Three voids

I’m not a good finisher, and appear to have fallen at the last hurdle in the A to Z blogging challenge in which I have been participating, having not submitted entries for X, Y, or Z. In my defence, I have been moving house and trying to finish a number of work tasks so that I can go to Spain tomorrow (advice: never move house two days before a holiday), and so have barely had time to breathe, let alone write blog posts.

Still, I feel penance is due, and as I have defaulted over these three letters, it seems duly suitable for me to commit that all and any blog posts from Spain will be Perecianly devoid of the offending items.

On Mr Wearne

All teachers like to think that, as well as dispensing information and essential skills, they are moulding young minds, inspiring the next generation, and leaving wisdom in their trail. It is perhaps an optimistic view, but not a bad one nonetheless, and occasionally may even prove to be correct. For me, the teacher who achieved these heights, who left in me a clear and distinct idea that would guide my young mind, and which I still remember now, was Mr Wearne,

Mr Wearne was a big, tragic, disappointed man who taught history in my secondary school. He was one of those whose bodies are too big for their personality. He did not tower impressively, or fill a room with his presence: rather, he hunched awkwardly and apologetically, trying to hide his bulk. Unsurprisingly, therefore, his crowd control skills were desultory and, in a large school in the somewhat rough and rowdy city of Plymouth, this made him an instant target. Children can smell weakness, and they will exploit it mercilessly. I have no count of the number of times that he was driven to storming out of the room or throwing a pile of books on the floor in frustration. We were not kind to him; and I must confess that—having worked out early on in my school career that as a smart, glasses-wearing, posh-voiced boffin, I needed to obtain the respect of my classmates to remain safely unbullied, and had selected upon exploiting and exaggerating my natural disrespect for authority figures to achieve this end—I was often one of the ringleaders.

There is no doubt that Mr Wearne was a failure. He was almost certainly one of the most intelligent teachers in the school, he had—and very occasionally succeeded in demonstrating—a real passion for his subject, and I suspect that when younger he had been an idealistic and energetic educator. But he had been pounded into disappointment, misery, and almost certainly alcoholism by decades of the relentless awfulness of massed teenagedom.

Even the nugget of wisdom he left us, and which still inspires me, was a failure.

One day, when we were being unusually co-operative, Mr Wearne decided to take it upon himself to offer us his Words of Wisdom, his Design For Life for our formative minds. I forget the exact circumstances which led up to this, all I remember is the sense of profundity in his voice as he declared to us:

“The majority of your lives will be boring, and they should be. You will have moments of excitement and wonder in your lives, but for these to stand out, to really stand out, the rest of your lives should be boring and ordinary.”

That is, I think fairly verbatim, Mr Wearne’s Words of Wisdom, and they had an immediate effect on me. Even then, beneath the rabble-rousing, disobedient little oik I had made myself, I flatter myself that I was humane enough to see through my contempt for him to the tragic awfulness of his existence and I hope I felt then, as a certainly do now, a level of pity for the man who had been roundly beaten by life. But the message that I took, and hold on to, was simple: that I will have failed in life not when I am bored, not when I am poor, or miserable, or weak. I will have failed when, like Mr Wearne, my ambition for my own happiness has so desperately collapsed that not only is the very best that I can hope for boredom, but that I must rationalize that boredom into a virtue to retain what few scraps of self-respect I have left.

A to Z blogging challenge: W

Vingilance

vingilance (n.) the paranoid monitoring of one’s own speech due to having had one or two glasses of wine at the start of a formal reception or dinner; not enough to cause inebriation but sufficient to become hyper-alert to one’s tendency to run one’s mouth off when inebriated. Usually leads to more stilted conversation than if one had had no wine at all, or too much.

As I was at a dinner at All Souls College last night with the great and good of Arabic literary studies, including the editorial board of my publishing gig, I was expecting to find myself in a vingilant state for most of the evening; however it turns out that the wine at All Souls is really rather good, and I quickly segued into the mouth-off-running condition after all.

A to Z blogging challeng: V

Underhungover

underhungover (adj.) being in the condition, after a somewhat steamy night out, of feeling suspiciously unpained and clear-headed the following morning; usually symptomatic of being still inebriated. Differs from gintrospection (q.v.) in that it occurs at one’s usual rising time, and is accompanied by a sense of well-being and relief.

Fortunately, being nowhere near as debauched as the pose I like to strike in my online persona, underhangovers are a rare occurrence for me.

A to Z blogging challenge: U

On tactical voting

This is a politics post that is neither a rant not a funny. It’s something I feel extremely strongly about, so much so that I’m not even going to indulge in my usual rhetoric and hyperbole. It’s a simple proposition I have—directed at readers in UK, especially England and Wales—and it is the following: in the election on 7 May please, whichever party you support, vote for that party. Please do not tactically vote. Please never again tactically vote. Tactical voting is the curse of our political system and, as long as you tactically vote, you are supporting an unrepresentative pseudo-democratic system.

I currently (for a few more days) live in Oxford West and Abingdon, which gives me one of the most powerful votes in the country. I decry this situation, where one voter’s choice has more influence than another’s, but that is post for another day. Oxford West and Abingdon is a very marginal constituency: in 2010 the Conservatives beat Dr Evan Harris, the incumbent Liberal Democrat by 176 votes, and then only after a rather despicable and slanderous campaign in which pamphlets were circulated branding Harris “Dr Death” and claiming he had a “enthusiasm for euthanasia” due to his support for assisted dying. This Conservative seat is therefore ripe for over-turning. Not only that but, in an election where it is almost certain that there will be a hung parliament, and that Labour and Conservative will be seeking to form formal coalitions or confidence and supply arrangements with smaller parties, every MP matters to them.

Conventional electioneering will tell me that—though I am one of those who voted Liberal Democrat in the last election, felt myself entirely betrayed by their subsequent actions, and therefore have totally removed my support from them—I should hold my nose, and vote Liberal Democrat. Anything else, I will be told is a “wasted vote”; not only that, but if I vote anything but Liberal Democrat then I am effectively voting for the Conservative government that I dearly wish to see ejected from power. If I were in Oxford East, with its safe Labour majority, I would be allowed, according to this view, my “protest vote.” But here in Oxford West and Abingdon I must, apparently, vote Liberal Democrat.

I will have none of this, and I urge you not to either. I shall vote Green: my reasons for supporting the Green party are not relevant to this post, but what is important is that they are the party whose manifesto most closely reflects my political position and so I shall vote for them even though I do so knowing that my vote may well substantially contribute to a Conservative MP being returned for my constituency, and even though a single MP may make the difference between whether Labour or Conservative form the next government.

In every election of my life—and for many elections prior to that—the country had a choice between a Conservative or a Labour government; and this is, ultimately, the case in this election too. As a result, both parties have focussed their policies and campaigning on the “centrists,” the voters whose views fall somewhere between the two with the consequence that—especially under Blair’s Labour, though less so under Miliband—the differences between the two parties have all but evaporated. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to monetarist, minimally-regulated free market economics. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to scapegoating immigrants for the financial crisis caused by said economic policy. Privatization; free schools; negligible movement on renewable energy; in all of these and many other issues the country simply has no choice.

You may well approve of some, or all, of these policies, and as far as this post is concerned you are welcome to (though see me after); but I hope you will nevertheless agree that the absence of any real choice is not only not good for democracy, it is quite simply not democracy at all. Electoral reform, of some kind or another, is necessary to achieve better representation of the wide ranges of views within the UK electorate, but my argument is that as long as governments are formed within the context of tactical voting in a first past the post system, no incoming or incumbent government will have any interest in introducing any level of proportionality into the electoral representation, because every incoming or incumbent government will have achieved their position precisely because of tactical voting.

Not only this, but it is a myth that in the interim, having voted for Green, I will not only have elected a Tory but have wasted my vote. In 2010, the Green vote in my constituency was 1,184, and it is safe to presume that if everyone who had wished to vote Green but did not do so because of the tactical voting demands that dominate our election analyses actually does vote Green then this vote could be substantially larger; let us say maybe 2,000. Now, I may well end up returning a Tory MP; but if that Tory MP is returned against a larger Green vote in this election then that MP—and all other candidates—will realise that Green issues matter here and, in preparation for the next election, will be more likely to support ecological motions in the Commons in this Parliament; and other parties in my constituency will be more likely to select candidates with environmental credentials in the next election. That is, the triangulation and centrism that currently only happens at the level of the party and the country will start to happen at the level of the constituency. If the Conservative Nicola Blackwood is returned by a narrow margin again this election, and if the vast majority of the other votes are Liberal Democrat, she will have no knowledge of why people voted against her other than the fact that they wanted her out. Whereas, should she be returned on the same narrow margin but with a substantially increased Green vote, she will realise that, to gain those votes for a more secure win in the next election, she would do well to support environmentalism. She is more likely to go against her party whip on these issues than if she had an opaque, entirely Liberal Democrat voting opposition in this constituency. Voting for your chosen minority party, instead of tactically voting, will therefore have an immediate effect: your MP—whether of your desired party or not—is far more likely to be a good representative of you if he or she can see not only that they were opposed, but the issues on which they were opposed.

A tactical vote is a vote against democracy; it is a vote against local representation; it is a vote for a status quo in which the only foreseeable government for the foreseeable future will be one of two largely indistinguishable and centrally-controlled parties.

Vote democratically, vote for representation, vote for what you believe in, and do not, not, not tactically vote.

A to Z blogging challenge: T