Vital Signs

That Election

The Cabinet Office in London’s White­­hall is not generally a hotbed of tourist activity.  The building’s squat, granite façade is screened from public view by a somehow incongruously lush row of elm trees, and, within, it’s a warren of nondescript, government-furnished cubicles typically inhabited by middle-aged men in suits writing memos to one another.  For a few heady days in mid-May, however, this normally tranquil, even bucolic spot seethed with media and civilian frenzy.  There was a permanent crowd of 300 to 400 at the door, flashbulbs lit up the overcast sky, and TV reporters with cameras in tow perched precariously on stepladders for a better view of the action.  It was as if the place had somehow gone to bed in a Constable painting and woken up in one by Bosch.  The cause of all the fuss was the protracted saga of the United Kingdom’s general election, whose ultimate outcome was being debated by “crack teams” (we were told) representing the three main parties, meeting inside.  You could barely read of any other news that week.  It was a real, all-hands-on-deck, headless-chicken disaster for the British press.  The election, the Daily Mail announced on its front page, was an “unholy mess”; the electorate, having defied the Mail’s many clear warnings, was guilty of “a vote for uncertainty and shabby deals,” and...

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