My Blog

The Internet Made Me Lose My Attention Span… But Not Really

I have a confession. I only read a book a week these days; six years ago I used to consume a book a day for pleasure, excluding the reading I was assigned by other people.

It’s all changed because of the internet.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

*

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that what I do for fun has changed. I’ve always enjoyed discovering new things from an early age. Information is a valuable commodity and I liked (and still like) wowing people with small, insignificant facts or engaging in lengthy conversations about this or that particular writer. No book was safe – for a short time I had virtually memorised all the flow charts in our battered, home copy of a family medical textbook. I would curl up on my bed inventing fictional ailments to test if I could remember what symptoms I could say yes to without ending at a red box telling me to immediately call the emergency services. I don’t do that any more. Instead I’m on the internet jumping from article to video to forum to obscure Wikipedia page.

There have been so many scare articles over the time in which I’ve shifted away from books. Beware, they all shriek, the internet is destroying the concentration span of your children! Soon all that will be left of modern culture will be a few tweets! Everything else will be too taxing on their underused minds! And we do buy that argument because a lot of us notice how we rarely read all the way to the end of the page, and how we prefer doodles and snappy lines to long reels of text.

I’m not one of those pessimists that say the internet is destroying people. After all, I had a free reign on my internet usage at university but could still sit through hundreds of pages of reading when it came down to it. Realistically those of us in the world that can read and have the opportunity to will be able to cope with a book if we were made to read one. Like riding a bike, the skill never truly drifts away from us. It is our satisfaction that can and has shifted.

Once upon a time I sat entranced for hours with a good paperback. Now I’ll stop every 10/15 minutes or so to write down an interesting train of thought  – something to look up later or write down. I used to be ashamed of this trend as I thought it meant I had become flighty and would rapidly become less intelligent. In fact, like most people who age, I’ve learnt more, but not only that – I’ve learnt proportionally more each year. Modern technology means that we’ve become used to the idea of always learning, always striving for ways to put information into practice. If I want to learn about something I no longer need be a passive recipient; when I am presented with a news item I can look up background information if I want to developed a deeper and more nuanced position, or find the definition of every single word I’m even just 1% unsure about. Because accessing information on technology takes very little time and is incredibly easy, the threshold of what is acceptable ignorance is lower. Consequently it becomes harder to calmly sit through something knowing that you’re missing part of the larger picture.

Books are now refocused as a nice past-time, a way of slowing everything down with a level of focus akin to meditation. They are not the main source of knowledge. We can learn faster along with learning more perspectives on the internet.

Elon Musk, who will likely be remember as the visionary of our time, said in a discussion with Khan Academy “the more you can gamify the process of learning, the better”. The classical methods of learning are now just old.

The internet is affecting us all and we should be fascinated with the possibilities this means for the future.

Catching a Rickshaw in the World’s Largest Waiting Room

It better perhaps to frame the transport as not so much a very expensive bike ride but rather a very cheap Arabic lesson.

I hope Ahmed does not understand the meaning of “FUCK”.

We are threading through the city on three wheels, crammed into a vehicle which – like all Khartoum back-seats I have been in – has too low a ceiling to fit my height and so I am hunched over trying not to be flung out the doorless side. Somehow my de-pigmented knuckles, white from vitiligo, are even whiter gripping the thin black bar that separates me from Ahmed the Rickshaw Driver. After a week back in the country I am finally confident enough to practice my atrocious Arabic with someone and now I risked his lasting impression to be one of a foul-mouth foreigner.

Ahmed either does not hear my yell or chooses to politely ignore it, instead wanting to know which of the local football teams I supported; Hilal or Merrikh? Fumbling for words I tell him that I don’t know which one is the right one. His furious head shaking tells me this is definitely the wrong answer.

I stare out at the empty side. Khartoum still feels so unfamiliar even as the sights match those of my childhood – a city covered in dust and streets blooming with multi-coloured plastic bags.

He shakes his head again.

I don’t understand how you can come back to Khartoum and not pick a football team

*

When I say ‘rickshaw’ to someone back in London they think of the pushcarts, pedalled by disinterested young men who cluster in the city centre, cigarettes hanging from lips as they yell to drunken tourists. And then I have to explain that yes, those definitely fall under the dictionary definition of rickshaw, but in Sudan rickshaws (or rasksha as my Arabic practice has taught me) are not glorified bikes, but rather small motorised tin cans. Usually black, and sometimes pasted with Disney cartoon characters and random English words – items signifying a certain coolness motivated by the belief that this will win more fares – they buzz through Khartoum, piercing across traffic. For just a few pounds you too can risk safety for a quick journey.

Although it is not as cheap as when I stopped living here five years ago. Sanctions in the country have led to inflation; a journey previously costing a single US dollar now costs about seven. When I last visited there was the inevitable rush of development that affects a city after a peace agreement, then the global recession and US/EU sanctions hit. Now the rush still goes on, but it is slower and hidden, no longer reflected in new, shiny soaring buildings. Price increases mean the first instance I am required to travel down the road I take the mature approach of not wanting to “waste my money” and 10 minutes later all exposed areas of my skin are the same shade as Jessica Rabbit’s lips.

It better perhaps to frame the transport as not so much a very expensive bike ride but rather a very cheap Arabic lesson.

*

IgoStreetSixtyNowNearMosque?I ask.

The rickshaw has spluttered up alongside me. Inside is a man about my age, a slight red tinge under his black skin suggesting that he too was suffering from the last of the summer heat. His eyebrows raise themselves at my accent – regularly described as sounding Japanese for reasons I still have yet to figure out – and, after glancing down at my colourful Western clothes, he opts for gesturing with his head that I should hop in.

I foolishly undermine the authority I want my garbled Arabic to carry by asking how much it will cost.

It is a universal rule in a barter economy that you do not ask for the price if you have light skin and are obviously a foreigner. The second rule is if the rickshaw driver quotes you an acceptable price and you have light skin and are obviously a foreigner it is definitely not anywhere near an acceptable price.

Ten” he says, gesturing again.

No! SevenDollarsFinished”

He laughs. No sale.

He is a generous man and anything less would basically be paying me to travel.

Unfortunately I know the third rule. The third rule is that when you are dealing with a rickshaw driver in Sudan and you are a bit Sudanese you may get some success by telling them this.

NoSevenOnly – SudaneseFather!”

He laughs again, though this time he nods his head and we are off, dashing through crossing lights. We pass by the ladies who sit on the edges of empty spaces selling tea and packed restaurants selling too-expensive meat, him eloquently discussing his education and football and the idyllic vision of London he’s seen in films, I replying in my faltering grammar-less speech to the questions I understand.

Khartoum has been described as the world’s largest waiting room – there is a languid atmosphere and meetings start and end late, much to the frustration of foreign workers. But it is homey too, full of people who will fold you gently into their lives and rickshaw drivers who praise every piece of your broken Arabic as if it were great poetry.

The mosque looms near and eventually we reach the point where I can handle over the crumpled note and stumble into the air-conditioned coolness of the living room.

Remember” he says gravely as I slide out of the rickshaw, “you support Hilal now.” 

The Strangest of All Hot Takes: #piggate 2015

So a rather explosive reveal has occurred, with Lord Ashcroft – apparently none-too-pleased about not getting a greater position in government – serialising his new biography of David Cameron in the Daily Mail (which the newspaper helpfully reported under the title ‘REVENGE’ in case we were unsure of motives). Of course the allegation that life sometimes veers way too close to a Black Mirror episode has taken over the UK internet.

As it goes I’m cautious about affecting a gun-ho attitude to this because we don’t actually have confirmation of the pig incident. Obviously this type of story is perfect since it captures the imagination (my first reaction upon waking up and seeing it was ‘OH MY GOD, TWITTER WILL BE AMAZING FOR DAYS’), people run with it, denials just draw more attention, and the ‘not dignifying with an answer’ statement makes it seem to many like you’re being evasive. Basically there is no real way of proving you didn’t do something like this even if you actually didn’t.

I say this as someone who is against Cameron and his ideologies; this doesn’t actually change the way I view him. Partially it’s just general low expectations. Cameron was and is part of elitist societies which poorly treat those they view as below them. All allegations seem par for the course.

Still it is quite significant that loads of people can read it and not simply say straight out of hand that it is completely ridiculous. It’s the exact type of story that people instinctively think is true about a certain type of person. It’s the exact type of story which – focused on many other MPs – wouldn’t gain the same kind of traction without concrete proof because it would read like a fantasy.

In essence Cameron, whether or not Lord Ashcroft’s book is true, is a individual who the public can believe would have sex with a dead pig as a drunken jape in university. And, with how the public feels about that sort of thing, that really is a pretty big indictment regardless of anything else.

Back to the Desert

The last time I smelt rain following a storm of dust was five years ago when a whirlwind of sand passed through Khartoum. There is something sweet and comforting in the smell, a small section of yourself you never realised was there beats faster. It is the same kind of remembrance that greets me whenever I carve open pink grapefruit, hurled back to childhood breakfast with my grandmother at her Northampton table.

I’m going back now, running to a country I left in 2010 to learn a language I failed to grasp fully when there.

*

Three weeks ago I turned 23. I feel exceptionally young in some ways, like I’m on the cusp of proper adulthood and soon everything will start to get very serious and so I’m trying to stave off what I envision to be a boring normality. Of course this is ridiculous, normality is by its nature completely fine, but I seem to conceive of it as something a little bit gauche. Adventure, a lot of the time, is only what people think they want.

Anyway I’m 23 and asking a whole lot of questions about where I am in my life, where I want to be in my life and – most importantly – who I am and who I want to say I am. And these are questions I have come to the conclusion that I can’t answer without going back, no matter how briefly, to a place that I will forever find etched into myself. So this is why I find myself, 23 and (just under) three weeks old in Khartoum, Sudan.

Even if I haven’t quite grappled through my complex thoughts about considering myself Sudanese I want to feel closer to it. And everyone here thinks I’m utterly mad; perhaps because I am, perhaps because it is a little strange and offensive to be a white girl trying to find herself and her future path in Africa, but so far it feels right.

For example; things I have remembered this week include aleela means today, bariid means cold, and that bey is with. Things that I have learnt this week include that haguul laek is I’m going to tell you something and agguul laek haiga is a more informal way of saying the same thing, and that masoora which means tap or, alternatively, a person that always says they are going to do something then they don’t do it, must come from the Arabic maa meaning water. I had never twigged because in Sudan water is moya.

I have also learnt that I am masoora*

So far my productive holiday has been spent reconnecting with old friends and family, frustrating them with my incessant new curiosity for the language that I never displayed before. The air feels more attuned to my nature – people like to talk about the quirks of Sudanese Arabic and everyone wants to educate the foreigner (up to a point). Still I have yet to test out willingness to grapple with more ridiculous parts of my discussion tendencies, and whereas before I would have certainly said that Khartoum was home, now I can see just how much I have been altered by the past five years in London.

Home it seems, isn’t just a bout of nostalgia, but where you can feel comfortable in your skin. It’s not fixed to a particular language or a set group of people, but the sense of disease abandoning your body. I haven’t quite got there yet, not with London nor Khartoum.

For now though, the desert is enough.

____________________________________________________________
*A friend told me this because I turned up at their house at the later end of a time frame I gave. I live in hope that it was a circumstantial description rather than an accurate portrait of my character.

Watching BoJack Horseman / How to be a Good Person

“BoJack doesn’t get the Hollywood (Hollywoo?) pay off. He doesn’t get the satisfaction of forgiveness, or of being told that he is a good person. He just gets brief moments of self-realisation before he runs from his reflection once more. Seeing yourself in him you realise that you don’t get that cartoon magic of resolutions either.”

BoJack Horseman just launched the second series on the 17th July and my intention was to clean whilst I watched but, like last the last series, I ended up on a viewing marathon, gripped.

Last series I had been hesitant to delve into it; the comedy starts off slow, and it was only the rave reviews from friends that invested me in it. However once I got to the second half it was compulsive. I kept watching all through the night, pushing myself deeper and deeper down into an addictive hollowness as it pummelled me emotionally. I recognise too much of myself in BoJack – the occasional arrogance, the desire to prove talents that he is not quite sure he has, wanting to numb himself emotionally from everything, self-sabotaging – and here was a show that didn’t end with roses and sunshine. The protagonist always making the wrong choice, over and over, in the idea that the choice will bring happiness and instead it brings nothingness.

*

Here’s a brief guide on how to be a good person:

  1. Lie to yourself
  2. Rationalise every action you’ve ever made based on “being true to yourself” and therefore good
  3. Justify that the consequences were the best possible outcome
  4. Say “I’m a good person inside”
  5. Do things every now and again for others and cling to them as indisputable proof of your goodness

*

The first series is the process of BoJack slowly coming to see himself properly. The marketing as an adult comedy does a great disservice to the beauty of an end product; the show is not hesitant to get into the darker parts of what it is to be human/horse. BoJack comes to realise he’s terrible, he realises that there are things people won’t ever forgive him for, that you don’t get to pick how people view your past. That it might actually be your actions and not your intentions that shape who you are.

BoJack doesn’t get the Hollywood (Hollywoo?) pay off. He doesn’t get the satisfaction of forgiveness, or of being told that he is a good person. He just gets brief moments of self-realisation before he runs from his reflection once more. Seeing yourself in him you realise that you don’t get that cartoon magic of resolutions either.

It’s hard to come to that conclusion. Extremes are easy to identify: this person is evil, that one is saintly. It’s the blurry areas in the middle that are complicated enough to allow us to fashion a false narrative about ourselves. We want to believe that the world works according to how we feel, and that therefore overall we’re pretty neat. We don’t fit the extreme so we must be good.

*

After getting through the second series and watching BoJack break me emotionally once more – realising his problems and still failing to act adequately enough – I was stuck reflecting on how I am always caught in the same mistakes too. At the core I want to feel like I have a goodness that is threaded through every action, and really the truth is that we are both good and bad in each moment and that one does not cancel out the other. Repetition means that it is not simply naivety but a willing ignorance to maintain the fiction that I make kind decisions. The people I have made feel terrible will still feel terrible. Whether they forgive me or not it doesn’t erase how I have treated them.

It is intriguing how so many of the “best” and “loving” actions align with what we want in our heads. This ego of good people syndrome extends to everyone, ruining revenge fantasies we build up. As much as we crave it people often don’t feel bad about the things they’ve done, or have everything turn to shit on them. The person that cheated on you? They probably are happier and feel comfortable that it was all for the best. Most people aren’t devastated, but walk away with a shrug – at the most you may get an “I’ll do better next time”. I am highly unlikely to think of myself as cruel in the moment.

*

In some ways intent doesn’t really matter, because of how often we lie to even ourselves about the true reasons, coating them in a more acceptable veneer. Goodness is frequently self-serving, sometimes we help not just for altruism but for showmanship. Even a genuine act can be tarred later on, allowing us to we cling onto them as proof of who we want people to see us as. I can tell the story of helping a homeless man who had suffered heat-stroke where I co-ordinated a group of the public and arranged an ambulance, leaving me an hour late to drinks with a friend. I don’t tell it because part of changing myself for the better means starting with me looking at the slumped over man, bright red and sweating, and walking on. It means telling people that I got to the end of the road and then felt like shit, so to soothe myself I went back. It means acknowledging that I still walk straight past people in need without a glance every week. And that means making myself look unforgivably human.

That’s not to say I’m a pessimist, or that self-serving altruism is bad. It’s just I’m coming to realise that being good is a combination both how you feel and what you do, but ultimately the more important thing is that consequences of your actions. Working on being an inch better is painful, and slow and you slip back. It’s what makes BoJack Horseman such compelling viewing. Knowing your faults is not the same as changing. I’m going to fuck up more than I get it right.

That doesn’t make me “good” but it’s a little bit closer.

All the Poems I’ve Done

I like writing. I’m lucky enough that I can devote a fair amount of time to it. Mainly I write essays, scripts, and work on longer journalistic pieces, but I also write poetry. I joke this makes me pretentious, but then I also worry that it does actually make me pretentious because WHO DOES POETRY ANYMORE? Poetry is always too linked to years spent in school trying to make Keats mean something to me, but the fact that beauty is eternal and nature is beauty was the only thing that stood out, and I vastly prefer the chaos and harshness of cities.

Poetry is both quicker and slower than I thought it would be when I started. In terms of producing work it often flows out rapidly, in butchered and confusing first drafts that are trimmed and reshaped over weeks. The process to official publication though is quite slow – often it is specified that there will be months before a reply is given and you sit there doubting everything you’ve ever done.

So it is more than just nice to see a poem you’ve written in a independent print publication (Glitterwolf Issue 8: Identity) and it is more than just nice to see one in a fantastic online publication that specialises in producing a poem a day. And I sit and win May 2015 ‘Pick of the Month’ over at Ink, Sweat and Tears – the first they have done – and as part of that I now get to go to a Lunar Poetry workshop and I’ll worry a bit about feeling fraudulent whilst at the same time feeling incredibly acknowledged.

Poetry has slowly become for me a convoluted way of communicating my feelings. Whereas before I used to smash canvases with paint, now I train my fingers to stumble over computer keys (or if I feel like living up to my pretentious style then I drag out my typewriter). I fell into it in December, with the help of what we now jokingly term the ‘Really Small Poetry Society’ when I gated-crashed my friends Marie (@MarieaRoemer) and Adham (@AdhamSmart92) critiquing each others poems on Skype. Hesitantly I began exploring an area of literature I’d never done before and felt deeply lacking confidence in, and with their constant pushing began to see real improvements and sent off submissions.

Right now I’m sitting here trying to figure out an ending to a longer piece I have been working on for the week. In a few days I may find myself reading out loud some of the words I have put to paper. I still feel like I am joking around with this, that eventually it will all come down and I will be thinking Why did I even get myself into this in the first place? Why did I believe I was capable? But then I suppose that you have to try, because I’ve already spent a lot of time not trying and that didn’t do much.

Maybe this will all be a phase. I don’t think it will be, the way that I feel the muscles in my shoulders unclench as I try to put what I see into verbal form. There’s something in the process of learning how to write that seems to clarify parts of me to myself. Yet even if my desire to continue slips away I know that I am learning how to be more at ease of being proud of my creative work; I am glad that I have something to share, and that others see it as valuable to share too. That is the important thing – turning and saying I am a poet without offering caveats.

Pretty in Pride

At the beginning of the Pride Parade in London a glorious menagerie of corporations will thunder down the road and declare that they are LGB(TQ) friendly, and also won’t you please buy are products, and also will you ignore their ethics because look everything is rainbows!

Pride is a commodification of an important riot and the beginning of a struggle for LGBTQ rights that even with the historic US Supreme Court ruling in favour of equal marriage on Friday, is nowhere near finished. Here in the UK trans individuals need their spouses signature to legally change gender or their marriage is dissolve, and around the continent are routinely sterilised against their will. Equal marriage we do not quite yet have, even before we discuss all the other issues that are yet to be properly fought.

Pride in London has issues, inviting UKIP despite the large presence of individuals who the organisation actively fights against, meaning that many of those in charge were initially quite willing to make a celebration feel like a hostile place for LGBTQ BAME individuals and especially for LGBTQ immigrants who constantly have to validate their place in British society. There are major LGBTQ organisations for whom sometimes the B and especially the T and often the Q is considered not important. And then we have individuals themselves, who think that equal marriage is the end of all issues, and that #LoveWins, even though frequently love often is not as important as wealth, privilege and connections in navigating oppressive structures. I will not start on allies who centre the discussion and celebration on them.

Alternatives to Pride are vital to continuing that revolutionary spirit of Stonewall. Mainstream Pride however has its place in creating a large environment where young queers (some at least) will fit in and be surrounded by people celebrating their existence. There are flaws that desperately need to be sorted out, but I don’t believe it is a sunk ship yet; it tells people that if they can be treated by the wider world as if they are a sin, they might as well also adopt the sin of Pride.

So  I will critique it to save it, but for today I will be turning up and embracing all the joy of the moment while I can.

A Great Fear of the Future

I began writing this essay on the night of the UK 2015 General Election when the Exit Poll came in. I began to wonder where we go from here when everything seems so very gloomy, and it feels like my fate is to be a cliché millennial always wanting more than I deserve. I continued this on the same morning that a friend moved across an ocean and I tried not to cry about the fact that everything is changing very quickly. I am finishing it now as I prepare to move back in with my mother for a short while before I begin my own (altogether shorter) overseas adventure.

*

The UK General Election results show that the Conservatives slash and burn policies can not only maintain interest from the public, but even gather them more support. Or theoretically “more support” since the link between seats and votes is quite tenuous in our first-past-the-post system here. Still the Tories are doing well, and more concerning are the millions who voted for UKIP – a number which would surely be greater under a more representative voting system which did not encourage tactical votes. I have never had the opportunity to live under unrestrained Toryism and now I have triggered a sort of inherited fear. It is like a klaxon has been going off in my head since May 7th: BE WARNED, BAD TIDINGS AHEAD!

It’s a bit absurd since I personally won’t be too badly harmed; in a lot of ways the state was always made for people like me. Yes, I do have aspects and circumstances that can be held against me – my name for starters is not ideal – but overall I have access to a lot of privilege that will allow me to avoid some of the most devastating things that will be happening to our communities over the next five years.

Still we as humans get scared when we don’t have that certain security. It’s why, because I was fortunate enough to be able to, I marched on June 20th to #EndAusterityNow. Obviously it will take more than a march to change government policy, especially a majority government, but it was a way for me to plant my feet down and mark out publicly what I value. Part of the reason I have not joined a political party is that none so far close enough reflects what I treasure to speak for me, so I need to take that responsibility to speak myself.

It is now that we have to accept that a lot of personal decisions feed into the bigger political problem. Without active dissent a majority government is a lot more secure in pushing through proposals that damage us. And in a majority conservative government there is a danger that the entire political conversation will drag to the right, and with it more extreme positions seem less dramatic. If I don’t speak out about bigotry I see, aggressively in my day-to-day life, I let people get away with thinking that I don’t really care. So the personal is political.

Too often actions we want to take get watered down by fears of judgement. Start with the simple notion of shaving off body hair as a woman. Expand that into letting slightly offensive jokes slide because you know that the person isn’t bad.  Feel resentful when someone gets angry with you about something you’ve done that has hurt them. I am not immune to this – I bite my tongue on certain things to keep the peace. Months ago I would have said this allowed me to change things in a more subtle way, and though it has had some impact in some areas I’m starting to come to the view that subtly is a poor weapon against the things that I hate and fear. I need to see this dissociation for what it is – inherently harmful to others. Taking as much action as possible, more than I think I can get away with means that even when things are awful I can be happy with my conduct. This is not just about austerity, but about the whole way society conducts itself.

I am not suddenly going to stop being scared, both of possible retributions for speaking out over different things, and of the future that the country seems to be heading for, but I do have the option to decide which scares me more. Sometimes it will be the first, sometimes the latter. Sometimes I will be resistant to doing certain things because of criticism from those to the right of me, and sometimes it will be those from the left I am concerned with. In general though I am trying to move on from letting other people decide how loud I shout about a system that takes the most vulnerable and hurts them more.

We shape the world in the image of our actions. I want my world to care about those who don’t have all of the extra assurances that I do.

Independent Voices! Bir Tawil! Colonialism!

Some time last year an American man planted a flag in an unclaimed area of land between Egypt and Sudan called Bir Tawil to make his daughter a princess. More recently Disney announced that they were making a film based on this. As the whole incident obviously reminds people of a very particular moment in history, there was a lot of fury on twitter (which included myself) and I decided to write all my feelings down. You can read my anger here, which the Independent’s online Voices section published:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-princess-of-north-sudan-when-i-see-a-western-man-plant-a-flag-in-african-land-my-heart-drops-10254047.html

Sadly my link to the fabulous Eddie Izzard sketch did not make it in, but I do think it makes the perfect bookend to the piece.

The Secret Ballot is Not a Thing: Talking About Voting

In this UK general election I am voting Labour.

I am not voting Labour because I am a member of the Labour party. I do not want to join any party at the moment. I am not voting Labour because I think they have great policies, since I haven’t read all their manifesto, and there are some I am against or undecided on. I am not voting Labour because I think they will be a great change. If anything I doubt things will shift that much – the difference between the Conservatives and Labour is between 5 years of a lot of austerity measures vs. slightly less austerity measures.

For all my jokes about Ed Miliband and being a groupie I am not actually a paid-up member of the #Milifandom, as he is foremost a politician and though I view him as more sincere and idealistic than a lot of politicians (which poses its own problems), he still just wants votes at the end of the day. No politician is a saviour figure, unless we finally get a politician willing to create a long-term cross party plan on essential services (NHS, Education) that cannot be altered or messed up with each election.

I am not even voting because of the local candidate, though I think she will be a very, very good MP. I recently went door-to-door to convince people to cross the box next to Dr. Rupa Huq’s name and I am glad I did so.

The true reason I am voting Labour is because I am a lefty in a Tory-Labour marginal and that is what I see as the best option.

*

I dislike the conversation around secret ballots. When conversation veers onto voting and people say they don’t want to reveal their choices I understand it on some level but ultimately I think it harms public debate. Secret ballots are to protect you from the grip of the government, and other possible avenues of intimidation. However if you feel you live in a situation – as we do here – where that is less likely to happen you are entirely free to discuss your voting choice. Secret ballots aren’t even entirely enshrined in our system – both postal and proxy votes don’t really uphold the principle. And whilst polls may give an indication of intention, polls don’t have the same impact or nuance of talking with someone one-on-one.

Without discussing who we are voting for, and more importantly why we have selected them (or even the reasons we are not voting) with as broad a range of people as possible, we perpetuate the idea of loyal solid party voters. Discussion doesn’t need to be proselytising, indeed people may discover they have identical views but the results differ due to tactics that our political system forces. When people are backed into a system they can react in wildly different ways and just looking at the raw data can create the illusion that there is no strong common ground on particular issues since the votes are split between groups with radically different perspectives. As Wail Qasim wrote recently for Vice there is only a limited pool of parties which non-white people may feel represent their interests. The same is true for many other disadvantaged groups in society. This perspective leads to neglect as the main parties that rely on their support feel like they don’t have to offer anything to compel that support – they assume they will always get the votes regardless of how awful they treat people because they are better than the alternative. And so all the turf of political conversation becomes even more narrowly geared for those already in positions of great privilege.

With my Dad and his siblings composed of four mixed-race black kids growing up in the Midlands during the 80s there is a fundamental notion in the family that you absolutely NEVER vote Tory. As a result the choice becomes often tactical – voting for a smaller party may in a roundabout way introduce a Tory to power so instead the focus becomes on blocking them. This is why I will vote the way I do in my first general election.

My ideal is ultimately to reform the voting system so that people can have more faith in the system. On a smaller level I want parties to actively engage people rather than rely on tactical voting, and move beneficial policies to a wider range of people instead of middle-class swing voters. Part of that is opening up the conversation and honestly talking about how we are forced to vote tactically if we choose to participate in the current system.

I am voting Labour but I want to one day feel like it is more of a choice.