The last election I got really involved in was in 2004: the Kerry:Bush US Presidential campaign. After four years of (at best) accidental, (at worst) stolen Republican rule, everyone and anyone with a blue-beating heart was desperate for change. These were the pre-Obama days (although this was the campaign that first got him noticed nationally) and change wasn't as talismanic then as it became in 2008. Change back then just meant, 'not Bush'.
My fabulously hippy, island-dwelling, Bug-driving boss gave us all Election Day off on condition that we would spend it canvassing. This being the US, he was very carefully to be non-partisan in this suggestion; this being an independent publishing house in Seattle, it was an absolute shoo-in that every single one of us was off to fight for the Dems.
Being a foreigner in a desperate election is simultaneously liberating and disenfranchising. Liberating, in the way that many things about being the foreigner are liberating, you have a certain amount of emotional distance from the situation. But if you're living as a 'native' rather than a 'tourist', by which I mean, hanging out with the locals (rather than in some peculiar expat enclave); working; paying taxes; it's incredibly frustrating to want change and not be able to tangibly effect change. And yes, I mean 'effect', not 'affect', grammar nerds.
So I did what I could, and I did it as sincerely and as desperately as it could be done. I went to Nordstrom and bought the VOTE!!! t-shirt in case being confronted with my boobs was likely to sway anyone to the polls (this is pre-kids; said boobs were not unimpressive, if I say so myself). I called our local branch of the Democrat Party and offered my services. And I spent election day in the local office in a sterile office park, dialing my way through a list of numbers and asking each person if they'd voted today and who they'd voted for (none of the British squeamishness about this being 'too personal' a question).
It was a strange feeling; a sense of utter urgency, and a need to be DOING something, dammit. Americans, I think, are inherently more politicised than the British. Whether that has to do with British disinclination to talk about such things, or the American democracy (with a small d); but it was actually really energising to be around.
Everyone (well; everyone in our uber-liberal gang of pals in uber-liberal West Coast Seattle) was so desperate for a Democrat win that you could feel the vote being pulled there, inch by inch.
It was like a tug-of-war with a really stupid, but far-bigger-than-you person on the other side. And, to be honest, Kerry was never the best candidate for the Dems; he was essentially a spoiled rich kid just like Bush, and a bit dull. But he was the best of a mediocre bunch, and so we got behind him and we fought.
All of which brings me to how utterly, nerve-wrenchingly thrilling it is to be back in Britain for the first decent election it feels like we've had since (in my voting time, at least) 1997; and in reality, for absolutely ever. It does feel a bit like that 2004 campaign, in the sense that neither poor beleagured Gordy (though as the girl who always falls for the drummer in the band, he does have a certain appeal) or Slick Nick Clegg really have the Obama-appeal. The real emphasis for voting here is 'anyone but Cameron'. But that vitality, that sense of unity, the urgency of it all, and the huge amount of sheer energy it's bringing to the country, is really, really interesting. And it's good to be home for it, where I have a vote.
Now: fingers crossed, and off to the polls we go.
PS Nigel Barton is, in essence, Dennis Potter's alter ego. I know, I know; any excuse to slip in a reference to the Forest...