Sunday Times Opinion & Analysis
TELFORD VICE in London
ONE of your next door neighbours is a decent sort – polite when you see him, which isn’t often, modest in his bearded quietness, rides a bicycle to work, and does favours with a smile.
He has some whacky ideas about what makes the world go round, but sharing a fence and the odd word with him is no hardship.
Your other immediate neighbour is less personable but is also a solid citizen. She works hard, gets things done, lives a good, clean life, and seems satisfied with her lot.
You don’t think she’s as friendly as the bloke next door – she looks out for herself a bit too much – but since when was that a crime.
So far, so typical. But which one of them would you vote for to run the country?
That’s the wider choice facing the United Kingdom in their general election on Thursday.
Do they take a punt on the modestly bearded but whacky Jeremy Corbyn and Labour?
Or do they stick with the dull but familiar Conservatives, headed by the colourless Theresa May?
Party leaders personalities’ shouldn’t be important under the UK’s constituency system, but they are when even the most powerful man in the world prefers Twitter to more traditional platforms to address the masses.
May doesn’t have enough personality to capture the public mind. Hence she is attacking Corbyn up close and personal.
“Jeremy Corbyn’s minders can put him into a smart blue suit for an interview with [broadcaster] Jeremy Paxman, but with his position on Brexit he will find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber of the European Union,” May told a safe audience of Tory activists this week.
That from a woman who opposed Brexit when it was just an imaginary monster under the UK’s bed. Now it’s her collateral to stay ensconced at 10 Downing Street.
Corbyn voiced his opposition to Brexit limply in the run-up to the referendum. How he can he take credible aim at it now that it is becoming an awful reality?
Corbyn or May? Brexit-come-lately or Brexit-go-lightly?
An English-born Anglican priest, now an Australian citizen who was visiting family in Britain, was relieved not to have to ponder the question.
“You despair, don’t you,” she said. “The kind of people elected these days …
“The British have always had a thing for giving power to eccentrics – Enoch Powell, Michael Foot – but I just don’t know anymore.
“We’ve all seen ‘Yes, Minister’, so you kind of hope the civil service will just role their eyes and get on with it whoever is in power. It doesn’t really matter.
“But maybe it does. My son lives in Scotland and he didn’t bother voting in the referendum because he thought there was no chance of the Brexiteers winning.”
A second-generation Nigerian taxi driver had no doubt about who was better placed to lead the UK.
“Theresa May is the only decent person running in this election,” he said.
“People complain about Donald Trump, but you can see the sense in a bit of what he says even if the rest is rubbish.
“But Corbyn, he makes no sense. He wants to go back to the kind of policies we had in the ’70s. They didn’t work out so well, did they?”
Bill Harrison, who called himself a “passionate European” and was part of impromptu pavement campaigning outside Vauxhall railway station, wouldn’t agree.
Who would he vote for?
“It won’t be the Tories,” Harrison said.
“We want to remain in the European Union because we think it’s best for Britain to do so, or as closely aligned as possible.
“But Theresa May is leading us to an absolutely catastrophic Brexit.
A banner spread on the pavement in front of Harrison and his comrades put it more succinctly.
Alongside an ashen picture of May ran the legend, “Strong and stable my arse.”
Who will win?
“I don’t think there’ll be an overall majority; it’ll be a hung parliament or a coalition government, which is actually quite a good thing,” Harrison said.
A Guardian poll pegged Labour’s support this week at 33%, the same as last week. But the Conservatives had slipped by two points to 45%.
Another estimate, by polling firm YouGov, predicted Labour could gain as many as 28 seats while the Tories could lose 20 and with it their current majority.
It’s starting to smell like the French presidential election in May, when a man who has left Brittany to run a galette stall at a Cape Town market was asked whether he would vote for Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen.
“Pffff,” he said with shoulders hunched and lips curled in disgust.
“Macron, of course. But what a merde [shit] choice.”