It’s general election season, I love it, it’s like Christmas comes once every 5 years. As a successful politician – oh hold up! You didn’t know? Yes, I Alison Spittle ran for election. Moate Community School was my constituency. Westmeath county council had a scheme where students would learn about politics by taking part in elections and attending junior county council meetings once every month. This meant getting a day off school to go to Mullingar, getting a tour of a recycling plant or the new bypass, and a free curry or turkey and ham dinner. I was in.
My campaign was strong, I promised the school a new bus shelter, as my village had to wait twenty minutes for our bus and there was nowhere to smoke if it rained. The school were very in favour. I visited all walks of life in my school – the hoody gang (they wore Korn hoodies and smoked by the prefabs), my class mates’ little sisters who were mad into huffing Impulse in the cloakroom (to me it seemed like Impulse was not good value for solvent abuse), and the GAA lads who were so forgettable I’ve nothing to say about them. I needed to get the message out to the students that I was the right girl for the job, so I made a poster campaign during art class. I picked high traffic areas and placed my shiny new posters and dreams on the wall near the canteen and gym.
Barry Scott from the Cillit Bang adverts and Mr T were very in vogue in my school at the time. I drew them with speech bubbles imploring the student body to vote me in with gems such as “Bang and she’ll get the job done, Vote for Alison” and “Only a sucker fool wouldn’t vote for Alison.” I was delighted with my work. Later in the afternoon I passed by one of my posters. Something was a bit off. I peered closer to see a sharpied throbbing member drawn onto poor Barry Scott’s face. He didn’t ask for this. It’s always the innocents that shed first blood in war. I ran to Mr T, his strong brave face, disfigured with more schlongs and my mothers name* thrown in for good measure. I fell to my knees in grief. This is politics.
*I need to add, in Moate the big thing for a couple of years was to find out school mates’ mother’s names and whisper it into their ears or shout it in assembly. We also would write Bob Marley’s name in the school role call and maintain he was absent throughout the year to substitute teachers. We were a great laugh.
The day of the vote came and I felt really nervous, the bus shelter idea really had the will of the people. The word on the street was positive but I decided to stay humble, as that’s what you do in a popularity contest. The illustrious Greville Arms Hotel hosted the count the next day. Every school in Westmeath was there, from Kinnegad to Athlone, it was a big day for everyone. I had a fag with the rebellious kids who entered to get the day off school and maintained politics was for innocent rehabs. I laughed along, Benson in mouth, hiding in plain sight. I ran into the ballroom, filled with voting slips from each school, counting their own votes. I got a wink off a teacher. My school was the first to declare. There was a winner on the first count, ooooh the room stopped and turned towards my counting area. “With BLAH BLAH BLAH votes on the first count Alison Spittle is the coolest girl in Moate” – that’s how I heard it, I was delighted with myself and thought “this is for you Barry.”
The first council meeting I went in all guns blazing – “my school needs a bus shelter this is a disgrace.” The kind adult-council-person replied “Alison, I am afraid it’s up to the bus company to provide a bus shelter, it’s not in our power.” I was deflated, I let down my school on the one promise. “Alison you could ring the bus company.” I was still deflated, “I’d have to look in the phone book and find the company. I only get ten euro credit every month.”
The dream had died.
All was not lost. If I hadn’t been elected I wouldn’t have met my first boyfriend, Jimmy Fakename. Our eyes met as he seconded my motion to be leader of the junior council, it took two years until we both got drunk at Oxegen and “lobbed the gob.” He then broke my heart by breaking up with me twice. Once, via text – reason given: our long distance 22km relationship. The second, two years later, by not messaging me or answering his phone. He still has my Peep Show and Alan Partridge box sets, but that was 7 years ago and I am grand. I wish him every bit of happiness in his new engagement.
This all destroyed any political aspirations, and now I observe, so here are my observations on the General Election.
Under the cover of darkness, on Tuesday night Ireland’s landscape transformed into a giant game of Guess Who. We now know what day it is, after months of speculation. Enda, in what felt like a reluctant fiancee pushed on by a pregnancy scare, finally set a date for voting.
Of course there were rows, as accusations flew of premature poster erections by all sides, but that’s like professional cyclists complaining about doping in the mid nineties; everyone is at it, you might as well join in. Bylaws about littering were quoted like the ten commandments as we learned putting up an election poster has more rules than the upkeep of a gremlin.
The poor folk who put up the posters need to take a safety course. Seeing their ladders sway in the wind it’s like the start of an “injury lawyers for you” advert. Surely your wife’s cousin’s political career is not worth a spinal injury.
People complain about how posters make a town look ugly, but I look at the bigger picture as a child living in rural Westmeath. Posters were dotted around my village long after elections had finished but we made use of them; they were waterproof which came in handy for protecting the turf pile in the garden, and were great use in insulating dens and hide outs. I remember the 2004 European election being a great vintage for it. Having your formative years witnessed by a picture of Mairead McGuinness made you question your choices as you played truth or dare. It felt like her homely Fine Gael face was judging you when you tried your first cigarette.
THE CANVASSER TO THE DOOR ROUTINE
I thought we should chat about door to door canvassing. We’ve heard of the routine canvassers must stick to: closing the gate after themselves, never hopping over walls, being polite, knock for three seconds. I was thinking of what the routine is like for the receiver of the door to door canvas. Here is how I deal with canvassers.
The door knocks. “Who could it be at this time?” You peer down the hallway. You see the blurry outline of a power suit g-ing himself up whilst a minion in a rain jacket holds a clip board – after a quick assessment you realise it’s not the TV inspector. You slip into Vincent Brown mode as you try and remember what ticked you off on the radio this morning. You’re ready to let them have it. You open the door to a deflated man in a creased suit, he’s been canvassing all day, beside him is your mum’s friend that you’ve forgotten is a member of a party.
He introduces himself while your mam’s friend recounts every shared experience you’ve had while he recites his leaflet. You mumble something about the banks. You forget the figures as you remember you’ve a chop under the grill – you were looking forward to that chop and pork goes to rubber if you leave it in too long. He’s still talking. You snap back into the room as he finishes off on a “and can I rely on you for a number one?” You mumble yes and say you’ve to get back to your dinner and close the door. You eat your dinner guiltily thinking about all the people you told you would give your number one to when you’re not registered to vote.
So in summation – my advice for future politicians:
Be Bold in your advertising.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
And don’t give your heart and box sets to a wrestling fan who quotes family guy as a substitute for humour.
Featured Image: IrishTimes.com