The “spring breakers” hit Cancun. Photo: Getty
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Escape to Mexico: the locals brace themselves for the arrival of the “spring breakers”

The horror, the horror.

Escape to Mexico
Overseas Radio Network
 

In the villages along the beaches of south-eastern Mexico, local people are bracing themselves for the Easter influx of young Americans known, with a shudder, as the “spring breakers”. My friend Clementino, who shines shoes in Cancún, swaps horror stories about it all day long and says even his mother back in Xcalak (population 375) has heard tales about “crazy people on the streets”. On the weekly show Escape to Mexico (Wednesdays, 4pm), the fiftysomething expat presenter, Henry Altman, retired from selling luxury golf course homes in Texas, ostensibly defends the hordes. “They’re nice kids, ya know! OK, some of them do get a little buzzed, get too loud and . . . stuff happens.”

Then he tells a long story – complex, meandering and quite possibly furious – about a bachelor party from New York that came to stay a few doors down from him in his gated community and invited him for a T-bone but got too drunk to spark up the barbecue until 1am, just as Henry was preparing to go to bed. “That was a pretty funny incident,” says Henry, sadly.

It’s the classic fiftysomething American-in-Mexico conundrum. Ah, to be Willem Dafoe in Born on the Fourth of July, staring adventure squarely in the eye, with a tequila worm between the teeth and a dusky chica unzipping one’s combats – instead of helplessly referring to fellow expats as “the private sector” and ordering room service to the condo where you enjoy jazz records and work on a painting that is provisionally entitled Moon Over the Dance Floor.

So the show goes on, turning every thought to the whys and wherefores of Colorado teenagers speeding along the Yucatán sands in ATVs at the tail end of a six-day bender, off their heads on coco locos and industrial solvents, with their feet hooked in the steering wheel and some blondes on the back peeling off their boob tubes.

Eventually, over an hour into the show, Henry changes the subject, turning to another of his favourite themes: guns, which he’s all for in theory, but then again . . . “Ya know, I ask myself sometimes, does a person actually need 10,000 rounds of ammunition in banana clips, just sitting around? They do not! Hey – here’s Ron, calling from Durable Goods in Tulum . . .”

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Russia's Revenge

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition