Thoughts on Polling Day

A British Polling StationIn many respects, this is a day like any other. The alarm clock’s intervention was still unwelcome at 5 AM. The descent from the bedroom to the kitchen was still bleary eyed and stumbling. The coffee tasted as it usually does: bitter but enlivening. The early morning broadcasts from the World Service were more interested in Nigeria than Britain. The view of the sunrise from the landing was moderated by the presence of a thick layer of clouds.

Yet for all the things which are symmetrical with the normal patterns of the week, there was a thought which ricocheted through my mind: “In 24 hours, we will know so much more.”

I had my breakfast and watched the news: the local bulletin featured a gold coin collection which is now on display in Fareham. The shower was altogether typical: the fresh scent of the shower gel, which had vaguely antiseptic aroma, hit my nostrils and I fully awoke. Afterwards, putting on my clothes and shoes was routine. I then threw on my backpack and walked along the quiet, deserted street to where my car was parked.

In 24 hours, we will know so much more. This area, which has suffered from an absence of politics, may get a fresh jolt of it: earlier this week, I recalled, I finally got a leaflet from our absent Conservative MP. I wasn’t going to vote for him anyway; his endemic neglect of this constituency was cement poured on top of the coffin rather than a final nail in the lid. It struck me as interesting that he suddenly felt the need to tell his constituents that they came first and that he was devoted to their interests. Quotes from constituent letters also featured in the leaflet, all of them praising our local MP to the skies: one went so far as to say he was the best Member of Parliament the country had. Such expressions of gratitude had an almost post-coital air: too much, too extreme, to be seen as anything other than a mark of desperation. I suspect he suddenly noticed that there was an election, and was now furiously leafletting to try and shore up his support.

Too late, I thought, as I reached the car. Or rather I hoped. In 24 hours, we will know so much more. It could be that his decent Liberal Democrat opponent will be surprised with a mandate, and will be left scrambling to assemble a team to help him in Westminster. I’ve been to the House of Commons several times, and visited the offices of several MPs. I recall Westminster’s narrow, winding staircases and halls, the Victorian gloom of parts of the building, and the occasionally spectacular views, particularly from the balcony outside the Commons bar. I was simultaneously impressed and terrified. The Liberal Democrat candidate is a local councillor and a former schoolteacher; how would he react, I wondered, to arriving at such a place? I remember being told that the Conservatives have a bar in the Commons which they like, and Labour MPs have one which they frequent: if the Liberal Democrats do as well as the polls suggest, will they get one of their own? And what about the three to four Green MPs I hope will arrive? The Commons has some aspects of an American college fraternity; would the “established” parties try to be funny and leave out some wheatgrass smoothies for their new, Green counterparts?

I found my car, got in, and started my drive to work, again, down narrow and deserted streets. Signs of life in my town are few and far between before 7 AM. I passed by the entrance to the County Hall, where I will go vote later. My polling card, I recalled, lay on the table in the living room. I had arranged everything so all I have no errands to do once my working day is done: I even stocked the fridge full of fine St. Peters beer. I set up a mini-fridge in the television room, which will hold some additional bottles. The ingredients for an organic turkey Hungarian goulash have been purchased. After I arrive back, I will set the goulash to simmer in a casserole dish, exercise, shower, change, go vote. Dinner will then be served, and I’ll take up my place for the night, specifically glued to the television and internet, as the sun finally descends.

As I proceeded to drive along the dual carriageway, I finally found other human beings: at that time in the morning, there are a fair number of lorries and white vans headed off towards the west. The lorry from Belgium ahead of me: did the driver know what was happening today, I wondered? Did he care? The white van belonging to the carpenter from Cosham: was he voting later, or was he part of the Great Apathetic? He probably had Radio 2 on in his car, I thought: his vehicle swayed back and forth in its lane slightly, as if moving to a beat. Tomorrow, I mused, our relationship with the lorry’s point of origin, what tax the carpenter will pay, and what will be the disposition of the government towards my workplace, my university, will be much clearer.

I was discomfited when 7 o’clock arrived and I didn’t hear the familiar, friendly voice of Rob Cowan on Radio 3, rather it was Sara Mohr-Pietsch. Usually, I take that as a sign of a bad week; my musical education has been expanded by Mr. Cowan’s casual tutelage: I can’t say the same for his substitute. No government would surely take away Radio 3, I comforted myself, but they could make its life more miserable, or worse, make it more commercial: tomorrow, we will have a better idea if a campaign to save Radio 3 will be required.

I arrived at work, parked, and stopped for a moment to listen to a piece by Strauss entitled “Wahlstimme” (which means “vote”). I realised at that moment, the doors to a thousand different and distant polling places had already swung open. In my mind’s eye, I could picture a small local school, a town hall, a grey government building of Sixties’ architecture, with lines of people of all types filing in to cast their ballots. No doubt, we will soon see images of David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg casting their ballots in their constituencies, smiling nervously for the cameras’ benefit. We may not know right now what kind of government we will have, but at least there is succour to be had in knowing that the machinery of democracy, the ballot paper, the cross against the name, the ballot box, the dedicated council workers who will be up late doing the count, are all in place. Now is the moment in which the nation simultaneously acts and holds its breath. Tomorrow, we’ll know. We will cope. We will carry on. Hopefully, we will also progress.

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