The Tolpuddle Martyrs and Marie Antoinette

A couple of sublime moments plus a trip to rural West Dorset

Amid all the disappointments and upsets that life has to offer there are fleeting moments when things can feel pretty perfect.

For example in 2002, on holiday in a remote town in the Masurian lakes, I came across a European Union roadshow touring Poland in a bid to persuade people of the merits of EU membership. The lyric blaring out of its loudspeaker system was ‘Oh I’m wicked and I’m lazy’. It may have been the language barrier, but the vote was a resounding 'yes'.

Food for thought for David Cameron if being cuddly doesn’t pay off…

Then there was the man so enraged, because I honked my horn after he cut me up, that he spat at me from three lanes away coating the inside of his passenger window. Wound up? He most certainly was!

I imagine the people of Fair Isle get a similar lift from the disappearance of the darkness of winter and arrival of Spring. And it’s that topic that Malachy Tallack turns to in his latest blog. Living that far north a bit of sunshine does wonders for the spirits – even if the joy is shortlived…

Simon Munnery meanwhile gives his tips for a perfect holiday. For example he suggests getting your house burgled in advance because it saves the worry of it happening when you’re away.

And Victoria Brignell explains why she doesn’t want to become a daredevil plus we’ve got our agony aunt Marina Pepper on the chocolate Jesus.

Talking of which I hope you all had a happy Easter. Personally I headed to an idyllic corner of Dorset with my spouse for a bit of much needed country air and some pretty decent pub dinners.

It strikes me that this county offers pretty much all you could wish for in terms of scenery, eye-catching coastline and pleasant diversions.

It was also the setting for much of Thomas Hardy's writing and home, of course, to the Tolpuddle Martyrs – framed and transported for starting a union in reaction to the appalling wages they and other agricultural workers earned in the 1830s.

Nowadays Dorset is home to Poundbury – Prince Charles’s fantasy of a village, Hugh Fearnley-Whatsisface founder of the River Cottage dynasty plus a bunch of wealthy weekenders from the capital.

You know the balance has tipped in the wrong direction when more or less every nice house in the prettier villages has a BMW or Mercedes on its drive bought at a London garage. How can local people now afford homes?

For some reason I was reminded of Marie-Antoinette. She had a fake village in the grounds of Versaille where she could divert herself by playing at rural life for a few hours at a time.

Still, must have done her good because, as we all know, she lived to a ripe old age dying secure in the knowledge that she had contributed greatly to the rural economy…

Or did she?

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.