With My Two Votes I Knew I Had A Winner (4 May 1973)
In this year’s county council elections I voted for a winning candidate. So rare has that experience been for me all my voting life that if you, dear reader, are working for a particular candidate in any kind of public election the best thing you can do is to persuade me to vote for the other side.
But that is not all. Believe it or not, I also voted for a Conservative and a Socialist on the same piece of paper.
You may well ask how that came about. I will tell you. It was because of my principles.
You see, before nearly every election of the past quarter of a century I have written a short piece exhorting all electors to use their votes as a democratic duty and I have privately practised what I have publicly preached, come what might.
ONLY THREE CANDIDATES
On this occasion I found that for the first time in my life I had two votes to use. But there were only three candidates, two Socialists and one Conservative. So, with my principles I could hardly help being on at least one winner, could I?
But this should not be taken to imply that if there had been four candidates, say two of each party, I would have voted differently. For one thing, I am the most buoyant of floating voters. For another, my years of recording the ways of Bucks County Council have shown me that a member’s face has to become known there before he can get on a sufficient number of the all-important committees. I was simply willing to let my men cancel each other out on some matters for the sake of getting on with local jobs of which both probably approved.
Elections and politics are difficult for young reporters – and my own experience goes back to the election of the first Labour government. At election times you go to the meetings of say, the candidates of three parties, sometimes all on the same day, and you do your best for them all. But unless you have some fixed pre-disposition your very proximity to all sides puts you in a quandary about your own vote.
To give myself some sort of clue I read all the books from Machiavelli onwards. They included Shaw’s Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and somebody else’s Socialist Woman’s Guide to Intelligence. They also included Das Kapital by Big Whiskers Marx himself – his bones should be presented to Russia with love – and even Hitler’s Mein Kampf when he came on to blot the scene.
It was all very interesting, but it got me nowhere as far as a political conviction was concerned. The only idea I did get was that it was nice to live where I could read them all, as Marx could – here.
Sometimes, of course, politicians change sides, but I don’t blame any of them for any of their shifts. How can I when my own vote goes here and there like a yo-yo? Actually, I am seeking a party that is socialistic at home, conservative abroad, and mostly Little Englander and there just ain’t one.
ASK FOR A COVER
Later in your reporting life, when some political big-wig come to town, some national news agency for newspaper will ask for a cover “if he says anything new”. As likely as not, the big-wig himself will hand you a copy of what he considers his most important point or points. Then, as likely as not, he doesn’t stick to his text on the platform. Again, you can only do your best with what he actually says. The stuff that is not on the paper often seems to you better than the stuff that is.
Still later, when you are a veteran of elections, party meetings and misnamed press conferences – misnamed because nobody does confer at any kind of press conference – some candidate or agent you know particularly well will take you aside and ask you privately “as a man who has his ears to the ground” how you think the tide is running or the cat jumping.
Don’t do it, ladies and gentlemen. Ears to the ground or not, I for one have never been able to say for certain.
Only once have I been sure of the outcome of a general election and I was not then a reporter. I was in the army and the election was the one at the end of the war. Everybody agreed that the forces’ vote would be decisive and in my camp of at least a thousand men I had no doubt about its overwhelming direction.
I remember that I aroused all kinds of facetious comments by remarking that on the strength of candidates’ literature which I had received I would be voting Liberal – and for an Independent Liberal at that. I must have been the only one.
I think it was in that election that the publicity department of the Conservative Party cooked their own goose. Their main poster showed a popular picture of Churchill (on a Union Jack background?) and carried the slogan, “He won the war; now let him win the peace” or words to that effect. No doubt this seemed fine and dandy to the perpetrators, but any AB, corporal or LAC could have told them it would be a non-starter where the decisive voting strength was supposed to lie.
But then, the chefs of all political parties do sometimes cook their own geese – and often to the benefit of you and I below the salt.