Bernie Hare: Forget voting ­ I'm too busy trying to survive

'If I was in charge, it would be against the law to impede anyone going about their shoplifting'

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The lower down the social ladder you go, the more irrelevant politics becomes. When you get towards the bottom rung, just surviving the day becomes your priority. Not voting is a vote in itself.

I know, because I belong to the excluded Underclass. My credentials? Fifteen solid years of unemployment, a money-free, anti-capitalist lifestyle, heavy smoker and drinker, part-time drug user, two driving bans, £6,753 paid in fines, 120 hours' Community Serviceand a sod you, up yours attitude.

If I was in charge, it would be against the law to impede anyone going about their lawful shoplifting, or hurrying along to buy their drugs. My hero isn't Winston Churchill; my hero is the bloke who gave him the green Mohican. I'm having to rush this article because I'm down to my last 20p on the electric meter. Why would I want to vote?

I was a political animal in my younger days, but I lost faith in the ability of politics to change anything during the miner's strike of 1984. My dad was a miner. I watched as he was starved, beaten, derided, abused and humiliated by the government of his own country ­ a country he fought for proudly in Korea. Okay, he spent most of the time in the brig, but that's beside the point. He was there!

Thatcher wanted to break the power of the unions. Instead, she broke the spirit of a nation. She destroyed entire communities. She lied, cheated and stole our birthright. She turned us from happy-go-lucky lions into sneaking, twisted snakes. She never broke us though ­ snakes get by, just the same as lions. It wasn't how we wanted it. We were pushed into a corner and we've been disenfranchised ever since.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining. In her own quiet and self-effacing fashion, Thatcher encouraged us to see through the bullshit. She taught us a new philosophy: Break-Your-Conditioning-ism. Relieved of the irksome responsibility of being part of a "society", we were now free to do as we pleased. Accordingly, Drugs, Violence, Crime, Ignorance, Poverty, Apathy and Want rocketed through the roof.

I promised myself that one day I would make the Hag pay for her crimes. I got smashed, clocked off and dropped out. I descended into the Underclass and did my own thing. I would start a new religion (Bokonism, I called it) and change the world.

My plans for world domination were subverted somewhat when I came across an 11-year-old boy living in my shed. The Problem had landed on my doorstep. He hadn't been to school since he was six. He couldn't read or write, he didn't know the days of the week, the months of the year, he couldn't tell the time, he didn't know anything about his history or culture, he didn't know the name of the country in which he lived, he didn't know right from wrong, he didn't even know what the stars were for. He was Ignorance personified.

He had run away from "care" because he was being denied several inalienable human rights: the right to love, affection and understanding; the right to adequate nutrition and medical care; the right to a free education; the right to a name and nationality; the right to special care if handicapped; the right to be among the first to receive relief in times of disaster; the right to be a useful member of society and to develop individual abilities; the right to be brought up in a spirit of peace and universal brotherhood; and the right to enjoy these rights regardless of race, colour, gender, sexuality, religion, national or social origin. (UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.)

What could I do? I took him under my wing. If "society" couldn't be arsed educating him, I would do it myself. He was my first convert to Bokononism.

Politics had never helped him. He took shelter in a shed, he clothed himself by stealing from washing lines, he fed himself on supermarket sandwiches, he got about by riding pillion with car-thieves, he learned the wisdom of the streets. He survived. He has friends who weren't quite so lucky. Sometimes, we visit their graves together. You want us to respect the Cenotaph? ­ but we have our own war graves and memorials.

My "son" is 17 now and has two kids of his own. He reads a little, he knows the days, the months and the time, he knows his history and culture, he knows that the name of his country is the longest in the world, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, he knows the difference between right and wrong, and he knows what the stars are for.

He knows more than most. He knows that the days of the week were originally named after the stars, Saturnday, Sunday, Moonday. Nowadays, he complains that other people are ignorant. "All they care about is money, Bern. They've never even heard of Enlightenment, or Bokono, and they laugh in your face when you tell them."

To those not yet familiar with Bokono, it's like a God. Not the old-fashioned kind ­ white bloke, white beard, dividing compass ­ more a concept of the Infinite or Eternal. And a Bokononist? I don't know about any of the others, but I'm an English Christian Hindu Moslem Buddhist Taoist Socialist Rastafarian Existential Jew.

Who did you want me to vote for, exactly?

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