South Devon Primary, Totnes: ‘electric atmosphere…total engagement’. Letter to the editor

A section of the packed crowd at Totnes Civic Hall, March 2 2024

Dear Editor,

As I watch the Channel 4 documentary ‘The Rise and Fall of Boris Johnson’, I despair at how such a totally unsuited and unsuitable person was given free rein to wreak such havoc on our country. I remember how, many years ago, a couple of friends said it would be good if Johnson became prime minister, as it would be fun to have a character like him in charge for a change, such was the level of apathy among voters. It’s apathy generated by our primitive ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system. So, it takes a lot to get me excited about politics in a positive way… and to feel optimistic for a change! The South Devon Primary meeting in Totnes Civic Hall in Saturday was inspirational, and evidently everybody there felt the same!

Being well into retirement after a long career in language-teaching, I am still incensed at the fraud which was perpetrated on British voters in 2016, and the continuance of the web of so many lies woven to mask the truth of this national disaster. I feel genuinely hurt by the apparent willingness of politicians to assume that we are all stupid enough to believe the lies; the lack of intellectual integrity of a certain cadre of politicians is truly breathtaking. Yes, I become visibly angry when the topic of Brexit is raised, and even more so when its supporters claim that it was a democratic decision and that I am therefore anti-democratic. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet my experience of British politics for most of the last 36 years might have made me apathetic.

Since moving to Totnes in 1988 I have NEVER had an MP who represented MY political views, MY standards, MY beliefs and MY convictions. In every general election, a Conservative MP has been voted in, sometimes with less than 50 per cent of the total votes. As a result of our undemocratic ‘first-past-the-post’ system, for decades governments have been formed which represented considerably less than half the national vote, and an even smaller proportion of the total electorate. Hence my 36 years of political frustration, at least as far as my constituency is concerned!

Now at last we have the prospect of bringing about change. The ‘Primary’ idea is logical and simple yet refreshingly novel in allowing us to glimpse a future in which voters can break away from the dominance of complacent Tories, hopefully at last steering us away from the consequences of voter apathy. Who knows: if this procedure operates successfully in a general election, and the right people gain power, we might one day elect our members of parliament by proportional representation.

Owing to my painfully gammy left hip, it was a struggle to walk – or rather hobble – up through Totnes to the Civic Hall, only possible with my walking poles. Then the wait as the dozens of people ahead of us in the queue were checked into the Civic Hall; when we got in, the hall was already packed. After brief explanation of the format for the session by the architects of the South Devon Primary, George Monbiot masterfully chaired the brief introductions from the two speakers present – the prospective Green and Lib Dem candidates, their 5-minute speeches, the dozen or so questions from the audience, and the summing up.

The speeches were clear and inspiring, and the response from the audience reflected this. It was a pity that one party, which had not yet chosen a candidate, did not at least send a representative. Nevertheless, when it came to the voting, conducted as in an actual election as we all filed out, we had the choice of three parties, putting the candidates in order of preference.

It is difficult to capture in words the electric atmosphere, the intense interest, the total engagement on the part of the audience. It is best summed up as being almost like a religious congregation captivated by a wonderful apparition: the vision of a brighter future, facilitated by a voting strategy which will ensure that the candidate elected genuinely represents the interests, beliefs and aspirations of the majority of the local electorate. Thank you, South Devon Primary, for granting me that vision… and the belief that one day it CAN become reality!

Totnes resident, Mike Zollo

There are still tickets available in Dartmouth on 10 March and Brixham on 16 March, where the count will take place and the People’s Champion announced. You can book tickets here. Kingsbridge and South Brent are both ‘sold out’ but you can book to vote after the hall event concludes. Tickets for all these events are free and open to constituents registered to vote in general elections.