How to lose an election -- the Roman (or Nicholas Winterton) way
Some time in the second century BC, a member of the aristocratic Scipio family lost an election. Standing for the office of aedile, he had been eagerly canvassing the people -- and happened to shake the hands of a peasant. Now the peasant's hands were horny, from all his tough agricultural labour and Scipio -- being an effete toff -- was not used to the feel. "Wot," he said (as a joke?), "do you walk on these?"
Now Rome might not have been a radical democracy, but the Roman people didn't put up with toffs insulting the honest labouring poor and they took their revenge. Scipio lost the election. That, at least is the story handed down by the early imperial writer Valerius Maximus in a section of his Memorable Deeds and Sayings devoted to people who lost elections (The Latin text is here: Book 7, 5, 2; and the picture above is a denarius of 63 BC showing Roman voting in action).
It's not the kind of revenge that the British electorate will get to take on Nicholas Winterton for his aspersions on those of us who usually travel in Standard Class on the trains. He is standing down from parliament anyway.
(Actually, in fairness to Winterton, at many hours of the day it is totally impossible to work in Standard Class between Cambridge and London -- you would be lucky to get a seat, opening a lap-top would be impossible. Your blogger has occasionally been known to shell out for First Class, when she has been desperate to get something done.)
All in all, it's hard not to feel a bit envious of Roman face to face politics -- when compared with what we shall get in May or whenever.
It's not just the trained monkey, American style spectacle of the televised debate that looks set to remove yet more real argument out of the electoral process. The papers have been full of the Labour party's clever wheezes in using social networking etc to get to us voters. What this appears to mean is that we will be bombarded with text messages on our mobiles, automated phone messages, and whatever they can possibly get on Facebook or Twitter.
Douglas Alexander boasted last week of a new phase of "peer-to-peer communication" -- saying that "Labour had made 400,000 voter contacts in marginal seats since the start of the year, using software that allows members to set up phone banks in their own homes and build a relationship with them." I hope you don't live in a marginal seat. Because if you do, what this really means is that you will be bombarded with calls connected to a taped message urging you to vote Labour...which will go on regardless, whether you tell them to piss off or not. Forget the "relationship". When I was in Berkeley during the last presidential election, I was renting a house from a registered democrat -- and the automated democrats were onto him about twenty times a day.
What happened to doorstepping? And what happened to going down to your local forum, shaking the candidate's hand, and seeing what you think of him (or her)?
Come back Nasica, you're forgiven.