The Elections and the Waughs

Writing in the Daily Mail, Craig Brown looks back 60 years to the UK election of 1959 which he says is the first one influenced by television. For the first time, the majority of voters had television sets:

So keen was the Daily Mirror to stop its readers being tempted away from voting Labour that on the big day it only listed those programmes that began after 9pm, when the polls had closed.

These days, novelists and playwrights regularly voice their political views on Newsnight or Question Time. In 1959 they were less in evidence, perhaps because they had fewer platforms.  Of those who were asked their views, some refused to give them. Evelyn Waugh declared that he had no intention of voting: ‘I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign on her choice of servants.’

Waugh’s statement appeared in a symposium of election comments printed in the Spectator, 2 October 1959, reprinted EAR, p. 537 (“Aspirations of a Mugwump”). While he did choose not to vote, he did not decline to take sides. The article opened: “I hope to see the Conservative Party return with a substantial majority.”

In this year’s elections it looked as though Evelyn Waugh’s grandson would depart from this tradition, as did his father Auberon before him, but yesterday Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, took action to assure that this was not to be, when he stood down the party’s candidates in constituencies where Conservatives won seats in the last election. Here is the report from yesterday’s Somerset County Gazette:

Alexander Waugh was set to be the Brexit Party candidate for Bridgwater and West Somerset, while Penny Rawson had put her name forward in Taunton Deane. Mr Waugh said he had already seen lots of support on his campaign trial, but he was somewhat relieved because he doesn’t consider himself a politician.

“I was very much geared up,” he said. “I was getting a lot of support. I think now I will go to help other candidates like Ann Widdecombe with her campaigning. I know a lot of people will be very disappointed. I won’t be surprised if there are a lot of spoiled votes with people writing the Brexit Party on their ballots. I can’t deny in some ways I am quite relieved because I am not a politician. I just thought sitting in my armchair complaining wasn’t very good. I am a man of action. The main problem is we simply cannot trust Boris Johnson.”

It may have occurred to Alexander to file his registration papers on Thursday as a candidate for the party founded by his father. This was called “The Dog Lovers Party” and would surely have found support in West Somerset. But if it did occur to him, he has thought better of it.

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