With less than a month before Britain’s general election, a squib on the subject is apposite. As a sometime betting man, I can share the news that the Conservatives are presently at 4/9 and Labour is on 13/8, with the bookmaker Betfair putting the chances of a Conservative coalition government, such as their present arrangement with the Liberal Democrats, at 67 percent.
The Spectator reports that Stephen Fisher, an Oxford sociologist, has estimated the Tory chances for arriving at the magic minimum of 326 parliamentary seats – which would enable them to rule without entering into a coalition with another party – at a measly 9 percent. Labour, likewise, can only look forward to a coalition deal, and the fact that the Scottish National Party is almost certain to take all but two of Scotland’s seats means that we know exactly who will be controlling parliament if the Tories do even worse than the bookies think.
All this sounds Italian enough, so much so that when I told a friend that a bunch of commie loonies like the Scottish Nationalists may end up holding the balance of power in the new parliament and effectively rule Britain, I was met with an uncomprehending stare: “E allora?” Indeed, Vincenzo’s eyes were telling me, Italy’s lived with this kind of madness since anybody can remember, and what of it? Our pasta’s still made from durum wheat, our boys still live with their mamas until age 30, our construction workers still eat salad with their dinner, and our poofters still dress the women of the world in tulle and organza. Plus ça change, as the French say. Don’t think politics is a key to everything!
Alas, Britain isn’t Italy, and the tensions beyond her geopolitical confines are not reducible to an argument about which shape of macaroni is preferable with fish sauce. In particular, the Stalinist shrew now leading the Scottish Nationalists to victory in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has recently declared that the one precondition for any coalition discussions in the event of a hung parliament is an immediate cancellation of the Trident nuclear defense program.
“It’s right to have a review,” said Labour’s leader Ed Miliband last week, accepting Sturgeon’s overture, “because technology changes.” His party is ready for a deal with SNP. In a recent poll, three-quarters of Labour’s parliamentary candidates standing for election in May have indicated that they don’t want Britain to retain Trident. Said Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s general secretary: “Labour candidates are in step with public opinion. The majority of the public don’t want to see £100 billion spent on nuclear weapons.”
Since April 1969 the Royal Navy’s ballistic missile submarines have not missed a single day at sea. They are not, perhaps, a match for Russia’s or China’s, but they are the armed escort which, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the king’s wicked daughter disbands in order to strip her father of the last shred of royal dignity remaining him.
Shakespeare’s prescient Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament justification of the austerity measure is strikingly similar to Sturgeon’s present day rhetoric:
Here do you keep a hundred knights and squires,
Men so disorder’d, so debosh’d, and bold,
That this our court, infected with their manners,
Shows like a riotous inn: epicurism and lust
Make it more like a tavern or a brothel
Than a grac’d palace.
“What need you five and twenty, ten, or five,” agitates the commie invert against the king’s four Trident submarines, words to which Lear, famously, replies:
O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s.
My Italian is not good enough to do justice to Shakespeare, or else I would have said all this to my friend Vincenzo. Might as well save it for the blog, I thought.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.