A FAMOUS GROUSE
A SNAP Christmas general election! Now there’s a thing. And, perhaps typically, the news that the United Kingdom goes to the polls on December 12 has not exactly filled many parliamentarians with seasonal cheer.
It’s partly due to the weather. Being a backward lot and set in their ways, the Brits expect their politicians to drop in on them and explain why they deserve to be in Westminster. This modern business of fetching the peasantry by the busload and then throwing T-shirts and happy meals at them doesn’t wash here. The prospect of door-to-door campaigning on freezing wet evenings is therefore definitely not appealing.
Another thing: the election takes place on the second Thursday of December, the traditional date of the end-of-the-year office party in the UK. Every major town here will be heaving with giddy typists sporting glittery reindeer antlers and sales reps who’ve turned their neckties into bandannas, all three sheets to the wind as they spill out of restaurants and stagger off to the pub and a final six or seven for the road. By evening, the streets will be slick with sick. Pity then the exit pollsters. They may just be getting a mouthful.
Going on the stump is also going to be a challenge. Local halls and others venues will have been booked out for months for school nativity plays, am-dram pantos, charity bashes and parties for pensioners. Good luck with trying to squeeze a political meeting into that overbooked calendar.
Then there’s the electorate — or at least the noisy section of the electorate — who, thanks to the uncertainty and inertia over Brexit, seem thoroughly peed off with their politicians and whine on and on about being betrayed by parliament.
Thursday was meant to be D-Day. Independence Day. The day Britain would leave the European Union. Across the home counties they would be shouting to the heavens. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last. Free from the tyranny and oppression of Brussels and their condoms in Italian sizes and their regulations about bendy bananas and all those Polish people over here doing the work that we won’t do.
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, had on several occasions vowed that Britain would be out of Europe by then. “Come what may,” he said in June. “Do or die.” Then in September: “There are no circumstances in which I will ask Brussels to delay [the process]. We are leaving on October 31, no ifs or buts.” “We will leave by October 31 in all circumstances. There will be no further pointless delay.”
Then, emphasising that an extension was out of the question: “I’d rather be dead in a ditch.”
A fortnight ago Johnson dashed off two letters to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council. One, unsigned, requested an extension beyond October 31. He was compelled by law to do this in order to stave off a “no deal” Brexit. It was accompanied by a signed letter in which he argued against an extension for the Brexit negotiating process. The deadline is now January 31 next year.
On Thursday, the latest Private Eye hit the streets. The cover line of this “historic non-event souvenir issue” proclaimed “Ditch speaks out”. A speech bubble emerged from a photograph of a muddied gully next to a country lane: “Boris has let me down.”
Over in the House of Commons, meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn appeared genuinely perturbed that Johnson was still alive. The Labour leader was not alone in this. Several million people had already taken to social media to point out that events had not unfolded as BoJo had promised and there was a ditch somewhere with his name on it and all that was required was that he now quietly expired in it.
But none had made the point with the doctrinaire dreariness of Grandpa Smurf.
It came during a lengthy railing away on the prime minister’s untrustworthiness: “He got his deal through on a second reading, then abandoned it.” Pause. Then louder: “He promised us a budget on November 6, and then he abandoned that too!” Pause. Louder still: “He said he would never ask for an extension! He said he’d rather die in a ditch!” Lengthy pause.
Then the coup de grâce: “Another … broken … promise!”
Johnson, usually full of blustery posh boy wiffle-waffle at the best of times, was baffled into silence. He was being accused of being … alive? What do you say to that?
If it all seems so farcical, well, that’s because it is. Johnson and Corbyn hate each other’s guts. Neither would cross the road to spit on each other if they were on fire. Both are indifferent to Jo Swinson and the Liberal-Democrats, who are resolutely opposed to Brexit in any shape or form.
Then there’s Nigel Farage, the Brexit party leader and part-time radio talkshow host. He pulled off a major coup on Thursday when Donald Trump called his show and showered both Johnson and Farage with praise, suggesting they form an election pact, “a leave alliance” — largely to defeat Corbyn.
Corbyn, Trump insisted, would be “so bad” for the country and would “take you to very bad places. He’d take you in such a bad way.” Which does make Grandpa Smurf seem like an old pervert in a van. But this from an American president who otherwise thinks that foreign leaders shouldn’t meddle in the elections of other countries. Especially when they happen to be Barack Obama.
Farage is widely regarded as having the personality of a phlegm-drenched handkerchief. But there’s no denying he is cunning, and he rather slyly coaxed Trump — perhaps no great feat, this — into pouring scorn on Downing Street’s Brexit plans.
“We’re far and away the largest economy in the world,” the modest marmalade man told Farage’s listeners. “And we want to do trade with the UK and they want to trade with us, and to be honest with you, this deal … under certain aspects of this deal … you can’t do it, you can’t do it, you can’t trade.
“I have great relationships with many of the leaders, including Boris. He’s a fantastic man and I think he’s the right guy for the time and I know you and him will end up doing something that could be terrific if you and he … if you and he get together as, you know, an unstoppable force.”
Nigel thought this a swell idea, and has now proposed the Tories and his party enter an election pact, “a leave alliance”, as he put it. The Tories are not exactly enamoured of this idea.
Corbyn, meanwhile, is rather pleased that Trump doesn’t like him. What a ringing endorsement! The orange person is not held in much esteem here. According to YouGov polling, two-thirds of people in the UK are negative about the president. This includes 51% of those who voted Tory in 2017, 80% of Labour voters and 91% of Lib-Dem supporters.
Unfortunately, Trump also kind of rubbished one of the cornerstones of Labour’s election campaign, that the Tories want to sell off the National Health Service to American Big Pharma.
“No,” he told Farage. “It’s not for us to have anything to do with your healthcare system. No, we’re just talking about trade. I mean, it’s so ridiculous … I think Corbyn put that [rumour] out there, but to even think, it was never even mentioned … I never even heard it until I went over to visit … visit with the Queen. Who, by the way, is a great, great woman, and I think we hit it off really well. We had a terrific time but she’s a great woman.”
The Queen has unfortunately kept her opinions of Trump and her politicians to herself.