By David Aitken
I HOPED – we all hoped – it would have a short shelf life, a not-too-distant sell-by date. And that it would do what it said on the tin. No such luck. I have therefore taken out an injunction to ensure that the word for leaving Europe cannot be used within 100 yards (or 200 words) of me without the speaker being obliged to eat their own weight in Belgian chocolate. Remind him or her what surfeit feels like.
I briefly flirted with the idea of referring to it as a ‘neologism’, this coinage that pervades every day and wrecks it, unlike actual coinage. But constant repetition over the years has removed anything that was ever new or interesting about it. Nowadays it sounds more like a curse than a political ambition. What is it Macbeth says about vaulting ambition falling flat on its face? (Well, that’s what he ought to have said.)
Mentioning the Scottish play reminds me that my native land voted to remain in Europe, wisely steering clear of the need for any word that rhymed with exit. But as usual no heed was taken by the Westminster gang, who by this time were perversely dedicated to a cause very few of them originally espoused – including the head girl. Indeed, many of them seemed taken aback when the will of the people did not fall into step with their own firm belief that there ought to be a gravy train in Brussels as well as in London, an alternative trough for etiolated politicians to feed from.
In most other areas of life in which people undertake to carry out a technical feat of paper-shuffling within a certain time, rather than hex it, failure to do so would normally entail some sort of consequence – dismissal and disgrace spring happily to my mind – but when it comes to leaving you-know-where, dragging one’s feet is simply par for the course. It belongs to the system whereby Channel Tunnels and the like take twice as long to build and cost three times as much as stated in the initial building estimate. Those builders, what are they like? (And what a coincidence, that they all failed arithmetic at school. Or did they?)
As a fan of the radio panel game Just a Minute, in which contestants are required to speak on a given subject for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation, I sometimes wish our alleged representatives could be held to such strict account. Imagine how they would wriggle on the hook as they contemplated straight-talking, and being allowed to blame the previous incumbents only once. Not to mention Jacques Delors.
It seems astonishing that a word that didn’t even exist before the whole process started back in the mists of time can now send small babies crawling from the room whimpering. We can but hope that at some distant point in the future, when you and I are long gone, the word itself will also fall into disuse, except in Scrabble, which would seem highly appropriate. The very thought makes me shiver in delicious anticipation. Brrr… No, I can’t bring myself to say it.
As for Blondie versus Brownie, what can one say? Even as a person with little or no interest in politics — all right, no interest — it has been impossible to escape the fact that something is happening in London. The Head Girl has thrown in the towel, or serviette as they say in Europe, and two chaps are vying to replace her at the top table while the seat is still warm.
My political ignorance reaches so far as to not know much about the prime ministerial aspirants, but what I can’t escape knowing is not encouraging, whichever one wins the poisoned chalice. At first glance, one of them looks slightly overweight and the other appears to be a bit of a lightweight. But has a neater haircut.
But that is to judge by appearances, which is probably politically incorrect nowadays, isn’t it? Unless one is casting a Hollywood film, at least, or choosing a wife. The only other information I have gleaned regarding the two candidates (apart from their names, which I’ve forgotten already) comes from possibly fake news foisted on me occasionally by television channels, unwelcome glimpses hard to avoid while I am waiting to view some more interesting drama with better actors. Judging by these sound bites, the blond is a sort of comic chump and the brunette isn’t all that amusing at all, especially when he is trying to be. Blondie doesn’t always think before he speaks — well, you’ve heard all those jokes about blondes — and brownie speaks as if he had to scratch his head a lot first. Take your pick as to which you prefer, fast gags or slow deliberation. (“Shall I press the nuclear button or not?” — “Oh, go on, just do it!”)
Of course that is the point, isn’t it, which one you prefer. If you are a member of the public, you are doubtless agonising over the choice between a Conservative and a Conservative, not that you are going to be asked in any case. And if you are a fellow politician, you are asking yourself which one might offer you a job in the Cabinet, which would obviously be good for the country, naturally. Let me be absolutely clear about this — oh, no, I’m starting to sound like one of them, let’s hurry on to the end.
I don’t want either man to be considered under any circumstances whatsoever to be even faintly representative of me. I’m not overweight, I don’t need to scratch my head before I speak, I don’t live in London, and no one has ever described me as political, correct or otherwise. Should the country ever be equally divided on some vital issue, I am available to cast my deciding vote — they can thank me later — but until that time I shall happily go on living without politicians telling me what to think. As if they knew.