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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Election day

Thursday, May 30th., Cadogan Square, London.

Day memorable to me because this evening before dinner I finished Act II of the play the idea for which had forced me to break my oath never to write another play.

To the rest of the British world, however, the day was memorable as being Election Day. I went to an enormous election party in the evening and found dozens of people seriously disturbed at the mere possibility of Labour getting a clear majority. The rancour and asperity of party politics was exposed naked in speech, tone, and gesture. Still the food and the champagne were admirable.

The 1929 United Kingdom general election was held on 30 May 1929, and resulted in a hung parliament. It was the first of only three elections under universal suffrage in which a party lost the popular vote (i.e. gained fewer popular votes than some other party) but gained a plurality of seats. In 1929 that party was Ramsay MacDonald's Labour, which won the most seats in the Commons for the first time ever but failed to get an overall majority. 

The Liberals led by David Lloyd George regained some of the ground they had lost in the 1924 election, and held the balance of power. The election was often referred to as the "Flapper Election" in that it was the first election in which women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote, under the provisions of the Fifth Reform Act. It was fought against a background of rising unemployment with the memory of the 1926 General Strike still fresh in voters' minds. 

Foreign policy also took prominence in the campaign, with Austen Chamberlain's record as Foreign Secretary contributing to the Conservative defeat, as he was perceived as being "pro-French". By 1929 the Cabinet was being described by many as "old and exhausted". 
The Liberals campaigned on a comprehensive programme of public works under the title "We Can Conquer Unemployment". The Conservatives, under Baldwin,  campaigned on the theme of "Safety First".

Some people have reproached me for being too concerned with rare editions, first editions, beautiful editions, the argument being that such matters have no relation to literature itself, and that what counts in a book is the stuff in it, not the presentation of the stuff in it. To my mind the argument is ridiculous. A book is a physical object as well as a medium for the transmission of thought, emotion, and information. And the attributes, including the historical attributes, of the physical object react upon the person to whom the thought, emotion, or information is being transmitted.

Many people read Dickens with joy, still more people assert (without adducing proof) that they read Dickens with joy. But it is an absolute certainty that the first category, if not the second, would be tremendously diminished if Dickens were only published in folio volumes like pulpit bibles - were the price per volume only sixpence, were even the volumes given away.

But even were the argument not ridiculous, it would still be beside the point. The point is that our age is a collecting age. And why should it not be? Only rare, beautiful, historical, odd or scandalous objects are collected. To collect them is a virtue - for which the next generation will thank us.

I am currently re-reading Conrad's "Victory" in a beautiful Folio Society edition. Conrad's prose is marvellous as ever, and the subtlety of his characterisation has a tendency to turn me green with envy, but my reading pleasure is enhanced by holding a beautiful object as well as a work of art. I love the sensation of taking the book from its slip-case; I love the heft of a hard-bound book in my hand; I love to feel and even smell the paper; I love the way a properly bound book stays open at the page you are reading ... I could go on, but if you are a bibliophile you get my point.

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