Monday, 25 May 2015


So a couple of weeks on, then, and the first noises are already being made about 'changing Britain's relationship with Europe', Nigel Farage having to applaud, to his own apparent surprise, from the sidelines in the meantime. With a referendum on that relationship with Europe surely now a matter of time, Cameron is making it pretty clear from the first days of this government what it is that people have voted for.

So what happened? Has the country lurched to the right? Is everybody simply voting with their wallets, as I've maintained has been the case since the Thatcher years, now the economy seems to be improving? And why did the fully expected bashing meted out to the Lib Dems seem to benefit the very party they were being punished for getting into bed with?

The only predictable bit was what happened to the Lib Dems. As I wrote here some time ago, vote Lib Dem, get Tory, was never going to wash with anybody who'd put their cross in that particular box last time round. Paddy Ashdown's infamous claim that he'd eat his hat if their showing was as bad as exit polls suggested and Clegg's tearful, apparently shell-shocked resignation speech seemed to suggest that the retribution they suffered came as a horrible surprise to them, if nobody else.

You might have expected Labour to be the main beneficiaries of the collapse of the Lib Dem vote, but that's not what happened. The votes all seemed to go elsewhere - the gigantic swing to the SNP in Scotland, for example, decimated Labour in an area where the Tories only had one seat at stake anyway. And to anybody not voting Tory, the south of England makes for depressing map making. Head south from London and only my home city of Brighton & Hove breaks the blue monopoly. Those disaffected Lib Dems certainly didn't vote Labour.

For those of us not of a politically blue persuasion, there were still highlights, still things to please. The main one, of course, was the defeat of one Farage, N., in Thanet. There's no arguing with the number of votes UKIP gleaned overall - a worrying and slightly depressing sign that many Brits may well be blaming all our problems on immigration and a possible, if seemingly implausible, answer to that question of where the Lib Dem votes went. But their winning of only one seat, and Farage's failure to take his, are cause for some hope. Farage's predictable u-turn on his resignation, though, demonstrated that he'll still likely feature on the newly blue political landscape, even if it's only as a mouthy observer. George Galloway losing (and by 'losing' I mean being completely thrashed) Bradford West was also to be celebrated. Abominable man.

Where now for Labour? Realising, five years too late, that they should have elected the other Miliband, should prove sobering to the rank and file. David Miliband always had more charisma than his sibling, and his brother's campaign, essentially moribund, reflected that lack. In this era of personality politicians, where image is so much more important than manifesto promises that are no longer worth the paper they're printed on, he simply never inspired people. A genuinely fresh face is needed. I'd rather hoped my own MP, Chukka Umunna, a man seen as a rising star of the Labour movement and, importantly these days, regarded as pro-business and not too left wing, would be the new leader. He pulled out, though, feeling the need in the process to deny that an 'unwelcome press story' was his motivation for doing so. Odd.

Whoever they do choose this time, they have to get it right because they've got a lot of ground to make up - we've now got five years of Tory control with a small, but workable, majority. Five years during which the Labour leader will have to prove him/herself as a plausible alternative to the incumbent PM, probably campaign on a hugely important issue like EU membership, and try to find at least some common ground with a party which wants to break up the Union as it stands, if any credible opposition to the Conservatives is to be offered.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Dogma, pedagogy and helicopters.

It's been that long, I realise, since I wrote anything on these pages that it must have seemed like I'd given it up forever. It becomes an easy habit to break, this, and with every week that passes without a new entry, a harder one to re-establish. The longer it goes without an entry, the better it's got to be when it does finally reappear, right? At least that's how it feels from this end.

So, finally dipping my fingers back into the murky waters of the typing pool, you'll forgive me, I hope, if this one falls rather short of the standard that might be expected after a five-month hiatus, for that is what it's been. (I genuinely hadn't realised it had gone that long).

So, comment on general election to come. Clegg's tears, Miliband's rather startled realisation that his brother should have got the job all along, and Farage's defeat will no doubt feature. See if you can guess, before I write that entry, which one of those three things gave me the most pleasure. In the meantime, a bit of comment on what Danny Baker might call the Iron Horse of this blog, the good old Catholic Church.

I've had the very good fortune these past couple of weekends to head out to Spain for each of them. It may seem a bit la-di-dah jet set to fly out on a Friday, back on a Monday, out again on a Thursday and back once more on the Monday, but that's how it fell. First for a wedding, then for a birthday celebration. I've written on here before about Spanish weddings, I think - their length compared to the British ceremonies I've attended, never having to pay for a drink at the reception, the very Spanish music partnered by dancing late into the night. Then there's just how, well, Catholic the actual ceremony is. This usually includes a sermon, in both senses of the word, and the one delivered by the priest administering the wedding I attended a couple of Saturdays back was an absolute doozy.

I usually hear my girlfriend, a fervent atheist brought up in a Catholic country, muttering in quiet disagreement during these ceremonies as the priests do their thing. On this occasion, though, she actually felt moved to get up and leave the church mid-way through the thing, ostensibly to assist a mum with one of her two babies, who'd started fussing a bit - who can blame them? - but really to cool her anger at what she was hearing. My Spanish has not come on sufficiently to follow everything said at these occasions, especially when it's punctuated by the typical call-and-response refrain of the church's own peculiar argot.

Her later explanation was that the priest had had a bit of a go at parents who leave it to teachers to educate their kids. Teachers, he'd explained, merely teach. They can't educate - only the Church, through their parents, can do that. So all this stuff the schools fill kids' heads with can't be allowed to take root as incredulity, as questioning, lest they veer from the perfect truth of the Church. As a former teacher, this was basically the perfect storm for her, so out she bailed, for a while at least.

All ended well, though. They got married, there was dancing, and I got completely shit-faced because a) the bar's free, remember, and b) you always forget they don't bother with measures like we do, so you're getting at least a treble every time you order a short. The hotel room was doing the helicopter thing when I crashed into bed at who-knows-what hour of Sunday morning, knowing I had to be back at work Monday afternoon and recovery time was therefore short.

This weekend just passed, however, was completely different. I got completely shit-faced at a birthday party instead, and the spare room of the house I was staying in was doing the helicopter thing as I crashed into bed at who-knows-what hour of Sunday morning, knowing I had to be back at work... you get the idea.

What did I learn from these occasions? Well, it might be a good idea to get wasted before any subsequent wedding ceremony I attend out there. The church may do the helicopter thing while the nuptials are going on, but I've noticed that my confidence in my Spanish is correlative with the amount of alcohol I've consumed. So have a few early doors and I'd at least think I could understand the sermon sufficiently to understand what my missus is muttering about as she stands next to me.