Almost a ‘Swiss cheese’ faux pas!

If I had the need for one – or the finances – I’ve always thought that owning a ‘Savile Row’ bespoke suit would be something I’d aspire to. But as we’re talking serious money here – at least £3000 – then it’s not an aspiration I’m likely to fulfill. In any case, since I hardly ever wear a suit (and have never had to wear one throughout my working life) then a bespoke suit is not something I can justify in retirement. One can dream, however.

But on those occasions that required a suit, I’ve put my trust in ‘off the peg’ suits, mainly from Marks & Spencer. A few years ago, perhaps 2007, I had need of a new suit, so during our home-leave that year, I bought a rather nice charcoal grey woollen suit, not the most expensive in the M & S range, but not the cheapest by a long chalk. And it served me well over the years, culminating in the OBE investiture I attended at Buckingham Palace in February 2012. I can’t have worn it more than a dozen times or so in all the intervening years.

Early last October as I was preparing for my trip to Bangkok to attend the 4th International Rice Congress (IRC2014 – I had chaired the committee that organized the science conference, the main event of the 3½ day congress) I took my suit from the wardrobe, just to check that it fitted okay. I was very relieved that it did – surprising really since I’d not worn it since my trip to the Palace, and my waistline has the unfortunate habit of expanding from time-to-time.

However, to my consternation, horror even, I noticed that the fabric around the collar had deteriorated, and split. This wasn’t moth damage. Could it have been caused by the dry cleaning process at some time? Checking the fit of the jacket, I reckoned I could ‘get away’ with wearing it – no-one would see the small amount of damage. Relief! I didn’t want to have to spend time finding a new suit at an affordable price.

The new suit!

The new suit! Opening the science conference at IRC2014 on 29 October 2014

But then, added horror. I noticed that there was a small hole in one of the trouser knees. And furthermore, on the back of each leg there was a series of holes, some small, at least one quite noticeable. My legs looked like a Swiss cheese! So I had no alternative but to find a new suit, and fortunately I didn’t have to spend a fortune.

Ever since, however, I’ve had this recurrent nightmare. Hilarious really.

In my mind, I’m at Buckingham Palace ready for my investiture. I’m standing in the wings of the Ballroom, waiting for my name to be called. I move forward, and turn to face and bow to the Prince of Wales. And my Swiss cheese legs are exposed to all the guests behind me! Can you spot any holes in the photo below?

Steph assures me that my suit retained its integrity. It nevertheless often brings a smile to my face as I imagine what a faux pas that might have been.

When all night long a chap remains . . . WS Gilbert (1882)

First performed on 25 November 1882, the Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera Iolanthe targets the aristocracy in its satire. At the opening of Act II, we see a lonely Grenadier guardsman, Private Willis, on sentry duty reflecting on politics, and reaching the conclusion that ‘every boy and every gal that’s born into this world alive is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative‘. Was this Gilbert being sarcastic, or was he just poking fun at the Establishment and ingrained political affiliations from birth with his piercing and brilliant wit?

Well, this must seem a strange way to begin a blog post about the current state of UK politics, and the dilemma I personally face come next May 2015 when the General Election will be held. I began this blog post about three weeks ago, but just didn’t get around to completing it before Christmas and the New Year. And on Monday last (5 January) the ‘starting gun was fired’ to mark the beginning of the General Election. Good grief! That’s four months of electioneering that we are going to have to put up with; attack and counter-attack, platitudes and spin. No-one telling the British public how it really will be.

I’m 66, and I first voted in the May 1970 General Election, at age 21 (that was the voting age then). I was a student at Southampton University on the south coast of England, and I voted for the Conservative candidate, helping to bring the government of Prime Minister Edward Heath to power and, as a consequence, the UK’s membership of the European Union (the EEC as it was then).

Many of my perspectives on life and what is happening politically in the UK today have certainly been colored by my work experiences. For over 27 years I lived and worked abroad in South and Central America and in Asia. While teaching at the University of Birmingham in the 1980s, most of my graduate students came from developing countries. The 1980s was one of the most turbulent recent political decades. Thank you, Margaret Thatcher!

So I have experienced – and celebrated – diversity of culture, and ethnic origins, and the tensions that unfortunately are unhappy bedfellows. I myself am partly a product of the Irish diaspora, through my maternal grandparents; however, they were ‘British’ when they moved from Ireland to mainland UK as Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom.

Why am I prattling on in this way? Well, unfortunately, immigration is going to be one of the major campaign issues for the election. Along with the state of the economy (the UK seems to be doing better than many at the moment), the future of the National Health Service (NHS), and the nationwide devolution fall-out in the aftermath of the referendum on independence for Scotland.

And here is my dilemma. I found myself feeling like the proverbial ‘floating voter’. I have no idea – almost – where I will place my X on the ballot paper on 7 May. It’s my democratic right – and responsibility, I believe – to vote. But for which party? Now if I interpret WS Gilbert’s words slightly differently, then I am ‘a little Liberal and a little Conservative’. No one party claims my complete allegiance. I am a man of the centre ground. In this sense I believe that the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) have played a useful role in moderating what would have been even more disastrous Conservative policies – and unfortunately they have been hammered for it in the polls and are likely to be decimated in the General Election. Coalition government is all about compromise – but many voters don’t seem to have appreciated that fact.

My problem is that I find the leaders of the three main parties – David Cameron (Conservative), Ed Miliband (Labour) and Nick Clegg (LibDems) – unconvincing leaders and politicians. The sound bite and spin have certainly debased political debate. Thank you, Tony Blair!

Will my vote make any difference? Should I vote strategically on 7 May? The Bromsgrove constituency (where I live) has a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), Sajid Javid, first elected to parliament in 2010 and considered a rising star and possibly a future Prime Minister. He’s also the first British Pakistani Conservative MP, and joined the Cabinet in April 2014 as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Javid also seems to be a good constituency MP, in spite of his Cabinet responsibilities, and is frequently seen around the town, and attends many local events.

Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid

Bromsgrove is a safe Conservative seat (with a majority of more than 11,000 at the last election) and has been for decades. That’s unlikely to change. Neither Labour nor the LibDems will unseat him. But what about the UKIP (UK Independence Party) elephant in the room? It’s the impact of swings to UKIP throughout the country (primarily in England) that has many worried. The outcome of this election is perhaps the most uncertain for a generation or so. Most pundits are predicting a hung parliament again and another coalition. But what will be the flavor of that coalition?


UKIP Leader and MEP, Nigel Farage

Returning to the Bromsgrove constituency, however. We don’t know yet who will be the candidates fighting the Bromsgrove seat. I would be surprised if UKIP did not field a candidate. Labour and the LibDems most certainly will. I have no idea about the Green Party. One thing is certain: I will not be voting under any circumstances for any UKIP candidate. I cannot stomach the thought of supporting UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his buffoons, albeit dangerous buffoons. UKIP is anti-EU, anti-immigration, and anti-Westminster.

Will my vote for the Labour or LibDem candidate allow a UKIP candidate to gain ground on Javid? Or should I vote for Javid in order to deny the election to UKIP? Supporting a continuation of the Conservative government sticks in my throat, but would a Labour administration do any better? Today’s politicians lack credibility, and that’s probably the basis of the anti-Westminster sentiment that abounds in the UK today. I also think that many of them are not conviction politicians. We could do with a few more of those around. You might not approve of ‘The Beast of Bolsover’, veteran left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner, but he says what he believes. Read his put-down of recently sworn-in UKIP MP Mark Reckless following Reckless’s comments on immigration.

What will probably happen is that UKIP will win enough seats – as will the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in Scotland from Labour, and possibly Plaid Cymru (PC) in Wales – to deny either the Conservatives or Labour from forming a majority administration. So although I won’t be voting for UKIP, nor for the SNP and PC in Bromsgrove (they won’t be fielding candidates here, nor will any of the Northern Ireland parties) – these ‘minority’ and regional parties could well hold the balance of power in the next parliament. What a thought! While 2015 looks like it will be interesting politically here in the UK, it’s not a future that I look forward to with any enthusiasm whatsoever.