with a boys grammar, and our class reflected the politics of the time - i.e. a difference between the parties in dress and outlook. I was in the group of lefties, scruffy, doc martins and torn jeans, and the grammar school boys were Conservative and wore ties and shirts and, yes, wore smug expressions. We learnt about why Labour had lost the previous election in 1983; about Michael Foot and his "soapbox" campaign for the 1983 general election. Badly dressed and unable or unwilling to harness television or other media, Foot was blamed for the landslide defeat by the Conservatives. He was no match for the election campaign masterminded for the Conservative government by PR firm Saatchi and Saatchi.

When our teacher (purely non-partisan of course) asked us to help get the voters out for the Labour Party for the election in 1986, I willingly agreed. My spotty teenage face was practically glowing with idealism as I went door to door waking up old biddies to get them out to vote. It was the first time I could vote and couldn't comprehend anyone not exercising this right.

In my 20s, I went on marches, went to Red Wedge gigs, joined some animal protection groups. I wanted change. I had lived under the Conservatives from the age of 9 and a Labour victory seemed like a faraway dream.

In 1997 I was living in London, had finished college and was looking for a job. Some friends of mine were working for the Labour Party Headquarters telephone canvassing votes. It was a huge operation. Our job was to target marginal seats by phoning up thousands of constituents in order to persuade them to vote tactically, i.e.  Liberal voters were asked to vote Labour in order to win against a strong Conservative candidate. Some people didn't budge, some people didn't even vote, which I could not believe but I persuaded a fair few to change their votes to Labour.

The build up to the election was incredible. Although my clothes were still rather shabby, the Labour party ranks were wearing smart suits and ties. Our office was even graced by the spin master himself, Peter Mandelson. Even I could see that the days of Michael Foot's shabby duffle coat had long gone. United, optimistic and, above all, photogenic, here was New Labour.

New Labour lost no time in tapping into the cool Britannia music scene. Despite choosing a pretty duff record, "Things can only get better" by D'ream, their election success was assured.
Even us minions were allowed to attend the election party at the Royal Festival Hall. We cheered and jeered as Tory after Tory lost their seats, like Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind. I remember Jon Snow remarking how many young people had been at the celebration. This didn't however reflect the young outlook of a young Prime Minister of only 43 years. It was in fact the droves of youngsters like me who had been drafted in to phone up half the population of Great Britain in the run up to the election.  Our campaign had been an invisible one behind closed doors. We were not preaching values from the soapbox, but sitting in tiny little cubicles in London phoning far flung places in the UK we had never even heard of and trying to tip the figures.

The party didn't last long. Although the New Labour party seemed cool at the time, harnessing Britpop to polish off their image, the shine soon faded as the reality set in. They didn't look that different from Tories now, and they wouldn't act that differently either.

In my 30s I had now moved to Berlin in Germany.  The 2001 election came along and I tried to vote.  I thought I would wait to register my vote until Tony Blair called the general election. This turned out to be a mistake that would disenfranchise me the first time. Because Blair had called it so close to the election date I was told that I wouldn't have time to register and therefore was now unable to vote.

My next political act was in 2003 just before Tony Blair took the decision to support America in the invasion of Iraq. I posted a letter addressed "to the right Dishonerable Tony Blair" telling him that I would never vote for the Labour party again if he invaded Iraq without a UN mandate. History tells us he ignored my heady threat.

By the time the next election came around I made sure to register early. But by this time my attitude to voting was not so steadfast. I now had more sympathy with the people I had canvassed  in 1997 who didn't vote at all saying that the politicians were all the same. I wasn't sure any more who I should vote for. I thought of all the people who I have asked to change their vote tactically, and now wished they had stuck to their guns. But at the same time, I knew the Tories were not any alternative. Perhaps I could vote Green, or Monster Raving (RIP).

Anyway, I needn't have worried. I cannot vote in the UK anymore. As it had been 15 years since I  was registered to vote as a resident of the UK, I was no longer allowed to vote. The strange thing is that I am also not allowed to vote in a general election in Germany, where I now live, either.

So I am now disenfranchised from any electoral system.

When you think of disenfranchised peoples, you don't really think about persons who live in the European Union, but there we are. I find this strange as I know that my Spanish friends can vote in Spain although they don't live there. I wonder if the UK is the only country to have this rule?

So, if Eddie Izzard goes into politics, as a self professed British European I hope that he can help the cases of people like me who cannot vote at all. And, yes, I have learned another European language but do not necessarily want to change my nationality to German in order to vote. And if Eddie Izzard runs for London Mayor in 2020? Well, that sounds like a good reason to repatriate and get back my vote.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog -I had no idea you were so politically active