Sunday 9 May 2010

Sunday Morning: Coffee, Reflections and Music

At the time of writing this post I’ve yet to cast my vote in the UK general election. By the time you read this column, though, we might have a new prime minister. Or maybe a hung parliament. And if it’s the latter, it’d better be well hung, what with the lack of female politicians on the campaign trail, if your poison of choice is testosterone, it’d better stick out from the beginning so that it can rise to the occasion. And yes, all puns are intended.

Or maybe the hung parliament will hang so low that its fate will go the same way as Ellis Drummond, the teenager from Rushden, whose asbo (Antisocial Behaviour Order) prevented him from ‘wearing trousers so low beneath the waistline that members of the public are able to see your underwear’. Taking into account that David Cameron’s Big Society idea was just pants, an asbo on an incoming parliament wouldn’t be out of place.

But before today's Sunday outing becomes an unabashed version of a ‘Carry On’ film, let me come clear. I have fond memories of the 1997 general election. Why? Because I had just visited Britain for the first time in April that year and my flight back to Havana took off a couple of days after Labour’s historical landslide in early May.

During that month I remember enthusiasm, effervescence and a sense of confidence in the future. The famous British upper lip was nowhere to be found, at least in London. When I rode the tube I overheard people talking about getting rid of the Tories and how Tony Blair was going to fix the country.

We all know what happened after, however. What started off as overenthusiastic praise for the White House and the 'special relationship' (why is there never a Relate counsellor available when you desperately need one?), ended up with a full-time membership of Vatican PLC.

And yet, this type of two-faced politics never put me off voting. I voted even when I wasn't supposed to (in 2001 I was sent a ballot paper by mistake). I've stated my political sentiments with an 'X' four times in the course of twelve and a half years (I include the London mayoral elections, too). What's moved me to vote? Here are a few reasons.

I vote because I owe it to my fellow Cuban compatriots who don't have the opportunity of changing the government themselves when and how they see fit.

I vote because it's part of the process of adapting to a country with the oldest parliamentary structure in the world. Perfect, it isn't and neither would I like it to be. But it works most of the time.

When I vote I am mindful of the three following elements: what is important to me socially, politically and economically - that is, my beliefs -, what's likely to happen (I call it reality check) and how I feel about the result. The latter is fundamental. It's what makes some people despondent about the whole electoral system and others optimistic. In my case and putting my pragmatic hat on, my vote has made a difference. It has ensured that the SureStart programme continues to support less well-off families, it got rid of the shameful Section 28 (enacted by the Thatcher government and aimed at eliminating the mention and teaching of homosexuality in schools), it brought the minimum wage, the Freedom of Information Act (which in a subtle touch of irony is being undermined by the same government that introduced it. Who said that slapstick comedy was dead?), regeneration programmes that tackled housing and unemployment. But my vote has done a lot of damage, too. It gave us the invasion of Iraq, political spin as a substitute for substance and the erosion of civil liberties. And let's not forget those MPs milking the system.

So, voting is not easy. It is an arduous task and one that I've never underestimated. Of course, you could say that there's another way. And indeed there is: abstention.

I look up to people who opt out. And my appreciation is once again rooted in my background. Abstaining from voting in Cuba is a no-no. I once met a man who spent a couple of years in jail for leaving his ballot paper blank. Don’t ask how the officials knew that he had not voted. It’s common knowledge that elections are rigged in Cuba. Over here, though, people who write ‘None of the above’ are making a statement against political sleaze. And sometimes we need strong assertions like that. My only concern comes with the degree of responsibility the abstainers assume. Or the lack of it thereof. Because let’s be clear about one thing, even when you don’t turn up to vote, you’re still voting. I know it’s a contradiction but the truth is that someone will be elected. And that someone (MP, councillor, Prime Minister) might be worse than the option against you were fighting. If it’s a member of the Monster Raving Loony Party we might be in for a good laugh. But what if it’s the BNP or Ukip, or any other racist political outlet? How do I explain to my children that the jackboot that left a mark on my face was the consequence not just of lack of faith in a flawed political system, but also apathy?

That’s why I vote. Because it’s difficult, messy, complex and sometimes unpredictable. At the time of writing, the Best Newcomer Act award in the UK general election goes to Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Whilst in pole position for the ‘Went Out to Get Some Bread and Bagged Me a Prime Minister Instead’ award goes to Gillian Duffy from Rochdale, otherwise known as ‘Bigoted Woman’.

But that’s enough thinking for today. After all, it’s Sunday, and right now the fire in my belly can only be put out by a good old bass hook. Over to you, Suzanne!

Copyright 2010

Next Post: 'Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts', to be published on Tuesday 11th May at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Will Viagra do the trick, I wonder, or is surgery needed?

  2. That's an insightful post, Cuban!

    Having grown up in a country that is deemed the world's largest democracy (but never had a chance to vote there, because I wasn't old enough while living there), I get exactly what you're saying! I agree that if you do not vote, you're as good as facilitating the wrong candidates to take over. And then you lose the right to moan and whine later.

  3. Oh my, you've touched a nerve here. I feel strongly about this, having lived in both a democracy and a dictatorship. My belief is that standing at the wall, observing the action, is still taking a stand. I believe that not voting or abstaining is still a vote, but one which has a tendency of encouraging governing from the extreme margins. I believe that lasting democracy comes not from those who find it easy to vote, but from those who cherish their right to vote so much that they vote even when the choices are unpalatable.

  4. You touched on another significant issue for me, Cubano. I take voting very seriously because it was not an unassailable right for my people as little as 45 years ago. I'm extremely conscious of the activists who died or were tortured so that I can vote and I never take the right for granted.

  5. I found your view that abstention is still a vote an interesting one, but am not sure I agree with it. Not voting is as much a result of apathy as a clear political statement, although you could argue that apathy IS in itself a statement.

    For people to complain about government and yet still not vote is an absurdity, but what really bothers me is the attitude that a single vote doesn't count for anything. As you pointed out, your vote made a difference, both good and bad.

    I appreciated your take on this topic particularly, Cuban, given your country of birth. Thanks for another articulate and interesting post.

  6. Great post and so interesting to hear your take on the whole privilege given where you're from -- I'm not even sure what's going on over in London and who, exactly, has won?

  7. It terrifies me when apathy gives seats to people like BNP. It's the biggest argument I could hold up for compulsory voting...

  8. Many thanks to all for your kind comments. To the blogger who wrote me that e-mail where you called me a black, male, Latin version of Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City), I'm still in stitches. :-) The difference is not just in style and substance but also in the fact that I'm not looking for any Mrs Big. ;-D

    Ta muchly.

    Greetings from London.

  9. You are one punny blogger, Cuban :)

    I decided to become an American citizen because I decided I could no longer complain about the government without casting my vote. I lived through Reagan's governorship in California when his draconian cuts in mental health funding resulted in the closure of public mental health facilities. The patients were released onto our streets without medical treatment and without a place to live creating a spike in homelessness. When he ran for president, I decided it was time to become an American citizen. I never regretted the decision though it was hard to put down my Dutch passport.

    Thank you for speaking for democracy, one of mankind's greatest inventions!

  10. The UK election this year was so exciting and I still don't know what's going to happen. Nick Clegg took the country by storm, so everyone thought, but still the numbers for the lib dems didn't turn out as people predicted.

    I'm just glad that the tories didn't reach 326 seats. At least the country figured out that much about David Cameron. He's so insincere I'd laugh if it wasn't all so serious.


  11. Each of us must listen and act according to the inner voice of our conscience, born of both reason and heart. Your post made me smile and think. A rare talent in writing. Thanks.

    And thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment, Roland

  12. Wonderful read, and your honesty in sharing your opinion of the UK's democratic process is very refreshing!
    Loved this sentence about why you vote, which struck a very major chord with me:
    "Because it’s difficult, messy, complex and sometimes unpredictable."

  13. Cuban, because of your background, you have very interesting thoughts about voting. I think I can relate to much of what you say, and on many levels, because I think we sort of come from the same place of thought, simply due to our experiences with "changing homes". Voting appears to be a big deal in every government on the face of the earth, but we all know that in some governments it truly matters more than in others. I do agree, though, with something Judy had to say... "not voting or abstaining is still a vote." This is so very true. In today's world, we all have our thoughts about how our government should be, about how our country should be run, and in many cases our thoughts are very strong. I think that more important than voting is the urgency with which we make our voices heard and our opinions count. A vote hardly matters if we put someone in office and he or she deigns to do things not as earlier promised, which happens all too frequently. It's important for us to let our leaders know how we feel, and what we want from them.

    Thank you, Cuban, for another refreshing post. There's never a lack of those around here... ever!


  14. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  15. ... and we got Cameron. Oh, well, Gordon did try his best, but c'mon, let's get real, he wasn't even elected by his own party in 2007, let alone by the British people. What did he expect?

    Off to bed now (me, not Gordon). Good night.

    Greetings from London.



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