Oliver Cross: My take on local (and Euro) elections

Picture:  Lorne Campbell / Guzelian'A patriotic voter goes to a polling station in Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, to vote in the European and local elections on Thursday morning.'PICTURE TAKEN ON THURSDAY 22 MAY 2014

Picture: Lorne Campbell / Guzelian'A patriotic voter goes to a polling station in Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, to vote in the European and local elections on Thursday morning.'PICTURE TAKEN ON THURSDAY 22 MAY 2014

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I’M WRITING THIS before voting in the European elections, but my provisional strategy is to go for the third box down on the ballot paper.

And why not? I know next-to-nothing about the candidates, not having been sent a single informative leaflet about them, and I’m not entirely sure what the European parliament does but I’ve always believed three to be my lucky number, so it’s as likely to be as good a voting option as any other.

I could, of course, not vote at all but since I will be in the polling station anyway to vote in the council elections, I might as well take my chance to shape the future of Europe, or Germany as it’s sometimes called.

In view of the struggle for the universal franchise, I have always thought wrong not to vote, even if it’s only to spoil your ballot paper, which I did when invited to elect a police and crime commissioner.

Actually I wrote, with a stubby, election-issue pencil intended to make no more than an X, quite an eloquent denunciation of the folly of the whole exercise which might have been read by a bored election clerk but otherwise had no effect on anybody. Why are not deliberately-spoiled ballot papers counted and published? One day, they might even win an election.

But in the case of the European elections, I think a spoiled paper might be misconstrued as a vote against the EU, which, despite thinking about it for the last 40 years, I haven’t made my mind up about yet.

In 1975, when there was a referendum on whether to stay in the EU (then the Common Market), I voted against on the grounds that the pro-European side was favoured by big business and big bureaucracy. Later, in the Thatcher-Reagan years, much of the left turned pro-European on the grounds that the EU seemed the best defence against destructive neo-liberalism, while, for the same reason, much of the right turned anti-Europe.

So left and right swapped places and started the dance all over again.

The one constant has been that not many people care much about Europe. It’s just too big and too complicated.

The Ukip insurgency has more to do with disillusion with our dull domestic politicians than with a hatred of the EU.

Nigel Farage has a wider fan base than the committed Europhobes. He plays on a kind of blokeish populism which other politicians can’t really imitate, or they would. They have spent their working lives in a closed environment of Oxbridge colleges and Westminster and have quite lost the knack of appearing human.

For example, last week I was listening, I thought, to David Cameron being interviewed on the radio. Slowly I realised that this wasn’t Cameron, it was Nick Clegg. It was an understandable mistake, though...same accent, same buzz-words (‘hard-working’, ‘robust’, ‘sustainable’ and the rest), same air of being slightly pained by the popular failure to acknowledge the superior wisdom of the ruling political class.

I think this is why mainstream parties didn’t make much of an effort to do well in the European elections. They calculated that they couldn’t counter the Farage factor and should save their ammo for the general election.

Some policy adviser must have told them that if they started wearing colourful clothes or drinking pints of beer while smoking, the electorate would conclude that they had gone daft as well as dull.

I’m sure the European election results will affect us all. It’s just that, not having a doctorate in European politics, I don’t know how, which isn’t a good basis for making political judgments.

Walking around Woodhouse and saying ‘hello’ to complete strangers

THIS WEEK, while the sun was being generous, I took a walk round my local area and within about 15 minutes, said hello to five people I knew - which isn’t always the case because I’ve got poor eyesight and a bad memory and have a tendency to say hello to total strangers.

To compensate for this, I sometimes fail to recognise people I know well (including, in one case, my sister), so can I take this opportunity to offer a sincere, pre and post-dated apology to everyone I’ve ever met? The point is, though, that if you stay in one place (in this case, Woodhouse in inner-city Leeds) for long enough, people will accumulate around you like canal-weeds on a submerged supermarket trolley or, um, broken umbrellas in a street-bin during a summer storm...and can somebody stop me, please? The point is that I feel (putting on my smarmy face) privileged to know so many people despite being as socially inept as, well, a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel. Or a skunk. Or myself.

I think this is partly the result of city living; being crowded together demands a degree of tolerance and acceptance which might be hard to find in the countryside or outer-suburbia.

Half the things the Daily Mail torments itself about – including gay marriages, immigrants, Muslims, single mothers or young people enjoying themselves - aren’t really key issues in Woodhouse, where settled residents (of which there are many of all ages and social categories) live amid a torrent of transient students.

We really don’t have the time or the space to accumulate prejudices.

The Bard’s little known play in the woods

I WENT this week to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, as interpreted by the Theatre of the Dales.

This was a Shakespeare play I had never encountered before and I don’t know why. It’s far funnier then many Shakespearean comedies, particularly as adapted, or maybe filleted, by the artistic director, David Robertson.

There were, which is no surprise to Theatre in the Dales regulars, wandering minstrels singing modern pop songs – the action was supposed to take place in the 1950s - and an inspired use of outdoor settings.

This performance was in Dagmar Woods, near Hyde Park, Leeds, and when the action moves to the forest, there’s no need for a new set.

The heroines are the merry wives, who humiliate the bombastic, sex-and-money focused Sir John Falstaff through being cleverer than him. It’s a feminist text and also, with huge helpings of wit and word-play, a great deal of fun. You can see it tonight at Kirkstall Abbey and afterwards all over the place, including Golden Acre Park and Lotherton Hall; consult www.theatreofthedales.co.uk.

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