I love elections. “But it’s my superbowl!” I wheedled to my manager, as I persuaded him to give me the Friday after the general election as holiday. I have studied the candidates’ form, rehearsed all the permutations of results in my head, and weighed each party’s prospects. There’s a part of me for which this is sport in the most dispassionate sense: I enjoy watching what power will do, and this year the outcome promises to be deliciously tangled. If I follow my usual habit of staying up until it becomes obvious who will be prime minister (something I didn’t manage in 2010), then I would probably need to cane a stroke-inducing quantity of caffeine to defer sleep while the coalition negotiations are all worked out.
There’s a part of me for which this is sport in the other way, too. I am tribal. I want my team to win, deeply. My team is Labour – they are not the perfect representation of my politics, but they are my lot nonetheless. However, this is the first time I’ve ever voted for them feeling entirely happy with the decision. My first election, in 2001, I wrote my X in the Tory safe seat of Rutland, for a candidate who couldn’t win, representing a party that had introduced tuition fees – which, as a student at the time, was the policy I resented most furiously. As a voter in Hillsborough in 2005, I muscled through my misery about the Iraq war and supported Labour. (For what it’s worth, I no longer have quite the raging certainty about Iraq that I did in 2002. It was a bad war, badly planned, with terrible consequences; but I now think that non-intervention could have been an equal horror. So while I am still anti-war, I am not as furiously convinced that being so makes me the better person.)
In 2010, I lived in Bath – a safe Lib Dem seat (then, less so now) with a likeable incumbent. So I voted Lib Dem, and have regretted it ever since. I would not have given my sanction to the policies the Liberal Democrats have enforced in coalition, except that I did and there’s no way to take that back. And this year is different. The two party system, clearly, will not hold. The governments of the foreseeable future will be coalitions, and though they will be coalitions formed through the results of first past the post (for now – I suspect that electoral reform is an imminent prospect now the two major parties have to make concessions to the minor ones), it means I feel differently about the legitimacy my vote can confer. Having voted Lib Dem in the hope of keeping the Tories out and got Tories anyway, I figure I might as well vote for the party I’d prefer to be governed by and get Tories that way.
I might be wrong about this – certainly I’ve argued with my husband on this point, and he has a good case that it is recklessness to split the left-wing vote in a constituency that could return a right-wing MP. (Bath is not turning red. That simply will not happen.) Here’s the thing: I like this recklessness. I like, for the first time in my voting life, shoving my paper in the slot and thinking, “Fuck it all, this is what I actually want.” Something hopeful, something proud, something not determined by the cringe of fear and fretful calculation. After all, I do love elections.