18 December 2008

Decisions, decisions...

Nobody reads C P Snow much, nowadays. Today, though, I am reminded of his novel (one of the "Strangers and Brothers" sequence) The Masters.

Today is local election day, where I live, and in my ward there are four candidates (from whom I must vote for only one) on the ballot paper:

Candidate Commentary
Mr A (the Alpha Party) The Alpha Party is where my political sympathies and philosophy really lie. In an ideal world (or even a practical compromise one with STV), I would vote for Mr A. Alas, the Alpha Party cannot possibly win in my area.
Mr B (the Beta Party) The Beta Party is the party which I most want to see kept out of power. Its political positions and philosophy are antithetical to mine, and repugnant to me. (Actually I do loathe the Zeta Party infinitely more ... but, fortunately, there is no Zeta candidate here.)
Ms C (the Gamma Party) There are many issues on which I differ from the Gamma Party. On the other hand, there are many issues on which I can agree with them – and in an imperfect world I can live with our differences. And Gamma are running neck and neck with Beta, so have a real chance of beating them.

Looking at that table, my most choice is obvious. I follow my heart and vote for Mr A, or I pragmatically help Ms C to minimise Beta influence in my town hall. So far, so conventional; I make the same calculation at every election, local or national.

But ...

In Snow's Masters, a new head is to be elected by the faculty of a college. Democracy, with all its imperfections, in microcosm. There are two candidates, and two factions. One of the candidates holds views which chime with the leftist faction to which narrator/protagonist Lewis Eliot belongs.

But ... Eliot dismays his colleagues, friends and allies by deciding to canvas support for the conservative alternative, Jago, because "he is the better man". And that is my dilemma today. Because of the three candidates available to me the warmest human being, the most honest and sincere, the one with the record of demonstrated integrity, the one who shows evidence of caring about his constituents' best interests, and the one most likely to be a good councillor is Mr B.

In fact, Mr B the only candidate I respect on any of those grounds.

What will I decide to do, when I go into the voting booth? Will I follow my beliefs, or do a Lewis Eliot? Whichever I do, I shan't be telling anyone (I believe passionately in the secret ballot) ... but I do know that I haven't yet decided, and that when I do (regardless of direction) it will be with misgiving.

  • C P Snow, The masters. 1951, London: Macmillan & Co.
    (also more recently 1972, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 0140010890, pbk).
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