In the Dedans

Charles Saunders, runner up in the 1890 World Championships

Charles Saunders, runner up in the 1890 World Championships

Leamington Tennis Court Club was established in 1846, which makes it the world’s oldest real tennis club: not the oldest real tennis court, which is at Falkland Palace in Fife (built in 1539, open-roofed, unplayable in rain), but the oldest private members’ tennis club. Women were admitted as members in 2008 and there are reminders everywhere of the club’s 160-odd years without them. There’s a large oil painting hanging in the lounge of an exhibition doubles match: every one of the four players and fifty or so spectators is in trousers and has an imposing moustache. More »

The Lib Dem Lords Paradox

There was no election for the House of Lords last week, obviously, so no surprise to wake up to on that front, but that doesn’t mean there’s no surprise at all. The numbers of the House of Lords are as follows: More »

1992 Redux?

Nothing in Ed Miliband’s election campaign became him like losing it. For all the garment-rending since Thursday, it was a good election for Labour to flunk. Even without a formal agreement with the Scottish Nationalists, a Labour government would have been perpetually open to the charge of being ‘held to ransom’ by an SNP fraction pulling the UK ever further leftwards. The Tories, probably led by Boris Johnson and hoorayed by the press, would have been free to indulge in Europhobic braying from the opposition benches without the discipline of running an in/out referendum to make them act responsibly. Miliband would have been torn between two nationalisms: the left separatism that has obliterated it throughout Scotland, and the rightist anglonationalism of Ukip that has leeched Labour’s vote in northern England. Fleet street would have had a hoot. It would have made eating bacon sandwiches look like a picnic.
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Episode 21: Charge of the Light Brigade

Hands up if you saw that one coming. I confess that I didn’t. The first line of the BBC announcement, ‘Conservatives largest party’, was no shock. Then there was a pause a few seconds long, and the projection of 316 Tory seats came up. I nearly fell off my chair. From that point on, the surprises only got bigger.

Why was it so surprising, though? If you’d asked me six weeks ago what was going to happen, I’d have said, a little reluctantly, that the likeliest outcome was a Tory minority government. From that point to an outright majority is a step, but not a gigantic one. If I’d been granted a glimpse ahead to the result, I’d have said the Tories did better and Labour worse than expected, but not amazingly, bizarrely, unforeseeably so. The thing which turned this into such a blindsiding shock was the fact that the election campaign was so flat and eventless. For six weeks, nothing happened. The numbers refused to move. Then everything happened at once. The talk in politics these days is all about ‘narrative’ and ‘momentum’, but there was almost no sign of that in this election. There was little evidence that the electorate were paying any attention. The Tory campaign worked spectacularly, but did so in a new and peculiar way: it was like a pill that the patient refuses to swallow, and holds off swallowing, and then downs all at once. More »

Episode 20: Every Vote Counts

Relief at the fact that this general election campaign is over will for many of us be tempered by the fact that it also, most likely, isn’t over – in the sense that we probably won’t wake up tomorrow morning knowing the identity of the next government.

There’s one important thing to bear in mind today. For most electors, most of the time, it isn’t true that every vote counts. There are usually about 100 seats in play in a general election. The others are safe seats, and while voting in them is an important part of belonging to civil society, blah blah etc, your individual vote is unlikely to have any bearing on the outcome of the election overall. This is one of the factors which leaves electors feeling disconnected from the whole process.

This time is different. The total number of votes for the parties is going to be very important, not in determining the outcome – it doesn’t – but in affecting the negotiations afterwards. The further behind the Tories Labour are in the popular vote, the easier it will be for the Tories and their allies to claim that a Labour government is illegitimate (constitutional position notwithstanding). So, this time, every vote counts.

It’s a novel feeling. We could get used to it.

The Judiciary and Institutional Racism

‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall,’ the deputy High Court judge Richard Mawrey said as he ruled that Lutfur Rahman’s re-election as mayor of Tower Hamlets on 22 May 2014 was void. Mawrey found Rahman guilty of a series of corrupt and illegal practices, including bribery, undue spiritual influence, payment of canvassers and falsely accusing his Labour rival of being a racist. More »

Episode 19: First Past the Post?

The Tory papers are hitting the delegitimisation thing pretty hard today. The front pages are:

Nightmare on Downing Street (Telegraph)
Miliband trying to con his way into No. 10, says PM (Times)
For sanity’s sake don’t let a class war zealot and the SNP destroy our economy – and our very nation (Daily Mail)
Post-election shambles looms as legitimacy crisis worsens (Independent, which may have surprised its readers by telling them to vote Tory)

And then for light relief, the two papers owned by Richard Desmond:

Why You Must Vote for Ukip (Daily Express)
Brits live sex show on Magaluf booze cruise (Daily Star)

The delegitimisation story is going to be an interesting test of how much power the newspapers still have. More »

Episode 18: Panic Stations

It’s forty years since anybody has won power in a UK general election without the backing of Rupert Murdoch. He’s not happy about the prospect. That’s the explanation for the surreal juxtaposition of the Sun covers from England and Scotland:

sun front pages

‘Vote Cameron!’ ‘Vote Sturgeon!’ It makes no sense, unless you see that what it’s really saying is ‘Vote Anyone But Ed!’ Miliband took an early decision to attack Murdoch, and as a result owes him nothing. To have people in office who don’t owe him is not Murdoch’s happy place. More »

A New Hero for PEN

Sarah Palin – or someone pretending to be Sarah Palin – has tweeted that Salman Rushdie should invite Pamela Geller to the PEN gala dinner. She’s right. Geller is no pussy. She has courageously expressed her views that Muslims should be expelled from the US and Europe, that they pray five times a day for the deaths of Christians and Jews, that Obama is the love child of Malcolm X and frequents ‘crack whores’, that the State Department, the American media and Campbell’s Soup have been taken over by ‘Islamic supremacists’, and so on. More »

Episode 17: Avoiding the Electorate

Where are the posters?

Where are the posters?

Something has been bugging me about this election, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and just in the last week or so I’ve realised what it is. It’s the near-complete absence of posters. Not just posters, but the whole apparatus of visual paraphernalia: banners and billboards and advertising. This is my fifth general election in the same street, and it’s the first time I’ve never seen a single election poster in the road. More »

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