Tuesday 20 April 2010

If only I could vote for the ash cloud

My battle with pneumonia last week had a decidedly Franco-Italian flavour: lying down, conceding defeat and waiting for outside intervention. Mercifully it arrived in the form of powerful antibiotics, normally reserved for elephants with rampant septicaemia. These have so far taken me to the Battle of the Bulge phase of the campaign, with the cough of doom currently staging an improbable but determined fight back.

Still, at least it gave me time to think, for a change, and to reach one important conclusion. If the cough wins, the perfect epitaph for my gravestone will be “If only”. This should prove less controversial with the authorities than my previous choice, “Not sleeping, only dead”.

If only I could have predicted that the Elfin Safety worriers would prohibit all air travel for the best part of a week (with more to come) and that Nick Clegg would become the most popular British political leader since Winston Churchill, and if only I’d had the wit to place an accumulator bet on it, I could now be looking forward to a very comfortable retirement.

Marred a little, if the polls do not move, by having another five years of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister even if Labour comes third in the number of votes cast. Though at least such monstrous unfairness might finally provoke the supine taxpayers of Britain into meaningful revolt against their political system.

The trouble with the Clegg surge is that it is a meaningless revolt; an anti-politics gesture provoked by that televised non-debate which reduced the election to another episode of “Britain Lacks Talent”. It serves David Cameron right for pressing for these events in the belief that they would show up Gordon Brown for a fool, without pondering long and hard on the other possibilities.

My first problem with Mr Clegg is that I cannot hear his name without thinking of Last of the Summer Wine, and that nice old boy whose national treasure status has been consolidated by providing the voice of Wallace and Gromit. It would greatly increase my engagement with the electoral process if the next Prime Ministerial debate could be filmed in Holmfirth, with Clegg, Foggy Cameron and Compo Brown careering down a hillside on a souped-up DFS sofa, then being chased by a brush-wielding Harriet Harman in the role of Nora Batty.

Next, he unfortunately shares his name with those large horse flies that inflict such painful bites and are the best argument, apart from the climate, for avoiding the exposure of flesh while walking the Northumbrian moors.

Apparently no-one minds that he went to precisely the same “posh” school as that unbearable toff George Osborne, though admittedly he had the wit not to join the Cambridge equivalent of the Bullingdon Club, or at least not to get photographed in its uniform. But then going to the Eton of Scotland never did Tony Blair any electoral harm, did it? Different rules apply to Tories.

Finally, at the heart of Mr Clegg’s political philosophy lies enthusiasm for the project of European integration. I am sure the vast majority of the British people are not of the same view; so perhaps, as the focus turns to policies rather than personalities, this clegg may yet be swatted. One can but hope, remembering that Churchill reached his peak of personal popularity just weeks before he was ejected from office in favour of the anti-charismatic Clement Attlee.

Ask yourself this. If Mr Clegg really is the new Churchill, why has he not already commandeered a flotilla of small ships to sail to Dunkirk and bring our stranded compatriots home from the Continent?

Personally, I feel an increasingly soft spot for the invisible ash cloud that has stopped all those pesky carbon-emitting flights and may yet cool the whole northern hemisphere. How green is that? If only it were standing for election …

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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