Carla Carlisle: If Jeremy Clarkson was on the ballot, he’d win the farming vote easily

Our columnist from across the pond reflects on the turbulent state of politics, and retains hope for a more predictable future.

Dear Reader, you’re in luck. You will soon be in the new dawn of ‘After’. I am writing this in the twilight zone of ‘Before’, but, thanks to the venerable professor Sir John Curtice, I have a pretty good idea. The odds at the fish stall in the farmers’ market on Saturday morning looked like Russian roulette: Michelle Obama becoming the next US president (22/1) was more likely than Rishi Sunak staying on as Prime Minister (33/1). I put my money on the Cromer crab instead.

Turns out the crab was a good investment. Before the church bells rang out on Sunday, the odds had changed. A fourth Tory — the chief data officer — was being investigated for making bets on the election date. This is turning into a bookie’s hayride. There’s more dignity in dollar poker than insiders placing bets, but before I could mutter: ‘This is a new low’, unexpected words spurted out of my mouth: ‘Goodgodalmighty!’

My husband’s response was more moderate. ‘It’s shabby, but you have to feel sorry for Rishi.’ I’m not sure feeling sorry is helpful. Mr Sunak’s problem is that he doesn’t know how to wrestle an alligator in a mud hole. You have to go for the eyes and nose, go for the sensitive parts. In the case of the Downing Street betting ring, you need to sack ’em and sack ’em fast.

I admit that I’ve had alligators on my mind since that old trickster emerged from his spectral exile to run for the eighth time. I’m not surprised; alligators have no finite lifespan. They live and keep going unless they are taken down by another predator. It does not mean they are immortal, but, if you live near a swamp, it feels as if they are.

As soon as he came back on land, Nigel Farage began roaring his admiration for Vladimir Putin. The conscienceless candidate blames NATO and the EU for the war in Ukraine. He claims clairvoyance because he ‘predicted’ and justified the war in Ukraine when Russia grabbed Crimea back in 2014. Profanity could become my verbal tic.

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I can still remember when it was bad manners to ask people how they vote. Those days are over and every time I’ve asked that question since Mr Sunak called the election, I’ve been met with head shaking and mournful ‘don’t knows!’ followed by a long list of shameful shenanigans and disappointments with the present lot.

This is rural Suffolk and there is significant fury at the absence of concern for rural England beyond petting lambs who are now too big to be petted. Folks around here are sick to death of vast housing developments shoved on green fields, children sent to schools miles away because there are no places in the village school, long waits for appointments in the local surgery, traffic on the A143 and no NHS dentists anywhere.

‘They make a mess and call it “growth”,’ says the nonagenarian Mrs P. who comes to our farmers’ market each week for her raw milk and Baron Bigod cheese. ‘So, who are you voting for?’ I ask. ‘I’m putting my old covid mask over my eyes and voting blindfold. That way I won’t live to regret it!’ she snaps. When I turn to her 70-year-old son, who loyally brings her here each Saturday, Mrs P. stops me: ‘Don’t ask him! He’s a fool. He’s voting Reform!’

Before the Brexit referendum, we had a mock vote in the weekly farmers’ market. The Remainers’ stall had baskets of croissants, wheels of Brie, bottles of Champagne, terrines of jambon persilleé, golden madeleines and Edith Piaf singing Non, je ne regrette rien on a CD player. The Leavers’ stall had scones and marmalade, bottles of Abbot Ale, sausage rolls, Yorkshire Tea, porridge oats, shepherd’s pie and Vera Lynn singing about nightingales. Bunting made up of Union Jacks and EU flags fluttered in the wind. More than 200 votes were cast and, thanks to Martha Kearney who lives nearby, we made the 1 o’clock news on Radio 4. The Remainers won easily. I haven’t rolled the dice since.

Getting that vote so wrong isn’t the reason we didn’t repeat the exercise again. We simply ran out of time. If we did a mock election now, I worry that Reform might come out pretty well. Unless we put Jeremy Clarkson on the ballot, who would win the farming vote hands down. The planet is in an electoral earthquake zone and there is only so much global and national craziness one can take.

This corner of Suffolk is well aware of the Trump vs Biden drama that still has five months to go. ‘If this was a movie, it wouldn’t be box office,’ says a young pilot from North Carolina stationed at RAF Lakenheath, 45 minutes from here. More than 5,000 military personnel, plus their families and 2,500 children, live around the base and the pilot believes that ‘half the Americans stationed there will vote Trump’. Before that is the election in France that takes place just before the Paris Olympics — it makes you wonder what M. Macron and Mr Sunak talked about in Normandy.

‘Well, democracy is alive. And democracy is sacred,’ says my son. It is more sacred in some places than others. I grew up in the American South when half the population didn’t have a vote. We pledged allegiance to the flag every morning in our all-white classrooms, glad that we lived in a democracy.

It wasn’t until Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the other half of the citizens in our state finally got the vote. By then, I had latched onto the words of Martin Luther King: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ It’s a noble hope and one I’ll be hanging onto as I wait for the votes to be counted in this mostly United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, if you are ever attacked by an alligator, also try to grab him by the throat. Shutting him up might not kill him, but it could save your life.