A polling card drops through the door for the local elections. I catch myself feeling slightly weary. No need to lecture me on those who died for my right to vote. I know. Indeed there is still something moving about that little pencil in the polling booth, the hurried cross, the secrecy, the idea that this matters. Voting – yes, that’s good, so let’s have more of it, except when it isn’t. In which case, the answer is more voting …
I am confused, for instance, about the People’s Vote campaign, which says it is not really trying to get a second referendum about Brexit. One of the key remain arguments is that people did not really know or understand what they were voting for the first time. Somehow, next time they will. Perhaps it is true that voting got us into this mess and voting will get us out. Yet I sense no appetite for another vote. Clarity is indeed welcome, but isn’t “the people’s vote” as slippery a term as “the will of the people”?
The will of the people is fast-moving and changeable. It is the way we reduce complexity by denying it. The will of the people may be ambivalent, uncertain, a product of anxiety – and yet this relentless quest for certainty, for unimpeachable rightness, remains the fantasy of public life.
The older I get, the more I envy it. All those people who, without having been there, know exactly what should be done in Syria; who know exactly which way Brexit is heading because they once saw something on YouTube. It is considered a weakness, a failure, to be able to hold two positions in your mind at once. I voted remain, but am still quite Brexitty. I think something should be done in Syria, but also that it is all too late and that all we can do now is take in refugees.
So I am weak-minded, you may say, or a “don’t know”, which may be a peculiar thing to say in this job, but in fact is commonplace. When we don’t know, though, we want other people to know for us.
More votes now, is the cry – in parliament, on the Brexit deal or military action. Big decisions cannot be made without consulting us. This is exactly what lead to distrust of the EU: a feeling that democratic control was being bypassed. Add to this the implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and there is a further feeling that we have been duped, or at least others have. We feel both that voting is all we have got, but also that voting itself is somehow not enough.
It all makes for a disquieting mood. The public is not sure about military action in Syria. Many are resigned to Brexit, not because they love it, but because it is done. Referendums, we all realise, are not good for complex issues. Again, what is?
A cabinet that decides to bomb without consulting the House of Commons may still win a vote if it can successfully whip MPs. In other words, the systems by which the will of the people is expressed are compromised. How might we make better ones? Talking of proportional representation, or even the basic idea that democracy might be representative of its people in terms of class, gender and race, still feels like a niche interest. But it isn’t. For we end up with the reality that a lot of the time the “don’t knows” have it. Which politician wants to acknowledge this?
Meghan Markle could be the Windsors’ saviour
Having already failed Mission: Impossible – to not know anything about Meghan Markle – I now find myself alarmed at the bits and pieces I pick up as if by osmosis. Does she know what she is doing, I wonder, in a completely patronising way? I must accept that she does, and that she is happy to be part of a sumptuous rebranding for the Windsors.
Far be it from me to disagree with Germaine Greer, but I very much doubt Markle will “bolt” from her marriage. What a strange thing to say about another women – but then saying strange things about other women is part of the Greer brand.
What Markle represents for me is some kind of potential. The arrival of Kate Middleton – presented as somehow lucky as a commoner to be marrying into this hugely dysfunctional family – absolutely symbolised this era’s conservative view of femininity. The parading of Middleton and Samantha Cameron as ideals showed that, in terms of women’s roles, we were going backwards. Their job was to look glossy, say little, be rocks for their men, and to wear beige high heels.
They were to be groomed to glossy perfection but also allowed occasionally to do something that represented rebellious modernity. A tattoo? Topless swimming? In fact, Middleton made the generation of Fergie and Diana look like Greenham Common feminists. Markle, exoticised for her ethnicity and also for having been divorced, is being allowed some opinions. A voice, even. There will be a concerted effort to rein her in, accompanied by intense scrutiny of her appearance.
Those who claim to most love the monarchy will scrutinise her most of all, and make any normal life impossible. What I know already is that any challenge to the monarchy – and when Charles eventually takes over, there will be rumbles – may well be seen off by this woman. In the end, they all know that. She has got the power.
Conchita Wurst’s experience shows the gay rights fight is not over
The outing of someone for being HIV positive is thoroughly disgusting. So as not to be blackmailed by an ex, Thomas Neuwirth – who portrays draq queen Conchita Wurst – has spoken about his own status. Conchita brought joy into the world by winning the Eurovision song contest. As Neuwirth says, his HIV status should be “irrelevant to the public”. Indeed it should, and it is awful for it to be revealed – a reminder that though we are told gay rights have been won and that Conchita’s win symbolised how wonderfully liberal we all are, in fact they haven’t, and we aren’t. The days of being blackmailed over one’s sexuality are not long gone. They are now.