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On May 1, 1997 I was eighteen years old and I faced the first election that I qualified to vote in. I had grown up with only a Conservative government in power - first under Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher and then under the grey man, John Major. In that time I'd watched my brother leave school and be unable to find a job. I'd seen my father's - once lucrative - driving school business collapse due to kids not having the money to pay for lessons anymore. Friend's parents were made redundant, or had their wages cut. Even at the grammar school I went to (seen as posh by local eyes, although it was just a state school), more and more students - including me - were qualifying for, and taking, free school dinners.
Towards the late half of the 90s, though, things started to change. We were facing a new millenium and Britain, usually so melencholy and pessimistic, seemed to be looking forward with hope. Cool Britannia emerged, good, proper music by respectable British artists were in the charts and Damien Hurst led the field of BritArtists. Even the national team at out national game seemed to be improving, and we had a New Labour party with a leader who symbolised our great hopes to take the government back too.
So, stepping into the polling station all those years ago, choosing who to vote for was simple. My constituency Torbay was a traditional Tory stonghold with very few votes for Labour. The Liberal Democrats were the only real challengers and so my X went next to the name of their candidate, Adrian Sanders.
Torbay is a small constituency; one of the smallest in the country, and is usually one of the first results out. But as we sat up waiting and watching more and more results come in, there was no sign of Torbay. Then we heard rumours: it's really close, the're having to have a recount. Then another. Then another! Finally, the result was confirmed: the Lib Dems had taken the seat from the Tories by 12 votes. Twelve votes! Don't let anyone ever tell you that your vote doesn't count.
Four years later, election time had come back round. The millenium had passed, Cool Britannia had faded but things were going pretty well. I had a job - and I'd had promotions. My company was still riding the tail end of the dot-com bubble and we were being given share options. Share options worth £10,000 when we could cash them in... TEN THOUSAND! I was planning a mortgage, a house, a wedding, maybe even a family. Fuck me! Everything's great! Adrian Sanders, our new MP, was doing a great job. He was in the paper, saying the right things. He has one of the best records in the country for both attendance at parliament and for replying to his constituents. He was a supporter of Torquay United. The New Labour government was going good. OK, it wasn't being quite as strong and left-wing as we had hoped, but it's just a starting out. They may not be making some of the changes we hoped for, but they had the damage done by twelve years of conservative rule to repair first.
Things always swing against the party in power, though. Especially one with the historically huge majority Labour had. Torbay was on the Tories' list; they wanted it back. A majority of twelve should be easy to overturn; except it wasn't. in an election with emabrressingly low turnouts, Torbay was one of the highest. Sanders' majority shot up from twelve to almost seven thousand. It'd now become a safe Liberal Democrat seat.
The world has changed quite a bit since that last general election. The whole 9/11 thing, for a start. Then, of course, the Iraq thing. The company I worked for imploded. Me -- and my brother who, by then, was also working there -- got made redundant and I, unable to find a proper job, bounced around jobs in pubs and shops. Finally, I decided to go to university in order to get that bit of paper you need to get an interview. Now, I have almost finished. I have spiralling debts from tuition fees and other stuff, but I do have a job again. Two actually; I work at the local college in the summer and as a subeditor at a local newspaper on Saturday nights. I'm looking forward to leaving uni and getting a job. And I face another election.
Well, guess who I'm voting for? That's right, the Liberal Democrats again. Except this time, there's a difference. I'm not voting just to keep the Tories out. I'm not voting as a strategic vote for Labour. I'm actually voting Liberal Democrat because I want to vote Liberal Democrat. I'm very happy with the work our Lib Dem MP has been doing and I like the Lib Dem's major policies. I too was against the war in Iraq. I too think we should tax the rich to pay for public services. I too think that the Council Tax is fucking awful and a local income tax would be better. I'm against student top-up fees and (here's the difference between me and the twats at my uni) that's when it won't make any difference to my personal finances. In a little table of all MPs and their voting habits in the Guardian, I agreed with my Lib Dem MP on every account. I've even got a Lib Dem poster on my flat's window now.
Here's to that hope that we can hit the fucking Tories into third place.
For a cool running commentary on the election look at Andrew Aguecheek's excellent UK General Election 2005 node...Nodevertising available while you wait. I'll take cash or postal order :-)
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