Strange things are happening here in Britain as I write and will go on happening until early May. Smiling faces keep appearing on television and promising all sorts of wonderful things to the old, the young, the poor, in fact to every living soul. Babies are being kissed by complete strangers and people are knocking at your door handing out leaflets.
No, it's not the sudden change in the temperature or the start of some strange festival. The fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister has called to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace, got her permission and now told the rest of us that there will be a «General Election» on May 5th. That means all the «Members of Parliament» have to go home and spend the next few weeks trying to persuade their «constituents» (the people who voted for them before in the «constituency» or district that they represent) to vote for them again.
As a result we now get «wall-to-wall» (never ending) television and radio programmes where people talk politics and who's winning and who's losing. Two types of people are very active at this particular time apart of course from the politicians. They are the «pollsters» and the «spin-doctors». The former conduct what are called «polls», which means they stop people in the street or ring them up and ask them how they will vote. Then they publish the results to show the different percentages of people voting for which «political party». The latter are a little more secretive because these are the individuals who work in the background making sure that their man or woman always appears in the best possible light. They encourage them to be photographed with happy people or doing the washing up or talking to children. These are known as «photo opportunities». They put a «gloss«, a «spin« or a shine on all the things that these would be politicians or as they are officially called «parliamentary candidates» are doing. Meantime we the voters have to listen patiently. The trouble is that politicians are so good at talking that when you listen to one, you think that sounds reasonable and then the other one comes along and says the exact opposite and you think that sounds reasonable, too. It's all very confusing. If you just can't make up your mind, you are called a «floating voter». You can of course go to a public meeting to hear your candidate speak and some people love to shout out remarks and interrupt the speech, an activity known as «heckling».
But the day will come when as a good citizen you will have to «cast» (make) your vote. On that day chosen much to the delight of some of the younger children in the community who get an extra day's holiday because their schools are often used for the voting procedures, you make your way to what is called the «polling station». You give your name to the official who hands you a piece of paper called a «ballot paper» on which are written the names of the candidates. You then go into an enclosed area rather like a telephone kiosk called a «polling booth» and put your cross against the candidate of your choice. Only one cross that is because if you do more than one, nobody gets the vote and then that's called a «spoiled ballot paper».
And the following day you hope that one party gets a «majority» (gets more candidates elected than any other party). The leader of that party goes off to see the Queen again and is asked to form a government. Then things get back to normal again for the next 4 or 5 years. Babies are safe from strangers' kisses, no more smiling faces on television and no more leaflets through the door.