I'm going abroad tomorrow. I'm not running away from the election campaign, but boy am I glad to see the back of all the bitter, depressing turgidness of it all. I had a terrible moment the other night: I was watching TV and the thing I was half-watching finished and the news started and there was David Cameron's puffy, shifty face spouting tosh and I tried to change the channel and the TV decided it didn't like the remote (they have an ongoing, fractious relationship) and then I couldn't get out of the sofa because the sofa is broken and saggy and I had a bowl of hot soup in my lap and there was nothing I could do except yell in horror for the duration of the several minutes it took me extract myself and make it across the room to deliver a good slap to the off-button. I expect the neighbours thought I was being murdered.
Sometimes, watching the election coverage, I've thought I wouldn't mind if I was. This is the most awful, depressing political spectacle I've ever witnessed. It's like a festival of joylessness in which the parties compete to numb the electorate into giving up their votes out of sheer resignation. It's like a competition of bad, in which you're offered various flavours of awful, and you get to decide which you're least unenthusiastic about.
I know this seems startling, but politics used to be about optimism. Political parties would compete to offer voters a better vision of the future. Sometimes the vision was bogus, selfish, unlikely, or unachievable, but the point was you could envisage it and sigh a little bit, picturing it in your mind as you delivered up your x. If you don't believe me, look at this lovely lovely Labour Party poster from the 1920s. (This is not me endorsing the Labour Party by the way, but that is one hell of a poster)
Politics recently, on the other hand, has mostly been about offering voters, at best, something less shitty than that which they currently endure. As I understand it, the party offerings right now look more or less like this.
UKIP: Less of yer foreign shit
Conservative: Same shit as last year
Liberal Democrats: We like shitting in the Downing St toilet
Labour: Slightly less shit than the Tories
SNP: Keeping the shit in England away from Scotland
Green: Enough of this shit
Even when the parties talk about things you might actually want, they frame it in negative terms. Support the NHS? Sure, most of us do, but the NHS is something you rely on when you're sick. I don't want to be sick, I don't do it for entertainment. Is any party offering anything to help you to be healthy? How about better quality food, more green space, making it easier to walk or cycle? The Lib Dems are keen are to tackle mental health, as well they might, as apparently there's an epidemic of depression. As I understand it, though, they aren't actually offering anything to make Britain less depressing, they're just suggesting more money for medication to dumb the pain.
The weird thing about all the NHS-loving is that when it was set up in the 40s it was done in the context of a massive roll-out of things that would improve people's lives. Stinking, leaking houses would be pulled down; nobody would be hungry; schools would churn out a healthy, educated populace to work in well-regulated, safe, factories and workplaces. Time off from these workplaces would be filled by touring symphony orchestras and trips to the beach and cheap access to books and classes and museums. It might not have all worked out like that but everyone who signed up to this vision understood that the safe workplaces and dry houses and books and daytrips and municipal swimming pools were as much part of it as the free doctors visits. Having come out of a war they understood about morale and people hanging together and that symphony orchestras are as important as aircraft production because humans are humans and need to be inspired. It's just that in the intervening 70 years we forgot all that, the clean dry housing and the parks and all the good bits of the deal, and instead arrived at a situation, culturally and politically, where it's the done thing to beat the crap out of people, and when they fall apart, you send them to the NHS. Because we think that looking after the sick is politically acceptable. Doing all the things that ensure people don't get sick in the first place isn't, apparently.
Please don't misunderstand me, I don't think all these parties are equal or as bad as each other. I just don't understand why the entire thing is being framed in such miserable terms. It's like the epidemic of depression infected the whole body politic. Nobody is allowed to suggest anything that might be slightly desirable without all the other parties and the media leaping on them. It's like 'But how are you going to afford it?' is the slogan for the entire campaign. Well, let's start: we're one of the richest countries in the world. We're going to pay for it out of tax receipts, that's what the tax collected is for, it's for us to do things that we want to. As the government, we get to decide how to spend it. We'd like to spend some money on making people's lives better, rather than dealing with the repercussions of their lives being shit. That's all, thanks.
Can you imagine any politician saying that? No, I don't think so. Because no-one is apparently allowed to mention hope, or joy, or flowerbeds or diving boards or ice-creams or anything ever except the possibility of it might be minutely less shit if we're in charge. Any attempt to mention these things is squashed, ruthlessly, and rolled out as evidence that the person muttering about them is deluded, out-dated or insane. Evidence of personality is also ruthlessly leaped-upon, leaving us with only the anodyne, lying management-speak of speeches written by committee.
The weird thing about all this isn't there isn't exactly a crisis. I say exactly because I'm coming to believe that there's actually two types of crisis, a crisis of movement, in which nothing is able to stand still, and a crisis of stagnation, in which nothing is able to move. It's like we're living through the latter, a slow grinding-down of encroaching shittiness that removes anyone's ability to respond. So in a sense, there is a crisis. It's just not the financial one they're telling you about (endlessly). I think people usually recognise the first kind, it's harder to spot the second, until, perhaps, it's passed.
I've written before about the adoption of horrible as some kind of cultural aspiration, but I do wonder at what point we all voted for this terrible abyss of joylessness. Even when Winston Churchill told the nation that he 'had nothing to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears' he managed to make it sound a little bit glorious. I'm not sure death and glory is the best of political principles but at least you get to march up the high street with girls throwing flowers before you get to get mown down.
With most of the current offer you won't even get to get off the sofa, and there will be no flowers involved.
The whole thing is so depressing, it makes me think I'd settle for pretty much any offer of any positive thing, rather than an offer of 5% less shit.
To be honest I'd settle for a new sofa. Or an ice-cream, or a flower-bed, even some plastic ones in a vase. Or a postcard with a nice picture that I can look at while I'm voting. Just as long as they all stop screeching 'YES, BUT HOW WILL YOU AFFORD IT' at me, ok?
I'll be back before the election. Unfortunately.
In the meantime, I'll be on the beach.