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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Profiles in Discourage: British electoral politics in Trollope

I've had a no doubt benighted understanding of British electoral politics - imagining that campaigns for office (Parliament, anyway) were far less corrupt and far more free from naked ambition - as well as far less representative - than Congressional elections in the U.S.: My sense had been and still to a degree is that that parties select a slate of candidates assigning them almost randomly to the various districts, the candidates often knowing and caring nothing about the district they will represent, often not even living there, and the voters selecting candidates entirely on the basis of party and not on who the candidates are themselves - barely even knowing of caring about that - and that party-favored candidates get the chance to run for "safe seats" based on the demos and voting history of the district. Trollope's Can You Forgive Her?, which now about a quarter of the way in begins to touch on the theme of Parliamentary elections, which if my memory serves will be a dominant theme through the six-volume series, confirms some of this: George Vavasor is running for election from Chelsea, and at least he lives there (for the moment) but he doesn't seem to know anything about the people he will represent - actually, better to say about the people who will or could elect him, as he will not be there to represent their particular interests. So he has to hook up with the political pros to win the election - and he holds a morning meeting with a well-connected publican and a politically astute lawyer, and much of their conversation, quite bluntly, concerns spreading funds around to the right people. This at least feels very true - and would be right at home in an American novel (or election) today: the gruff types pushing around the clueless candidate, his barely veiled contempt for the sleazy side of politics, his aloof attempt to keep from getting his hands dirty, leaving that to others less squeamish. So far, we know nothing about what Vavasor stands for or hopes to achieve - except that he's in the Radical party, so good for him. The novel, in any event, has steered onto a new course with this chapter and we have to wonder what effect Vavaror's relationship with his cousin Alice, who hopes to use politics to do some good in the world, will have on his campaign - and what effect his campaign will have on their tempestuous relationship.

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