Today’s general election is a great exercise in choice, in freedom, and in disagreeing with each other without resorting to blowing each other up. Yet you would not know it from the press coverage. I’ve campaigned in enough elections not to expect any generosity of spirit from journalists and I know the public’s default reaction is cynicism but this election seems to have brought a particularly nasty outbreak of sneering from the sidelines.
I have spent the last six weeks walking up and down streets of Barnet. My car is full of rubber bands, my house full of leaflets, my hands scarred by letter box cuts and my Fitbit has gone into paroxysms of joy at the number of steps I have achieved. Theresa Villiers, the Conservative for whom I am campaigning, has been sworn at by fundamentalist remainers, listened patiently to constituents’ complicated planning problems and occasionally had someone say something nice. She has fearlessly confronted the voters in all their untempered fury and glorious eccentricity. Isn’t that something to celebrate? That our system requires our politicians to actively seek out your views, to make their case, and that you, with your stubby pencil, wield the power.
Yet you would never guess it from the media. They simply jeer from the high ground of those who have never had to make a difficult decision. They repeatedly claim that no one wants this election, that politicians with their smug faces are to be despised, that none of the above should win, that all those putting themselves forward for election are deceitful, incompetent, and dishonest. There is no recognition that politics is about difficult decisions and that perfection is impossible, or that know-all philosopher kings and technocrats would be much worse.
I know we political activists are an inherently weird, uncool, collection of oddballs, suspected of not having many friends or a life. And yet, the reason I do this is that I believe that this democracy business is worth participating in, that delivering another hundred leaflets in the rain is, in some tiny way, holding back the forces of tyranny. I believe that knocking on doors, being sworn at is a price worth paying for changing the world for the better without shooting people into submission.
Of course the process is messy, and of course there are candidates who are a toxic mix of ego and eccentricity, but journalists are by definition parasites, picking and feeding off the politicians they claim to despise. It is probably too much to ask that they consider the possibility that candidates, and the poor bloody infantry marching behind them, are doing this because we believe in the cause, that we want to do a bit of good.
Politics matters, choice matters, and there are plenty of people in the world who do not have it and whose lives are worse for it. The fact that we do these things peacefully and largely without corruption is something to be proud of. The fact that terrorists disapprove of voting should make us value it more.
Political activism is a mug’s game, of long hours and tedious work, rewarded only with biscuits and victory, I know that. But if you see me, or someone like me, tomorrow with my blue rosette and my aching knees, instead of shouting Tory scum, perhaps you could nod and think that just maybe we are performing a useful service, and that you would miss us if we were gone.