The election campaign has only just begun and is already looking like the most bizarre one in living memory. We expect the howls of faux-outrage when a leading politician says something that can be twisted in an outraged misquote to build a Twitterstorm, and we expect tumults over tiny things that convulse political insiders but leave the rest of the voters just puzzled, if uncomfortable that something has happened, and even if we do not know what it was, well, it was bad if those who understand it think it was.
We have also come to expect SkyNews acting as the broadcasting wing of the Labour Party.
The Liberal Democrat leaflets with dishonest bar charts and made-up voting figures? That’s practically compulsory in any election
No; the bizarre thing is the pattern in the sudden loss of leading candidates, and the reappearance of others thought disposed of.
Tom Watson – the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party no less. If you are heading into an election with an unpopular leader seen widely as a lunatic, then you need an apparently sane man aboard as a reassurance, but now he is gone. Even as his papers were about to go in, he is gone – out of the deputy-leadership and not standing for his seat. The timing is unspeakable. He was the one the Labour Party kept in so the Party did not look too swivel-eyed. Except of course that Tom Watson entered the ‘loony’ category when he championed ‘Nick’ the fantasist in his accusations against respected, innocent figures. Momentum tried to depose Tom Watson for no being a Communist, but perhaps the dead knife was wielded by one of his victims: Harvey Proctor pledged to stand against him, and remind the voters of what he had done.
Then came Chris Williamson – kicked out because he could not see that expressions commonplace in Germany in the 1930s might not be appropriate in a civilised society. He has reappeared, not for Labour but standing against their candidate, as an independent, at least at the time of writing. Regrettably, he is unlikely to split the red vote too badly. Only a cynic surely would suggest that he is just after the cash settlement that outgoing MPs get only if they stand and are defeated.
Then there are Brexit Party candidates standing aside in droves, on the basis that they do not want to win votes that could more usefully go elsewhere.
This is only Day 1. What monsters will the next 6 weeks bring us? Popcorn please.
Treason is never far from us. It may come with an explosive blast – we have seen too many of those in latter years – or it may come with a whisper in dark corners. It may be in the actions of a murderous man intent of terrifying and tyrannising, or in the words of a useful idiot. Ambition, arrogance, malice, or a naïve hope to make things better out of the destruction and weeping – all these are with us.
How many politicians and activists agree that a “desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”, and justifies thereby what is really an exercise in personal power for a personal thrill? Guy Fawkes and Catesby are not history but a tragedy of humanity.
Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
‘Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.
The cynics have called Guy Fawkes the only man to enter the Houses of Parliament with honest intent, but there are many men and women of selfless service there and long have been, and I trust that after the election there will be some there again, amongst the bulk of timer-servers and egotists.
Even now there are plots and plotters, and traitors. Times have been worse though, and the fact that we celebrate our national deliverance on the Fifth of November every year still after all the wars and calamities of the age tells us something. It was not wiped out even by the wars.
During the Second World War and the blackout, P L Travers, the authoress of Mary Poppins wrote:
From 1605 till 1939 every village green in the shires had a bonfire on Guy Fawkes’ Day. … Since 1939, however, there have been no bonfires on the village greens. No fireworks gleam in the blackened parks and the streets are dark and silent. But this darkness will not last forever. There will some day come a Fifth of November — or another date, it doesn’t matter — when fires will burn in a chain of brightness from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. The children will dance and leap about them as they did in the times before. They will take each other by the hand and watch the rockets breaking, and afterwards they will go home singing to the houses full of light…
So we do, and long may we do so.
The vigorous elections of the Georgian Age are a matter of legend and literature: the riotous county elections, the backroom nod in the pocket boroughs (and the evictions of those who voted the wrong way), the language of public debate that caused lynch mobs to surge through the street, and – first and foremost – the bribery.
The Georgian Age brought Britain untold wealth, some of it generated in the hell-hole slave plantations, but most not; most was honestly earned through industry and trade. It brought us a flowering of culture, celebrated today in endless Jane Austen adaptations, and these give some glimpse of how the British world was growing. All this was in a time when political turmoil was the norm.
It was more honest though.
As I read the literature, there were three ways to get elected to the House of Commons in the Golden Age before the Reform Acts: an open election in a county or a populous borough; appointment to a pocket or rotten borough owned by a patron; or bribery – heavy bribery. A pocket borough was effectively what we call a ‘safe seat’ these days, one of those ones where they votes for the usual party even if its candidate tortures puppies for fun.
Bribery now, that is familiar to us today. We pretend to look askance at dishonesty but millions change hands to buy votes – the voters insist on it.
In the Eighteenth Century the candidates were more honest that ours: the candidate paid heavy bribes from his own pocket. In our day he pays from the voters’ pockets.
With happy abandon, many MPs are abandoning the Commons, before they are kicked out on their backsides by a relieved, vengeful electorate. Those confident smiles: have they even thought about what they will do when they emerge into the real world with the rest of us? Do they think they have a future? Bless!
Here’s part one of 101 uses for a dumped MP I wrote down on an old envelope at lunchtime:
- Reality TV show. Just don’t ask for a £million: you’re not worth it, and if you are, you won’t want to be seen in that trash, even with a strong medicament.
- (Top slots by the way are I’m a Has Been, Get me a Camera, and Strictly Come Off It: talk to my agent; she’s good.)
- Start a think-tank: but first find a wealthy donor who is prepared to pay you a salary out of pity. You don’t have to produce anything of value; just collect the cheque at the end of the month.
- After-dinner speaking. If you were a Prime Minister or Speaker, you may earn five figures for a slot or six for a conference; four figures for a senior cabinet minister. Anyone else, well, you can always do children’s parties.
- Bag a pundit slot on a politics programme: but there are very few going and only to those with wisdom and charisma, so that’s most ex-MPs out already.
- Sue a journalist who pretended you wanted to be on a reality TV show – that is really, really defamatory.
- Chair a quango. There are plenty out there, usually created to give jobs to otherwise unemployable Blairites, but maybe they will expand to let you in if you mouth Common Purpose platitudes? They may employ you as a condolence for your powerlessness. You will still be powerless.
- Start a charity. Two versions: the genuine, voluntary charity if you actually hope to go back into politics, and you can still think that if you like, or the better route is a grant-farm, where you can be paid your old salary out of taxpayers’ money without actually doing any good; just like the old days.
- A regular slot on Classic FM: just leave it long enough so they forget about, well, you know.
- That thing that Ben Shapiro does, with an on-line politics / interviews show? Shapiro makes a mint, but then he is an intellectual giant and you are not.
- Beg on the streets. It’s practically what you have been doing for the last few years anyway.
And the most radical suggestion of them all:
- Get a real job like a normal person.