Country Life election guide

Who’s who
There will be much talk of the ‘wind of change’. Mentally prepare yourself for the former, not the latter. Could this finally spell the end of the Scottish Raj, under whose colonial jackboot England has for so long writhed? The cabinet of Blair, Brown, Cook, Falconer, Reid, Darling, Alexander, Bruce? Of McGuire, McCartney and McFall? Patricia Hewitt, an Aussie but of Scots descent? Even Tessa Jowell (yes-she’s an Aberdonian)? Could it? No. The front-runner is somebody called Cameron. Puir Sassenach, ye cannae win.

Constituency boundaries are about as stable as sand dunes. Pinning up a map of incumbent MPs may help. Note that Paisley is in Antrim, and Galloway in Bethnal Green; Clapham is in Barnsley; Hayes in South Holland; the Hague is in Richmond. No, not that Richmond, the other one. Most incongruously, Mandelson is in Hartlepool.

Do at least try to understand the West Lothian Question. This has nothing to do with Susan Boyle. It’s akin to the offside rule in football. And, confusingly, the prospective candidate for Renfrewshire is called Alistair Campbell (no, not that one).

So, polish your field glasses as television’s Big Beasts emerge from the thorn bushes of the late-night schedules and onto the sunlit savannah. Dimblebys will lumber on screen like wildebeest across the Serengeti; Snows will lie thicker than the white stuff does on upon Kilimanjaro. By their waterholes will gather their prey, the backbenchers. These are more numerous, more fantastically obscure than you can possibly imagine. There are two David Davieses; Gordon is by no means the only Brown-there’s a Lyn, a Nicholas, a Russell, a Des and a Jeremy. Keeping up with the Joneses (David, Helen, Kevan, Lynne, Martyn…) is futile.

The policies
Repeat after me: ‘Our antiquated adversarial political system has been rendered redundant now that policies, adjusted by focus groups and opinion polls, have converged, and are merely parroted by on-message drones.’

Don’t waste time looking for clear blue water between parties. You’ll have infinitely more joy checking out the Independent MPs. These mavericks, refusing to be whipped like a syllabub, still have opinions of their own. George Galloway voiced an imaginative response to the expenses scandal: shut down the ‘Aegean Stables’ of the Palace of Westminster, and move Parliament to the Olympic Village. Certainly, the Docklands would look zippier with the addition of a few duck houses. Esther Rantzen, with her long experience of comically misshapen vegetables, should have no trouble knocking MPs into shape.

The jargon
Gordon Brown is seeking a mandate; this is not an aftershave. When Jeremy Paxman talks of a massive swing, he isn’t criticising M&S‘s boxer shorts. An exit poll has nothing to do with voluntary euthanasia, although it possibly should.

The hustings
There will, we have breathlessly been assured, be exciting televised debates between party leaders. Steel yourself, then, for undignified clashes: bitter tussles over the Elizabeth Arden. But they’ll have to sob like footballers to grab our jaded attention now.

Hustings will be mounted. Unsolicited flyers will bury your doormat like the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh Festival. Loud hailers will bark. Incidentally, P&O is doing a rather good deal on an 82-day world cruise, which leaves in a few days’ time: £11,000-and you get to see Honolulu.

However briskly you urge your newly enfranchised children to take an interest, to get out and vote, they won’t even look up from the computer screen. They will say: ‘Why can’t we do it online?’ They will have a point.

The dinner party
When it comes to your election-night dinner party, invite voters of all political persuasions. You might as well provoke a sense of competition, however illusory. Why not plan your catering accordingly? Polenta and Chardonnay for the New Labourites; beer and sandwiches, but from Waitrose, for New Tories; lashings of Humble Pie for the Lib Dems to dish up to everyone else. And for the Greens? Well… greens, I suppose.

The viewing marathon
The television channels will become bizarrely competitive, even though there’s as precious little difference between coverage as there is between parties. Don’t expect the seamless production values of, say, Midsomer Murders. There will be clumsy handovers; interruptions in mid-fl… Fixed, terrified grins as pundits try to infuse a sense of drama into the utterly unwatchable. Take a charitable view. Think Children In Need. Lord knows, they are.

As they line up on their podia, good fun can be had spotting the disgraced spouses. Jacqui Smith‘s husband will shift from foot to foot, muttering: ‘It was very short-sighted of me.’ He’s presumably even more short-sighted now. Iris Robinson will be wearing a T-shirt saying ‘At least I wasn’t a priest’.

Returning officers are a 24-carat hoot. Be warned, however, that Councillor Pooter will have been watching an awful lot of The X Factor. We’ll be in for: ‘And the winning contestant is…’, followed by the eternal, suspenseful pause, pulsing drumbeat, swooping searchlights. We’ll get close-ups of candidates chewing their sweating lips, clutching hands with rivals, us against the world, mate, no hard feelings, I’ve made some true friends on this journey. We might even get Verdi‘s Dies Irae.

Hello and goodbye
Come the small hours when we need to be jerked awake, let’s hope there will be dethronings at which to gasp and thrill. Like Portillo at Enfield (although he had the last laugh-well out of it). There will be glad goodbyes-to the aptly named Hogg. There will be sadder goodbyes. Won’t we miss the Prescotts, genuinely?

There will be lots of mwah-mwah hellos. To Dave’s Dollies, those photogenic Tory A-listers crowbarred in to banish any lingering odour of wet tweed: frisky Liz Truss, Twittering Joanne Cash, dreamboat Zac Goldsmith. Cameron’s shortlists made the BBC’s employment criteria for news presenters seem comparatively acceptable.

Final thoughts
Screaming Lord Sutch may have gone, but the Monster Raving Loony Party remains. It’s called the BNP and, no, it’s not funny either. Don’t send Samantha flowers-Cherie never really recovered from that morning-after photograph, did she? Send them to Lord Mandelson-oh, go on.


Finally, remember Gordon, trying to play the class card, referring to ‘the playing fields of Eton‘? He might have considered the rest of Orwell‘s quotation… Something about Waterloo, wasn’t it?

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