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The lynx effect

05/21/2015

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Perhaps my favourite moment from an otherwise spirit crushing general election came from a slightly unexpected source. Usually time spent with my nephews involves me being routinely trounced at Mario Karts or Fifa 14. I can barely muster the hand eye coordination to work a mobile phone so when it comes to these new fangled computer games I haven’t got a prayer. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, on the weekend before the election, to be chatting about politics. “Are you voting Labour, Jonathan?” enquired nine year old Archie as we nattered over a spag bol tea. It was clear that both Archie and elder brother Matthew had been taking a keen interest in the election campaign and when I asked who they would vote for, if they had the chance, Archie replied without hesitation “Greens”. But why? “Because they want the return of the lynx to Britain”.

I’m ashamed to admit that when the word lynx is mentioned my first thought is the over-smelly lad-about-town deodorant rather than the predatory big cat. Amongst the heaps of election coverage I’d sadly missed the story about the campaign for the return of the lynx to the Scottish countryside. Apparently these big cats were wiped out of Britain about seventeen hundred years ago as farming grew but a recent campaign by environmentalists and supported by the Green Party is calling for their return to help control the rapidly expanding population of deer, currently without a natural predator.

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I’m no knit-your-own-soup hippy but our apparent lack of concern for the natural world and our own place in it can, at times, be astonishing. Climate change, perhaps the starkest example of this, is arguably the biggest single challenge facing the planet yet it’s difficult to recall it being mentioned at all during an elongated election campaign dominated by a concern with who would put the most money into our pockets. It’s as if climate change is all a bit too much for our tiny brains to cope with.

Meanwhile, politicians, journalists and “opinion formers” banged on and on and on about the issue that apparently no one talks about; immigration. Even the new media darling Nicola Sturgeon was only comfortable making the case for immigration on the basis that it contributes to economic growth. What a sad state of affairs that we can seemingly only value a new arrival’s contribution to our community in purely monetary terms. Imagine applying the same logic to births. Thinking about maybe having your first child or another child at some point in the near future? Unless you’ve produced a detailed financial analysis demonstrating that your little darling will add several thousand pounds to the country’s coffers over the next fifty odd years then, quite frankly, don’t bother. Use a condom instead.

At nine years old I don’t think I’d given politics any thought. My political awakening came much later, as a fifteen year old, during the miners strike. Politics was rarely discussed at home (“I’ll be bloody glad when this election’s over”) and I still to this day have no idea who my parents vote for. So it’s wonderful to discover my nephews thinking about the election and a credit to the way that my brother and sister-in-law have brought them up to consider the world around them. Hopefully by the time these young lads are able to vote in their first election they will be equally as engaged in the political process.

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Who knows what the political landscape will look like then. Maybe the Green Party will have become a major political force with more members of parliament joining the brilliant Caroline Lucas. Theirs is a politics of hope that we can create a better world and a fairer society that doesn’t involve riding roughshod over the flora and fauna that we share this planet with. To the left of Labour on all of the key issues of the election campaign such as the economy, the NHS and immigration, they are much more than a single issue party. Or maybe a new politics of the Left will emerge Syriza-like from the wreckage? We can but dream.

The election result was a kick in the bollocks that I’ve been struggling to recover from and desperately searching for something positive to cling onto for the next five years. But taking the long view, I hope that in, say, fifty years time people will perhaps gaze back at the 2015 general election and see it as a watershed. The last time that the majority of people voted selfishly. And hopefully the last time that voters went into the polling station with an overwhelming sense of fear; fear of economic instability, fear of immigration, fear of the taxman, fear of anyone or anything a little bit different to themselves. Maybe the latter half of this decade will be seen as the time when the hope and compassion of a younger generation replaced the politics of fear and a time when we stopped voting to make the rich richer and started to tackle the huge economic and social inequalities not only in this country but across the globe.

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In the last few days before polling day I mulled over the conversation with my nephews and eventually put my cross, like more than a million other voters across the country, in the box next to the Green Party candidate. It felt odd, the first time ever, in national, local or European elections, that I’ve not voted Labour or for an avowedly socialist party. There was a time, not that long ago, when this would have been unthinkable, a time when I genuinely couldn’t understand why there were any “floating” voters. Surely politics was (cough) like football; you picked a team and stuck with them through thick and thin? You didn’t turn up at the ground, take a look at the team sheets, chat to a few fans and then decide who you were going to support. “Floating” just seemed wrong.

But Labour’s pandering to middle England by trying to out-tough the Tories and Ukip on immigration and its timidity on the economy and NHS has left me cold and turned me into a floater. My cross on a ballot paper made not one iota of difference to the election result locally or nationally but as I left the polling station I smiled at the hope and optimism of my young nephews. The lynx effect in action.

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From → Personal, Politics

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