Swedish Cloggs and British Votes

When I pledged allegiance to Queen and country three months ago, I had to promise to “fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.” Well, dear reader, yesterday I did just that.

Donning my favourite pair of Swedish clogs, I shuffled – because after 40 odd years of practice I still can’t walk properly in clogs – a couple of blocks down from my house in north London and posted my ballot.

I could have waited a week of course, and voted on election day, but I prefer postal voting for some reason. Perhaps it’s the privacy that voting by post affords or the finality of it. For now, it matters not who comes knocking on my door, canvassing for my vote, because it’s too late.

Standing in front of the red mailbox on the street corner, wearing a tracksuit and clogs, I felt a sliver of excitement as I prepared to cast my vote, the first one since becoming a British citizen.

So, who did I vote for? Suffice to say, in my constituency, there are only three parties on offer: Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. And as you all know, I’d never vote Tory, just as I would never vote for a right-of-centre party in my native Sweden.

In the end, I chose not to vote ‘tactically,’ but voted with my heart. Most likely, my vote will make no difference at all since I live in a Tory seat, but as my therapist says, we must live in hope or life will be unbearable.

‘Hope’ – that’s a big word, and sometimes I wonder if there’s any hope left in me; hope for a better world for my children, prospective grandchildren and future generations. While a student of international relations in my 20s, I steadfastly believed in progress; I believed that democracy would win the day, and that life would keep improving for everyone on this beautiful planet. Alas, twenty years later, I haven’t just lost my youthful looks (as my kids like to remind me, each time they spot another grey strand of hair on my head) but also my idealism.

As if the political outlook wasn’t glum enough, I recently came across an article I’d saved to read ‘at a later date,’ and now I wish I hadn’t. For in it, British architect, and Leonard Cohen-look-alike, Mayer Hillman offers his final word on the state of the world: “We’re doomed.”

A lifelong cyclist who stopped flying more than 20 years ago as part of a personal commitment to reducing his carbon footprint, Hillman believes that optimism about the future is wishful thinking.

“Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

No, and yet that is what it takes to save the planet.

I do wonder what Hillman made of Channel 4’s climate debate last week, featuring most party leaders as well as a couple of ice sculptures. I suspect he was less than impressed, which brings me back to next week’s general election.

One of the reasons I posted my ballot more than a week before the election, is that no manifesto, no canvassing, no political debate was going to sway me. After all, it’s little more than hype and empty promises designed to win the vote. Once a new government is installed, their election manifesto will be null and void. So, I cast my vote, not on the basis of election manifestos, but according to which party’s overall principles and values lie closest to my own. Even if I don’t love their leader.

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