Europe: The Final Countdown
I’ve lost track of the amount of ‘woe is me’ navel gazing I’ve done in hotel rooms. In the last year alone, I must have stayed in nearly a hundred hotels, and sooner or later a melancholy sets in, usually when I can’t work out how to switch the lights off, or the TV remote I’m now standing on to resuscitate it, actually has no battery in it. And here I am again. A ‘new’ hotel, in Birmingham, that tries very hard to be cool and hip but whose sheen has worn off quickly. Hen and stag weekend abuse having taken its toll on back of the bathroom door towel hooks, and what were once pristine carpets.
Nearly a year ago I sat in a much swankier hotel, numb from the result of the Brexit referendum, trying to work out what my options were, how it affected me. The answers to those questions being, ‘not many’ and ‘bloody loads’. It was, and I still believe this, a potentially catastrophic situation brought about by shocking political dishonesty taking squatter’s rights where political leadership used to live. My though, how things have changed, haven’t they? How we’ve moved on.
I’m looking at my postal voting forms for the election and they throw up so many issues. Firstly, this is possibly my last UK General Election. I don’t say that in some kind of Diva-ish hissy fit, flouncing out until I get a proper choice kind of way, although I’m getting close to that. No. Legally I won’t be allowed to vote in any more elections as things stand. I’ll have gone beyond the 15 year limit allowed for British nationals living abroad to have a say in how their government is put together. The limit used to be 20 years, but Tony Blair, in a ridiculously short-sighted attempt at gerrymandering thought that ‘expats’ were all Tories, so cut the limit back five years. That I will still be paying my tax in the UK makes not the slightest bit of difference, them’s the rules. I could adopt a Farage style show of civil disobedience of course, though I won’t be ‘taking up the rifles’ as that wanton, arse-mouthed, proto-fascist bag-man to reactionary cartels, FBI ‘person of interest’ is saying he will, if Brexit isn’t exactly as he wants it. No. I’ll withhold my tax. Why should I, as a British national continue to pay tax into the UK system and not be given my democratic right to vote? Literally, you can sod that for a game of soldiers.
The other issue I have with my voting forms is that I must vote in a constituency that I haven’t lived in for 12 years. My role this week is to help choose the parliamentary candidate for Crawley. Other, more grown up democracies, France for example, have specific MPs whose constituency is to represent French nationals abroad. The expats, or migrants, it depends it seems these days largely on skin colour, have their own MP who looks after the interests of the population who live abroad. How adult is that? As a French person living in the UK, I’d get a vote in the French election. As a UK national living in France, I’m a citizen of the world, the problem, a bargaining chip to be used or tossed away depending on future negotiations. And Crawley? Really? Look, as a spur to emigration I have an awful lot to be thankful to Crawley for, but I’m reminded of the Blackadder line here:
“Won’t you miss it, not being able to pass laws over Scotland?”
“I wouldn’t pass water over Scotland.”
The choice is pretty bleak too. There are only three candidates standing in Crawley. Whatever happened to the loonies? Whatever happened to people donning a silly costume and blowing on a kazoo while their made-up name was solemnly read out and their drunk mates gave off a cheer at the back of the sports hall? In short, what happened to the British sense of humour? When did we start to take these things so seriously? Post-Brexit is my guess, when people woke up with a shocking political hangover. In Crawley, there are no Greens, though if ever an environment needed improving… there’s no UKIP either, like wasps they’ve had their moment in the sun, ruined everyone’s picnic and are dying off as colder temperatures approach. The Conservative candidate is pro-Brexit anyway, so there’s no need of them. The other two, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both young bucks, though the Lib Dem is in his final two years of ‘compulsory legal education’ and has a dangerously foreign sounding name which won’t play well in Crawley I’m afraid. The Labour candidate, a young, aviation engineer working in a multi-national industry promises ‘a Brexit that gives us the opportunity to continue to grow and prosper’. You can almost hear him say that through gritted teeth, and hopefully with his fingers crossed behind his back. Also, he looks like Gareth Southgate, another Crawley lad, which may or may not play well. Anyway, at the bottom of his page on the Vote Labour website there’s a section that says, ‘Find Another Candidate’, which seems harsh.
I’ll say it again, Labour is for Hard Brexit as much as the Conservatives are. Oh, they’re doing it with a whole lot less belligerence of course, which will do them no good. If the British like anything about their politicians it’s the thought that they might flick a V-sign and tell Johnny Foreigner to bugger off at least. But Labour are against Freedom of Movement and membership of the Single Market demands Freedom of Movement, so they are as much ‘cake and eat it’ fantasists as the rest of them. But then Labour are the only ones who have a chance of beating the Conservatives in Crawley, and though Labour’s manifesto will be in tatters when Brexit rips in to the economy, at least they’re not talking about Fox-Hunting, or taking school meals off the poor or seeing Food Banks as a good thing. Or indeed basing their entire campaign on the ‘personality’ of their leader, when quite clearly she has no personality whatsoever. I mean, literally, none at all. She’s an empty vessel, an AI version of the 21st century politician. I regard her in the same way my wife sees Lancashire cheese: pallid white, tasteless and crumbles far too easily. And she already looks doomed for not being anything like ‘Maggie’ which is what the Tories thought they were getting.
She avoids any kind of scrutiny, which is actually quite understandable. Figures this week show that the UK economy now has the slowest growth of any of the G7 nations, and don’t be in any doubt here, that is a result of Brexit. We’re not in good Brexit/Bad Brexit territory anymore, we’re in what my fellow comedian Ian Stone called varying ‘degrees of fuckedness.’ People sneered at Project Fear, but it’s now looking like Project I Bloody Told You So. Then again, other figures show that the construction industry is busy like never before, which is great obviously, though unsustainable when you’re about to start sending all your labourers back home to Eastern Europe. Who are you going to get to finish the buildings off? The perma-tanned, Lambert & Butler brigade forcibly repatriated from Spain? They’d just stand around like a set of angry, smouldering, 1970s luggage. Good luck with that.
The Tory manifesto versus the Labour manifesto is like choosing between reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and reading Wodehouse’s Ring for Jeeves. They’re both magnificent works of fiction, but I know which I’ll turn to if I need cheering up, or the warm glow of humanity. I could vote for none of them, of course, spoil my ballot paper in a futile protest about the pathetic lack of political talent available but this is my last go, and I don’t want to do that. It’s like choosing your last meal before your execution, do I go for the healthy option or pig out? An old favourite or a bold choice, something different for this one last go? It’s a difficult choice of course that last meal, especially when really, in the end, you know it won’t make a blind bit of difference.
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