Tuesday 3 July 2007

From red lines to red dots

It’s been unusually exciting in my corner of Northumberland. In addition to the controversial arrival of my new lawnmower, we’ve had a daring raid by evil horse rustlers (or an animal that wandered into the next field, depending on who you talk to). Like everyone else, we have endured Biblical quantities of rain, while last week it was revealed in court that one of my neighbours really was that potent figure of rural myth: an enraged man wielding an axe.

It would be no good hoping to ring the emergency services about any of the above, as thieves have helped themselves to most of the local telephone wires for scrap. We’ve been reduced to gossiping face to face, like they do in The Archers, remembering to start each conversation with “Hello, what are you doing here?”

Unfortunately around here, unlike in Ambridge, this invariably provokes the response “What does it look like?” leading swiftly to the witty riposte “What don’t you blank off, you cheeky blank?” It’s hard to see how we are ever going to spin this out into a full 12.5 minute episode, particularly as we lack a really major scandal to talk about, such as a well-heeled farmer foisting his deceased mistress’s small son onto his long-suffering wife.

(Incidentally, is it just me, or is little Ruairi in The Archers unbelievably thick? He keeps asking “Where’s mommy?” when he’s just watched her being nailed into a wooden box and buried under about half a ton of the ould sod. Who does he think she is: David Blaine?)

Instead we’ve had to amuse ourselves with a riddle: which European leader abolished hunting and tried to ban smoking in public places, but will always be best remembered for his illegal invasions of other countries? Yes, top marks: Adolf Hitler. It can’t be Tony Blair because he was a follower, not a leader. I don’t think Hitler ever set much store by focus groups. I can’t imagine that he would have been taken in by George W. Bush, either, though Guantanamo Bay and “extraordinary rendition” would undoubtedly have struck resonant chords.

Hitler’s career ended with a gunshot in a besieged bunker, and Blair’s with an unprecedented standing ovation on both sides of the Parliament he always appeared to hold in such contempt. Still, give it time.

Our new führer has one overwhelming advantage over the old one. He hasn’t got some brooding Scots obsessive with a grudge living in the house next door and devoting every waking hour to plotting his takeover, like a playground bully determined to wrest the latest must-have toy from some posh softie.

Gordon Brown says that one of his top priorities is to rebuild the public’s trust in politicians. Well, here’s an idea. Why not hold a couple of quick referendums? Every major party stated in its 2005 manifesto that it would give us a vote on the European Constitution, and all the EU’s other leaders are currently boasting that it has just been enacted under another name. Only we are expected to believe that it is a perfectly innocuous amending treaty that we need not bother our little heads about, as Britain’s “red lines” have not been crossed. They must think we are all even dimmer than young Ruairi Hathaway. For pity’s sake give us a vote and let us lance this 35-year-old boil once and for all.

Once that’s out of the way, let’s have a vote on English independence. England is one of the most ancient, prosperous and responsible nations in the world. We are eminently qualified to govern ourselves. Of course it’s sad (for them) that the Scots have been deprived of their traditional roles as Empire-builders and administrators, but luckily Her Majesty still has a dozen or so red dots on the map that could benefit from Gordon’s jaw-dropping skills. I bet they are simply crying out for some constitutional change on Pitcairn.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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