It seemed like exactly the right place to be on election day. Having seen the Democracy Village setting up after the May Day celebrations the previous weekend I was curious to see how far things had progressed, so, with a group of activist friends and my trusty camera, I went to have a look around. Here are some of my favourite pictures of the day….
They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.
Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.
It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.
So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.
In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).
And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!
I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.
Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.
Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a great fan of politicians generally. However, there are the odd one or two who somehow manage, against all the odds, to stick to their principles and hold firm in the face of our deluded political system, and it is they who have my respect and (in some cases) even grudging admiration.
Michael Foot, whose death at the age of 96 was announced today, was one such who fell into that latter category. A left-wing politician of the old school, who – unlike today’s rabble – was an idealist and a principled man, Foot was one of those rare politicians who did genuinely manage to stick to those principles, right until the end of his long and eventful life.
Like a lot of Labour politicians and commentators of his generation, Foot came from a relatively privileged background. Born into a Liberal and non-conformist family at Plymouth in July 1913, politics were almost a part of his genetic make up; his father was twice elected MP for a Cornish constituency, his three brothers were all involved in Liberal politics, and Foot himself became a Socialist during his time studying at Oxford.
The importance of those Socialist beliefs were forcefully brought home to him after his graduation when he spent some time working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool; an experience which exposed him to the realities of contemporary poverty and the social inequalities that were part of many ordinary people’s everyday lives. It was here, in 1934, that he joined the Labour Party and determined he would stand for Parliament.
Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.
I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.
Cynicism comes naturally after that.
2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking – although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.
This evening, while faffing about on the UK Parliament website looking for something I couldn’t actually find, I came across this.
In its entirety, ‘this’ is actually a snappily-titled document which goes by the name of The Code of Conduct Approved by The House of Commons on 13 July 2005 together with The Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members Approved by The House of Commons on 9 February 2009.
Basically, this is school rules for MPs. And, as we know, they have a tendency not to follow those.
I can assure you, if you have never encountered this document before, that it’s a truly thrilling read (not) – in fact, it should probably be prescribed on the NHS as a cure for insomnia. However you can, should you so desire after all that, download it here.
This particular passage, which comes from section IV (General Principles of Conduct), immediately jumped out at me for obvious reasons. I reproduce it here without comment, mostly because I don’t think it needs any:
“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot. But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes, and I know that, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught. He can be killed and forgotten. But four hundred years later an idea can still change the world.” – Evey Hammond, ‘V For Vendetta’
So what is Bonfire Night all about then? Guy Fawkes has been described as the only man ever to have entered Parliament with honest intentions, but why did he do what he did? And what exactly was it he actually did in the first place?
England in 1605 was a confused and confusing place to live. During the previous eighty-odd years, the official religious denomination of the country had switched from Catholic to Protestant and back again, several times, after Henry VIII had broken with the Catholic church in the 1520s in an attempt to gain a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Throughout this period, those whose religious beliefs had been swept aside by the multiple switches between denominations plotted to return the country to what they believed was the ‘true faith’, mostly with little success. Henry’s eldest daughter, the Catholic Queen Mary had renegade Protestants burned at the stake, and her fiercely Protestant half-sister Elizabeth I was happy to execute Catholic plotters, including the unfortunate and not very bright Mary, Queen of Scots.
With the death of Elizabeth in 1603, the throne went to Mary, Queen of Scots’ son, the Protestant James I. Despite his Protestantism, British Catholics fervently hoped that James, unlike his predecessor, would introduce official and legal toleration of their faith, and at first it seemed as if the persecution they had suffered under Elizabeth would indeed finally end.