A defining moment in British history

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The Independent Online
There are several ways of filling in the time before the next election. One is to put your head in the sand and pretend it may never happen, as the Tories seem to be doing. Another is to shrug your shoulders and say that it won't make a lot of difference either way, as the electorate seems to be doing. And another approach is to get so terribly excited that you even start speculating over what might be in the Tory manifesto, the approach preferred by the media.

For the remaining handful of us who are determined to take this election seriously, ie to look for a way of getting the Tories out without letting Labour in, I am providing a series of election guides of which this is the first, a glossary of the main terms which you will be hearing in the run-up to the election.


On election night it is traditional to wait up and watch the results coming in on television. Occasionally it is fairly clear quite early on which side is going to win, but these days it tends to be a close-run thing, so you sit up later and later with a glass in your hand which you keep refilling. The more you refill the glass, the hazier things get and you finally forget which one is Dr Mawhinney and which one is Vincent Hanna, and all the Dimblebys merge into one big Dimbleby, and finally you roll into bed drunk but happy at 4am, and the next morning your partner says, "So who won?" and you find you can't remember. So when this election does finally come, it is probably best to try to abstain on the night.


It is traditional for each candidate to send out a leaflet with his or her election address on it. Oddly enough, the only address that is ever given in full is not that of the candidate but of the printer of the leaflet.


When a constituency party chooses a candidate, it is said to adopt him. This is so that later on, if the candidate fails, the party committee can send for him and say: "I'm afraid we've got something to tell you, Jim. You're not our real candidate. You're only adopted. So we are kicking you out. Sorry."


A Scottish word for not abstaining.


Whenever a party is accused of lacking unity, it defends itself by saying that it is big enough to risk disagreement in its ranks and is not afraid of debate, unlike the other side. It then says: "We are a broad church." If it means anything, this means that they are broad-minded enough to accept agnostics and atheists if things get bad enough.


A person who wants to become an MP, and is therefore by definition a bit of a loony, is called a candidate. If he or she succeeds in becoming an MP, they will be sent to a large home for the incurable in London called the House of Commons where they can mix with others suffering from the same delusions. Note that a candidate never describes himself as simply a candidate. He always calls himself "your" candidate. "Hello, I am your Tory candidate," he tells you. This is untrue. He is not your candidate. He is the Tory party's candidate, and if elected he will not become your MP - he will become the Tory party's MP.


We shall be seeing a lot more of Mr Alan Clark in the election run-up. Among other things he is the first Tory candidate in history who has ever been selected on the grounds that he will get a good diary out of the next parliament. He has been chosen for what is described as a "safe Tory seat", a concept which has otherwise almost disappeared from meaningful discourse, and will therefore have more time than most Tories to go on radio and TV. He is also believed to be the first Tory candidate to be chosen for his age, which is 69. In most candidates this would be thought to be over the hill, but in Clark's case it is thought to be a good sign that he is now too old to chase the girls, or at least to catch them.


As election night rolls on, this becomes the hardest word of all to say. As a matter of fact, people who are auditioned for the presentation of Election Night Special have to drink two stiff whiskies and then say "The Chichester constituency" three times without a mistake.


A small mark on a ballot paper which leads to it being deemed a "spoilt vote".

Next time we shall range even further into the alphabet, aiming to reach such landmarks as "elder statesman", "fringe candidate" and "spin doctor". Start collecting now!