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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Polling station staff were bored but we must keep democracy alive

My polling station didn’t look at all darkly deserted... thanks to three patient ladies waiting for a voter to turn up.

Their giggles were cheering and, it being a cold, dank evening, their warm welcome was unexpectedly heartening – since we were all on a hiding to nothing.

They seemed happy enough. So much so, in fact, temptation was to put the kettle on and join them for a cuppa and a bit of chat. And that has never occurred to me in a General Election.

“Not exactly a rush then?”

“Nothing like,” replied one, as she handed over the ballot paper. “You’re the first we’ve seen for hours.”

But in that chirpy way the dutiful have of finding the best even in disaster, she beamed her better news.

“I’ve written all my Christmas cards though!”

“And I’ve made these tassels for my tie-backs,” her friend and fellow staffer chipped in, holding her needlework aloft.

The third – had someone really anticipated having to manage three queues? – couldn’t have looked more pleased with herself had she written a 350-page crime thriller.

So, having posed the question a couple of weeks ago, the answer is now obvious. I did decide to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner election. Not necessarily for the listed candidates, but I did keep faith with Emmeline and her crew.

Women having thrown themselves under racehorses and chained themselves to railings to win me a vote, it felt only right to make some kind of effort.

A couple of miles away another voter – rarer than hen’s teeth that day – was greeted at his polling station enthusiastically by a young man engrossed in a novel.

“You’ve only read 50 pages of your book, it can’t have been that slow,” he said.

“This is my second,” the chap replied. At least he’d been able to catch up with his reading.

So now, the most expensive bit of electoral foolishness having passed, we’ve a new PCC who will start work on Thursday. Meantime we have a hiatus. A force with a temporary chief and no proper boss – like a ship without a captain to order rearr-angement of orchestra and deck chairs.

Thank the Lord for patient, diligent midshipmen and women eh? Thanks goodness for the consistency in adversity of our thin blue line. But what of our cautionary lesson of democracy’s inaction? If we now know it all happens whether we vote or not, what fate awaits future elections? Apathy, anger, more protest in abstention? The PCC vote – what there was of it – sounded a danger alarm we should heed and heed well. We, not governments or their professional challengers, will be the losers in the end.

Disengagement from politics and its democratic process is the bite that takes the nose to spite the face.

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