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from In the Wet

by Neville Shute

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from In the Wet by Neville Shute
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from In the Wet by Neville Shute
Neville Shute and his writing


In this story, Neville Shute describes a multiple voting system introduced to the British Dominions. The prime speaker here is an Australian pilot. (Interestingly, Australia has now moved ahead and introduced an enlightened form of proportional representation [PR] voting, termed the alternative vote system [AV]. Each voter is permitted to indicate a second choice if the first choice is not elected.)

For more on Neville Shute and his writing, see below.return to index

from In the Wet by Neville Shute [first published 1953]

He hated these people [of Britain] for their lack of spirit, for their subservience to civil servants, for their outmoded political system of one man one vote that kept them in the chains of demagogues.

‘How does your multiple vote work? It's quite an issue here in England, as perhaps you know.’

The pilot raised his eyebrows. ‘I didn’t know that. You don’t have it, do you?’

‘No. How does it work out in practice?’

‘I don't really know,’said David. ‘I've never thought about it much.’

Captain Osbome asked, ‘Have you got more than one vote, yourself?’

The pilot nodded. ‘I'm a three vote man.’
‘What do you get three votes for?’ the captain asked.

‘Basic, education, and foreign travel.’

‘The basic vote - that’s what everybody gets, is it?’

‘That’s right,’ the pilot said. ‘Everybody gets that at the age of twenty one.’

‘And education?’

‘That’s for higher education,’ David said. ‘You get it if you take a university degree. There’s a whole list of other things you get it for, like being a solicitor or a doctor. Officers get it when they’re commissioned. That’s how I got mine.’

‘And foreign travel?’'

‘That’s for earning your living outside Australia for two years. It’s a bit of a racket, that one, because in the war a lot of people got it for their war service. I got mine that way. I didn’t know anything about the Philippines, really, I when I came away, although I’d been there for three years, off and on.’

‘You had a wider outlook than if you’d stayed at home,’ the captain said. ‘I suppose that's worth something.’

‘I suppose it is.’

‘So you’ve got three votes. How does that work out in practice, at an election?’

‘You get three voting papers given to you, and fill in all three, and put them in the box,’ the pilot said.

‘You're on the register as having three votes?’

‘That’s right. You have to register again when you get an extra vote - produce some sort of a certificate.’

They sat in silence for a time, looking out over the crowded harbour in the sunset light. Rosemary came to the saloon ladder and spoke up to them. ‘You can get more votes than three, can't you?’ she said. ‘Is it seven?’

David glanced down her. ‘The seventh is hardly ever given,’ he said. ‘Only the Queen can give that.’

She nodded. ‘I know. We get them coming through the office. I should think there must be about ten a year.’

‘The others are straightforward,’ David said. ‘You get a vote if you raise two children to the age of fourteen without getting a divorce. That’s the family vote.’

‘You can’t get it if you’re divorced?’ asked Rosemary smiling.

‘No. That puts you out.’

‘Do you both get it?’

‘Husband and wife both get it,’ David said.

‘What’s the fifth one?’

‘The achievement vote,’ said David. ‘You get an extra vote if your personal exertion income - what you call earned income here - if that was over something or other in the year before the election - five thousand a year, I think. I don’t aspire to that one. It’s supposed to cater for the man who’s got no education and has never been out of Australia and quarrelled with his wife, but built up a big business. They reckon that he ought to have more say in the affairs of the country than his junior typist.’

‘Maybe. And the sixth?’

‘That’s if you're an official of a church. Any recognized Christian church - they’ve got a list of them. You don’t have to be a minister. I think churchwardens get it as well as vicars, but I’m really not quite sure. What it boils down to is that you get an extra vote if you’re doing a real job for a church.’

‘That’s an interesting one.’

‘It’s never interested me much.’ said the pilot. ‘I suppose I’m not ambitious. But I think it’s a good idea, all the same.’

‘So that’s six votes,’ Captain Osborne said. ‘The basic vote and education, and foreign travel, and the family vote, and the achievement vote, and the church vote. What’s the seventh?’

‘That’s at the Queen’s pleasure,’ said David. ‘I’'s a bit like a decoration. You get it if you’re such a hell of a chap that the Queen thinks you ought to have another vote.’

‘Aren’t there any rules about getting it?’

‘I don’t think so,’ said the pilot. ‘I think you just get it for being a good boy.’

‘You’ve experimented in your States, and found what seems to be a better system of democracy.’

There was much talk in the Conservative papers about electoral reform, and there were bitter articles in the Labour papers about an audacious attempt on the part of the Tories to kill democracy and to regain an obsolete form of government by privilege. It was all rather unhappy reading, a record of disunity on fundamental principles that he could not recall in his own country; he put the papers aside with a sigh, nostalgic for the country on the far side of the world that he had left so recently. […]

‘I’ve been reading the weeklies to find out what’s been happening while we’ve been away. There seems to be a lot going on about this multiple voting.’

She nodded. ‘I think there is.’

‘The Government seem very bitter.’

‘Yes,' she said, ‘they are. People are usually bitter when they see something threatened that they believe in with all their hearts and souls. And this Government believes in the old principle of one man, one vote. They believe in that very sincerely.’ […]

There was to be a Governor-General in England as in all the other Dominions, a buffer between the elected politicians and the Queen, selected by the Queen for his ability to get on with the politicians of the day while serving her. Somebody who could take the day-to-day hack work of Royalty off her, who could open the Town Halls and lay the foundation stones and hold the Levees and the Courts and the Garden Parties, and leave the Monarch free for the real work of governing the Commonwealth.return to index

Neville Shute and his writing

Neville Shute was very much a story-teller. He was one of those people who is often in the right place at the right time. By far his most interesting book is, in fact, his autobiography, Slide Rule. I would recommend this book to anybody as background reading to the first half of the twentieth century. He was a youth in Dublin at the time of the 1916 uprising, his father being a high-ranking civil servant. He obtained a typical upper-class education, going into engineering at Oxford. He participated in the building of the great airships and the development of the De Havilland aircraft company. Five GoldenYak (tm) award Five GoldenYak award, without reservation.

Now to Neville Shute’s fiction
He can be rather cloying at times, but as stated he is a master story-teller. Several of his novels are set partly in England and partly in Australia. In every one, I find the background detail interesting. Beyond the Black Stump, Requiem for a Wren, The Far Country, In the Wet, The Rainbow and the Rose, A Town like Alice and On the Beach. The last two were made into films, which were well-received, but are not my favourites amongst Shute’s books. Shute has written much other fiction, which I have not read.

Of Neville Shute’s fiction, I think I would recommend either of
Beyond the Black Stump
Three GoldenYak (tm) awardand Requiem for a Wren Three GoldenYak (tm) award

On the Beach and In the Wet are science-fictiony, a métier which I do not think he handled as well as the great sci-fi masters.
On the Beach involves a dying world, ruined by radiation from a nuclear war. The book was written right at the height of great fear of nuclear war. The film Three GoldenYak (tm) award is well photographed in black and white, with the usual professional performance by Gregory Peck in the lead.

Town like Alice - be not confused, as the book title says, the plot is the building of a town like Alice Springs.
There is also a black and white film version of A Town like Alice [ATLA]. My reaction varied between dull and depressing, but I am told by others that it was a moving, ‘emotional experience’. I am also told that ATLA has been filmed to a much higher standard, in colour for Australian TV, but I have never seen it.

Neville Shute’s full name was Neville Shute Norway.

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In the Wet by Neville Shute

In the wet by Neville Shute
House of Stratus, pbk, 1842322540

£5.59 []

Edition used for quotations:
Madarin, 1993 reprint, pbk, 0749304065

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