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[/audioplayer]Boris Johnson strides into the Uxbridge Conservative Club, asks after the barmaid’s health and sits down beneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Churchill and Harold Macmillan are on the other walls.
Imagine rural England five years into a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, and propped up by the SNP and perhaps also the Greens. If you can’t imagine, let me paint the picture for you using policies from their election manifestos and only a small amount of artistic licence.
The biggest house-building programme in history is well under way, with a million new houses mainly being built in rural areas.
The young hang about in packs or speed around town, two to a scooter. Old women group together on benches around the town square in front of the church. The men continually greet each other as though they haven’t met for years. The likelihood is small. With fewer than 6,000 inhabitants, and as close to Libya as it is to Italy, Lampedusa is the sort of place from which any ambitious young Italian would spend their life trying to escape.
This election will see me up all night until the last results are in. It will have me knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and driving old ladies to the polling stations. All this is a first for me — and for the many others I find myself doing it with. Why does this election galvanise like no other? One issue has made it up close and personal — Labour’s mansion tax. As one neighbour canvassing with me yesterday remarked, ‘It is landing us in the shit.
Through some freak accident of PR, I was invited to an event organised by Tinder. If you’re over 40 or have become prematurely married, you might not know what Tinder is. It’s the mobile-phone app that facilitates courtship by allowing people to signal their interest in other users within a certain radius — you can set it to just a mile, if you’re in a real hurry to ‘connect’. It’s the modern human version of mating calls and frog croaks.
The Cameron ministry of 2010-15 will go down in history as having made Britain as the most successful economy in the developed world, despite it having inherited a near-bankrupt nation from a Labour party that spent money like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Ordinarily that should be enough to have it returned to power with a huge majority, but we live in gnarled, chippy, egalitarian times.
It will be interesting to learn next week what proportion of the UK vote is now postal. Because postal voting boosts the turnout, people seem happy to ignore the risk of in-family coercion, or the fact that a vote may not be private. Thirty years ago it was assumed that postal voting was for the infirm or for people serving in the military. Now it is presented as just a handy alternative to the polling booth — the drive-thru lane of democratic consensus.
If you haven’t been lost in Marseille then you can’t have been there. As Alexandre Dumas wrote, this is a place that is ‘always getting younger as it grows older’.
But while you’ll certainly be lost at some point, you won’t be stuck and you won’t be bored. You can meander through the 16 contrasting neighbourhoods, or cross the town easily via metro, bus, bike, tram or even ‘Le petit train de Marseille’ — the Marseille fun train.