Thursday were elections — local council elections and European parliament. The European results are being held back until Sunday, when other countries will be voting, but the local results show what look like solid improvement for Labour, big losses for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and substantial increases for the anti-immigrant UKIP. (Substantial because they held only two council seats before, and now they have over 100.) So the main topics of the news coverage were, of course,
- Labour is floundering.
- UKIP expected to do very well, perhaps get the most votes, in the European elections.
The best I can understand, the opposition is expected to gain a protest vote against the government currently in power in non-national elections*, so the fact that much of the protest vote was soaked up by UKIP makes them look like losers, because their gains were less than expected (if you ignored UKIP). Except, that reasoning is odd: Labour didn’t do badly in an absolute sense; they didn’t do badly in a prognostic sense — the protest vote is fleeting anyway, and their ability to hold it against a clown parade like UKIP says little about their performance in a general election.
But really, this was just an occasion, however inappropriate, for some anonymous Labour grandees to gripe about Ed Miliband. In particular, The Times quoted one as saying Miliband
looks weird, sounds weird, is weird.
“Weird”? Well, he’s Oxford-educated and doesn’t speak like most people in this country — just like David Cameron and about all of his cabinet. Unlike most of them, he didn’t grow up surrounded by wealth and privilege, and he attended a state school rather than Eton. His father, a renowned sociologist who arrived in Britain in 1940 as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Belgium and served for three years in the Royal Navy, was attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail last year as “The Man who Hated Britain”.
So, naturally, I wondered whether “weird” is mainly a codeword for “Jewish” and/or “foreign”. And then, as if in confirmation, I read on to discover that one of Miliband’s recent demonstrations of weirdness was a campaign stop at a restaurant, where he “failed to look normal eating a bacon sandwich”, which is, in the words of The Independent “that staple for any politician wanting to look like he fits in.”
The bacon sandwich, I’ve noticed, seems to hold a place of supreme significance in ecumenical relations in the UK. Just as an example, in the Beatles biography that I’ve just been reading, a friend quotes the Beatles at various times teasing their Jewish manager Brian Epstein with “Do you fancy a bacon buttie, Brian?” In private contexts I’ve heard failure to eat pork products cited to exemplify someone’s failure to transcend his upbringing, despite having rationally abandoned the Jewish religion.
* But what is it, I wonder, that prevents the electorate from similarly recalibrating its expectations so they’re not angry at whoever happens to be in power, and reaching for any available instrument for expressing disapproval, however irrelevant or inappropriate.