PETER HITCHENS: At the coming General Election, vote for ‘None of The Below’. It’s the only way to get the parties we deserve

At the coming Election, nobody will get what they vote for, even if their party wins. Tory voters will not get a conservative government, or even a Conservative one. They will get the usual bunch of propeller-headed hedge-fund free-market fanatics, flanked by sexual revolutionaries and daft warmongers.

Labour voters will also not get a Labour government (see above for roughly what they will get). This has now been so for many years. The leaders of both these parties despise their voters but somehow get away with it most of the time.

If you doubt it, remember Gordon Brown’s vivid encounter with Rochdale voter Gillian Duffy, and his lofty dismissal of this loyal Labour supporter as a ‘bigoted woman’ when he thought nobody was listening. This is probably the most telling incident in modern British politics.

So I have a simple proposal, greatly reinforced by a recent event in the American state of Nevada. There, ballot papers sensibly include a slot for ‘None of These Candidates’. And the dreary Republican Nikki Haley was actually beaten by ‘None Of The Above’. About 63 per cent, in a primary election, voted for nobody at all, in preference to the actual Ms Haley. Squelch.

I strongly believe that a ‘None Of The Below’ option (at the top of every ballot paper) would sweep the board in a British Election, within a couple of years of being introduced. In return, I would happily agree to compulsory voting.

Once people realised that they had the real power to reject the insult to the intelligence they were being offered, the two major parties in this country would be on their way to landfill, the best place for them.

Watching the convulsions of the last few days in both parties, I have grown ever more sure that we need to start again.

In the American state of Nevada, ballot papers sensibly include a slot for ‘None of These Candidates’. Republican Nikki Haley (pictured) was actually beaten by ‘None Of The Above’

In the American state of Nevada, ballot papers sensibly include a slot for ‘None of These Candidates’. Republican Nikki Haley (pictured) was actually beaten by ‘None Of The Above’

The sheer shock of having to set up new parties to replace the dead ones might conceivably stimulate the sort of original thought we need so badly. I would myself hope for a British Gaullist party, imitating France’s greatest modern leader, Charles de Gaulle – strength and independence abroad, a powerful, well-run welfare state and excellent education at home.

But how do we get from here to there? Our democracy is now a closed circle, in which secret cliques select candidates like themselves, and we then vote for them, urged on by slick advertising campaigns and broadcasters who are part of the system. I cannot solve this riddle.

Morals row was music to my ears

There is a scene in the extraordinary and gruelling film Maestro (about conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein) which runs so searingly against the fashionable belief in total sexual liberty and drug-taking that I am amazed it was scripted, shot and left in the final cut.

In it, Bernstein (played by Bradley Cooper, right) is furiously denounced for his trendy selfishness by his wife, played by Carey Mulligan.

Outside the window, as they quarrel, a carnival passes by, including a vast float depicting the cartoon beagle Snoopy. I wonder if it will be quietly removed from future versions?

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro 

Why sell Mexico the best trains we ever had?

The best, most reliable and most comfortable express trains ever built in this country, the InterCity 125s, are apparently being exported to Mexico. I cannot get confirmation (or denial) of this from the Transport Department, from the company allegedly involved or their PR firm, hence the word ‘apparently’.

But specialist railway journals suggest the operation is well under way, with some of the trains seen being loaded aboard a freighter at Great Yarmouth. The Mexican government announced last November that it was planning to reopen 5,000 miles of passenger services, foolishly shut down some years ago.

I don’t blame them for wanting the high-speed trains, a fine British product beautifully renovated and maintained over nearly 50 years. They were still operating here until quite recently (I last saw one in Taunton in July).

But for me the real problem is that their hugely expensive electric replacements, on which I travel most days, have not been a success. Many are out of service, causing overcrowding and cancellations for long months.

On Thursday, the carriage in which I was riding began to shake alarmingly, with an accompaniment of loud bangs, when it hit one of the increasingly frequent patches of bumpy track. I have had smoother rides on the Mandalay to Rangoon Express, and cannot remember anything so bad on any British train. On my own line, several services have recently been downgraded to 1990s diesel railbuses instead of sleek Japanese bullet trains – though in fact the ancient British Rail workhorses have more comfortable seats and are not much slower in practice.

So often, this country gets rid of valuable technology of its own, such as the Harrier jet, then saddles itself with more expensive and less effective foreign substitutes.

We can’t let Assange rot in a dungeon for exposing war crimes

This week, the brave and indomitable Stella Assange will have to watch once again as her husband Julian faces the strong possibility of being sent in chains to some American dungeon, where he will be buried alive for the rest of his days. Julian is already (indefensibly) locked up on remand in Britain’s most ferocious prison, Belmarsh. What did he do? He did what reporters do. He received and partially published documents which gravely embarrassed the USA.

In the words of my colleague Andrew Neil, who, like me, opposes Mr Assange’s extradition, the material revealed ‘war crimes covered up. Torture. Brutality. The rendition and incarceration of suspects without due process. The corruption of inquiries trying to hold it to account. The bribery of foreign officials to look the other way when America did bad things.’

If Julian Assange (pictured in 2017)  is jailed in the US, free journalism will be dealt a blow

If Julian Assange (pictured in 2017)  is jailed in the US, free journalism will be dealt a blow

It is simply not true, as is often claimed, that Mr Assange endangered the lives of Americans in the service of their country. He took careful steps to avoid this and no evidence has ever been produced of any such thing.

The High Court in London will consider, on Tuesday and Wednesday, his final appeal against the decision to extradite him to the USA on political charges of ‘espionage’. The UK Government’s determination to hand him over to the USA runs right against the extradition treaty we have with Washington. This explicitly bans any extraditions on political grounds.

I believe this cruel injustice can be stopped if enough voices are raised against it. If Julian Assange is jailed in the USA, free journalism will be dealt a mortal blow. I appeal most especially to some of our nation’s clearest and most thoughtful media voices, Charles Moore, Danny Finkelstein, Matthew Parris and Janice Turner, to speak out now while there is still time.

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