Be nice and the voters will roll over and purr

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 15, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so. . . baffling

IF prizes were awarded for lobbing a non sequitur into the conversation, we wouldn’t be able to muscle our way into James’s bedroom for all the cuddly toys, toasters and lava lamps stored within. Context – what’s just been and what is currently happening – means little to him when there’s a thought bursting to come out. Take the other day. Jane and Emma were debating equine lameness (as you do) and I was reading my latest financial missive: a pension pot begun with a one-off deposit when I switched jobs 18 years ago might pay an annual �1,800 from 2028 . . . if the stock market grows at 9% a year. I don’t know why they bother with “forecasts”; a Gallic shrug and a gruff “your guess is as good as mine” would be far more honest. Anyway, James broke my reverie by suddenly announcing: “I’d vote for David Cameron.” Now, this political acuity was surprising for a boy who normally doesn’t know what day of the week it is, and I was heartened. Turns out the televised leadership debate had been reported on Newsround – the current affairs bulletin hosted by John Craven in my youth and now presented by what looks like a teenager on a gap year – and had made an impression. I did half-fear he liked Mr C simply because Conservative Blue mimics the colour of his Ipswich Town shirt, but James says it’s the fact David Cameron “is nice” that swings it. So does Gordon Brown strike him as nice? “No.” Nick Clegg? “Don’t know who he is.”

Ah well, it’s a start. It would be better if philosophical nuances over economic strategy or the NHS proved the telling factor, though I suspect James’s childlike logic is mirrored by significant numbers of adult voters when marking their crosses. Still, in light of concerns that young people are politically apathetic, it’s quite a heartening development – as is news that lots of 18- to 25-year-olds registered to vote in the wake of the TV debate. Elsewhere in this newspaper is an article on Andrew Marr’s book, which presents ideas adults can use to encourage children to think about politics. Perhaps his concern was misplaced. By chance, I heard Norwich School moral philosophy teacher Francis McIvor on Radio 4 this week, reminding listeners of the long-argued view that if we don’t engage with politics we risk being ruled by scoundrels and charlatans. That’s as succinct enough a warning as any of us should need to ensure we listen to the debates and turn out on May 6. If we don’t, we have only ourselves to blame. James, meanwhile, is already sharpening his crayon for 2018 or 2020, when niceness, you imagine, might not hold so much sway.

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