When I filed my first Spectator piece the Aussie edition was still a twinkle in the eye of the then proprietor, Conrad Black. This being the long-lunching noughties, I have no idea what I wrote about, but I do recall being appalled at how little I was paid (plus ça change) and how disappointed I was to learn that my piece would appear not in the magazine itself, but as part of its earliest online foray, the contents and editing of which – since this interweb thing was clearly a fad – had been delegated to a callow but already follicly-challenged staffer called Toby Young. His conspicuously tousle-headed boss at the time was, of course, the Old Etonian who was recently elected Britain’s 79th Prime Minister, and who spent his first ten days in office visiting the provincial capitals and discovering just how much he’s hated there. I knew this before I read it in the Guardian, because I’ve just returned from a trip to the UK and happened to visit two of those cities – Edinburgh and Cardiff – in the days before Boris’s whistle-stop tour.
For ex-pats who don’t get back there much it’s a shock to experience first-hand just what a toxic issue Brexit has become. And as a regular visitor since the 2016 referendum, I have learnt to hide my leaver sympathies amongst even my oldest, dearest pommie friends for fear of turning a pleasant social occasion into a fist fight. Having said that, on my previous visit, it had seemed to me that due to bi-partisan depair at Theresa May’s dithering incompetence, a certain smouldering acceptance and ‘FFS let’s just get it over with’ attitude had set in. But handing the car keys to Boris – a man whose career London centricity has never endeared him to the provinces – seems to have poured petrol on the embers of resistance. It certainly allowed the Lib Dems to stage the kind of resurrection John Howard would be proud of: with an eye on the forthcoming election, this once highly diverse and inclusive party has become – as evidenced by its endearingly retro slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ – no less a single-issue party than the one led in the opposite direction by Nigel Farage.
After the historic heatwave which stifled the UK for much of my visit it was almost a pleasure to walk out of Sydney airport into cold wind and driving rain. But as I sat in my taxi heading into the city centre it dawned on me that my continuing sense of relief was due to a much stranger inversion of the natural order than climate change. I was back in the comparative calm and stability of Australian politics.
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