Rina Wolfson

A tale of two general elections

How much has politics changed since Rina Wolfson first cast her vote 20 years ago?

May 25, 2017 11:17

My son was born in the spring of 1997, in the wake of the Labour landslide. I was in my final year at university, and on the day of the election was heavily, and rather uncomfortably, pregnant. Exhausted from the walk to the polling station, I asked some volunteers who were ferrying pensioners to the polls to drive me home. So there I sat, bloated and red faced, on that unseasonably hot May afternoon, in a packed mini-bus, surrounded by rather rowdy OAPs.

It was the first time I’d voted in a general election, and I was embarrassingly excited. I could only remember Tory rule. The anticipation of something different, something better, was almost palpable. I asked the woman sitting next to me what she thought the result would be. She laughed, and in a loud voice, as much for her friends’ benefit as for mine, said, “Don’t matter who wins. They all disappoint you in the end.”

Perhaps she’d seen it all before? Perhaps she was more realistic? But I was excited. I wasn’t just expecting a baby that summer. I was expecting real change. I didn’t want to wait until morning to read the results. I wanted to witness them live. History in the making!

So I made myself a nest in front of the TV and watched as the count came in.

This exposes me as a geek of Ed Miliband proportions, but that night was one of the most exciting of my life. I whooped with delight when Stephen Twigg won his seat. I punched the air when David Mellor threw his hissy fit. And I wept tears of real joy as Tony Blair and John Prescott took to the stage, in front of cheering supporters. With every lurch of Peter Snow’s swingometer, I believed, I knew, that things could only get better.

Perhaps, given my condition, I should have spared myself the excitement and gone to bed early with a cup of cocoa. Perhaps the whooping and cheering upset my unborn child. Either way, within days of Tony and Cherie arriving at Number 10, I was admitted to hospital, and six weeks before his scheduled due date, my son was born.

So, what of my boy? My child of ’97? The excitement of that landslide must have crossed the umbilical cord because, throughout his childhood, at every election — local elections, general elections, European elections and referenda — my son came with me to vote. Every single time.

In his first 18 years, he accompanied me to countless polling stations. We discussed candidates. We estimated results. We debated policies. And as he grew, so did his interest, and his participation, in politics, culminating in a summer internship with a Labour MP and membership of the Labour party in his own right. He was committed and passionate. Just like I had been.

Until 2015. By a cruel quirk of fate, he was just five days too young to vote in the General Election that year. And equally powerless, or so it has seemed, to prevent the lurch of a party we both love, towards a bullying, at times antisemitic, hard left.

But finally, here we are. He will be 20 on June 8. For the first time, he can cast his own vote.

Mark Twain wrote that history doesn’t repeat itself, but if you listen closely, it does rhyme. As this general election looms, I’m struck by life’s symmetries. My son was born just days after my first general election, while I was still at university. This time, he will cast his first general election vote, half way through his own university career.

But I feel another symmetry just as strongly. I’m not quite as old as those raucous old ladies on that polling station bus service. But I have, rather sadly, become just as cynical.

This past year has been tough for us moderate lefties. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been attacked as a “Zio Blairite” by Jeremy Corbyn supporters on Twitter, or told to leave and take the other “Red Tories” with me. The failure to expel Ken Livingstone and the Chakrabarti report have felt like visceral rejections. Like many life-long Labour voters, voting Labour just doesn’t seem possible this time.

My son, young and optimistic, is certain that things can only get better. As the campaign rumbles on, he texts to see who I think will win. I text back, “Don’t matter who wins. They all disappoint you in the end.”

Rina Wolfson is a freelance writer and blogger, and a Jewish educator.

See all our Election 2017 coverage here

May 25, 2017 11:17

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