By Neil Coupe
Despite the negative coverage in the UK press about the terrorism, ‘gilets jaunes’ and general turmoil, we have just had the good fortune to spend a few days on holiday on France, to take in some Women’s World Cup Football, sunshine and of course a little respite from the English political scene.
Walking down the street you are just as likely to encounter a ‘Fresh Burritos’, ‘Gelato Junkie’ or a ‘Steak N Shake’ as a traditional family-run restaurant offers an enticing plate of steak tartare.
Most of the adverts on advertising hoardings and on TV now seem to be in English, with the one main exception, ironically, being a clever advert for the ‘Indemodable’ (Timeless) Big Mac.
The country feels like it is in a state of transition, opening up itself to the rest of the world and struggling against its own social problems.
There is undoubtedly something highly unnerving about catching a bus to the match in the presence of half-a-dozen armed soldiers and being welcomed to the stadium by armed police officers.
France is no utopia.
Somehow, though the pace of life, the political and philosophical arguments lasting for hours on national TV, the protests, the vast state-run infrastructure projects, the cigarettes, the tiny cups of coffee, all seem very French and in spite of the increasing use of English, France still feels reassuringly very much like France.
Being away from the UK, it was agreed that we would limit ourselves to 15 minutes of news from home. In bitesize chunks, away from people getting on with their lives, news from home did not make for happy reading.
We find out that our new Prime Minister will be a choice between a popular ‘character’ and a sensible sounding man with the demeanour of a butler whose role for the next three weeks seemed to be to ensure that everyone is comfortable and watered before arrival of the star turn, prior to his inevitable coronation.
Then comes news of an alleged domestic incident – culminating in a shout of ‘get off me’, followed by plates smashing and then silence. The neighbours knocked on the door three times, with no response and they finally report the incident to the Police.
We then hear that, according to some sections of the press, the ‘nosy’ neighbour is like a member of the Stasi (the East German Secret Police), or -most absurdly of all, the incident is just what married couples spend their time doing.
Lost in the noise, the Met Police point out that we should always report incidents of this nature, sage advice given that nearly one in five murders in London are domestic incidents, and the candidate sails on with reputation intact.
As the week went on the candidates then started to out-do each other ramping up the Brexit rhetoric and beguiling their very specific electorate with promises to cut taxes and increase spending on whatever the issue of the day is.
This was the week that the Labour ‘Magic Money Tree’ of the 2017 election metamorphosised into the Conservative ‘Forest of Plenty’.
Whatever is going on in the leadership contest, it doesn’t feel very Conservative – which was once the party of security and safety, of steadiness and prudence, of planning where the money was coming from before spending it.
So much for the English reputation for pragmatism, reliability and sang-froid.
Whoever our next Prime Minister is and whatever the change brings in its wake I am looking forward to the time when our country calms down, gets back to some semblance of normality, and it feels like England is sensible old England again.