It was Municipal Election Day in High Wycombe. I had just turned eighteen so I was eligible to vote for the first time. But I was in no hurry to go and cast my ballot; local politics didn’t interest me and it meant cycling the two miles up to the polling station in Haslemere. In Britain the national political parties also compete at the local level. In Wycombe the voters had returned a majority of Conservative aldermen with regularity since time out of mind, so whether I voted or not seemed unimportant compared to worrying about beer money and a date for the weekend.
At 5:30 p.m. I still hadn’t made up my mind to go and vote, when Dad came hurrying in from work, looking dismayed.“Hello Dad, what’s up?” “I stopped off to vote,” he said shaking his head, “and I’ve just realized I voted for the wrong person. I voted for the Liberal!” For Dad, a life-long Tory this was tantamount to regicide. I had already decided that if I voted at all it would be for the Liberal candidate because older brother Phil was a staunch Liberal and the smartest person I knew. So I said to Dad, unhelpfully, “All right, maybe we can win this thing!” “No, it’s not all right,” he countered, “I feel terrible.” Then a thought occurred to him, “Hugh, have you voted yet?”
I told him I hadn’t but it was getting close to dinnertime, and the Tories were bound to win in Wycombe, so I probably would not bother. There followed a lecture on civic responsibility, upholding the democratic tradition that his generation had fought to maintain, etc., and that I should vote. He would even drive me to the polling station. He wasn’t making much headway until he played his trump card. “Hugh, I want to ask a favour. If you were voting it would be Liberal, yes?” I nodded. “Well you see, I’ve already cast your vote for you. I’d like you to return the favour and go and vote for John Smith the Conservative candidate. Look at it as preserving my honour.”
Like many of my age, relations with my father at that time would swing from testy to open hostility. I was constantly being reminded that I did not study enough, was too preoccupied with girls, beer and partying – those last three should have counted as one – and was no help around the house or yard. So my immediate reaction to his plea for help, in my mind, was to say ‘Tough shit Dad, you screwed up for a change!’ But seeing him standing there, so distraught, so upset over something I considered inconsequential, a light went on for me. Thank goodness. It didn’t rank with St. Paul on the road to Damascus, but it was an epiphany nonetheless. It was important because it was important to him. I could not refuse.
He drove me to the polling station and I cast my ballot for Mr. Smith. Dad was beaming as I got back in the car. “Thank you. Much appreciated” he said. Feeling mischievous I said “How do you know I really voted for Smith?” Without batting an eyelid he replied “Because you said you would, and you knew family honour was at stake.”
I helped Mr. Smith to win; he won with a margin of 1,300 votes over his nearest rival. But the gap between Dad and me had lessened somewhat.
By Hugh Marchand