Tuesday 10 May 2011

Once again the big winner is apathy

It is always a delight to see any political idea favoured by Eddie Izzard being decisively punted into oblivion, so last week saw the Hann household rejoicing for the second Friday in succession.


And who could resist a little surge of local pride on discovering that the North East had led the field in saying no to AV, with a majority of 71.9%?

A mere handful of places said “yes”: Oxford, Cambridge, a few smug inner London boroughs and their Edinburgh and Glasgow counterparts. Tempting me to the conclusion that we need never go to the trouble and expense of a national referendum ever again. Just obtain the newspaper wholesalers’ data on where The Guardian sells most strongly, hold local polls there, then do precisely the opposite of whatever they vote for. We won’t go too far wrong.

Though perhaps we should have one last national referendum on Scottish independence first. And I do mean a national referendum. How can you dissolve a marriage without consulting both of the contracting parties? Allowing Scotland alone to vote on its future would be like letting the children decide on their party guest list and entertainment without consulting the adults who actually have to pay for it.

But I am ignoring the pachyderm in the living quarters, which is this. Although pundits assure us that turnout in the AV referendum exceeded expectations, apathy was once again the big winner on polling day. A thumping 58% of my compatriots still found something more important to do than pootling down to their local school or village hall, and marking an “X” on a bit of paper.

How could this lot fail to inspire?

All right, it’s not very intellectually challenging and it doesn’t promise the same sort of returns as filling in a lottery slip, but in the Middle East people are currently dying for the right to do just this. How can you possibly conclude that it is more important to be scratching yourself on the sofa in front of Loose Women or The Jeremy Kyle Show?

Politics matter. Which celebrity is shagging which lady of easy virtue who previously enjoyed relations with which Premiership footballer does not.

Another thing that matters is our ability to hold our heads up in the world by adhering to certain standards of decency and fair play. From the invention of concentration camps in the Boer War to the recent revelations about our treatment of Mau Mau prisoners in Kenya, the reputation of the British Empire is certainly not an unsullied one.

But have the Americans, who worked so hard to bring our Empire to a conclusion, led us onto the broad sunlit uplands of probity and transparency?

Their support of assorted murderous tyrannies around the world, and their use of “extraordinary rendition”, extra-territorial detention camps, the extraction of information by torture and – yes, their ham-fisted inability to get their story straight about the cold-blooded killing of their public enemy number one in Abbotabad last week – all lead me to the conclusion that the world was a rather better and safer place when those chaps from Whitehall were in charge of it.

It’s not that I have any sympathy for Osama bin Laden, though his “command and control centre” looked to me rather more like a teenager’s bedroom that had been handed over to an OAP as part of a Channel 4 reality life swap show. But why would anyone conceive and execute the operation against him in a way that seems specifically designed to give conspiracy theorists a field day?

Latest version of events: the White House execution team hold their breath as the UK AV referendum results come in
The only thing that troubles me about my misgivings is that I have already found them shared by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and will no doubt soon find myself allied with the entire readership of The Guardian, including Eddie Izzard. So as you were, Mr President. Most reluctantly, Operation Geronimo gets my vote.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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