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10 July 2024

You shouldn’t tell people how you voted – but I will…

When I was young, my father would take me to the polling station so he could show me democracy manifest.

By Nicholas Lezard

I write this on the eve of the general election. Now I’m no fortune-teller but I have a feeling we will all be groaning under the Starmer jackboot by now. I hope you’re all feeling pleased with yourselves. Actually, I will have voted for his party quite happily (my father used to tell me that how you voted is a private matter and shouldn’t be shared). In 1974, when I was 11, there were two elections and my father would drive me to school and take me to the polling station en route so he could show me democracy manifest. I became quite the political nerd, learning, at some point between the two elections, that what my father was doing was not actually placing a bet on who he thought would win – he liked a flutter – but actually taking a small but vital part in the country’s future. I wondered, sitting in his Rover (he’d upgraded from his Vauxhall Victor), waiting for him to drop me off at my fee-paying prep school, on the way to his job as a company director, who on Earth he would be voting for. It was quite the noggin-scratcher but I got there in the end.

“You should always vote for the party which will serve your own interests best,” was all he would say. “If everyone does that, then you get a fair result.” But it was also during Watergate, and my American mother would demand total silence while she sat, gripped, in front of the telly as the scandal unfolded. That, too, was an education, and from then on I have been a Yellow Dog Democrat, as the saying goes (ie I would even vote for a yellow dog if that was the only Democratic candidate). A few more years of exposure to my fellow inmates at private schools and then exposure to Etonians at university further hardened my heart and I had a bit of a ding-dong with my father over a Sunday lunch in 1983 when I said that every public school in the UK should be burned to the ground and the ashes ploughed with salt. My position on this hasn’t softened much over the years.

Anyway, enough politics for now. I have been musing on two lucky escapes this week. The first is that I missed out on a holiday teaching gig in Cambridge, educating the bored children of millionaires on the wonders of journalism. My friend C— had texted me about this opportunity about six weeks ago. I thought: £2K for a month’s work, free accommodation and food, and the chance to meet the offspring of a rich and bored divorcee? I’m in. A few hilarious anecdotes in the morning, take them punting in the afternoon, and spend the evening playing with a couple of friends I have over there. I was then sent the last year’s teacher’s lesson plan to give me an idea of what was expected of me and I kind of seized up. I began to nurture the suspicion that I was meant to reply with one of my own. The problem is that I was going to have to explain to the organisers why I was going to have to carve five days out of the month, and somehow I didn’t think, “because I want, very badly, to see Jimmy Anderson play his last Test Match ever, because we shall not see his like again and I want to have his babies” would cut it as an excuse. So I let the whole thing slide and yesterday I got another text from C—, who had taken the gig instead.

“You dodged a fusillade,” she wrote. “I am now sitting, crying, in student accommodation and preparing myself to go on a 40-mile trip where we will all be doing Highland dancing.” I told her to feign an ankle injury, which was what I did the last time I was asked to do Highland dancing, but at least mine was in the Cairngorms and not in Cambridgeshire. (Very flat, Cambridgeshire.)

The other escape was only so in a broader, more existential sense. My friend B—, whom I met many years ago on a social media platform, was, until last month, a teacher in Morocco. Since then, the school he worked at refused, just because they thought they could get away with it, to pay him. He has since lost his flat and just managed to scrape the fare together to get a flight back to Gatwick. (The British Consulate in Casablanca having been completely unhelpful.) So this morning, because I have earned slightly more money this month than usual, I went along to Gatwick, where he has been living for the last four days, so I could buy him a coffee and press some cash into his hands. It was not much but it was all I could spare. He is not in the best of health and he heard something pop in his back the other day when he tried to lift his suitcase; he certainly looks like he has been living in an airport for the last four days. It was heartbreaking, and slightly mutually embarrassing, to see him like this, but this was all I could do for him. There is no space in the Hove-l for him or I’d have put him up. I’d have been able to do more to help if my father had left me any money in his will, but for some reason he didn’t. Then my mind goes back to a Sunday lunch in 1983, after which I wrote the words “‘THE TORIES – LOWER THAN VERMIN’ – Nye Bevan” on a large piece of paper and stuck it in my bedroom window. There was an election on, after all.

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[See also: Election night is long, but I shall be on form at the New Statesman party]

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This article appears in the 10 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, All Change