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Secret Ballot

Again from the 'New York Times', David Lodge, author, and resident in Birmingham - England's second largest city, writes an article discussing "Politics by Another Means". An attempt to give American readers some insight into what's going on in the UK, 24hrs before poll day.

One thing he singles out is how little political discussion there is during normal months, citing "national temperament and cultural conditioning":

In polite society, religion and politics were traditionally taboo topics of conversation in England, considered too personal and potentially divisive for open discussion. This code of etiquette lingers throughout the social scale. For instance, a woman named Barbara has cleaned for my family one morning a week for the last 25 years. In the interests of research for this article, I asked her the other day how she was going to vote and she said, with only half-simulated indignation, "I'm not going to tell you!" - as if I had enquired about the most intimate details of her married life. She then confided that she and her husband never told each other how they voted. Now that's what I call a secret ballot.

He's right in that its not just the lack of, American style, all-year-round campaigning that leads to people being less comfortable with speaking about politics but he hasn't quite got the answer right.

While it is true that "one doesn't talk politics at the dinner table" there's a an element of conditioning that goes far deeper, especially in the working classes and that is the nerve that he probably hit in 'Barbara'. People hold tightly to the ideal of a secret ballot because the feeling passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, the 'generational memory' is of a time when the factory owner would lean on workers to vote for who served the business interest. You would lose your job if you didn't comply. People know that we should hang on to the great things we've gained since "the rotten boroughs".

The time at your ballot paper is one of the few times when you have complete control over your own actions. That is something to keep safe.


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