As a child, I went to a well-meaning but mostly awful primary school. It was very modern, with a huge conservatory, fish pond and aviary, but the teaching staff and methods didn’t exactly set you up for a strong shot at success in secondary school. Our final year largely involved us spending an awful lot of time learning about the Hebrews from our ageing and ferociously religious battle-axe teacher, the net result being that most of us subsequently aced Religious Studies the following year, but had no idea how to properly punctuate in English.
The school was also very big on assemblies, having 200 or so kids sit on a hard dining room floor, mumbling some hymn or other while a teacher almost exploded with joy, hammering away at a piano. Occasionally, though, teachers would try something a bit different, and one day we were told we would be having an election.
Our class was split into groups, to form political parties. We were told we’d have to campaign, win over the electorate, and then the winners would be announced in a subsequent assembly.
My memory’s fuzzy on precisely what we were taught regarding the basics of politics, but my guess is not a lot. Instead, our ten- and eleven-year-old brains fired up, figuring out the best way to win. Each team’s tactics, it seemed, were very similar: make a load of promises and attempt to bribe the electorate. Breaktimes became a flurry of snacks (and, unless I’m misremembering, small amounts of money) being foisted on younger voters, while the promises became ever more elaborate. Post-PE showers (which, depressingly, the school didn’t offer)! A special pupils-only telephone (this was, note, 1986)! Longer break-times!
On election day, everyone got their chance to spell out their manifesto one final time, and sing a catchy election song, further ramming home the promises. Then it was time for the vote. Our party won, largely on the basis of making the most outlandish promises (although we were, it has to be said, not the best bribers—our baking skills didn’t match those of our rivals). Boom! Victory!
But any period of joy was short-lived when it suddenly became very clear we couldn’t fulfil anything we’d promised. Not only did we have no power, but the school didn’t have any extra money nor any interest in putting such promises into place. Time in the playground for a while involved attempting to placate angry voters, while our smug teacher helpfully noted that we were getting precisely what we deserved. We’d had a lesson in politics after all, and were learning the hard way.
In today’s British political landscape, I can’t help thinking that Nigel Farage and his UKIP chums were somehow taking notes the day of our election, but didn’t stick around for the aftermath. His party appears to simply suck up every policy the electorate responds negatively to, spin it and spit it out again. It’s the common-sense party, despite having no substance; and every attack on said lack of substance is waved away as some kind of coordinated smear campaign by a ‘LibLabCon’ cartel.
At tomorrow’s European elections, the party’s predicted to perform very well, despite frequent alarmingly racist comments from its members, outbursts that border on fascism, questionable activities regarding expenses, and the party leader disowning his own 2010 manifesto as “drivel”. I hope enough people vote for politicians who want to do better—and who can do better—but I’m fully expecting to be disappointed with a bunch of MEPs being elected who, if anything, have less political promise than children had that day at my old school.