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My First Vote by Sean Morley, aged 29

When I was 18 I was lucky enough to meet high-tier UK parliamentary socialist Tony Benn by accident. 

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It was 2008 and I was hunched in the back of a tent at Beverley Folk Festival trying to slice a battenburg with a train ticket. He was stood centre-left of the music stage holding a small tobacco pipe like a dart and waiting patiently for an accordionist to pack up his gear.

This was the year I was going to vote in the British electoral system for the first time. I felt capable, psyched, I had an AS level in Politics and a rudimentary but robust understanding of the major political parties, the ideologies on offer, and where the battlelines were drawn. All of this was upended with the chaotic finality of a goose divebombing a jenga tower, as Tony Benn took to the stage and patiently explained that, in his opinion, we ought to vote for The Conservative Party.

Beverley is a market town in East Yorkshire. It was officially founded as a settlement in the eighth century by a man called John. It is historically famous for wool. A millennium ago these lands were the centre of power of the Danelaw, the territories controlled by Viking invaders. In 2008 it held a folk festival, The Buzzcocks headlined and Tony Benn was an impromptu guest speaker.

Also in 2008, Conservative MP David Davis called a single issue by-election in the constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, which contains Beverley, in opposition to the 2008 Counterterrorism Act, which allowed the government to detain suspects for 42 days without charge. This was a vanity by-election to gain publicity, appear principled in the public eye and claw back some popular legitimacy after a failed leadership campaign in 2005, during which he invited female supporters to wear tight-fitting t-shirts sporting the logo "It's DD for me" for a series of disastrous photo opportunities.

The by-election was an absolute circus and a minefield for a young first-time voter. With 26 individuals standing for election, it smashed the previous record of 19 for the sheer number of candidates standing for election in a single constituency. The Monster Raving Looney Party were represented by Mad Cow-Girl, who stood on a platform of indefinite detention. They were joined by their lesser-known rivals in the realm of novelty silly political parties, The Church of the Militant Elvis. The Miss Great Britain Party, compromised entirely of female beauty pageant entrants who ran on a slogan of 'Make Britain Sexy, Not Sleazy' came fifth, narrowly beaten by The National Front. Further down the list were Freedom 4 Choice, a political party created by a Blackpool-based pub landlord solely to oppose the smoking ban.

Independent candidates included Tony Farnon, whose campaign website was entirely based on his anti-smoking programme which boasted that people could use his "Winners Freedom Secrets", and Eamonn Fitzpatrick, who shut down his Northampton market stall for a month to campaign in favour of the 42 days detention policy. Norman Scarth ran on a platform of being anti-crime, despite having spent the previous six years in prison for attacking a court bailiff with a chainsaw. Reptile-alien conspiracy theorist David Icke stood but not under a political party nor as an independent candidate on the basis that he had "no politics".

To contain the sheer bulk of candidates, the ballot papers were printed so large that they could not physically be folded enough times to fit through the slot in the ballot box.

This was my induction into British democracy. It was an introduction to political idealism, as Tony Benn argued that tribalism should be put to one side and that a dangerous and illiberal policy should be opposed regardless of party allegiances. It was also an introduction to political opportunism, as David Davis used his incredibly safe-seat to envelope himself at the centre of a media circus.

Tony Benn passed away in 2014.

In 2016, David Davis became Brexit secretary.

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