I’m excited about voting in the AV referendum. I’m aware this puts me into a very small and elite group containing people who are fascinated by electoral reform (technical term: ‘geeks’), such as a young man who was in my politics tutorial group at college. He could turn literally any topic round to proportional representation: politics of course, but also clothes, food, music and dogs. Once I asked him if I could squeeze past his chair (he was sitting rather outside the group, literally as well as metaphorically), and he said, ‘Interesting you ask that as I was just thinking about the limited bloc vote.’ I wonder if he ever got a girlfriend.
Anyway, I am definitely not a geek. It’s another of those irregular verbs: I am interested in the detail; you are slightly obsessed; he is a geek; she is not a geek by dint of gender. There are historical reasons for my excitement about referendums (not referenda, you pedants). For anyone over 36 who has had the good fortune to live in Sussex rather than, say, Scotland, Wales or London, there has been only one other referendum in our lifetimes. It was 1975. I was a slip of a girl, barely old enough to comprehend the Morning Star’s editorials. Two things interested me. The first was that this huge affair, with schools closed for the day and nothing else on the news, all boiled down to ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The second was that my mother disclosed that she was voting differently from my father. Though we were by no means a patriarchal household, it was always understood that there were separate areas of expertise. My father, who’d been to the LSE, was in charge of politics (e.g. what he and the Missus should vote), economics (bills and mortgage), and philosophy (whether we children would be allowed a flake in our 99s). My mother, who had been to art school, was in charge of history (who actually said what in that argument in Broadstairs in 1968) and fashion (lime green is fine with acid orange, long as it’s properly combined in a polyester trouser suit). So it was revolutionary for my mother to branch out on an independent pre-Beeching line (getting my eras slightly muddled now).
My father had the last laugh, because my mother voted ‘no’ to the Common Market and was resoundingly defeated. But it was very thrilling at the time, trying to decide who to side with (e.g. who was most likely to provide treats in the event of victory), and wondering if this was the first crack in their marriage (it was). It was the first time, I suppose, that I realised that adults could disagree; that they didn’t have all the answers; and that sometimes questions arise that are so big you have to ask the entire nation. So I’m delighted to be asked to join in with this one. But I won’t tell the children how I’m voting. Lesson learned.
Beth Miller, 4th May 2011. Published in VivaLewes.com