We just happened to be in Liverpool on the same day that the British were holding a national election. I thought it would be interesting to observe how one of the world’s other great democracies performs on voting day.
I had expected to see trucks with loudspeakers and campaign workers handing out leaflets from key intersections, but there was none of that.
British elections are different from ours in several ways, including:
• By law there can be no public electioneering on Election Day.
• Voting is on a Thursday with the polling hours spread from 7am to 10pm.
• Emphasis is on the party, rather than the candidates, and there are more political parties to vote for.
Other than one sign pointing to a voting poll there was no indication that anything special was happening that day, but oh, something else was: by around 9:30 that morning, we noticed clusters of people gathered around a couple of microphones located downtown. Our tour guide explained that they were not there for demonstrations or politics, but, far more importantly, especially in Liverpool—to sing.
Even more significant than having been in Liverpool on national Election Day was to have been there during the week of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatle’s recording of the brilliant Sergeant Pepper album.
Each day that week a different song from the album, with the help of a local radio station, was featured at 10:30 a.m. There would be a city-wide sing-along.
To the rest of Great Britain it was Election Day; to the people of Liverpool it was When I‘m 64 Day.
Right on the hour, the bus driver parked his vehicle and turned the radio loud. A fast-talking, cockney-accented D.J. prompted the town to start singing:
When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine…
At intervals, the broadcast would switch to one of the street groups, though we could barely hear them because of our singing in the bus. No stone-faced king or gallant warrior staring down from a pedestal was as important to the town’s history as the four native boys whose music spread across the world as no empire could.
If I’d been out ‘til quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
Statues of John, Paul, George and Ringo walking together, in the direction of America, embellish the Mersey river waterfront, where the ferry that crosses the river is painted psychedelic.
Around 5:00 that afternoon, the tour guide noticed a traffic buildup and suggested that the night might be especially busy, as folks gathered in pubs for the election returns. So that was the answer. To see Election Day politics in Great Britain, go to the pubs (although there is little action until after 10 when the votes are counted.)
That night, British politics was atwitter as the ruling Conservative party did far worse than expected, creating a badly divided government. The big issues of the day would be even more contentious.
Of course, as the folks in Liverpool know, politics would not be necessary if only everyone lived in a yellow submarine.