I have a nightmare, as Martin Luther King never said, that Donald Trump becomes president again because of a third candidate; that in one small state, thanks to the third candidate taking a few thousand votes, Joe Biden loses by a narrow margin to Trump, who takes that state’s share of the electoral college, and it’s enough to get the Orange Narcissist back into the White House to inflict mayhem and misery on the world.
Of course, I understand why some Americans look at Trump and Biden and think, if that is the choice, and something else is on offer, I’ll go for the something else. But the something else can’t win. So if the something else is there because he or she wants something more progressive than Biden, then the only winner from every vote they win is Trump. Blame the electoral system laid down by the revered founding fathers, but it’s a fact.
We too have a deeply frustrating electoral system, and we botched the opportunity to change it in the forgotten referendum of the Cameron-Clegg era. It means, though, that nobody but Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer will be prime minister after the next election; no party other than Tory or Labour will form a government. So if you really think the Tories have to go, whether you think Starmer and Labour are perfect or not, surely it makes sense to use your vote to help get rid of them.
Unlike in the US, we do have established parties beyond the big two, notably the Lib Dems and the SNP. And it was heartening to see considerable tactical voting in the recent by-elections. But just a bit more, in Uxbridge, and there would have been a clean sweep of Tory defeats.
The Tories won by 495 votes. So if the 893 people who voted Green had voted Labour, yes, I understand, the Greens would have lost their deposit, but at least we wouldn’t even be having this ridiculous debate about whether to row back on environmental policy. The 526 people who voted Lib Dem could have swung it, too. Their leader, Ed Davey, acknowledged that his party won in Somerton and Frome in part because Labour supporters “lent us their vote”.
Vote-lending should become a bigger thing. The Tories will do absolutely everything they can to stay in power, up to and including building entire campaigns around a rejection of their own policies, such as the Ultra Low Emission Zone – author Boris Johnson, promoter Grant Shapps. Those who are sick to the back teeth of them – a considerable majority – need to be just as focused and ruthless about getting rid of them as the Tories are about clinging on.
Given the rivalry between Burnley and Blackburn, I might have been taking something of a risk in doing a talk at St Bede’s High School, a few minutes’ walk from Rovers’ Ewood Park stadium. But though most of the students were indeed Blackburn fans, the only aggro came not because of football, but politics.
A young lad called Oliver came armed with a stack of difficult questions, and was determined to ask as many as he could. He moved effortlessly from a grilling on Scotland (we should have foreseen that a Scottish parliament would fuel demands for independence) to Iraq (at least he, unlike most journalists, knew the difference between the two dossiers we published on the issue of weapons of mass destruction) and the monarchy (apparently Cherie Blair and I had tried our damnedest to get rid of it!)
“Now Oliver, that’s enough,” said one of the teachers as his hand went up for the 10th time to chuck another fastball at me, and two girls behind him tried to get him to “shush”. But I welcomed his robust questioning. I would rather schoolchildren had views with which I disagreed than no views at all.
Oh, and I did my usual “Is Brexit going well?” show of hands, and not one hand went up, not even Oliver’s. As in every school I have visited in recent months, there was an overwhelming majority for a return to the EU, if we get the chance. Blackburn. Red Wall. Kids, eh?
“Never go to bed without knowing something you didn’t know when you woke up…” One of my little rules of life, which occasionally leads me down research rabbit holes such as the one inspired by learning that the Bahamas have just changed their national sport from cricket to sailing.
Be honest: like me, you had no idea that cricket ever had been their national sport, did you? This was a consequence of British colonial influence, and the preponderance of British teachers in Bahamian schools. As more and more teaching jobs were taken by Americans, however, their sports became more popular. Baseball, basketball and American football, however, never stood a chance against sailing, unsurprisingly popular in a country made up of islands and beautiful blue sea.
So off down the golden rule rabbit hole I burrowed, to find that there are 10 countries whose national sports are designated by law. Some are obvious. For example, speaking as someone who once played with Diego Maradona (but never talks about it), I was not surprised to learn that football is the national sport of Argentina. Similarly, Canada and ice hockey, and South Korea and taekwondo, are neat fits.
But among the 10 are four sports I had literally never heard of until I got deeper down the rabbit hole. Tejo, the national sport of Colombia, is some kind of throwing game. For Mexico, it is something called Charrería. I hope I am not insulting Mexicans in saying it looks like a cross between three-day eventing and rodeo.
Horses are also the key to Paso Fino, the national sport of Puerto Rico. Indeed, paso fino is a particular breed of horse, and the sport looks like a form of dressage to me, though I stand to be corrected by any expert. The Philippines have something a tad less genteel than all of the above: Arnis, a martial art often involving sticks, knives and swords.
As for our own country, we are among the majority for whom the national sport is unofficial, rather than a matter of law. I suspect many would assume it was football. They would be wrong. My research insists that cricket is the national sport of England; it is golf in Scotland, rugby union in Wales and – though I suspect this might be disputed by our Unionist friends – hurling in Northern Ireland.
I have never considered myself to be a style icon, clothes being among what I consider to be necessities, rather than something over which to obsess.
Yet in recent weeks I have made various appearances on TV wearing what I believe is called a “salmon pink” jacket, and since been asked by all sorts of people where I bought it. The answer is a shop in the French town of Vaison-la-Romaine. I was there, without suit or business shirt or tie, when I got an invite to an event that required me to be a little smarter than my holiday garb allowed.
Vaison is a fairly small town, where the clothes shops specialise more in casual than business attire. There were not that many jackets in my size to be found, but the salmon pink one did vaguely fit and, crucially, Fiona quite liked it.
So, to those who asked, the label is Ollygan. And no, I am not being paid for this promotion, though new advertisers and sponsors for both the New European and The Rest Is Politics are always welcome, and come in many shapes and sizes. Like Ollygan jackets.