The UK election is upon us and, even for a disenfranchised expat (well, half an expat), it’s still interesting. It’s that time again in the political calendar, where all politicians become very nervous, and start belatedly worrying about what everybody else actually thinks of them. If I were in Theresa May’s shoes (something that my wife wouldn’t appreciate), I would get out now, whilst the going is good. The number of terrorist attacks is still in single figures, and the Brexit negotiations haven’t started yet. Theresa May cannot be proud of herself on both counts. She is held responsible, by many, for the substantial reduction in police funding during her time as home secretary. As for Brexit, the UK prime minister is probably suffering from post traumatic Brexit disorder. She cannot remember that she favoured the UK remaining in the EU, is now under the illusion that politicians actually have to listen to their electorate and, was so confused about the three different ways of spelling Brussels on the envelope containing Article 50, that she had to have the letter hand delivered to the EU headquarters.
All the candidates have been busy with their last-minute canvassing, a phenomenon that has always filled me with a tinge of sarcasm. Let’s face it, whenever someone you don’t know knocks at your door, you can bet your life that he either needs a favour or is trying to sell you something. In countries like France and the Netherlands, such door to door canvasing is unheard of. Politicians prefer coming face to face with their electorate at markets, instead of annoying you at home. My mother always warned me about opening doors to strangers, so I probably wouldn’t let them in anyway. Of course, if you do have to shake hands with your local Labour candidate at a market, don’t be too bothered about hygiene. The chances are that he’s already shaken hands with several stall vendors, including the fishmongers, the fruit’n veg man, the cheese vendor and, the owner of that quaint little stall selling oriental spices.
Shaking hands gives the prospective candidate a sense of reality and allows him, literally, to be in touch with his electorate. Jacques Médecin, who was mayor of Nice in the 70’s, knew all about the importance of shaking hands. He was half-god, half-man, and a complete crook. For a quarter of a century, this man was the incontestable and uncontested mayor thanks to an unprecedented network of cronyism and corruption. His scams got known to the general public with the publication of a pamphlet entitled “J’Accuse: The Dark Side of Nice”, written by Graham Greene in 1982. The pamphlet was never published in France, but that didn’t stop the French judicial system eventually catching up with the mayor of Nice, who escaped punishment by fleeing to Uruguay.
I have the advantage over my adversaries in having, at least once, shaken hands with all my voters – Jacques Médecin
And, trust me, he had a lot of voters.
It goes without saying that winning elections isn’t just a question of shaking hands with potential voters. Nowadays, it is vitally important that the aspiring candidates be just as comfortable in the television studios as at the market place. The French television debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen was a complete flop, both candidates insulting each other, and the presenters keeping quiet. The UK debate that I watched was the one on Channel 4, which contrary to the French debate, saw Jeremy Paxman go completely haywire, and the two candidates for Number 10 say nothing of interest. Theresa May ducked under Paxman’s abuse by evading the questions, and Corbyn sounded like an old uncle I would have loved to have, to be able to sit on his knees and listen to endless stories about Russian Tsars and the october Revolution. The Guardian described May and Corbyn as having escaped “unsinged as Paxman lets rip with flamethrower.” As far as I’m concerned, Paxman resembled more an aging dinosaur suffering from whooping-cough than a frightening flamethrower. As for the other debates, I wanted to watch the one in Oxford, but Theresa May didn’t turn up. For the BBC Question Time debate, she turned up, but I didn’t. Well, never mind – I can’t vote anyway.
So, this is the election that Theresa May called for, and that Theresa May must win. It’s an election that she will probably win, but not as comfortably as she once thought. Her victory, if it happens, will not have been due to her persuasiveness or policies, and even less to her performances during the election campaign. It is the lack of credible opposition that will help her to victory, in the same way that it influenced her decision to hold a general election in the first place. Her main opponent, the Labour party, has gone back in time with its leader and his romantic but ill-fitting ideas of a socialist world. He still thinks that he is the right person to govern despite clear signs pointing to the rejection of socialism, elsewhere in Europe. The Liberal Democrats have never really existed in the first place, as underscored by their leader, Tim Farron, urging Labour voters in key seats to lend his party a vote.
However, as the saying goes, it is not over until the fat lady sings and, taking the recent revival of Labour’s score in the polls, a Labour victory is not beyond the realm of possibility. Interesting times ahead, in London and in Brussels (or is it Brussel, or Bruxelles?).