A reader had written in to reproach me for “punching down” in a recent post, and on reflection I can find no reason to disagree. I like fruit that hangs low, the kind that weighs down the branches until it is within grasping distance; in fact, from childhood I remember that apples on the ground under the tree, especially after a stormy night, were by far the tastiest. I am an intellectual fruitarian, feeding on windfalls.
The windfall after the stormy night – somewhat wormy, yet sweet to the taste none the less – of last week’s British general election is the success of UKIP, a modern reincarnation of Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party of the 1990’s, whose main stated aim is to force the government into an early plebiscite on membership in the European Union. The party is widely perceived as having lost the election; so much so that its leader, Nigel Farage, who failed to win a seat of his own, has offered to resign. My fruitarian mind, however, is not cognizant of UKIP’s defeat; it only recognizes the salutary effects that the single-issue party has had upon Britain’s political life during these past few years.
UKIP polled nearly 4 million votes, more than 12 percent of the total. It finished in second place in over 100 constituencies, of the 650 contested in the election, and was instrumental in drawing away the vote from the two main parties vying with the Conservatives – Labour and the Liberal Democrats. On the left, much the same thing was done by the Scottish Nationalists (SNP), who purged Scotland of Labour in winning almost all of its parliamentary seats.
On the face of it, just one measly seat in parliament is UKIP’s sole reward for saving Britain from the neo-Stalinism of Scotland’s devil in a skirt, Nicola Sturgeon, which would have been the inevitable consequence of the Labour-SNP coalition in the event of a hung parliament dominated by Labour. The Tories have taken 11.3 million, or 36%, of all votes cast, but ended up with 331 parliamentary seats, or 51%, while UKIP have won 3.8 million, or 12%, of the votes – more that the Liberal Democrats and the SNP combined – yet garnered only one seat, or 0.2%. Even the Liberal Democrats, who polled a mere 2.4 million votes, did eight times better, with 8 seats to their inglorious name. And, of course, the SNP, having got just 1.4 million votes, are laughing diabolically over their terrifying 56 seats in parliament.
Yet my fruitarian mind cannot see injustice in this. The “first past the post” system of British electoral politics is constructed on the lines of its inheritance law, whereby the eldest son inherits the title and the estate, while the other children content themselves with courtesy titles, grandmothers’ tortoiseshell combs, and cushy jobs at Sotheby’s. This does not mean their life is over. To the contrary, much of what has made Britain Britain has been historically the work of second and third sons, to say nothing of daughters; while, thanks to the system of primogeniture, the great estates that have made England England have been preserved. Nigel Farage, whose resignation as leader of UKIP was this week unanimously rejected by its national executive, is a kind of second son to Britain. More power to his elbow, as a Scottish Nationalist might say.
This, at any rate, is how last week’s momentous events look to the fruitarian mind of a British expatriate resident in Sicily. Perhaps I am distracted by the sight of the medlar trees, laden as they now are all around me with plump bright orange loquats.