• (I’m undecided on the Vegemite/Marmite question, but I reckon compulsory voting is one thing the Brits should take from Australia) (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
The election back in Britain has Ian Rose feeling homesick, and remembering the youthful idealism of UK election ballots past.
By
Ian Rose

9 Jun 2017 - 10:51 AM  UPDATED 9 Jun 2017 - 10:52 AM

As a middle-aged immigrant, I am prone to nostalgia and homesickness. Not so much a glass half-full or half-empty kinda guy, more on the glass just isn’t the same as it used to be (and don’t even get me started on glasses back where I’m from) side of the fence.

And nothing brings on the nostalgia and homesickness like a tightly, chaotically-contested election in the old country.

The polling stations opened in Britain at 7am on Thursday (8 June) morning (4pm here) and closed at 10pm (7am on Friday 9 June morning here).

My attention was already drawn to the far side of the globe by the heinous events in Manchester and London over the past few weeks, so the election’s home straight has kept it there, and called to mind the crushed dreams and rare elations of ballots past.

Because, for all that I’m half a world away these days, I can’t help feeling we’ve been here before.

And nothing brings on the nostalgia and homesickness like a tightly, chaotically-contested election in the old country.

I’m old enough for Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party in opposition, a palpably decent but profoundly uncharismatic human being, to remind me of the Right Honourable Michael Foot, who had that job from 1980 until 1983.

With his duffel-coat, divided party and adherence to a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, Foot was deemed, just as Corbyn was until a couple of weeks ago, entirely unelectable, which is what he proved to be when Thatcher’s Tories swatted him aside to cruise to a post-Falklands victory in ’83.

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 I was barely a teenager at the time, but already fancied myself an angry young socialist, influenced by some of the more earnest pop stars of the day, and Foot’s fall was the first of many political disappointments I was to experience. (Though not all would coincide, so cruelly, with an outbreak of acne, and just when the curly-haired girl on the bus was finally looking my way).

By the time the next election rolled around, in ’87, I was old enough to vote, and already a signed-up member of the Labour Party, now led by mellifluous Welsh redhead, Neil Kinnock. It seemed obvious to my cocksure 18 year-old self that Neil and me would win because we were so right, and so passionate and bombastic about it, too, and I was genuinely bewildered when we got demolished.

Even more optimism in ’92 – with an all-new, polished Kinnock facing drab John Major, Thatcher’s unlikely successor, how could we lose? – how deep the bummer when we did.

And then, finally, the ecstasy of ’97, 18 years of Conservative rule undone by Tony Blair’s grinning fresh face of the centrist future.

It seemed obvious to my cocksure 18 year-old self that Neil and me would win because we were so right, and so passionate and bombastic about it, too, and I was genuinely bewildered when we got demolished.

Like much of the country, I stayed up through the night to watch the government collapse, the ascendance of New Labour, and stepped out, blinking into the unfamiliar sunshine of that May morning, not quite able to believe it, that what we’d been wanting for so long had come to pass....

Was that really 20 years ago?

Five years later, Blair, the chosen one, dragged the country, kicking in protest, into war in Iraq, an appalling act, at best misguided, at worst utterly amoral, from which his reputation and my own sense of disillusionment with politics have never recovered.

So, from over here in my new home (nine years in, I guess it’s not so new, but time sure does fly when you’re getting on), it’s easy to feel that I’ve seen it all before.

Only, what is this strange sensation, gnawing at my heart? It feels a bit like hope, or what I remember that stuff feeling like, at least. I don’t think it’s anything I ate.

Jeremy Corbyn, for all his shortcomings, doesn’t looks so unelectable right now. While Theresa May, who called this election to annihilate the opposition and enter the choppy waters of Brexit negotiation on the raft of a chunky mandate, has floundered and flapped, looking less credible and hinged by the day.

Only, what is this strange sensation, gnawing at my heart? It feels a bit like hope, or what I remember that stuff feeling like, at least. I don’t think it’s anything I ate.

Polls still suggest the Conservatives will win it. But look what those things said about Trump and Brexit.

I should be over it by now, the homesickness, the feeling that important things are happening back where I belong, for people I care about, without me. Like maybe I should be over believing things can change for the better through the ballot box. But I’m not.

So, for the long weekend here in Australia, I’m going to allow myself to hope. 

That more than the usual 65 per cent or so turn out to vote. (I’m undecided on the Vegemite/Marmite question, but I reckon compulsory voting is one thing the Brits should take from Australia). That more of them than usual are under age 30.

And that the exit polls I'm seeing now are on the money.

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