I had my first live political encounter for years the other day. It was, on almost every level, deeply unsatisfactory; for that, I have to take my share of the blame.
It was all so typically Middle England; I saw that the local Conservative party had set up a stall in the High Street and were approaching passers by. As a (dare I say) smartly dressed middle- aged woman, I must have looked like ideal material for the pleasant lady who approached me, asking if I had a couple of minutes. When I agreed, she told me that it was on behalf of the new parliamentary candidate for 2015.
I could barely conceal my zeal to wear my heart on my sleeve- a perennial failing of mine, " I don't think she would like my answers", I said, politely.
"She is local," the nice lady added.
"Very commendable" I replied, " but it will be a cold day in Hell before I vote for her".
"Perhaps I won't waste your time", the nice lady said; and we both smiled as I scuttled off, with a self-congratulatory air.
Who "won" that encounter? Well, on reflection, it was clear that it was, at best, a 0-0 draw for me. I had missed an opportunity to air my views, by an early declaration of intent. The nice lady had also decided that the contrary viewpoint, no matter how politely expressed, was not going to serve her purpose either. All deeply unsatisfying, but so typical of what accounts for political discourse in this country, a complete unwillingness to hear anything that differs from our own viewpoint.
To be fair to the local Tory party, defending a majority of 18,227 means that they have no need whatsoever to be on the High Street, so at least they bothered. It also means that, whoever I vote for in 2015- and I haven't decided yet, will be a largely academic exercise, as it will be in so many constituencies around the country. The only constituencies that the hitherto "Big Two" parties will be interested in, will be those marginals that will decide which colour predominates in Westminster over the next 5 years- even allowing for the flurry of panic around the rise of Ukip.
No matter how deep-rooted my disdain for the Tories is, the Labour Party, with its steadfast adhesion to the electoral status quo, continues to let the electorate down. Just to complete the set of main political parties, the LibDems blew a golden opportunity to press for real electoral reform when they became so starry- eyed at finally, and so ultimately without positive result, grabbing what they thought was real power. Is it really any wonder that UKIP has caught a mood, tapping into our growing dislike for this Westminster members club?
I, and so many other voters- well, those who will even bother to register theirs, continue to be let down by this ludicrous political regime, one that perpetuates the anachronism that is the constituency system. Mine, since 1554, apart from a brief flirtation with Whigs and Liberals, has been solid Tory/Conservative. As a believer in democracy, I am more than willing to accept the majority decision, but not when so many of us- whatever our political persuasions, are less equal than others, by dint of location. I have yet to hear a cogent argument against proportional representation, relying, as the preservationists do, on the hackneyed argument that PR just results in coalitions, and allows the extreme right and left a voice? So what if it does? If that is what the electorate wants? For me, I would rather see them, above the parapet, in Westminster, where we can all see them, and perhaps they can contribute usefully anyway.
I have not had the opportunity to make my vote actually count since 1983, when I last actively campaigned for the much maligned Michael Foot, and considerably less enthusiastically for the Labour candidate, parachuted in as he was, from Lewisham to Birmingham Yardley. Since then, I have lived in safe seats, dutifully voting for the party I favoured, with no chance that the vote would actually count. There are millions like me, yet we continue to allow this antiquated system to continue. Why? I might not agree with UKIP, but I become Voltaire in "...defending their right..." etc.
I am left with the distasteful prospect of hoping that Labour, a party that shares many of my principles, but whose increasingly, market-driven mantra, I find hard to take, forms the next government, simply because, five more years of Tory rule will see us occupy a barren wasteland for the disadvantaged that will make the Thatcher years seem positively Utopian. If you disagree with my views, you can rest easy in the knowledge that I will have absolutely no say. Who cares about that? Not the Tories or Labour, or even the nice Tory lady, that's for sure.