Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Gatsby's Green Light

Gatsby's Green Light

"Then I realised tonight that it didn't matter what I did, the task was beyond me. I can't make Harry content or stop Kate from hurting...any more than we could stop the war by marching or get tuition fees dropped by haranguing our local MP"
Will (Some Sort of Beautiful)

I know it's a little pretentious* to open a blog entry with a line from your own play but it's there for two reasons. Firstly I accept that I have pretentious tendencies and rather than ignoring them or pretending they're not there I might as well embrace them. Secondly it's a sentiment that's puzzled me for some time. As an English student every day I make judgments on what writers are saying, or trying to say, or maybe where their own viewpoint lies. The author, after all, may no longer be God but certainly isn't dead. What then did I mean when I wrote that line? Do I agree with Will? Is this where my viewpoint intrudes? When I was quizzed in the after show discussion I firmly placed Will as the central character, the one who holds the rest of the play together and maybe hints at what I'm trying to say. Will, I felt quite confident to say, gets my politics. But does he?

Obviously the reason that I'm feeling the need to answer this question is the General Election tomorrow. Consequently I'm feeling the need to work out where I stand. And it may not be in the same place as Will. Notably Will marched against the war. I didn't. At the time I randomly met in a pub someone I'd worked on a play with a couple of terms earlier. "I bet Corinne will march" had been her words when she'd heard that there was going to be a mass exodus from Oxford to London for the Stop The War march. I'd agreed that it did indeed sound like something I'd do. And then carried on with the evening. As it was by the time the march came along I'd started to become ill and going wasn't an option. Had I have been fully fit, though, would I have gone? I think the answer would still have been no. I remember seeing the footage of all of those people, more than a million, cramming the street and feeling one of the most intense surges of pride that I've ever felt. Not because of why they were marching, but because of the fact that they were marching. That people felt moved enough to attempt to do something. To think that that much overused phrase "people power" was possible. I think that's rather beautiful. And though I've quoted Will massively out of context, at what is his biggest moment of despair having watched his group of friends disintergrate over the course of the evening and simultaneously realised that Kate is never going to be in love with him, Will is rather my symbol of all that I thought was beautiful about that brief moment. Indeed what I still think is beautiful.

But it does pose the question of whether I think that change is possible. I value my vote far too highly not to use it tomorrow, far too many people spent there lives working towards getting it, or died for it, for me not to head down to that polling station. Far too many people even now don't have that opportunity. And I will never forget that fact. Consequently even though my vote is unlikely to tip the balance in what is unlikely to prove a marginal consituency, it matters intensely to me as to whom I vote.

I spent today pulling together my research for political code and register for my language paper exam, and as it seems silly to waste an opportunity I focused in on the three main manifestos. In some ways it was hugely enlightening, to read these booklets not for what they are saying, but how they are saying it. To see the imagery and rhetoric appear again and again. Make what you will but in the Preface to the Labour Manifesto the phrase "New Labour" is only used once and Blair uses "I" on repeat until it comes to discussing the more unpopular aspects of the last four years when it suddenly switches to "We do not duck the tough choices". Michael Howard's Preface is the only one of the three main parties to repeatedly employ the third person, both for the party (a Conservative Gov't) and the public (the people). Whereas Charles Kennedy repeatedly uses "We" to mean the Liberals, but makes only one direct address to the imagined reader, in his final sentence. With the exception of one little slip in rhetorical style in Blair's - "I have" slips to "I've" which is a code switch to a lower register of discussion that isn't fitting in the context - Labour's is undoubtedly the most polished performance. But for a party that have traded so much on image, that's hardly surprising.

In some ways, given our first past the post system, it's strange that an Election should be fought here in the same way that it is in the USA. When I cast my vote, after all, I do not vote for Blair, or Howard, or Kennedy. I vote for the candidate on my ballot paper. But all of the electioneering is towards the individual leader. One need only think to the huge number of posters over the years that have had Blair's image on them - from Labour's own in 1997 to the Conservatives this year. Which undoubtedly complicates my feelings.

I am, it is safe to say, something of a confirmed - and proud - leftie. The Graduate, a confirmed and equally proud Tory, still introduces me to people with the phrase 'This is Corinne, she's Labour'. At that point I usually butt in to say that that sentence doesn't mean that I agree with the current government. But after three years of that sentence can I still justify voting Labour? It's not that I disagree entirely with them, I don't. Some of the statistics you just can't fight and I think that Brown has proven that a Labour Gov't can manage a successful economy. I don't even particularly have anything against Blair. If I thought that those marchers were doing something they believed in then I also felt that, at that point, Blair was doing something he believed in too. When I sat for an afternoon watching BBC1 show live footage of people in Baghdad pull down that statue of Saddam Hussain, I understood entirely what he believed. Now I just wish that all three main parties would stop with the waffle and recrimination and concentrate instead on what has become one huge stinking mess because of total and utter lack of any thought as to what comes after war. So that's not the reason I'm sticking on Blair. The reason I'm stuck? Because, without putting too fine a point on it, Labour have screwed me.

I should probably elaborate here. I have no problem paying taxes. I have no problem with my family being taxed more than those who earn less. What I do have a problem with is the fact that in just under two months time I will finish University and I will be in over £14,000 worth of debt. £14,000. Does anyone in the cabinet know what it like to be 22 and to be in £14,000 worth of debt? I do not think so. For all that I get mistaken for being "Posh" I'm rather emphatically not. Until I was eight I lived on a council estate. I went to schools that didn't make the national average for exam results. I was the first person to come to Oxbridge from my school for at least 20 years. My family is now solidly middle class, but not middle class in the 'sending to public school, skiing holiday' way that the Daily Mail presents. And whilst I agree that the system which Labour has implemented helps lower income families, something I'd support entirely, it's gotten lost in the middle section. Basically if you earn between £25,000 and £55,000 a year and you have a family you're screwed. Which is not as it should be. Squeezing people of this income is not a long term plan for economic sense.

Statistics say that in the years to come when I'm earning what my degree will hopefully allow me to earn I will pay back in tax what it has cost to educate me several times over. That seems to matter little. And, however nicely the excuses are worded, I cannot forgive the Government for making me start what is effectively my adult life in the manner I'm now starting it.

So, tomorrow, where will my vote go? Certainly on the basis of the above paragraph I'd be voting Liberal. Were Will to vote, that would be the box he'd be crossing. But, in my heart, I'm not Liberal. I can't quite shake off the thought that the Liberals are well intentioned but hardly coherent. Kennedy seems nice enough but I wouldn't put him in charge of my shoe collection, let alone the country. And if I ask myself who I want to wake up on Friday morning to find is the Prime Minister, I know, of the options, I want Blair. Or rather Labour. But that "of the options" phrase is telling, and probably shows why there is so much voter apathy out there. I'm someone who will always vote, who's naturally interested in politics and has even been known to snort at Private Eye. If I'm facing this problem, and having to spend this much time working out the answers, then how many people just won't even bother wasting the energy on the thought process? A scary amount I'd guess.

As it turns out, maybe it helps that my Labour candidate, Antonia Bance**, is certainly no Blairite, New Labour cheerleader. The chances of her getting in are slim, Oxford West currently has a Liberal MP and Labour lie in third. It's a shame, you can but hope voices like hers might be heard and might make a difference. And I have to believe, more than even Will, that a change can be made.


Well, I don't even want to contemplate that otherwise.

*Ok, a lot pretentious.

**Oh yes, she even has a blog.

1 comment:

Billygean said...

Aaaah, one week ago I handed in a report on political discourse analysis. Possibly the most controversial time, and the most controversial conclusion :S

Ps. I'm labour too.