“So, Paul,” the man said. “There are five cups before you. One labelled Julian Huppert (LD), one labelled Daniel Zeichner (LAB), one labelled Rupert Read (GREEN), one labelled Chamali Fernando (Conservative), one labelled Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP). Four of the cups contain deadly poison. One contains wine. Which one will you drink?”
“Come, you’re a clever man, you know about politics, you care about things, surely you know which one you should drink?”
I stared at the cups, eyes widening. The man smiled, wickedly.
“Come on, Paul. You were at school with Patrick. Surely you’ll vote for your old school friend?”
I reached out, and took the cup labelled UKIP – and immediately threw it into the grass. “That’s a trap,” I said to the man. “No-one with a brain or a heart would ever vote UKIP. And I have a brain and a heart. At least I think so.”
The man smiled again. “So what about Chamali? She’s a lawyer. You teach law. Surely you’ll vote for her.”
I reached out again, and took the cup labelled Conservative – and threw it just as far as I threw the UKIP one. “Any lawyer worth his salt wouldn’t touch the Conservatives. I know what Grayling has done to our legal system. And anyway, I told you, I have a heart. No-one with a heart would vote Conservative. Another trap.”
The man’s smile became even broader. He waved his hand at the remaining three cups. Now, both he and I knew, it was a lot harder. I swallowed, looking at the three cups: Julian, Daniel or Rupert.
“Tell me,” the man said. “Which will you drink? You don’t have long. You have to choose, or the choice will be made for you.”
“I know, I know,” I said, looking once more from cup to cup.
“So what are you thinking?”
I looked at Julian’s cup. “I could vote for Julian,” I said. “He’s been a good constituency MP. He’s probably the best MP in the house in terms of the internet. He even understands surveillance. He, like me, is on the Advisory Committee of the Open Rights Group. He even opposed the rise in tuition fees. I like him. He’s a good man.”
“But if I vote for Julian, and he wins, but the Tories are the largest party, then his boss Nick Clegg says they’ll work with the Tories. So we’ll have another coalition, more austerity, more division, more and nastier cuts, horrible things for education, for vulnerable people. More deaths. More demonisation. More general nastiness. So I can’t possibly vote for Julian.”
I hesitated, and didn’t pick up Julian’s cup and discard it as I had the Tory and UKIP cups.
“So drink from Daniel’s cup?”
“I could,” I said with a slight smile. “And a Labour government would be notably more protective of the vulnerable and of public services – neutral analysis of the figures make that very clear, even if Labour are still much more in favour of austerity than I’d like.”
“But if I vote for Daniel, and Labour win a majority, then Yvette Cooper will be Home Secretary. We’ll have a crack down on civil liberties in the name of counter terrorism. And we’ll have full scale internet surveillance as soon as she can make it happen. So, I can’t possibly vote for Daniel.”
I smiled, but this time it wasn’t a happy smile. But I didn’t throw away Daniel’s cup either. The man grinned again.
“Rupert’s cup then? Go on, take a drink.”
“I’d like to vote for Rupert. I’m a member of the Green Party. I think their heart is very much in the right place. Their policies on austerity, on Trident, on civil liberties, on surveillance and so on are great. Even their copyright policy which people have been laughing at isn’t actually as bad as people think. And at least they’re thinking about the subject, which the others are mostly ignoring. Rupert’s even a colleague of mine at UEA.”
I hesitated again.
“But if I vote for Rupert, he won’t win. If by voting for him I let Julian win, then the Tories might be in government again and we have more smashing of the vulnerable, destruction of the NHS, the legal system and so on. And if by voting for Rupert I let Daniel win, and we could have more surveillance and more of a crack down on civil liberties again. So I can’t possibly vote for Rupert.”
The man opened his hands wide. I held up mine, to stop him speaking.
“So I’m back to Julian. Should I drink from his cup? But he hasn’t even ruled out an alliance with UKIP, or with the DUP, so if I vote for him I might help those two who are worse extremists even than the Tories, so I can’t possibly vote for Julian.”
I pushed Julian’s cup aside, and it teetered and tottered, but didn’t quite fall.
“So perhaps I should drink from Daniel after all. But that means Rachel Reeves in charge of the DWP, and more ‘toughness’ and more ‘hardworking people’. And what’s more, he wrote disparagingly about Tony Benn immediately after Benn’s death. So I can’t possibly vote for Daniel.”
“I haven’t finished! So perhaps I should drink from Rupert’s cup. I don’t know which is worse, Julian or Daniel, so perhaps I shouldn’t care and I should vote with my conscience, for the policies. But I know Rupert was very rude to some people I know at a hustings. So I can’t possibly vote for Rupert.”
I sat back, closed my eyes, stuck my finger in the air, then reached out for a cup at random and drained it.
The man laughed.
“Did I chose the wrong cup?” I asked him, feeling myself gasping for breath.
“It didn’t matter,” the man said quietly. “I lied to you. There was poison in all five cups. Whichever you drank you were doomed.”