Grey lady or the wacky cy­clist? UK must choose

Spec­tre of Brexit hangs over Bri­tain’s elec­tion this week, writes Telford Vice in Lon­don

Sunday Times - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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 wacky 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 is 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 UK in its gen­eral elec­tion on Thurs­day.

Do they take a punt on the mod­estly bearded but wacky 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 in 10 Down­ing Street.

Cor­byn voiced his op­po­si­tion to Brexit limply in the run-up to the ref­er­en­dum. Now he can take cred­i­ble aim at it as it be­comes an aw­ful re­al­ity.

Cor­byn or May? Brexit-come­lately 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 roll 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 side­walk demon­stra­tion out­side the Vaux­hall rail­way sta­tion, wouldn’t agree. Who would he vote for? “It won’t be the Tories,” Har­ri­son said. Why? “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 last month, when a man who had 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 choice.” Hor­ri­ble in­deed.


EAR, EAR: Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May in an un­usu­ally an­i­mated mood on the hus­tings

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