Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The car is crashing.

Somewhere, in a darkened studio, not long after ten o’clock this morning, Jeremy Corbyn had a car crash. It was the kind you hear from miles away. They will have to close both lanes. The scorched tyre marks will never come off that road.

I don’t write much about politics, these days. I found the whole tribal loathing that was unleashed by the Scottish independence vote and then the referendum so tiring and saddening that I retreated into my cave and stared dolefully at the flickering shadows on the wall. Social media can be vastly entertaining in this area but also savage. If you say something even mildly political on Twitter, the hounds of hell may be unleashed. They are too barky for me. I tend to stick to racing. There’s no controversy in writing about the beauty of Winter soaring over the emerald turf of the Curragh.

But I happened to hear the screeching tyres and the shattered glass of the Corbyn interview. I listened in astonishment, thinking for a fleeting moment it must be some kind of spoof. It was lovely John Thing from Dead Ringers. (I’m like my dad now, I can’t remember anyone’s name. Everyone is Mr and Mrs and Ms Thing. Occasionally, there is obviously a Duchess of Thing.)

Apart from the fact that the interviewer actually told Mr Corbyn, in some astonishment, that he had already taken one telephone call and was now looking up things on his iPad, apart from the fact he had no figures to back up one of his main policies, there was something else which amazed me. It was the faint, sulphurous whiff of arrogance. Perhaps I was over-thinking this. Perhaps the poor man was just exhausted. I don’t think he likes campaigning very much. All those inconvenient questions about things he said thirty years ago, all that forensic examining of his positions, all that insistence on numbers actually adding up: no wonder he sounds cross. But there was a part of me that wondered whether there was a subconscious thought that going on a show with the word ‘woman’ in the title would be a breeze. That charming blonde female with the mellifluous voice would surely be a walk in the park. As Emma Barnett started to out-Paxo Paxo, I could hear a note of almost resentful amazement creep into Corbyn’s voice. The women were supposed to be a soft gig. Promise them all a pony, mention cupcakes and shoes, and then go home.

I’m sure I’m being unfair. There was something about that car crash interview that made me furious and it’s not to do with Corbyn himself. It’s not to do with left or right or men or women or Brexiteers or Remainers. It’s the whole shower. I’ve spent my entire life believing in government, having faith in the state, in a mixed economy, in the Scandinavian miracle. (People are starting to say now that it’s not such a miracle after all, which is yet another hopeful illusion dashed.) I always stuck up for politicians, even when they were making a horlicks of everything with the expenses fiasco. I was absolutely not one of those people who shook their heads and sucked their teeth and said ‘they’re all the same’.

But in this election, I’m fed up with the whole damn lot. There isn’t a single clarion call, a single ringing voice, a single galvanising mind that makes me want to leap to the barricades and plant a flag. There’s pretty rubbish, slightly crap, and rather disappointing. The Tories are doing robotic on-message with a side order of bitching and Labour don’t seem able to write fuck on a dusty blind. I don’t even know what the Lib Dems are doing, and I’m not sure they do either.

Meanwhile, there are children in poverty and old people who can’t afford care and Donald Trump running around like an infant who has had too much sugar and fundamentalists who would like to blow up the world. Who is going to pick up the reins and make sense of this crazy hill of beans? (I’m so cross I’m mixing my metaphors; always a sign of strong emotion.) I want so much to have faith in someone. And there is nobody who inspires faith.

I understand that politicians are caught always between voters and reality. Voters are both eminently sensible and quite naughty. There is a fundamental fairness in the British electorate. They tend to give one side a go, and then, when that side runs out of steam or mucks things up or becomes moribund, they give the other side a shot. But the voters also do what all voters do, which is want stellar public services and low taxes. That’s the rock and the hard place. That’s the naughty part. That’s the reason that politicians won’t answer the question. They dare not address the huge truth which is that you can’t have both. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have the numbers, because nobody has the numbers. Everyone shades the truth and trims and changes the subject. The great ship that is the NHS creaks and groans and takes on water and no-one really knows how she is going to go on sailing over an increasingly stormy sea.

That car crash was a universal car crash. It could have been any politician on any show. They are not all the same, but, in their different ways, they are not doing the people of Britain proud. This is the first election I can remember where I really don’t want to vote. I cherish my vote, because so many women battled for me to have it. They chained themselves to railings and submitted to the Cat and Mouse Act and faced down hatred and calumny so I could put my cross in the box. When I go into that little wooden booth, I take the Pankhursts with me, every time. All I have, this year, is Least Worst. It is not a choice that makes my heart sing. I know that politics is not unicorns and stardust, but it feels as if this election is hitting a new low. I shall go into the Victory Hall on the 8th of June and make my mark, with slow fingers and dragging steps and a heavy heart. It won’t feel like victory. It is the very epitome of making do. The British are awfully good at making do, but I’m sick of it. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


For the last ten years, I thought that radical fundamentalist terrorists were amateur hour. Every single death is a tragedy; every single loss breaks someone’s heart. But if you are trying to bring down Western civilisation, I thought, you’ve got to try a bit harder than this. After every outrage, every cruel, pointless killing spree, everyone went back to normal. They did not throw up their hands and say: you were right, bring on the Caliphate. They did not shroud themselves in yards of cloth and stop sending their girls to school.
It’s not quite normal, of course For some people, for the bereaved, for the wounded, for the traumatised, there will never again be normal. But France and America and Britain and Belgium and all the other seats of Satan went on shopping and squabbling and voting and joking and working. People still got drunk on a Saturday night and weeded the garden and felt the jolting miracle of new life when a baby was born.
And then there was Manchester. For a moment, this did not feel like amateur hour. But then the voice of rage in me said that was exactly what it was. The furious voice said: it was the act of the craven, the howl of the already defeated, the addled shout of the lost argument. You want to tear down Britain, for whatever crazed reason, and you kill our children. You choose the softest, most innocent target. Is that what you call the big league? Do you really think that is going to work?
Whoever did this has broken human hearts into a hundred smashed pieces. They have engendered shock and grief and perhaps fear. They have disrupted ordinary life on the streets of an ordinary city on an ordinary Monday night. But they have achieved nothing. I don’t know whether they do this truly in the name of some notion of religion, in the shadow of some great god, or whether it’s just the spasm of a nihilist death cult. I don’t know what it is they really want. Perhaps their spirits are so curdled with hate that they simply want hate to win. Hate never wins.
I got to the feed shed this morning, on a quiet sunny day in Scotland, and found my friend already there, making the horses their breakfast. It seemed impossible that there was death and destruction out there in dear old Blighty. We looked at each other with tears glittering in our eyes and then we exploded with rage. We were so furious we were shaking.
My friend has a daughter who adores Ariana Grande. ‘They are killing the children,’ we said, in fury. Those daughters were my friend’s daughter. Those daughters were my little Isla who comes to ride the red mare every Sunday. We don’t know those children but they are our children. We swore and stomped our feet and could not stand still. Some stupid fuck thought it was a good idea to blow himself up and take undefended innocents with him.
We talked of Manchester. There is something about Manchester. You don’t mess with Manchester. Its people did not cower behind closed doors, but came out onto the streets, to help. Mancunians were opening their houses to the stranded, giving blood, offering lifts, guiding lost people through the cordoned-off streets. Taxi drivers from Liverpool drove over to give free rides to those who needed them. The Luftwaffe tried to bomb Manchester into submission and that did not work. The IRA gave it a go, with even less success. This new attack will not work any more than those others did. Hope, cussedness, life itself, will rise again.
The dealers in death can kill. That is all they can do. They don’t build anything up or make anything better or leave any enduring legacy. If they want to bring Blighty to its knees they will have to get every single school dinner lady, every farmer, every nurse. They will have to get the beekeepers and the physicists and the poets. They will have to take out the studio managers who keep Radio Four on the air, and the people who save endangered species, and the vets. They will have to smash the Chelsea pensioners and the buskers and the bobbies on the beat. They will have to destroy every single one of Shakespeare’s plays, and every one of Churchill’s speeches, and every line Jane Austen ever wrote. They will have to cut down the old oak trees and demolish Stonehenge and reduce the Tower of London to rubble. They will have to crush the indomitable spirit of the people of these rocky, rainy islands, and I don’t like their chances.
I am so angry I am shaking. I can write these defiant words, and I do feel defiant. I do believe, in my deepest heart, that love will always conquer hate. But that does not bring back the dead. Four hundred miles south, there is a parent whose life will always have a piece missing. I think of those mothers, those fathers, those sisters, those brothers, those friends. Their lives just got torn up, like a piece of paper. And for what? For some twisted idea that the haters hardly even understand themselves? It’s so much waste: wasted lives, wasted tears, wasted, aching hearts.
Britain is a tough old bird. It is an ancient country, and it’s taken its blows and survived. I read a lot about the Second World War and I’m reading yet another book about Churchill at this very moment. Every time I trace that part of our island story, I can’t quite believe that Blighty came through that darkest hour. I don’t know how the people of London survived the Blitz, or the citizens of Coventry came through their firestorm, or daily life reasserted itself in the beleaguered cities and ports. I don’t know how those young boys went out on no sleep to fight off the swarming Messerschmitts on mockingly sunny days in 1940. I don’t know how Britons dealt with the daily fear of invasion, when it seemed that nothing stood between them and the unleashed fury of the Third Reich.

They must have been angry too, and tired, and frightened. Somehow, they stood together, and prevailed. Hate, I think, does not, must not, will not win.  

(The picture is of  the Manchester Blitz, and is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum.  Sadly, no photographer is credited, but someone was out there on the streets, doing sterling work.)


Blog Widget by LinkWithin