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2 July 2024

Election night is long, but I shall be on form at the New Statesman party

I have called every election wrong since 1974 and suffered many disappointments, but these are different times.

By Nicholas Lezard

It’s an exciting time at the New Statesman. All hands on deck for the Election Issue. I’ve been asked to do my bit by filing a day early, which means I am now writing this nine days before the magazine hits the stands or arrives in your letter box, instead of the usual eight (or seven if I’m feeling poorly).

Anyway, nine days to go, as I write. I wonder if I ought to chance my arm with a prediction. I know all the political experts are in the front half of the magazine, but I’m going to be voting too so let me cautiously say this: the Tories aren’t going to win. There. I won’t put any money on it because I only bet on certainties, like when the election is actually going to be. I went into a branch of a well-known betting firm and asked what the odds were on a 4 July election and they told me to get out. Incidentally, my favourite headline of the campaign is now over a month old, but it actually gets better with age: “Whisper it, but Rishi Sunak is making an extraordinary comeback”, by Camilla Tominey, the Telegraph, 31 May 2024.

That said, I have managed to call every election wrong since 1974, when I stood, during my junior school’s mock election, for the Socialist Party of Great Britain and got two votes, one of which was my own. (The SPGB is not to be confused with those SPLITTERS from the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and various other outfits of sneaks and quislings.) I have always wondered who the other vote was from. I’m pretty sure it was the maths teacher who looked just like Graeme Garden from The Goodies but wasn’t as funny. (In those days all maths teachers looked like Graeme Garden from The Goodies, my description hardly narrows the field.)

The other big news in the Hove-l is that I have been invited to the New Statesman’s election party on the night. I had been planning on going to my friend Ben’s, which will be fun not only because Ben is most amusing, but because his wife will be counting ballots in one of the wards and will doubtless be delighted to come back to see a couple of drunken yobs dancing around her living room laughing at Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom I pray fervently loses his seat. As for Nigel Farage, Ben and I differ in our views. I want him to lose to the Labour candidate, who dresses like the new Doctor Who and sounds like a decent person. Ben wants Farage to win so that he can be subjected to the daily grind of an MP’s duties, loathing his job and his constituents more and more with every single day until he runs screaming into the sea. I’m a bit peeved that Boris Johnson isn’t standing, or Michael Gove; I’d have liked to see them thrown out on their ears. That sentence did not originally end with the word “ears”. Incidentally, who do you think is worse, as a human being, in general, Johnson or Farage? I keep changing my mind on this.

Ben, I must say, has been enjoying the campaign enormously. When Farage said he was standing because he thought the campaign was becoming “boring”, Ben rang me up to complain.

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“Boring? It’s not boring, it’s f***ing psychedelic.” When Farage responded to Sunak’s disastrous D-Day anniversary escapade by saying that Sunak “doesn’t understand our culture”, Ben exploded thus: “Jesus Christ, Farage is one millimetre away from using the P-word about Sunak, and what does Sunak do? He –” and he then went on to describe a tender and intimate sexual act usually performed in private and within the confines of a loving relationship. But since then, of course, with Farage’s remarks about Ukraine, a certain frost has entered their relationship. I’m sure they’ll be able to make it up in time.

I have apologised to Ben, and told him that I’ll probably be going to the New Statesman party. I went in 2010 and 2015, and I have to say that towards the end of the evening the mood was not exactly as jolly as it had been at the beginning. I didn’t go in 2019 because I was living in Scotland and voting tactically for the SNP, who in my seat were defending a majority of 23. (Yes, you read that right: 23.) Anyway, Ben has given me his blessing to go to the party and also to come back to Brighton in the early hours of the morning, because he’ll probably still be up. The only question, as the brainy people in the front of the magazine will have doubtless asked, is how many seats the Tories will be reduced to. The Telegraph, whose radar seems to be oscillating wildly these days, more recently predicted that they’d be left with 53 seats, and I must say that the thought of them being cut down to mid-double figures does rather put a spring in one’s step. I also heard that there were only 20-odd rock-solid safe Tory seats now, and that would be even more delightful. But we are in a funny place when the thought of the Tories winning 100 seats or even a few more will count as a disappointment. One lives in hope, but must be realistic. Meanwhile, I have to pick my party outfit. I am planning to behave disgracefully and I hope everyone else does too.

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain