As the smoke lifts from the battlefield and the carnage reveals itself , our thoughts turn to those that fell, those that survived, why it all happened in the first place and how we can avoid it all happening again. Thus it is in war and thus it was in the local elections. The bravest fell and the requiem bell rang mournfully loud and clear. But did it? There were 707 spoilt ballot papers across Sedgemoor. 23 of them in Westover. But actually I had a majority of 224 so why should I care about the 23 . But I do and so it’s worth looking into. Why did 23 people out of 4072 feel they were sending a message by spoiling their ballot paper and why did the 1704 people, who did go out to vote in Westover (and were the ones who chose their councillors) realise that spoiling your paper was as pointless as it was failing to understand the fragile democracy that we have and that generations had fought for. I bet the people that spoilt their ballot papers when Hitler got voted in back in 1933 were kicking themselves shortly afterwards. When they weren’t being kicked by the Gestapo that is..
I Didn’t Fight 2 World Wars!
Which is a fact. I didn’t. But my dad did and his dad before him. My dad had been on aircraft carriers on Arctic Convoys, my gran’s 2 twin brothers had been killed at Tobruk, his brother had been a Japanese prisoner of war and died shortly after returning and my grandad lost a finger landing a tank on the D-Day beaches. Therefore on balance these wars were bad things.
The Bravest Fell
So it was strange when I was campaigning in Victoria ward one day that an irate elderly man claiming to be an ex trades unionist stormed out of his house waving an election leaflet that we’d had the audacity to put through his door to inform him of our plans for the local elections. “I didn’t fight 2 world wars!” he helpfully informed us. After a lengthy rant about ‘lack of democracy’ and there being ‘no one worth voting for’ he said he wanted to get out of the European Union because ‘the French had run away in world war 1 and he’d had relatives killed because of it’. This was a strange position to base your philosophy on, particularly as in world war 1 the French had lost one and a half million soldiers doing the exact opposite of what he claimed – not retreating at all, and fighting and dying alongside British soldiers, which we remember every November. But maybe some people don’t.
Now, you can try to reason with people, but the angrier they are the less reasoning gets done. Turns out the guy was ex-army and had served in Northern Ireland. He said. ‘We don’t want to go back to the days of conflict and killings over there again do we?’ I offered. Apparently we did. ‘I’d shoot the lot of them’ He responded. A solution very reminiscent of my old dear mum’s “They should put them all on a big island and let them fight it out” policy for Ireland.
The Requiem Bell
So maybe he didn’t vote at all or maybe he was one of the 32 people in Victoria that DID go to vote but spoilt his ballot paper. We won’t know and we never will know. Because voting is secret and involves a cross not an explanation. It involves standing up and being counted by simply marking your existence with a cross. As the countless white crosses that now litter the fields of Flanders bear testament to.
In Victoria 32 people spoilt their ballot papers. Meanwhile the hardest working, and most experienced councillor in the whole of Sedgemoor, Mick Lerry, lost his Victoria seat by just 10 votes. But we don’t know why that happened, because when you vote it’s just votes that count, not spoils, not non attendees, and 10 people made the difference. In Dunwear South 7 people made the difference and let in a Tory , while 9 people had spoilt their papers. And in Fairfax a Tory won by just 1 vote. 27 people had spoilt their papers. Thank god it wasn’t just 1 person and they’d written their name on it….
Mournfully Loud and Clear
It was an odd election and stirred up by the media telling us it was all about ‘Brexit’ and ‘not delivering the referendum result’. But was it? Do we know that? The biggest winners of the election were parties that wanted to see Brexit stopped. People who wanted to punish the Tories for not delivering Brexit were spoiling papers or not voting and as a result candidates who were glad that the tories were losing were benefiting.
On election day I spent most of the time on a Polling station. The Town hall in fact. That symbol of popular local democracy. That building put there as the seat of power for peoples democratic ability to run their own town as they choose. By voting in people who they want to run their town. And I’ve stood on polling stations on election day for 30 years now but this was the first time I hadn’t been joined by anyone in a blue rosette. Were they afraid of something this time round? So, me and the Liberal were stood together most of the day. Mainly talking about Brexit as no one else seemed to want to mention it. And then around about 9.30 pm just before the polls were about to close, a rather smart chap with an erudite, maybe even ‘plummy’ voice approached us along with 2 companions and spoke very firmly but politely to us. “I’m rather disappointed you know, because I usually vote but this time I’m not. And I’m not voting because we HAD a vote, a referendum, and it wasn’t delivered. Now do you understand (his voice got firmer and his look more ‘serious’) Do you understand that? Oh, could I get you a coffee? No? Are you ok?”
Charming fellow of course. Local businessman. Probably won’t sell so many houses when the economy collapses after Brexit, well not to British people anyway. But he lived in North Petherton and he hadn’t voted. To punish the anti Brexit people. In North Petherton,in fact, there was one of the largest turnouts of the election with 38% and a massive increase in votes for the Libdems who won 2 seats there, the most ‘remain’ of ‘remain’ parties. Well done with your no vote there. Message understood.
Spoiling for a Fight
I’ve not personally ever seen so many spoilt ballot papers. But there’s a serious misunderstanding by some people about the value of this. When I first stood for election there was 1 spoilt ballot paper. Someone had clearly written ‘A for Anarchy’ signs next to every candidate. It was obviously my friend Taffy who told me he would be doing it when he went in to vote. Anarchy was not the outcome. A Tory being elected was. But this time round people weren’t just crossing out all the candidates or writing ‘none of the above’ or ‘Brexit’ or ‘No Brexit’ some were writing essays on why they weren’t voting. One even had a PTO at the bottom and an essay continuing on the other side. But these people of the Facebook generation who seem to think that every malevolent or maudling midnight missive matters don’t seem to understand that an essay doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. A simple cross does. At the ‘count’,candidates and agents are invited to look at the Spoilt ballot papers so that we can agree they are in fact spoilt, but we don’t sit and read them and take the opinions into any account. Mainly they’re just described and agreed as ‘spoilt’. So spoiling your ballot paper by writing a nuanced argument about why you’re not voting on this occasion is no different to the several ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ (he’s not in jail) (sadly) scrawls or writing UKIP or BNP or Brexit Party on your ballot paper doesn’t mean they get a vote or magically appear on it.
If Mandela was alive today he’d be turning in his grave (presumably as he tried to get out…)
A free election is a precious thing. You should vote. But if you don’t, well that’s also ok, but don’t then blame others for going out and voting and getting the person of their choice elected.
In our system we have ‘first past the post’. 1 vote decides it. That vote could have been yours. Oddly, on May 23rd we’ll now have some European Elections. That system won’t be first past the post, it will be a more democratic ‘proportional representation’ system. So your vote for smaller parties will be as valuable as your vote for larger parties. Bloody EU eh! They come over here, enhancing our democracy.
Unlike the er, so called ‘Brexit Party’, a Party that isn’t really a party. It doesn’t have members, it doesn’t have policies –‘we’ll tell you them later’. It just has the smiling ad man face of Farage , the supreme leader with supreme powers, confidence tricking you into yet another blind alley. Where the terror will only get worse because at the end waiting will be…Ann Widdecombe.
A Lesson From History
You’d have thought people would have learned. There’s a lot of programmes on TV called ‘The Nazis, a lesson from history’. The lesson is meant to be that they’re bad.
When my dad returned from fighting fascism in world war 2 in 1945 he voted Labour. “We all did” He told me. He’d sailed the world from Murmansk to Malta to Mumbai, but after 1945 he never left Blighty again. In 79 he didn’t vote saying ‘they’re all the same’. They weren’t. Thatcher got in. He died in 1989 a year before I was elected for the first time and he was longing for the chance to vote Labour once again. But never got it.
Myself, Kath and Li want to thank all the voters of Westover that voted for us. And all the people who voted but not for us. Everyone who cast a vote understood that we do have a democracy here in this country and it was and is worth fighting for. People who said ‘I’m not voting this time because you don’t do what you say you will’ are just wrong. We did, we do and we will.