Friday 26 February 2016

Whoever you vote for the government won't get in!

It was the strangest of sights. My father, a man of great manners and decorum, was leaving the house at dawn, singing, shirtless, walking along the middle of the Uxbridge Road, sharing his joy with the neighbourhood.

My uncle, his brother Robert had just been elected as a Conservative MP for Bristol North East. He’d scraped in with a tiny majority of 462 votes.

Even though I was only 10 years old at the time, this was far from my first political memory. Years before, as a toddler, I‘d been lifted above my father’s head outside 10 Downing Street, as the crowd chanted:

“Wilson OUT! Wilson OUT!”

During General Elections our house became Tory HQ, and on election day I was given the job of running up the road to collect the latest sheets from tellers outside the polling station, who were asking people how they had voted. 

Back home, rulers were used to cross names off huge boards, so that towards the end of the day they could go and ‘knock up’ supporters who hadn’t yet voted.

Often the source of inspiration throughout my childhood, it was my brother who liberated me from Tory indoctrination. Four years older than me, he left his austere Public School to attend a local Community College, where that he discovered Socialism.

He grew his hair long, changed his name from James to Jim and put up ‘that’ poster of Che Guevara in his bedroom. Much to my delight, Bob Dylan lyrics suddenly appeared, sellotaped to his bedroom door:

‘Mothers and fathers throughout the land
Don’t criticise what you can’t understand.’


Adley family dinner table conversations were always fairly explosive, but with the introduction of lefty politics into that Tory home, furious rows broke out nightly. 

Doors were slammed and huffs were puffed. My father used to have the last word, partly because he deserved such respect, but also because his use of rhetoric was way more advanced than ours.

“That’s not my opinion - that’s a fact!” was one of his favourite closing statements.

As a teenager in 70s London there was no ignoring politics. When Ted Heath took on the miners all hell let loose. He imposed the 3 day week, while electricity blackouts came and went at random. All the TV channels stopped at 10pm. National Anthem, that’s your lot.

Despite patronising elders who insisted my political outlook would change as I grew up, my feeling are as clear today as they were 40 years ago. Until we have universal healthcare, housing and education, free at the point of entry, we dare not call ourselves ‘civilised.’

Years later, when Thatcher tore the country apart as she wrought her revenge on the miners, I picked up some lads hitching onto the M1 at Brent Cross.

According to Thatcher they were illegal flying pickets, but to me they were simply human beings; three men in my car. Yet as I turned off the motorway to drop them off in Nottingham, my car was surrounded by police. We were all arrested and thrown into holding cells.

That was politics to me. That’s how I grew to see the world. There were stark and important definitions to my political landscape: Left and Right.

Then I arrived in Ireland and struggled to understand the idiosyncrasies of Civil War politics. Eventually my mind painted a picture of two groups in a pub. One bunch sit quietly at a table, their shirt collars tucked inside their v-neck sweaters, their Japanese hatchbacks insured, washed and parked between the lines outside.

The other lads are having a rare auld time at the bar. Chancers with their big German cars illegally parked, wads of cash and smart Italian suits, they look like they’re really living the life.

They’re the lads you want to hang out with, which is why Fianna Fail is surely the natural party of government in this country. This shower we’ve endured recently might be just a little bit straighter and slightly less corrupt, but they’re so damned dull.

Just after I arrived here Fianna Fail stole the advertising campaign that Saatchi & Saatchi designed for Thatcher. ‘Beware Labour’s Tax Bombshell!’ it screamed, yet straightaway Albert Reynolds jumped into governmental bed with Dick Spring’s Labour.

"Whoever you vote for the government gets in!" declare the Anarchists. I’d hoped that when I was older the allure of that old slogan might have faded, but it hasn’t. In fact after four decades spent feeling my ideals being eroded by the cold winds of cynicism, I see more truth in it now than I ever did.

However this is Ireland: paradoxical, infuriating and wonderful. 

When you cast your vote, be aware that whoever you vote for, the government won’t get in. That’ll be decided later, by others beyond your control. 

There will be days, weeks, months of horse-trading over coalitions, during which time the vote you cast will have taken on a life of its own, changing policies and promises as it’s osmosed into a gathering of the unworkable to govern the implacable.

After the last General Election, I saw a Fianna Fail poster on a lamppost by Salthill Prom.

‘Vote for Stability’ it declared. Liberated from its top cable tie, knocked around by the weather, knackered by inadequate design, it swung, swooped and lurched in the wind.

Now of course it’s Enda’s turn to plead for stability, yet nobody knows better than the Irish how far they are from feeling firm political ground beneath their feet.

©Charlie Adley

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