To set the context: I’m normally a dedicated ballot-spoiler. I think that voting is the least important of our democratic rights and responsibilities in this country (though not in every country), and certainly the most misleading; I’m irritated by the way voting is used as an excuse by individuals not to be more engaged, and by institutions not to foster and empower direct democracy. I also loathe the self-aggrandising guilt-tripping that goes on every year about voting, especially in the era of social networking. It’s important to know exactly how your vote does not count, and I have a lot of sympathy with those who see no real choice between candidates: whoever you vote for, the government always gets in. Some years ago I wrote a rather brash and naive article in the New Statesman about it, which is still, irritatingly, the second Google result for my name (this site is third — damn that radical Canadian pedagogist!).
But not this election. This election mattered. This election, we might be facing a Tory government. Look, I’m in the arts; my mother and sister are in social service; my Dad’s in education. The three sectors that get the most brutalised under the Tories. I had the memory of Thatcher drilled into me throughout childhood; visceral hatred of the Tories is in every blood cell and synapse. They had to be kept out at all costs. Including, in this case, sacrificing my democratic dignity and voting.
And that meant that something else surprising happened. I became an obsessive election geek, watching the coverage, refreshing the news sites every few seconds, and Tweeting like mad. Normally I adopt an air of detached superiority — but not this time. This time I got swept up by that gigantic broadcast and networked media echo chamber into the election furure. I tweeted a lot. This is a review:
It’s the first year I haven’t spoiled my ballot, and that’s really something: sacrificing my democratic dignity to help keep the Tories out 2:11 PM May 6th
That was all I intended to Tweet. Then I would go to bed, and then wake up under the horror of a Tory government. It began by innocuously retweeting amusing comments.
But that got me reading all my feeds, and before I knew it I was echoing the sardonic, detached, and cynical tone of the Twitter commentariat, responding minute-by-minute to the coverage:
RHETORIC FIGHT! “A clear rejection of Gordon Brown” faces up against “the need for a strong and stable government”. WHO DECIDES? PM May 6th
Theresa May faces off against Peter Mandelson. An unfortunate analogy in my head: rather like Prof. Umbridge squabbling with Lord Voldemort. 10:24 PM May 6th
Jeremy Paxman is a posturing twat whose journalistic aggressiveness actively obstructs public understanding. Just sayin. 11:35 PM May 6th
Really enjoying listening to the catalogue of injuries to Nigel Farage, and the reporters trying not to grin while describing the crash. 11:52 PM May 6th
That chap just said “The Queen is rather like Heineken lager in this constitution”? Yes, he did. Wow. 12:07 AM May 7th
JOAN COLLINS’ FACE IS MADE OF SHINY PLASTIC. Has she been drinking virgins’ blood? 12:15 AM May 7th
Rereading these now, they seem rather oafish, not as funny as they felt at the time, and also utterly ephemeral. I usually treat Twitter as a document to be written on rather than a process to participate in, seeing my Tweets as precious memories, not passing comments. But these Tweets make little sense to anyone not watching the coverage and reading them as they appear; they each refer to a few seconds of film, a momentary webpage, an instant of election-time. After a few hours of this, I realised the sheer pointlessness of the coverage: the votes were all cast, and the results would come in eventually — I would have nothing to act on for hours. I could do nothing — I was just becoming a passive media receptor, swept up by the improvised inconsequential narrative narrative. So:
And with that note, I have realised that all this election coverage is entirely pointless. I am going to go to bed instead. ‘night. 12:16 AM May 7th
Looking at my Twitter feed in the morning, I could see the Twittertariat following suit: hour by hour, people would tweet their disillusioned exhaustion and collapse into bed. But something in my mind was still nervous, excited, ticking furiously, because:
Woke up. Damnit. Turned on coverage straight away. So no chance of a Con majority, and a much smaller swing than feared. Phew. 6:31 AM May 7th
And for the rest of Friday I fired up my laptop and grabbed the news whenever and wherever possible, anxiously waiting to see what would happen. Con-Lib? Lib-Lab? Con minority? And what little victories would there be?
No majority party. Massively unproportional representation. Polar opposite swings in Scot and Eng. I smell a constitutional crisis! YUMMY. 9:28 AM May 7th
But then came the dire news of Clegg’s decision to speak to the Tories first. I was beside myself:
FUCK YOU CLEGG, YOU SLAAAAAG. Go on, bend over for Dave, bend over. Ooh yeah, you like that, don’t you? ME = NOT HAPPY. NOT HAPPY 12:32 PM May 7th
I was actually shouting in public, as well as on Twitter. We thought if we voted Clegg we’d keep Cameron out, not help him get in. We felt duped. We felt angry. And as one Facebook commenter rightly said “way to bust out the heteronormative/ misogynistic language”. Response: “What can I say? When angry and terrified, one has a tendency to revert to early conditioning. How deep can the linguistic retrofitting of consciosuness ever go, really?” That’s when I started reflecting on what all this Tweeting actually meant. But just then, my emotions were swinging all over the place. Rereading the next few hours, I can remember being led on this bizarre emotional journey, veering from defeat to hope and back again, always believing that either salvation or apocalypse was just around the corner.
Transitioning from fury to vague and vain hope that Clegg isn’t just going to bend over and let the Tories in. Emotions as fickle as he is. 2:16 PM May 7th
Having to tear myself away from coverage for a class. Checking again in an hour or two . . . what world will I be in? 2:49 PM May 7th
I was pretty knackered by that point, and starting to realise that nothing was going to happen soon. Again this dichotomy between becoming a passive media receptor, the false sense of participation of being an echo chamber node, and wanting to be active. Fortunately, celebrity offered an alternative:
And the two dominant themes of the day
The next day I was able to think about it all more clearly. What did I actually want? What did I care about? How had my principles been elided by the excitement of the moment?
I had a dialogue about this on Facebook (!) with a bunch of old politics geek friends that I thin summarises the anti-Tory position right now, as we remain nervously awaiting the future:
Georgina Rannard If Nick Clegg does anything other than turn down the conservative offer (including coalition, and confidence and supply), it will be very difficult to ever vote lib dem/encourage lib dem votes in the future. Britain has voted for a progressive majority, the government should reflect that. Friday at 23:33Tom CahnSo, pessimism: Tory minority government = 6 months of hell followed by irate public desiring stable leadership punishing Labour and Liberal Democrats in snap election (in this scenario Caroline Lucas could easily lose her seat) giving us 5 years of Tory rule. Labour plunge into vicious civil war and become unelectable and my party is cut down to 20 MPs or less.
Harry I sincerely hope you are right!
Oh Britain. America has rappers at conservative rallies; Greece has riots thousands. UK? A few hundred calling for electoral reform. #ge2010 about 22 hours ago
Now that my spontaneous election Tweet-binge is over, I’m thinking about its contrast with my usual measured and pre-planned Tweeting.The Brechtian self is made up of a sequence of performed contradictions, as opposed to Stanislavski’s coherent psychological through-line.This is a theory of human consciousness as much as it is a theory of performance. (As if the two were really any different.)Our internet personae risk tediousness as they are so rationally managed and put together, even in the exciting gaps between performances.Tweeting spontaneously, without *actively* managing output, authoring UNconsciously, the contradictions of my self become more apparent.Performing in such discrete chunks, as opposed to meatspace’s problematic continuum, allows the dialectics of the self to appearBut pre-planning, to which I now (clearly) return, creates the mere appearance of a dialectic. Still, I’ll appear less obnoxious, thankfully.