When we couldn’t gain access to the Scarborough Hospital Social Club, the local Labour Party General Committee decamped to the nearest pub. It was a relief. I am of the opinion that all political meetings should have bitter on tap. I also believe that any social club with a notice on the bar that states it is closed until further notice is failing in its basic duties and should be demolished without further discussion.
One of the officers scouted ahead to make the necessary arrangements with the landlord, and we poured into the lounge. I hotfooted it to the bar and ordered before feeling compelled to ask what anyone else was drinking. A man of a similar age and hairline to my own began to pour my pint.
“What are you lot, then?”
It took me a few seconds to work out that he was asking ‘who’ we were. Now flanked by enthusiastic, youthful comrade-types, with experienced councillors and officers behind me, my hesitation caused me to blush.
I cleared my throat, “Er, Labour.”
He smiled, “I’ll say nothing then.”
I laughed a little and pretended to have a vague idea of what he was talking about. Unfortunately, this was enough to encourage him to break his promise.
“I don’t vote, me. Never have. As long as I’ve got money in me pocket I’m not bothered.”
The eyes of those around me bored into my head. I could feel the weight of expectation. I cleared my throat again and rewarded them with a pathetic, “Oh well, maybe you should think about it. You know, like next time.”
“Nah,” he said as he handed me my pint of Landlord, “I don’t do politics.”
I walked to a table at the edge of the meeting, drink in hand, feeling like an utter failure. What kind of so-called activist can’t engage a barman in a conversation about politics and the importance of voting? How pathetic I must have looked in front of those eager young men and battle-hardened councillors. How many rolled their eyes and quietly sighed as I pushed my way through them to escape the humiliation, dripping brown liquid onto my trainers?
The meeting began and my attention drifted. I rewound and replayed that conversation over and over in my head. Each time I replaced my replies with the words I should have used… the words that would have made my beer taste the right kind of bitter.
I could have asked him how much he earns and if it’s enough; if his kids are at school and what they will do when they leave; when was the last time he went to an NHS hospital and what it was like; if he claims tax credits; whether or not he thinks the price of beer puts his job at risk; if he has a pension; if he drives a car and what he thinks about fuel prices, and how much it costs him to heat his home. After each of his answers I could have asserted, ‘That’s politics’. And by the end of it all he’d break down in tears and admit he was wrong, and promise vote next time. And when I asked him which party he’ll vote for, he’d reply ‘Labour!’ And there’d be cheering and clapping and slaps on my back. The eager, young activists would stop me paying for my drink, and I’d be carried on shoulders out to a street full of marching workers carrying banners and singing The Red Flag, and we’d chase the Tory MP out of town and live in peace and equality forevermore.
My great triumph was interrupted by a light nudge to my arm. I looked up and saw that all eyes were on me. I glanced at the Chair. And with a “I’m sorry. What?” I quickly secured my position as party fool.