Thursday, 7 May 2015

Selfies, Voting, Chartism and the 1872 Secret Ballot Act

I know it seems strange to read that taking
Selfies of yourself with your ballot paper
Could be technically illegal.

But when you stand,
‘Stubby pencil in hand’,
Think of the Chartists’ Six Points
(Five of which are now law even though our rulers
Said they would be the ruin of the country),
Which pointed the path to democracy,
And particularly remember 1872,
And Gladstone’s Secret Ballot Act.

This act of secretly marking an X
(Visual echo of Victorian illiteracy),
Was achieved in the face of furious opposition
From the ruling class (and its public servants),
Which believed that property had the right
To bribe, or intimidate, sack and evict
Anyone who voted against its wishes.

Stroud’s MP, Lord John Russell,
Home Secretary and Prime Minister
(‘The Lord John’ and ‘Russell Street’),
Was an inveterate hater of Chartism -
Lord John Russell’s 1839 Message to the Electors of Stroud:
“Of the working classes … the People’s Charter … They know not the general laws by which profit and wages are regulated”;
A snobbish opponent of democracy and the Secret Ballot Act:
‘An obvious prelude … to universal suffrage’.

He might well have been thinking of Shelley:
‘Ye are many’.

And we should remember:
That though they might be rich,

‘They are few’.

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