I feel like voting for `None of the Above'

Suzanne Moore discovers a candidate in her constituency who offers a compelling reason to participate in an election which had otherwise failed to arouse her enthusiasm
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The Independent Online
I can't believe it. For the first time in this election I feel inclined to vote. There I was, in my local off-licence, when a leaflet on the counter caught my eye. "If you don't like what you are hearing, then why not vote for ... None of the Above." It went on: "Around 25 per cent of this country does not vote in general elections, rising to 65 per cent in local and Euro elections. We feel that in a true democracy we should have the chance to say: I do not feel represented by any of the available options. If you feel inclined not to vote, or to spoil your paper, why not vote for None of the Above."

None of the Above turns out to be a 24-year-old local lad, a student of politics and philosophy named Dickon Tolson. My daughter saw his picture on the leaflet and said that he had been on television. "Yeah, I've done The Bill and Peak Practice, stuff like that." A graduate of the Anna Scher school, he is also an actor, but is frustrated and concerned at the apathy and lack of moral cohesion in the political climate. So he has decided to put his life savings into standing for election in Hackney North.

I met him at party HQ - his flat in Stoke Newington - and asked for a fuller copy of his manifesto. He had them, he said, but he hadn't managed to print them out of his computer yet. There are no spin doctors on this guy, but what he has got are some extremely sound reasons for wanting to get involved. "I am always complaining, but you can't sit around complaining all the time. You just get resentful. So I felt I had to do something, yet there was no party that I felt represented me. The name comes from an old Richard Pryor film, Brewster's Millions, where this guy is trying to avoid power by calling himself None of the Above."

Tolson was concerned about what he calls "the active non-vote". He is the anti-Swampy. He considers that of the 25 per cent of non-voters who are written off as lazy, apathetic or non-political, "maybe 10 per cent of them are lazy, but that still leaves 15 per cent of the population who are making a protest, whose voices aren't being heard." His manifesto ranges from scrapping the Criminal Justice Act, to joining the Social Chapter, to the effects of synthetic oestrogens, to open negotiations for peace in Northern Ireland, to a bill of rights, to controlled legalisation of drugs. I would describe it basically as a younger agenda than any other I've seen.

Dickon describes himself as a "liberal libertarian". "I'm not a hard- line anarchist because I'm not against the ideology of democracy; I'm against the way it is put into practice. I'm using the tools of anarchy to deseed the roots of power but I don't see anarchy as a final stage, it's always transitory. It is about re-education and redistribution and self-improvement. I don't want to remove the state because we are not restrained enough, and what would happen to the people who can't take care of themselves? I want to provide a safety net for that bottom 20 per cent."

But would he really want to be a MP? "Twenty-five grand a year, a car, a secretary? That would be great, but I know it's a 100 per cent non-possibility." He's a realist, so how many votes does he expect? He shows me a map of the constituency, Hackney North, which is Diane Abbott's seat. "Well, there are 63,000 people here, so pessimistically maybe 100, optimistically 2,500, because that is the 5 per cent you need to get your deposit back." He has not done any canvassing yet. "Yeah, I'm going. Maybe I'll start next week. I'm a bit nervous about it actually. You don't want some fascist skinhead to start on you on the doorstep." As for so many young people, it was the Criminal Justice Bill that "pushed me over the edge of apathy. On the march I just sat down and the police hit me anyway. The Bill went through. It was as if all the normal channels of protest were just a waste of time."

Dickon had been at one time "a very angry young man". Between the ages of 13 and 18, he went on a lot of protests and engaged in what he calls "amicable physical contact" with the police. "I never went out looking for trouble, but if you put petrol and matches together ..." He even joined the Workers' Revolutionary Party for a couple of months. "I was really into revolution for a while until I realised that when they got into power they seriously wanted to put all these people up against the wall. Animal Farm, and all that. I don't want anything to do with that. I'm not into violence." Any sex scandals we should know about? I ask. "I wish," he says.

He is proud that he has "assimilated" a bit more. "I even use money. I've got a mortgage," he says with some surprise. So how does he distinguish himself from the Labour Party, for instance? "I just call them Tory Team B. I would say I'm left wing enough to piss people off but not left wing enough to be a pub revolutionary." He notes that many European countries have stronger unions than we do. He has also been watching American politics for some time. "The parties have got to look at the effect of pressure groups, of issue politics - that is where it is at now." The local issues he is interested in are the closing down of libraries in Hackney and the planned dual carriageway through Stoke Newington - and he wants more cycle lanes.

Mostly you feel, talking to him, that he wants to engage with a system that many of his age group find it easier to ignore. In these days of slick, sick bulldogs it is easy to accuse him of naivete, but when you bother to listen to this thoughtful young man you are reminded that this is what democracy is all about. He is merely trying to represent those under-represented, to give voice to dissent. His main worry at present is that though his surname begins with a T, near the end of the alphabet, he may not come last on the ballot paper. Another name under the None of the Above box wouldn't look so good. He thinks it will work out.

What does his family think of what he is doing? "My mum says she can't think of anyone better to be an MP." Well she would say that, wouldn't she? The thing is, she may well be right.

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