Have elections ever been fun? Yes, I think sometimes they were. When we were kids at school, we may not have had the vote but we were aware that there were elections and we championed our respective parties in the classroom and out of it. Were we unusual? To judge from today’s disaffected youth, perhaps we were.
We may not have been very clear about what the parties stood for, but we were as vehement in our political loyalties as we were in our support of the local football team. My mother read the Daily Express and always voted Tory just as my father, dead a decade before, had done, and so I too supported them, but I had classmates who were Labour supporters and even the odd Communist sympathiser.
We never came to blows, as far as I recall, but merrily traded insults across desks in the classroom or shouted them at one another in the playground. It was all very innocent and a lot of fun.
The headmaster decided to capitalize on this interest by holding mock elections in school. I am not sure whether a headmaster would get away with that in these days when we are so afraid of our own shadows that we barely allow the word “politics” to be breathed in school.
In our class, volunteers were invited to “stand” for the various parties. Once established as candidates, they campaigned over several days, made political speeches and, like their adult models, wooed their voters. While this was going on, we wrote compositions on topics related to the elections and the best ones were read out in class.
Finally, we voted. We were given voting slips and there was a big cardboard box with a slot in the lid to receive them. When the votes were counted, it was a runaway victory for the Tories, unsurprising, really, in an area that was rather conservative, whether you spelt this with a big or small ‘c’.
The first time I voted in a real election, I remembered that pretend election at school. Time rushes on and things change today so fast that I find even my own childhood now seems like a distant epoch that I once read about in a history book. In some ways, I feel I have more in common with the children who were taught in the Victorian schoolroom at Blists Hill than with modern schoolkids and their teachers. Nonetheless, some of the lessons have stood me in good stead.
The present elections are not fun, at least not to me. They are too serious, the campaigning too angry and too bitter for that. Perhaps it was always so and we children were spared the unpleasantness because of our childish innocence? Without going back in a time machine, who can tell?
Those who are most closely involved in events are least able to gain an impartial view, to see what it all looks like to an outsider. Taking a step back, I understand the apathy of modern youth, their reluctance to get involved or even to pay politics any attention. Perhaps, better than we, they have understood the aridity and hopelessness of it all and, like La Fontaine’s cicada, prefer to sing the days away while the sun yet shines and not think of approaching winter.
Yes, elections used to be fun, I’m sure of it. But that was a very long time ago.
The photo of course has nothing to do with the subject matter, other than that it was taken recently in the in the Hove part of that strange entity known as “Brighton & Hove” where I was brought up.