Fear reigns as UK prepares for its third general election in four years

Wednesday March 18 2020

A handout picture released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on October 30, 2019. The UK is readying for a general election on December 12. PHOTO | JESSICA TAYLOR | AFP


The United Kingdom will be voting in a general election on December 12, the third in four years.

And if I was called on to characterise the event, I would dub it an Election of Fear.

The poll, less than a fortnight before Christmas, was called to break a Parliamentary deadlock on Brexit, whether Britain should stay in Europe or quit.

“Leave” won a narrow majority in a nationwide referendum in 2016, but so great are the emotions over this issue that there are real concerns for the personal safety of public figures.

MPs have received such unprecedented levels of personal and online abuse that an unusually high number of sitting MPs have decided not to stand for re-election.

There is fear of another type among the voters, mostly concerning the future of the National Health Service under a Conservative government such as Mr Boris Johnson’s, while the possibility of a hung Parliament and a continued inability to move forward thereafter is adding to nervousness about the stability of our democracy.

The latest opinion poll in the Observer newspaper put the Conservatives on 42 per cent, 16 points ahead of Labour, with the Liberal party on 16 per cent and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party on nine per cent.

A crucial question is, which national issue most concerns the average voter.

And the latest indications are that our criticised but much-loved NHS is seen as more important than Brexit.

Since the Tory governments of David Cameron, Teresa May and Johnson have all cut cash and resources to the NHS, it is clear that the way is open here for Labour to claw back the Conservative lead.

At the same time, Leave voters fret that a Labour election victory would mean yet another re-negotiation of Brexit, this time on leader Jeremy Corbyn’s terms, yet another delay which many would find unendurable.

The last act of Parliament before starting the election campaign was to elect a new Speaker, Labour MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to succeed the controversial John Bercow.

Signalling a lighter side to his attitude to politics, Sir Lindsay, who was deputy Speaker under Bercow, leaked details of his politically named pets.

They are: Maggie, a tortoise named after a former PM who had a hard shell and was “not for turning”, a Rottweiler dog named for an ex-PM named Gordon, and a parrot name of Boris, who repeats himself a lot.

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Observant readers will have noticed that on the, er, very rare, occasions when newspapers make mistakes, the blame is invariably attributed to “Gremlins”.

In 66 years in journalism, I have never actually seen a gremlin, but it is clear they are as busy inducing errors in the hi-tech press of today as they were in the old hot-metal days, and probably before that when printers plucked individual letters from boxes marked Upper Case and Lower Case.

The latest egregious example of their maleficence came last week in my "Letter from London". Referring to Lupita Nyong’o’s documentary “Warrior Women”, I wrote that, “The Guardian reviewer commented … etc etc.”

But what appeared in the Sunday paper and the online edition said, “The Guardian reviewer Gerry Loughran commented … etc etc.”

Believe me, folks, I have never claimed to be a Guardian reviewer, however flattering that may be, and I apologise for the error. If I ever catch that gremlin … grrr …
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Karina Keith was barred by law from communicating with her former partner after an acrimonious break-up of their relationship.

So she turned her attention to his sister, sending her a Facebook message which said, “I hope cancer kills you and the rest of your sick family”.

In a second message, she threatened to stab the sister and “cut you and your kids”, and a third said, “Cancer leads to death, you’re next”.

At Newcastle Crown Court, Judge Julie Clemitson said, “This was a particularly mean offence. They were wicked, unpleasant messages.”

Keith, aged 27, from Wideopen, North Tyneside, pleaded guilty to sending messages with intent to cause distress.

The court heard that she had been on an alcohol and drugs binge. She was given a 12-month community order.

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About printers’ errors, it’s not only newspapers that are gremlins’ victims, as witness:

“Illegally parked cars will be fine.” — Sign at a parking lot.

“School Two Easy for Kids.” — TV news headline.

“Georgia’s Next Govenor.” — A candidate’s website.

“So fun they won’t even know their learning.” — Advertisement for a children’s learning software.

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