Phew! Made it! Just in time, mind. And not without a rather costly rearrangement of the flights back from the Far East, I might add. And a holiday cut short as a result of a lamentable slip of the memory. But all worth it, in the end. Like you, I suspect, I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d missed the chance to vote in this week’s crucial local government elections.
As with most people, rarely a day goes by without my pondering what, exactly, is the best formula for calculating the amount which should be raised through rates, or the council charge, or council tax, for provision of our local services. Is my particular district eligible for a Rate Support Grant? Do they still have the Rate Support Grant? What, exactly, was the Rate Support Grant in the first place?
And then there’s the Issues. In my book, one can never have enough lesbian outreach workers. Some day I hope one will outreach to me. Believe me, there are times, at the end of a long day, when everybody needs a lesbian outreach worker. And support centres – more, come on, give us more. I don’t care who they’re supporting. Just bring them on. I feel more secure, sitting at home wreathed in worry, knowing that everybody but me has a support centre to which they can turn when life gets a bit trying.
Democracy: it makes me feel fulfilled and vibrant as a human being. And we have so much more of it now. Parish, district, county-council elections. Regional assemblies, the wonderful European Parliament, national assemblies if you’re lucky enough to be Welsh, Scottish or from Ulster. And there are all those single-issue councils you can vote for, too. I think it was Norman Mailer who said that for men of a certain age, litigation replaces sex. Unless he was just talking about men in the USA, he was wrong. In Britain, for men of a certain age, voting replaces sex. Like sex, it’s an affirmative act traditionally carried out in private. But less messy. And, frankly, just as quick.
Trouble is, this week, I didn’t know who to vote for. The various choices were so tempting it seemed churlish not to vote, in the end, for everybody. It’s a good job I don’t live on the northern side of the county of Wiltshire, in Calne, where there was, for the first time, an even greater array of political talent on offer. The BNP put up a candidate in Calne. There are next to no black or Asian people in Calne. Maybe the chap thought he was standing in Colne, in Lancashire – who knows? However, there’s at least one Asian doctor in the town. Maybe he voted BNP. It’s entirely possible, because the BNP candidate is the manager of his GP practice. That should make for an interesting working relationship. Meanwhile, nobody else in the town seemed to know who the BNP were, or what they stood for. A friend of mine ‘vox popped’ them, the locals. They weren’t voting BNP, they said. They weren’t voting at all. What elections? they asked.
There’s a large Green party poster in my window. I’m not sure why. I think it’s more a conversation piece than a statement of intent. I have voted Green before, though, several times. But I am only able to do so if I avoid absolutely seeing any of the party’s campaign literature and manifesto pledges or hearing its main spokesmen. Or, indeed, seeing them. The thing is, the idea of the Green party is rather more compelling than the Green party itself.
I am not alone in this analysis. Fourteen years ago nobody knew very much about the Green party and, as a result, it managed to poll an extraordinary 19 per cent of the national vote. Admittedly, this was in elections to the European Parliament – but the turnout was no lower then than it was this Thursday, for example. In 1989, people voted for what they thought the Green party might be and then, when they found out what it really was, stopped voting for it.
That’s a great shame because there’s really no ideological reason why the Green party should not be everything that people expect it to be. But the Greens have gone down a strange path. They will point to their considerable successes in central London and tell you they’ve got it right. Their pitch, in London, is to the comparatively affluent, peacenik and impeccably metropolitan Left who feel estranged by New Labour. But their real success, back in 1989, came from filching Tory votes in semi-rural or rural areas. It was seen then – wrongly, as it happened – as a ‘conservationist’ party. But a conservationist party, without the wacko leftist baggage, is what it should be.
There is quiet fury in the shires at John Prescott’s plan to pave the entire southern half of the country and turn it into a sort of patio, with bits of decking, for London. And yet there seems to be little party-political controversy about it at all. Opposing Prescott with an absolutist determination is a guaranteed vote-winner in the shires. No more new-builds on greenfield sites; no building on green-belt land. No loosening of planning restrictions. That strikes me as a fundamentally ‘green’ policy, and an extremely popular one, too. But it is not at the top of the Green party’s agenda.
Greens seem a little sniffy about the notion of conserving our countryside and our heritage; they are also wary of addressing the most pressing environmental problem that faces us, nationally and internationally – over-population. This is purely a result of political correctness; it is impoverished African, Asian and Latin American countries where the population is escalating most rapidly, but the Greens would prefer to continue complaining about debt relief and the iniquities of multinational corporations – the unchallengeable shibboleth being that poverty in the Third World is always ‘our’ fault, not ‘theirs’.
There was a split within the party in the mid-1990s. Green party members of a rightish frame of mind departed, dismayed at the direction the party seemed to be taking. With them went the party’s best chance of broader electoral success, I suspect. The Greens win votes now almost exclusively in our cities.
Perhaps the Conservative party could step into the breach. Lord Tebbit was quoted in the Guardian this week asserting that the Tories could do worse than adopt a few green policies. He’s right about that, assuming that the lower-case ‘g’ was intentional. It’s a very long time since I voted Conservative – but a Conservative party which did what its name implied might suddenly become an attractive proposition. And worth cutting short a holiday to vote for.
Rod Liddle is associate editor of The Spectator.