Thursday, May 19, 2011

Polling Day 2011 - Part 2

So, my intention was to be in the UK to continue my Quixotic relationship with the electoral system.

Imagine my delight when I arrive ten days before the election and call the electoral services office at Brighton and Hove council  to discover I am not on the electoral register. Of course with only ten days to go it was too late to get on the damn thing and I was resigned to the unusual prospect of not voting for a lost cause.

Having booked my return ferry for first thing on the day of the election I packed up my possessions from Pete’s spare room and took them to the car.  On the way I tripped over a polling card made out to my old address and forwarded by the Post Office with indecent lack of respect for my time management plan.

The ferry was due to due to depart at a time that meant that I could just make it if I voted at the crack of opening time and went straight to the port. 

I arrived at the Hanover Community Centre at five to seven to find the officials putting up the signage. It seems they have to put up two ‘Polling Station’ signs. One was tied reasonably securely to the litter bin out side the door.

The other proved more difficult. The Hanover centre has been used as a polling station since God was a nipper but they still have not successfully addressed the problem of tying a hefty hardboard sign to a brick wall with very thin string. And when I arrived two of them were doing that thing that you know will not work.

It was like a fly banging its head against a window and wondering why it cannot get closer to the sun. Or trying to Sellotape a sausage to an iceberg in a gale. They kept holding the sign against the notice board and waving the string at it and looking surprised when the sign fell to the pavement. A quick rummage in the back of the car produced a roll of gaffa tape and I offered to put them out of their misery. Of course I had an ulterior motive, I wanted them to open the polling station, not fight gravity with string.

Gaffa 1 - String 0
According to my new Timex watch (£24.99 from Argos with a strap made of biltong) and to their credit they opened a couple of minutes early and I wondered if my vote would be void if stuffed in the box before 7am… But this was not to be a problem.I went into the hall I know so well but which was temporarily taken over by The State.

A-M of the left N-Z on the right
I was asked which street I lived in and showed my polling card which said ‘Holland Street’ and was directed to the A to M table.

I was not on the list. My number was not on the list. Holland street was on the list but No 42 was not. They looked at my card:

Polling card with Post Office redirection label

“Ahh…” said The Official. “You live in Surrenden Crescent…” I pointed out that  the Surrenden Cresent address was a Post Office forwarding label, and that the card was for Holland Street.

I pointed out that I was Homeless and maybe they had a special section for Homeless People. They looked at the list. I looked at the list. There was no Homeless Section.

They started looking things up in the book of rules and I took a photo and was told I could not take photos, sorry… 

So I wandered around looking at things and thinking about ferries – and taking photos surreptitiously.
Well, I had to get a picture of ‘Shaws ballot paper compactor’.

Shaws Ballot Compactor

This essential piece of equipment is only £4.65 +VAT from:

Shaws also sell free standing Polling Station signs which could have saved them a lot of trouble and me a lot of gaffa tape. Any way after much phoning and intense debate it turned out that we Homeless People have a special section on the list. 

Much phoning and looking up rules...
But it is at the end of the N to Z list. If only I had persevered, I would be on my way by now.  

It may be a minor point and one which is only relevant every couple of years but once again the homeless, who already have a hard enough time, are treated differently and have to fight that bit harder.

Meanwhile, in the privacy of the polling booth I photographed everything I could – which was not much - for no better reason than the secrecy of the polling booth is sacrosanct. There is a suspicious barcode on the referendum ballot paper. Fortunately I have a bar code reader. This is what it said:
Moderb technology. Don'tcha just love it?
I put the crosses in the appropriate boxes...

...and in a spirit of rebellion stuffed my ballot papers which I had collected from the N-Z table into the A-M box. I mentioned this to the Official and was mildly surprised to see a look of concern cross her face – for an instant she looked really worried. Ha! I thought, another blow against the establishment.
Of course we lost the Referendum, but the Greens are now the biggest group on the council and were only one member short of a majority.

Must try harder - democracy is not as easy as it sounds.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Polling Day 2011 - Part 1

I spend half my time in England and half in France. Unlike Tricia I have not jumped ship and gone native. I maintain stronger links with the UK which includes paying taxes and remaining signed-up with the NHS. Under the doctrine of ‘no taxation without representation’ I want to stay on the electoral register so that I can vote in general and local elections as well as referendums.

In days gone by only land owners could vote, indeed one still needs an address and I have several. I have half shares in a chicken ranch in France, a similar arrangement on a house in Brighton which is let out to pay for the chicken ranch and a garage in Hove where I keep stuff that I need for work. I also have some wonderful friends whose hospitality I abuse with regularity, sometimes for extended periods. Pete Leopard also allows me to use his home as an accommodation address for my mail. When it comes to a place to lay my head, keep possessions and pay my taxes from I am spoiled for choice.

However because I do not pay council tax or have a rent book, the electoral system only has one category which will allow me to remain on the electoral register, and that is ‘homeless’. The official term is voting under a ‘declaration of local connection’ and is for people voting in an area where they are not resident. It covers a number of situations but the form used to apply for such consideration is referred to by the bureaucrats as a ‘homeless’ form - because that is what it says at the top:

At some level most people living in England are aware of ‘the homeless’. These are the lumpen proletariat  who rattle plastic cups outside the supermarket, the drinkers on park benches, the bundles of rags huddled in doorways and living under flyovers. Some of them may not be technically homeless but they certainly have the shitty end of the stick. To be included among them as a technicality is an interesting position and while it is nothing like actually being homeless, it has given me a new perspective.

On one hand I distinguish myself from those with no home by being very comfortably off, doing  a job I (for the most part) enjoy and am paid for, having family and friends and an abundance of sticks that have never experienced excrement at either end. On the other hand every time I have to deal with the electoral system I have to describe myself as homeless and for a few seconds I am treated as ‘homeless’. It does only last for the time it takes me to explain my situation and then I am treated as ‘normal’.

In 1969 the age of majority was reduced from 21 and I was one of the first people to vote at 18. I was politically ignorant and the political debate, carried out interminably on the Home Service which was a permanent fixture in our kitchen, seemed unfathomable. I knew I did not like the Tories, but that was easy.  The Prime Minister, Harold Wilson (who lived in our street) behaved like an arrogant jerk and I found his behaviour very unpleasant.  The other grey men of the Labour Party were equally uninspiring. For example Tony Benn, one of the few politicians who has proved to have any  integrity, was Postmaster General and had just closed down the pirate radio stations.  To add insult to injury he also imposed Radio One on us. (You had to be there to truly appreciate the banality of the main stream DJs) and at the time I hated the man.

This only left the Liberals. And they had one policy which appealed to me – proportional representation. As a very politically immature 18 year old, it was the only political issue that really registered with me. So for the first time I voted for a lost cause. When I came out of the polling station I was interviewed by BBC World Service who were doing a report on the reduced age of majority. Over 40 years later I am still embarrassed by the inarticulacy of my responses to the interviewers questions, which boiled down to the idea that all politicians are much the same and could not be trusted. Of course a few years later Thatcher and Blair would start a 30 year process which would confirm this view. The difference being that back then I was just covering up my ignorance of the differences between parties and individuals. 

I have voted in every election since and usually for a candidate committed to proportional representation. The only time I have voted for a winning party was Labour in 1997. While I said at the time I would have voted for a cockroach if it got rid of the Tories, I was unaware of how close I had come to doing something very similar in helping Tony Blair into Downing Street - but I digress

Last year I was in France during the General Election and having registered as homeless, my friend Keith voted on my behalf by proxy. Keith and I voted for the Green candidate Caroline Lucas who won the Brighton Pavilion seat. It is easy to write off all politicians as power mad, self-serving  tossers but I have every faith that Caroline will remain a well-balanced and thoroughly honourable representative of the people.

This year I timed my return to the UK to vote in the referendum on AV. Sadly I knew it was a waste of time.

Nick Clegg had made such a hash of it that there was no way it was going to happen. He had been thoroughly bum-fucked by Cameron and the Eton Rifles and to add to the crap-quotient he seemed to like it. He only  showed any spirit in the last few days but by then the news agenda which had been flooded with Royal Wedding  effluvia, became swamped by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

Even on the day of the vote the red tops were either drooling over the royal wedding or salivating over Osam.


The rest of the press were helping condem electoral reform for another 'generation' (what ever that is supposed to mean).

The Daily Mail was bleating it usual ‘make them afraid’ line 

and even the Guardian was headlining exactly how much Clegg was going to lose by.

How could anyone who was not  already committed to electoral reform be persuaded by this uncious turncoat tit? But I felt that yet again I should register my support.

But I was to be thwarted…

End of Part 1 – to be continued