Column – We need a great escape from polls in festive season

We’ve finally made it to December. Normally we’d be thinking about Christmas: Christmas past – the nativity story; Christmas present – putting up the tree and decorations, preparing the turkey; and Christmas future – looking forward to exchanging gifts with our families.

This year, though, a Grinch threatens to steal our Christmas. I’ll leave it to your imagination which of the Party leaders I’m calling the Grinch, and who resembles a stodgy Christmas pudding. And if you think a General Election over the Christmas period is bad, get ready to become Scrooge for years to come. Under the appalling Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, every future election is now scheduled for December. Whoever gets into government needs to rip up that awful piece of legislation that’s left us in limbo for months on end. Hopefully the thought of making tinsel and elections a regular part of the run-up to the festive season will be enough to consign it to the dustbin where it belongs (and Bah, Humbug! to anyone who thinks otherwise).

We seem to be celebrating the ‘season of peace and goodwill to all’ with character assassinations and vicious internet memes. I wonder how many people realise it’s always been this way? I recently heard about a book entitled “How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians”. It’s based on a very long letter written 64 years before the baby in the manger, the wise men or any of the other stories of Christmas, by Quintus (the brother of the famous Cicero) – to Cicero himself. Cicero was instructed not to trust even those closest to him, to flatter people in order to win votes, to learn the names of his supporters – and (surprise surprise) to expose all of his opponent’s scandals. Over 2,000 years ago politicians were already learning to pretend, obfuscate, and attack their opposition. The only difference is that they’ve had a couple of millennia to refine their techniques. And by anyone’s standards, the lies told in this campaign have been absolute crackers.

I’d much rather be getting into a Christmassy mood and watching some classic films like the Italian Job or The Great Escape or imagining crisp and even snow in the style of that good King Wenceslas. They’re all promising plenty of gifts from Santa for unwitting voters. Free broadband for all, and for all a good night! Terms and conditions apply. Free broadband may take 11 years to arrive. Phone companies may go out of business. Your phone bill may increase. Taxes may rise to pay for it. Dare to point all that out in public, and you’ll probably be accused of being elfish. 

I used to hear stories about children getting a lump of coal instead of presents for Christmas if they’d been naughty. The promised gifts won’t turn to coal (think of the carbon emissions!), but they’ll be full of hot air. We’re getting the typical empty promises from the major parties that we know – deep in our hearts – won’t be deliverable, they might as well promise a photo call with Santa himself, and charge us for the privilege.

What happens at the election? What happens after Christmas? I can’t say – I don’t have 2020 vision.

Merry Christmas!

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