Home Page If the comedy ground is making way for common sense, it mightn't be a bad thing 27/04/15

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Hart of the Matter

You might be fed up with all the political stuff on TV in the run-up to the election, but I can tell you that it is a godsend to someone confined to their settee.

Having been laid up for a week with a particularly virulent dose of flu, I was most grateful that there were some vaguely sensible and interesting political debates on to leaven the otherwise mindless litany of daytime TV which would have sent me climbing the walls within a day despite my enforced lassitude.

But politics (and snooker) came to my rescue and now I know a lot more about the minor parties than I did, even though we don’t get a chance to vote for any of them around here.

One thing I have noticed is the curious shortage of completely barmy people standing this time around – that is, if you ignore the real politicians, who many may consider to be barmy enough by themselves.

But in the past we had lots of people from weird or bonkers groups, ranging from the Monster Raving Loony Party, which is only very sparsely represented this time, to those people who believed in levitation and bouncing around the place and who fielded candidates in almost every constituency some years ago and, as far as I can make out, have now completely disappeared.

There are the loonies who we are not allowed to name, like the BNP, and the now merely mildly eccentric ones, like some of the true Socialists. To think that that old warhorse Arthur Scargill should be reduced to this rather genial and quintessentially English backwater, reminiscent of the late 19thcentury.

Elections have changed a lot in my lifetime, and I am old enough to have voted the last time we had a referendum on Europe.

In the latter part of the 20th century, almost everyone took the electoral process very seriously, which was why there was such a vacuum into which the comedy candidates could step. You only have to remember the election in Blackadder The Third.

Bizarrely, it seems that as people have become steadily more and more disillusioned with politicians as a class, and have begun to explore seriously some wider options, so the ‘comedy ground’ as one might term it, has become squeezed out.

It is part of the general sense of humour failure which the 21st century seems to have inspired – witness the demise of satirical programmes. Poor old Rory Bremner struggles to get an airing nowadays despite being a lot more accomplished than predecessors like Mike Yarwood.

Instead, people have begun to take quite hilariously extreme political proponents seriously. It is quite difficult to laugh at people who significant numbers of one’s fellow countrymen think may be their saviours.

In fact, the national election scene has become much more like the local one, where, in general, those few who take a real interest in it, tend to take it pretty seriously.

There are many who would argue that this has been the main stumbling-block to successful local government down the years, as it has got weighed down with political divisions which often have little relevance to local issues.

Haverhill has suffered a lot from this over the years. You will hear many long-time residents complain that Bury St Edmunds gets all the cash spent on it (or Ipswich, now that the power has been eroded from St Edmundsbury to Suffolk County Council) and that Haverhill is always left out.

This is said in a purely apolitical way, as if people in Bury have a natural antipathy towards Haverhill which leads them to compound its deprivation as hard as they can go.

Of course, that isn’t true at all. Most of these decisions have actually been taken by senior councillors who come from the rural areas. Some of these have had a very favourable view of Haverhill, while others are less broad-minded.

But in the end they have been political decisions based on what they think is best for the borough as a whole – and, of course, from their perspective the best thing for the borough as a whole is to build up the status of Bury St Edmunds as a regional centre.

It would become more and more of a driver of the local economy and this would ‘trickle down’, in Margaret Thatcher’s immortal phrase, to other parts of the borough. Equally, other parts of the borough would benefit by having improved access to top-class facilities by bringing them to, and centralising them in, Bury St Edmunds.

It is this argument which brought about the borough’s complete fiasco after it refurbished Haverhill Arts Centre and then didn’t want to pay to run it. Since then it has brought about the massively costly vanity project which goes by the ironical name of the Apex.

These, in the end, are political decisions, but they are created by something more fundamental, a perception of how society works, how economies work and how the two things come together.

The problem has been that this dogmatic approach ignores the realities on the ground, such as, for instance, the fact that Haverhill people are unlikely to struggle along the A143 to avail themselves of facilities which try, often rather pathetically, to be a pale imitation of those in Cambridge, which we can zip along to in no time thanks to a half-decent road and at least a vestige of public transport.

If the politics of the 21st century forces an ability to look at facts rather than theories, then perhaps it is, after all, a change for the better.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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