May 6th, Red fly the banners oh

April 6, 2010

The first General Election that I remember is in 1964 when I was the Labour Party candidate in the mock election at Ysgol Bryn Coch. It was my primary school and I remember the first year in the old school in its Glanrafon Road site before we moved to a modern building in Bryn Coch Lane. The original building was a Victorian building with separate entrances for Girls and Boys and an outside toilet for the boys that stank even in winter. The new one was more progressive although the playground had a yellow line drawn down the centre – Girls and infants on one side; boys on the other. That building is now the welsh speaking primary school, and my Bryn Coch is now located in the buildings of the old Mold Grammar School where I spent seven years of my life. OK, you are not interested in the micro-geography of educational establishments in Mold so back to elections.

OK so back in 1964 I am ten going on eleven and I have to deliver an election address to the assembled school along with local dignitaries. My mother was secretary of the local Labour Party and a member of the local Councilor so I had an inside track to relevant data. Aside from being the narrator three years running at the school nativity play this was my first public speech and I took it seriously. I guessed that my opponents would play a fictional game of promising no homework, free sweets and the like, but I played it seriously. The dustbin men (now known as sanitation officers or similar) regarded my mother as one of us, a considerable achievement for a woman in those days. When they heard I was standing they campaigned for me around the town and on the day I won with a clear majority. That was the start of long career of political campaigning. In that election I sat in the Labour Party Committee rooms most evenings hand addressing enveloppes from the electoral register and filling them with election material. On the day I cycled at high speed backwards and forwards from the polling stations to the committee room so that the registers could be marked up with those who had voted and the knockers up dispatched to pull out the vote.

Over the years I graduated to standing outside the polling booths taking numbers, then to canvassing in Lancaster, Bristol and St Albans before being agent for my ward in St Albans. I still remember the depression which set in following Thatcher’s reelection and the feeling of despair in working class areas that followed. I can still see the tears in the eyes of a steel worker from Shotton, knowing that the result of the election would result in loss of any hope of employment for him or his family disappearing. I think before that, while I had been excited by politics and I had not fully appreciated just how much it mattered. Not only on domestic issues, we had the war in Vietnam to protest, but in part due to that Labour victory in 1964 we were not involved. The rise of the National Front (the UK fascist party), in modern days manifesting as British Nationalists (giving both Britain and Nationalism a bad name in the process). Abortion rights (that one split the progressive left at University). Student Grants (these days my children would die for even a quarter of what we got back in the 70s). Housing issues following Cathy Come Home. There are many others, but the point I am making is that politics up to the 80s was an ideological conflict fought on principles. As Thatcher transmogrified into Blair, expediency and popularism started to win out over principle and now everything is a fight for the middle ground.

I was thinking about this earlier today in the context of a debate over the article on the Labour Party on Wikipedia. Is the Labour Party a democratic socialist party or neoliberal? Not an easy question to resolve and its still ongoing. One thought sent me to my history books and a general conclusion. The British political system normally sees a realignment of parties every few decades, but we have seen none since the end of the War. In effect there is a strong argument for a centrist party with members from all three mainline ones, and a new right wing party matched by a genuinely socialist one. Apologies to American readers here, your political spectrum is largely contained with the British Conservative Party. Also without ideology what is there to stir up passions? I don’t see my children’s’ generation engaged yet. OK daughter has now carried out her first occupation and fought against victimisation by University Authorities (I’m really proud of her for that, it got me expelled!). I thought this generation’s campaign would be the environment as ours was justice, but I see no great evidence, even thought the consequences are massive.

So to this election. Well I really wish we had STV then I could vote Green and then proceed to the candidate with the best chance of unseating the Tories. If I was still living in Wales I could vote with my party affiliation of Plaid Cymru. I gave up my membership of the Labour Party over a decade ago in disgust at Blair et al, but also because I was increasingly convinced that small countries (Wales, Scotland, Cataolonia etc.) within a wider economic union (the EC) would bring social services closer to the people and allow greater cultural cohesion. However I am living on foreign soil so I don’t have that choice available. GIven that I live in one of the safest Tory seats (they don’t count votes here they just weigh them) in England I may just vote Green to make a point. If I was in a marginal I would vote tactically Labour or Liberal Democrat. I haven’t campaigned for a decade now, maybe its time to get our on the doorstep again. Whatever, expect more political blogs over the next few weeks.

Oh and the headline; in the good old days we used to sing Red Fly the Banners High to the tune of Green Grow the Rushes Oh, the verses changed according to your political tendency. In one version 13 stood for the holes in Trotsky’s head. These days I doubt if anyone knows the difference between socialism, communism and trotskyism. Depressing really

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