I’ve never been a great believer in karma. After all, in the absence of some kind of cosmic enforcer of karmic justice what guarantee is there that good deeds will be rewarded or bad deeds punished? Let’s not forget that Joseph Stalin was responsible for between 34 and 49 million deaths, depending on whose estimate you accept, yet died of natural causes in his own bed at the age of 73. Karma? What karma?
But events of the past fortnight have caused me to revise my opinion. It’s all to do with the massive Vote Leave billboard outside my house in Acton, and an incident that occurred 42 years ago during the October 1974 general election.
It’s rather shaming to admit, but back then I was a Labour party supporter. I was only a boy and firmly under the influence of my parents, who were both staunch socialists, but that’s hardly an excuse for what’s coming next. As a ten-year-old Labour ‘activist’ I took it upon myself to tear down a poster of our local MP outside the Conservative party’s HQ in Highgate.
A blue rinse immediately leapt out of the door, caught me by the scruff of the neck and threatened to call the police. Being a typical Labour supporter, I burst into tears and threw myself on her mercy, whereupon she ordered me to cough up my address and then frogmarched me to my house. She told my mother about this act of ‘mindless vandalism’, rightly dismissing my claim that it was a ‘political protest’, and my mother stopped my pocket money for a week.
Fast forward to the beginning of the EU referendum campaign and the delivery of my Brexit billboard. I must have ticked the wrong box on the Vote Leave website, because all I wanted was a simple placard. Instead, I got something that wouldn’t look out of place on the side of a motorway. It’s literally bigger than my VW Transporter. Where on earth was I going to put it? At first, I propped it up against the side of our house, protected from the street by our front garden. But then something strange started happening. Whenever I returned from work it would be lying face down on the grass. Was it the wind? I tried securing it in place with two wheelie bins, but that made no difference. Rain or shine, it would always end up toppling over.
I began to suspect my 12-year-old daughter. Like most young people, Sasha is a bug-eyed Europhile, convinced she’ll have no future in a Britain outside the EU. Both she and my wife cringed with embarrassment when they say my double-decker bus-sized poster — ‘What will the neighbours think?’ — and I wouldn’t put it past either of them to engage in sabotage. To be fair, though, they both denied being responsible.
I decided the solution was to somehow attach the thing to our magnolia tree. It’s in our front garden, so technically our property, but overhangs the street. A couple of weekends ago, I spent the best part of a Saturday morning trying to wrestle this monster up the tree. Eventually, I managed to wedge it between two branches and then, for good measure, secured it with half a coil of garden wire. The result was perfect. The giant billboard hung over our quiet residential street like one of the alien spacecraft in Independence Day, visible from every direction. And with the amount of garden wire I’d used, not even a force ten gale, i.e. Caroline in a fit of pique, could tear it down.
Then, about two days later, the first Remainer struck. But this was no common-or-garden vandal. He (or she) was more creative than that. They got some white paint and carefully added the letter ‘S’ to the word ‘Leave’ so that my magnolia tree urged people to ‘Vote Leaves’. Not hugely witty, but enough to render the poster ridiculous. Luckily, after attacking it for the best part of an hour with a bottle of paint stripper, I managed to restore it to something like its original state.
But on Sunday the second Remainer struck. Or maybe it was the first launching a second attack. Or maybe it was my daughter. In any event, they carefully unwound the garden wire securing the billboard to the tree and tucked it out of sight behind the front wall.
Needless to say, I have not conceded defeat. It’s going up again this weekend, this time using a hammer and nails. The battle of Shaa Road has been joined and on 23 June I expect to be victorious.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.