Saturday 10 December 2016

Planning for a home-grown Nigel

Mindful of the influence British politics has on ours, we might watch their election more closely

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

Sign of Britain's uneasy gut: Ukip leader Nigel Farage holds a flag bearing a St George’s Cross as he enjoys a pint of beer on St George’s day
Sign of Britain's uneasy gut: Ukip leader Nigel Farage holds a flag bearing a St George’s Cross as he enjoys a pint of beer on St George’s day

In London for a few days last week, I ran into a few old friends, most of them of the left-liberal persuasion. In the past, we would talk politics of the ideological and parliamentary kinds, but now I noticed them avoiding these topics. Having watched a couple of their general election "debates", I had been moving towards tentative understandings of what was happening. "It is like watching children having a make-believe debate," I hazarded to a couple I've known for many years, both having long worked in the upper echelons of the British media. There followed an embarrassed giggling and a rapid change of subject.

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It's the strangest election I've ever witnessed, and I've struggled to put my finger on the reason why. The candidates and party leaders appear to lack nothing of the zeal and enthusiasm that has attended every UK election since I first began to be interested back in the 1970s. They argue and point-score as much as Blair and Major, Thatcher and Foot. On the surface at least, there is no diminution of intensity in the discussions. But still something is missing, and it's difficult to take any of it seriously. They are, indeed, like little boys and girls declaiming lines they have learned off by heart, playing a game called "elections" they picked up from their older brothers and sisters.

The scariest thing is how alike the candidates are - leaving Nigel Farage aside for the moment. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband could be three posh kids larking around at one of their birthday parties. The female candidates are even more indistinguishable, but in a different way, evincing earnest opinions and positions about every worthy thing. It's like a girls' election is taking place inside the boys' one, because somebody's parent has insisted. The boys don't take it very seriously, but are being quite sporting about it.

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