In ‘Eric is Awake’, Eric Blair, the man who has re-awakened in the modern world believing he is the reincarnation of George Orwell, is on the tramp across the country pursued by the authorities for identity fraud. Stopping to take advantage of free tea and cake at a village hall in the English countryside, he discovers a local election meeting and gives the politicians and the villagers his view of the redundancy of voting.
EXTRACT: Emily and Simon watched the shaky and slightly murky camerawork in the dimly lit hall as the Mayor of Shipston-on-Stour, a dumpy middle-aged woman who looked the image of Margaret Rutherford, fielded questions from the audience including one earnest young man spouting planted entreaties for more access to the hi-speed Interverse for poorer Olders in the area. The Mayor cut off the response from the middle-aged sitting MP to say that there was time for only one more question.
At first, Emily could not discern Eric’s face amongst the serried ranks of spectators, their plastic cups rising and falling in rows. Then he stood up right at the back and she was shocked to see him wearing a pair of army camouflage trousers beneath a thick hooded top of the kind she knew he loathed.
He cleared his throat in that familiar fashion and started with his usual diffidence and apologetic posture, hands cupped around his plastic beaker like a supplicating penitent, his resemblance, as she remembered, eerily unmistakable with the unruly shock of dark hair, lined jowls, piercing blue eyes and thin ridiculous moustache. His voice was fluting and higher pitched than anyone might expect from such a face. He started quietly and the audio failed to pick up his first words. She heard an old woman in the audience mutter ‘Nutter’ to her neighbour and, nearer to camera, a man who looked like a farmer nudged his ruddy faced son and said loudly and boisterously ‘That’s that loony from the paper thinks he’s Orwell.’ His boy, chewing fruit cake, responded with a puzzled look on his wind-burnt face ‘Isn’t that a song? Like the boy down the chip shop thinks he’s Elvis?’
Eric seemed to falter and the Mayor leaned forward to her microphone and said primly ‘Please can contributors state their name before they ask their question. Thank you.’ A nubile blonde volunteer shoved a portable microphone into his hand and Emily saw Eric blanch slightly before reluctantly accepting it, his other hand still clasping his tea. After a moment’s pause she sensed him taking a deep breath as people craned their necks to see the country’s newest celebrity madman.
‘My name is Eric and I am barely a citizen. I don’t even know if I am allowed to vote. Several times in this meeting, you have talked about voter apathy. A couple of the audience members have said that they feel it a waste of time to vote. You have all responded with predictable piety that people died for that right. This is true, of course. They did so because it was the most credible route to emancipation, to be heard. It was important. It mattered, because there were polar opposites on the ballot paper, but not anymore. Politicians don’t seem to realize it, but everyone else has known for some time that voting is futile, moribund, and redundant. It may be resurrected someday when the contours of our politics have been levelled and rearranged. But for now, it’s dead. That is due to your apathy, not the voters’.
‘As far as I can tell, no one voted for the seemingly perpetual wars in China, Iran or Afghanistan. No one voted to bail out the financiers and enrich the dividend takers, leaving the rest of society to face cuts in services and lower wages, all the time being told that they had been living for too long in a fool’s paradise, that they were to be punished for their profligacy even though they did not engineer the reckless barely regulated lottery of the gaming houses in the City.
‘No one voted for means testing in the National Health Service, traducing the main principle of the single greatest post-war achievement of the British parliamentary system. No one voted for low-grade proletarian exam factories in place of schools. No one voted to make protest of any kind mostly illegal, all the time being told that it is to prevent terrorists hijacking legitimate dissent. No one voted for the database state, a network of information slowly joining up across Europe and the world to spy on entire nations of the apathetic voters you so disdain. No one voted to arm our law enforcement officers and to forget that they are supposed to police with our consent, not their contempt. No one voted for celebrity culture instead of a genuine news agenda. No one voted for the basic necessary things of scale that the state controlled like transport, health, power, education, the mail, the rubbish collections, the army and the municipal services to be auctioned off to a thousand private companies and entrepreneurs only to watch them deliver disastrous results at a far higher cost which only serves to drive down an already unsustainable rampant capitalist economy.
‘Those people who died for the right to vote, they also died for the right to choose. That includes the right not to vote. The future isn’t an X in a box. None of you truly offers a genuine choice. Not until a significant proportion of the population come together to demand one and you respond enthusiastically to meet their desires by including political aims that are not filtered through your perception that the middle ground agendas are always safe and will not frighten the horses. It is a well-worn cynical cliché but nonetheless true that most citizens believe there should be a box on the ballot paper that simply reads – ‘None of the above’. Your lack of political courage is to blame for that.
‘I can tell from your rhetoric that not one of you entered politics to change the world. You came to make careers, not vocations and to better yourselves, not the country. I do not condemn. It is a natural atavistic streak in human nature, hard to resist. The wrong sort of people are always in power because they would not be in power if they were not the wrong sort of people.
‘But forgivable or not, it is you, the power seekers, who lulled us into a dreamless sleep and stole our souls while we slumbered. Maybe the tipping point has finally been reached. Maybe now is the time, I don’t know. I could be wrong. But I feel it and I think you do too. That is why you are panicking in this election, ramping up the fear and calling for more bread and circuses. Maybe they will swallow the ruse again. They have before. But looking at the news that does still filter through, it is clear that some, at least, mostly the young, are not as dulled by television, vacuous celebrity and total immersion games as you might have hoped.
‘I think much of the more restless population, increasingly separated from the conventional political process, un-cowed by the slow subliminal removal of their civil liberties are stirring in their chambers, having slept too long.
‘There are poems from the past that might, half-remembered as if from a dream, express the taint in the air. “For we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet. Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.”
‘Loudly and clearly from every rooftop one feels more and more that we should all be shouting the truth of Juvenal. Asking who will watch the watchers? Who has taken our lives and sold them to the highest bidder? Is it possible, as I fervently hope, that some are rising, stretching and asking bleary-eyed, ‘Is it time to call a halt and reverse the tide? Is it now? Is it today?’
Emily watched Eric hesitate and the audience filled the silence with a mixture of jeers and applause. She saw him hand back the microphone and walk crab-like along the row of plastic chairs, the smaller figure of Pedro following quickly behind. Someone threw a cup at the stage. Another followed and as the clip came to an end, the camera panned to the podium where the four politicians and the Mayor sat glumly whispering to each other, a few laughing wryly as the white plastic shrapnel began to fall around them, some bouncing off their heads. END OF EXTRACT
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