UK General Elections mess with your sanity.

Yesterday, at my son’s school sports day, I saw a friend from church for the first time in years.

‘David’, I said, sounding as if I had made some major scientific discovery: ‘You know, I don’t think the material world exists. I think this is all an illusion.’

We laughed.

When political parties are competing for votes, they present us with Manichean choices.

The reds are going to introduce new taxes. The blues have wrecked the country. The reds are going to make private education unaffordable. The purples are all racists.

Speechwriters have a unique perspective on these things because it’s our job to use language to make you believe these things.

How do we do this?

Part of our training is to do mindless exercises like find 100 different ways to say, I was grateful to receive your letter.

Sounds like a particularly pointless thing an arts graduate would do?

Actually, to work hard at finding the appropriate words to express simple sentiments is very powerful.

We experiment with all the emotional subtleties that are buried in different words and expressions.

We then pick the words that will wind you up the most.

Here’s a theory behind my ‘scientific discovery’. Our perception of ‘reality’ is not based on what we experience, but the language we use to describe that experience.

I grasped this when I went on a marriage guidance course.

The teachers explained that when you get married, you both grow up with traditions.

Birthdays, family holidays and Christmas are concepts heavily laden with emotion and expectation.

I went to boarding school and so my birthday was never really celebrated after the age of 11 and my mother announced one day that, ‘we don’t acknowledge birthdays’. (Her birthday was on 25 December, which is a psychological clue why she felt that way).

Suffice to day a few years into my marriage, my wife went berserk on her special day because I didn’t buy her a birthday cake.

The marriage course teachers were right.

Birthdays, family holidays and Christmas are perilous times. Because, as parents, we want to have positive experiences based on previous positive experiences and our partners (or indeed our parents) can really mess things up.

But is there a right and a wrong way to do birthdays, family holidays and Christmas?

We’ve established that words carry difference emotional energies, and beneath them are experiences we have of life.

I was at the hustings where the candidates for the General Election this week.

This was the second hustings I attended, so I knew the pattern.

There was talk about the financial corruption of both of the main political parties, how immigration has ruined Britain, sewage in the sea, the climate change catastrophe, the disaster of Brexit and the Liz Truss budget.

Every speech they made was pointing out something that was bad.

By identifying something that was bad, the implication was that they could make it good.

But nobody told us how.

This is my problem with the material world as described by politicians.

I tried to subvert the hustings with a different question.

When elected to the House of Commons the new MP has to make a speech saying how wonderful their constituency is. What unequivocally positive trends can they identify in our local area?

There was a palpable change in mood in the room.

A few of them talked about the beauty of Bournemouth beach, about the schools, the tech and financial service businesses.

Two of the candidates struggled. One said immigration had ruined everything, another said that since he’d moved to Bournemouth thirty years ago and he’d only witnessed steady decline.

It proves the absurdity of politics.

The candidates want you to narrow your focus on problems that stir up powerful emotions inside you.

When we walk through Bournemouth we can find ample evidence of decay, corruption and injustice.

Or we can look a little harder and see new businesses, busy cafés and young families enjoying themselves.

Reality is what we pay attention to.

Politicians have a vested interest in making us feel disgust at the state of the country.

However, as the former MP, Tony Banks once admitted: ‘You go into politics to solve people’s problems, then you wake up years later and you realise you can’t solve them.’

During an election we get highly distorted and misleading pictures of how the world is.

I can let myself be stirred up by what they’re saying, or I can put on a new pair of glasses.

Through those new glasses, I can see that whatever the result this week, this time next year there will still be new businesses, busy cafés and young families enjoying themselves in Bournemouth.

As it says in that famous poem, Desiderata: ‘With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’


Leave a reply