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Graeme Archer: Home Thoughts from Abroad

So let me see if I’ve got this right. MPs have been ripping off taxpayers in order to buy – not subsistence accommodation, but kitchens, bathrooms, bedroom fittings etc from John Lewis. John Lewis! One of my favourite institutions, now sucked into the (swine-) fevered debate about MPs’ allowances. I dream of being able to afford a kitchen from John Lewis, and, know what? I would be able to if I didn’t have to pay so much bloody tax. Can’t wait to hear an MP lecturing us about the need for restraint in public expenditure in the year ahead.

Meanwhile: Och yes, says Mr Speaker, ah’ll get oan with the inquiry intae they expenses just as soon as they’ve sorted oot that wee bathroom fur me. Cab thon fabric swatches roon with the groceries, will ye no? (I think we now know why John Lewis opened a food hall).

Election fever! Who’s going to win? Who’s up? Who’s down? No, not the increasingly deadlocked Change vs Fear slugathon, swinging its way towards beautiful Pennsylvania like an out of control juggernaut careering the wrong way down a motorway. Only one winner there! It’s [insert name of favoured candidate and retain fond belief that it’ll make that much difference anyway]. Oh calm down. None of them is Reagan II and one of them is clearly insane. Anyway – no, not that election. It may have escaped your notice, since there’s been scant mention of it in the press, but Italy – you know, major trading partner, the place you’ve yearned to go since reading too much Forster in your early teens – has a general election of its own on April 13th, to replace the redundant government of Mr Prodi. I’ve been at work in Verona since Wednesday this week so I’ve been asking everyone what the main issues are, to bring a Conservative Home update this Sunday. Well. The Bank of Italy just revealed that which has been clear to those of us with staff in Italy for some time – the rate of growth in income there is nearly stagnant. So, how did odds-on favourite to be the next presidente del consiglio, Mr Berlusconi, respond when asked a question about how to survive on a low income, by a young (female) voter? You can always marry my son, or some other millionaire, he said on TV last night. Perhaps Lord Tebbit’s been helping with his campaign?

By the way, the main reason the centre-Left government fell was because it was held to ransom by a minor coalition partner. The Justice Minister, a Christian Democrat, being investigated by magistrates for corruption, withdrew his party’s support from Prodi’s coalition. (At least he went). Now neither main Left nor Right block can muster enough support in parliament to change the ghastly PR voting system back to something with a semblance of reason. Even the man who designed their current system calls it porcata, something between a dirty trick and junk. Why have we let so much PR infect our own election systems? Euro-lists, Scottish Councils, various regional assemblies, London Mayoralty … minor plea to Planet Dave: not a huge manifesto thing, but could we just quietly repeal it, everywhere?

I have a professional interest in happiness, or, at least, I am obsessed with the clinical phenomena engendered by its absence, and how to modulate those phenomena for the better, by means of psychopharmacology. I’d been feeling a bit under the weather myself last week, but it vanished, melted away, as soon as I stepped from Verona arrivals lounge into the warm northern Italian sunshine. Sunshine is more important than we let ourselves realise (how could we afford to, in Britain?) and so is its political equivalent. Focus group time. Draw the weather which our leaders represent…

David Cameron is pure sunshine, naturally. I think of Gordon Brown as a purply-black rain-cloud, one of those depressing wet Thursdays when it stays dark all day. Ken Livingstone is the smell you get on the tube when everyone’s clothes and hair are soaking wet.

On Tuesday night I went for a drink with a New Member of the Hackney Tory Collective, and, you know, his enthusiasm for action was exhausting. How, I found myself wondering, can we squeeze the desire for change out of this bloke, and leave him as washed-up and cynical as the rest of us? I’m going to nominate him to be constituency chairman. That should do it. (Have you seen our fantastic new website, courtesy of said member?

Monday night and we’re ensconced in the basement of 18 Doughty Street, as gate-crashing guests of a Centre Right celebratory get-together. Have you had a look at It’s some sort of parallel activity to Conservative Home run by Tim. It’s not bad but they’re awfully interested in politics. [That’s it, you really are fired – Ed]. Michael Gove came and gave a typically amusing, insightful speech about the next phase of Project Tory Majority. I think there’s a touch of brilliance about that man. Just in time he reminded me that there are still some MPs who are motivated by a mixture of intellectual curiosity, some passionate convictions, and a courteous desire to improve the condition of the country; rather than by a nice bathroom from John Lewis.

So that song by Clifford T Ward comes on my iPod’s random playlist as I’m flying back to London: Home Thoughts from Abroad. Such a beautiful song. It makes me think of my father. Do you find it very lonely, or have you found someone to laugh with? Oh yes. Please don’t worry anymore. And the Browning poem which inspired the song makes me think of springtime. O to be in England, now that April’s there. Not quite here yet, but not long now before winter’s put to bed. If I don’t see you before, buona Pasqua!


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