Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Thursday 3 May 2012

Argument (n.): Persuasive discourse.

WHEN I was a youngster we used to visit my grandparents for Sunday lunch.

We'd have a nice bit of roast lamb, Gran would dish up seconds of her steamed treacle sponge with custard, and then the adults would argue about politics.

They could go for hours. Grandad used to switch sides just to wind up the others, Mum was pretty conservative and Dad fairly liberal, and Gran was like Barbara Castle on a particularly sparky day.

As I got older I joined in, and the net result is that not only can I argue the hind leg off a donkey but I can do it from several different directions at once. Those arguments weren't rows but reasoned and heartfelt debate. A proper argument - using logic to defend or decry, to persuade and convince - is a wonderful thing and it's best fuelled by people who are impassioned.

Perhaps that's why there's no passion in politics any more; the debate has died. As a result we're left deciding who to vote for on the basis of their personalities, and not every politician has one.

Despite televised discussions we care less than ever before and election turnouts are lower than they have ever been. Three quarters of the electorate have historically voted for governments - but by 2001 it was just over half. Around a third of people eligible have bothered to stir themselves on the subject of the London Mayor since the job was introduced 12 years ago.
UK General Election turnout, 1945 - 2010
These days, rather than taking sides, we see politicians of all the main parties as similar beasts who think they know best without actually being able to convincingly argue the fact.

Harriet Harperson is as jarring and absolutist as Nadine Dorries, and seem to be equally disliked despite politically being poles apart. The same goes for Tom Watson and Eric Pickles, who even when doing things that are arguably good and worth doing just seem like overblown, self-aggrandising windbags who enjoy having a huff and a puff.

Dishface seems to get het up only when he's embarrassed by something, rather than by any convictions he has. Miliminor does get angry about his beliefs but it happens so rarely it's like waiting for a mouse to stick its nose out of its nest. Clegg sold his principles for a semblance of power, and they all seem to be the kind of people who get a kick out of bossing everyone else around, rather than people who've won the right to do so by convincing us with their argument. Worse, that is what we have come to expect.

This week politicians have, variously, issued instructions to parents on how to raise their children, awarded themselves free iPads, taken 56 days off work out of a possible 75 and then told an international media mogul that he "isn't fit" to run the company he built up almost from scratch.

Not one of them has shown themselves 'fit' to tell us what to do, much less get paid £65,738 a year mainly for expelling hot air. Most of them, I'm afraid, weren't voted in because of what they stand for.

In the London Mayoral elections, for example, I've got a choice of seven candidates. Siobhan Benita is independent (interesting) but an ex civil servant (hmm) and said at the start of the campaign she wants to obliterate all foxes (SHE SAID WHAT?). She's not getting my X.

Then there's Uruguayan former BBC man Carlos Cortiglia, who may or may not have policies I'd agree with but isn't getting my vote purely on the basis he's BNP and I'm not going to do anything that means more Nick Griffin.

There's UKIP's Lawrence Webb, whose party's attitude to immigration is enough to deny him my vote even if he does want to slash tax on booze to five per cent.

We've got green Jenny Jones who wants to increase the congestion charge (no thanks, love) and then the three main candidates. I don't want an I'm A Celebrity contestant as mayor so Brian Paddick's out and that leaves me choosing between Red Ken and Bonkers Boris.

I don't like either of them. The personal lives of both leave a nasty whiff in the air and as for their political arguments I'm afraid it's just so much whiny bickering. The act of voting for one or the other fills me with gloom.

How many people today are going to feel the same? Are you sitting there thinking 'shall I vote? Oh, who cares' and then won't bother because none of the candidates have stirred you to go to the polling station?

The reason those political debates at my grandparents' house had such a powerful effect on me was because the arguers cared. Gran was born at a time when women weren't allowed to vote, Grandad landed at D-Day and fought his way through Europe to defend our democracy, and my parents were both raised in severe post-war poverty. They all knew, from personal experience, that politics mattered on both minor and grand scales, and that it could change lives. They put fire in my belly so that I feel the same.

Because of those arguments, and that passion they passed on to me, I vote every time I get the chance. Nothing short of death could stop me putting an X in the box, not just because I know that I ought to but because I am aware how extraordinarily lucky I am to be able to, and that I won't have the right to argue about it if I don't take part.

But I do not vote because a politician has convinced me to; I vote in spite of them.

There are millions of people who won't bother to vote today, but if we've any hope of changing their windbaggyness, their hypocrisy, their expenses and their egos we have to show them that we care, that they need to raise their game and start arguing like grown-ups.

The worst possible thing would be to stop paying attention to them. Now GO and VOTE.

It came down, in the end, to bloody bendy buses.