London Bits: a Passage From India

Things are beginning to settle down a bit, I think, although I must say for me they have been continuing pretty much the same throughout. Nationally, however, a remarkable 50 day period saw two monarchs and three prime ministers (PMs), one complaint about the last (and current) one of these political incumbents being the lack of opportunity for the public to have a vote on his selection.

Obviously some commentators have been absorbed too much in the US system. where the leader is voted by the public, albeit by a somewhat convoluted process, which can end up with the winner receiving less public votes than the loser. However, in the UK the public has no vote to elect the leader of the country. They can vote only for their local representative, a member of parliament (MP), and it is the leader of the party with the most MPs who then becomes the PM.

The party, not the public, chooses the PM and, in the case of the current majority party, the Conservatives aka Tories, normally the MPs select a shortlist of two and it is the national party membership who make the final choice. For a £25 annual sub you can vote for the PM. This is how recent PM number two, Liz Truss, gained office, the runner-up being the current PM, Rishi Sunak.

When Truss resigned after a helter-skelter 45 days as the shortest serving PM in history, Sunak stood again, this time as an unopposed candidate, so the 25-pounders (the Tory members, not the World War Two field guns) had no say in the matter. It seems to me that this was somewhat more, rather than less, democratic, because at least the leadership was settled between democratically elected representatives, rather than a self-appointed 172,000 cadre with £25 to spare who form a mere 0.37% of the total electorate of 46,560,452 (as of April this year).

The Tory members landed the country with the disastrous Liz Truss, whose previous crowning (and crowing) achievement seems to have been opening up the UK pork market in China, but who remains stamped on my brain for an interview with no-holds-barred journalist Andrew Neil. He asked her how many of the planned new starter homes had been built in the previous five years. She couldn’t remember the “exact numbers”, but “not as many … as we would have liked.” Neil had the exact number: nil. All of this is of course available on YouTube.

At least former Home Secretary, Priti Patel (also of Indian descent), is nowhere in sight. During a panel discussion on BBC Question Time, Ian Hislop, editor of satirical and revelatory Private Eye magazine opposed the death penalty on the basis of the numerous wrongful murder convictions that had occurred. Patel seemed unable to grasp this fairly simple concept and countered with an assertion that the death penalty was needed as a deterrent. Hislop replied: “It’s not a deterrent killing the wrong people.” Patel simply repeated her point. Monty Python looks less like an absurdity and more like a prophecy.

Rishi Sunak, the other shortlist candidate opposing Liz Truss who was not selected by the Conservative members and who is now the Prime Minister is a Hindu of Indian descent, swearing the oath of allegiance not on the Bible, but on the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, which has been one of my favourite tomes for decades, and whose solution to certain ethical problems I have often quoted.

It is probably not the favoured text of the average Tory member, who has the reputation of being a xenophobic, homophobic (albeit possibly closet homosexual), affluent, middle or upper middle class, balding, elderly, white male with a prominent moustache, living in the shires (the countryside far from inner city grime). Don’t blame me. This was the caricature furnished by a lifelong Tory voter, an attractive relatively young female, who once applied to be a General Election candidate for the party.

She was interviewed by Andrea Leadsom MP (now a former cabinet minister), who drew attention to the candidate’s (slight) Northern accent, which is something we inward-looking Southerners and Londoners tend to find a tad amusing, when, for example, we hear bath pronounced with a short a, rather than as barth. Northerners naturally take the opposite stance. Northern (and Southern) is not an ethnicity.

However, Sunak’s ethnic background would have had no part to play in the 172,000 members’ minds, as the United Kingdom is now a proud, multi-ethnic society. When I was at art college, a lecturer was fond of announcing “The conqueror is always conquered”. He would certainly have found himself vindicated in the current PM.  What a reversal from the British Raj rule of India (1858–1947) and who during that time could have imagined the current political situation? Certainly not the typical subcontinental administrator, embodied so convincingly as Mr Turton by actor Richard Wilson in David Lean’s film A Passage to India, based on E.M. Forster’s novel.

I found myself talking by chance recently to someone who had worked on the film. David Lean was apparently a harsh director, which resulted in Judy Davis breaking down in tears. She played the insecure, sexually and emotionally conflicted Miss Quested, so I guess this was a bit of method acting. The scene where Mrs Moore gazes at the moon took 12 days to get right, and the moon is a actually a composite of the face and reverse of it. The dark entrance to the Marabar cave was created by a large piece of black velvet: the interior of the cave was filmed elsewhere.

I have for many decades absorbed some of the film dialogue into my understanding of life, in particular the sage Godbole’s exposition: “My philosophy is: you can do what you like but the outcome will be the same.” I’m not sure this is always the case, but it seems to be the case more often than not.

It certainly applies to my local NHS (National Health Service) doctor’s practice, which insists that appointments must be made with a phone call at 8 a.m. The last time I did this promptly at the appointed time, a recorded message informed me that I was number fourteen in the queue. A friend was much more fortunate and got through first time with an appointment the next day at 10.30 a.m, shortly before which she was informed the appointment was cancelled as the doctor was off sick and the other doctors did only phone consultations.

She phoned a different local surgery who said they were accepting patients, walked to the surgery (with some difficulty because of her illness), filled in the forms and was then told she was half a mile outside the catchment area. She has now applied to a third surgery in the same locality as the second, but with a somewhat more generous catchment area. It has very good Google ratings. I think I might follow suit.

Doctors at two of the surgeries are of Indian descent (as is my nearby convenience store owner). The third one is Chinese. My builder and the local fish and chip shop couple are Iranian (I can now say, “How are you” in Farsi). Other local convenience stores are run by Turks.

India has a hot but dry atmosphere, or at least it does in the North around Rishikesh, where I stayed for a short time in an ashram during my youth. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as did bathing in the Ganges, which I had anticipated as being pleasantly warm, but it turned out to be extremely cold, flowing from the Himalayan mountains. Fortunately the small black insects which covered me to my alarm when I emerged did not bite. I missed rock music and baked beans.

In contrast, the UK often has a cold, damp atmosphere, which is not much good for drying the washing. This tempts the ignorant to drape their wet clothes over the radiators. Naturally such people do not open the windows, so as not to let the cold in, thus concomitantly preventing the moisture from escaping, the result of which is the (to them) inexplicable growth of black mould. My neighbour’s bathroom ceiling was covered with it. I have finally discovered the simple solution, which is an EcoAir Low Energy (that’s true) dehumidifier with a three in one filter, large percentage display, sleep mode and child lock, available from Amazon (I don’t get a commission). This column is also utilitarian not just full of hot air.

A BBC investigation revealed that over 3,000 abusive tweets are sent to MPs every day, the highest scorer being Ben Bradley MP, whoever he is. The new monarch merely has three eggs thrown at him (they all missed). My friend, still frustratedly trying to get a doctor’s appointment, suggested it was Megghan Markle to blame.

Charles Thomson is co-founder of The Stuckists.