I first exercised my right to vote in May 1979. I don't recall the name of the candidate I voted for, as I placed my X firmly in favour of Maggie Thatcher and the Conservatives.
And for the following 33 years I voted Conservative in every local, European and national election. That changed just over a year ago, when I supported the UKIP candidate in a local election. My reasoning was that the Conservatives had gone soft, the Lib-Dems were (and are) a joke, and I just couldn't bring myself to vote for a party led by Ed Miliband. In essence, a 'protest vote'.
In May, of course, we had the European elections. And my choice was down to the Conservatives and UKIP. Having little faith in Conservative leader David Cameron to make the difficult decisions when it came to Europe (massive re-negotiation or withdrawal), I again opted for UKIP - but not this time as a protest, but out of conviction. Nigel Farage, after all, seems to be head and shoulders above Cameron, Miliband and Clegg.
In May 2015, of course, the UK will go to the polls again to decide who runs the country for the following 5 years, and it's shaping up to be the most fascinating electoral contest for generations, with UKIP and the SNP likely to be highly influential in the process. My personal preference is for the SNP to wipe out Labour in Scotland, the Lib-Dems to implode, UKIP to bag 30 or so seats at Westminster, and with David Cameron - then forced to grow some balls - to remain PM, relying on Nigel Farage and UKIP votes to keep him in power. So, my vote next May will be a slam dunk vote for UKIP, then. Right ? Well, not quite.
Enter Andy Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith. Slaughter, who I've met on a few local occasions, is an excellent Member of Parliament. Highly approachable, accessible to constituents, and with a great sense of humour and an even greater common sense. In all the years he has represented Hammersmith (and Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush before that), I've never heard a bad word said against him. And that's my problem. Slaughter is a decent bloke (and highly effective) - just the sort who should be representing the normal folks of Hammersmith in the Commons. His seat is a marginal, though, and as the demographics of his constituency change (it's becoming more and more 'gentrified'), there's a real danger that Slaughter could lose his seat in May.
You get where I'm going with all this. I'm troubled; I'd hate to vote Labour; the last thing I want is a Labour government. But locally, I don't want to lose Andy Slaughter. The Conservative candidate (whoever he is) might well be a decent bloke too. But I've never met him - although I did recently receive an auto-signed letter from him (which I confess I ripped up without reading). I know Slaughter - he has even knocked at my door canvassing for votes. And I trust him.
So, in what is likely to be the most fascinating national election for years, I might well end up voting for Slaughter in May 2015. During a time when all national leaders are clueless or totally unproven, I may well make my choice based on purely local issues and local personalities. And though it sticks in my throat, I could end up voting for Slaughter - knowing that a vote for him is also vote for Labour and Ed Miliband. Pass the sick-bag, Alice.