Column: Ed Greenwood

Pen column image

The 2015 Election – Is the Pen mightier?

Every twenty years, York elects both its Councillors and its MPs at the same time – and well, wouldn’t you just blooming well know it, it’s this year.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to you, because I guarantee that your friends and acquaintance have been harassing you about registering to vote for weeks, and trying to convince you that voting both in York and your home town isn’t some kind of electoral fraud.

Five years ago, shortly before I arrived here, the General Election had already happened, and York had elected the Conservative MP Julian Sturdy and Labour’s (recently knighted) Sir Hugh Bayley. In my part time job for a local council I sometimes had to process their letters, printed on the official beige paper. Those are so well-known to any student activist who, having signed a petition online without much effort or thought, is shocked to find an equally automated response from their elected representative arrive several weeks later concerning an issue they had by this point completely forgotten.

Recently, I handled some of their letters to council officers wishing them all the best now we’ve entered Purdah (the pre-election period) and had Parliament dissolved. You get the impression that they’re secretly delighted.

I had been too young to vote in the general election, but then there were the council elections. I’d been so furious at the coalition that I was determined to make my first election count. At the end of my Fresher’s year I helped campaign for the Green party. A fellow campaigner joked that they should start a rumour that the Labour candidate for the ward in question, who for the purposes of this article will of course remain nameless, had attacked a homeless man with a sword.

I pointed out that as long as it was only ever ‘allegedly’ then you could say almost anything about a person and the risk of being taken to court for slander or defamation would be greatly reduced. So we continued with the joke. I sheepishly submitted a series of one-liners to The Lemon Press about this and was thrilled that they printed almost every single one at the top of each page – “X attacked a homeless man with a sword. That’s what I heard.” “What’s that, in the distance, wielding a sword? Running towards that homeless man? We speculate it’s X.” “Sword sales shoot up as X returns to York. Coincidence? We think not.” Etc. I was delighted to hear that the candidate had apparently heard about the joke and was annoyed.

The joy lay in the fact that there was absolutely no actual harm being done – the allegation was so self-evidently ridiculous that to object to the allegations would make Candidate X look weirder than ignoring them completely.

Candidate X won their seat, in the end, because it seems that if I personally campaign for anything it is guaranteed to fail. Occupying the physics building, standing in the snow outside Julian Sturdy’s office wielding placards, going on marches in York and London, voting, signing petitions, buying copies of the Socialist Worker – even going vegetarian hasn’t brought international capitalism to its knees. What more does Marx want from me?

There’s something relentlessly crushing about living in a society where you are told that your voice is heard and that you have a say in how the country is run, and then being invariably faced with the fact that your actions amount to very little. Maybe less than the “hill of beans” optimistically suggested by Rick Blaine from Casablanca. More like something in the region of a small pile of dead ants.

Despite this, or perhaps because of my sense of complete political impotence, I submitted a few more of these completely baseless slanders to The Lemon Press, and before long a running joke had become established at TLP which would infrequently bubble up again, sometimes without me actually writing anything in to them.

Of course getting my part-time job has since meant that I’ve received emails from the Councillor in question and I’m absolutely terrified that he knows, that he remembers, that he resents. I’m not that worried about being fired: this whole nonsense started long before I came to work for the council, and it’s only a part-time job. I’m not even worried about litigation: there’s little or no point. I’m really just worried that he will attack me with a sword.

War of the Rosés

Some Rosé for the Roses?
Some Rosé for the Roses?

I don’t care much for sport, but there’s something about the Roses tournament which does captivate me.

I use it to spend time with my friends, especially a dear old friend of mine who happened to go to Lancaster, and because there’s always something on, there’s always something on which to gaze with half-fixed attention, making idle conversation, only vaguely paying attention until someone breaks something and gets airlifted to hospital.

At times, I can even feel the tug of tribalism that I’ve seen lead other spectators to fits of mad ecstasy – something which I’ve had to begrudgingly accept is a genuine pleasure earnestly felt and hitherto completely denied to me. Perhaps it’s the sunlight, or the fact it’s a weekend, or seeing old friends that endears the tournament to me.

I strongly suspect that in fact it’s just the alcohol. Two bottles down and I’m ready to heckle the rugby squad, chant at the lacrosse team and pull distracting faces at the bakers. Speaking of which, the trailer released this year was admittedly more epic than any I’d seen from previous years, but I felt it could have been improved with the addition of some people moodily icing a cake.


For columnists, nibs like these leave no space for reasoned argumentation; so instead, here is a list of facts which I will assert as truth with neither explanation nor proof.

Potatoes definitely count as one of your “five a day,” but the government’s worried that if they admit this then poor people won’t continue to hate themselves for eating chips and crisps.

Humans aren’t “designed to eat meat” any more than they are “designed” to do anything. We are products of chance, and we give ourselves the meaning and purpose which the Godless universe couldn’t give us.

The Muppet’s Treasure Island remains the best film of all time.