The polls were open, but nobody came

Or not many, in this part of Norwich: is politics history? Plus, the Reginald D Hunter to-do, and actors' inability to look the period part

Related Topics

And how, on Thursday morning, were the free and independent electors of Eaton ward, Norwich, exercising their democratic rights in the Norfolk County Council election? As far as this elector could make out, with extreme reluctance. The polling station, when I turned up at it, contained two registrars, two tellers, one voter (myself) and his dog.

Traversing a quarter-mile stretch of Unthank Road, one of the ward's principal thoroughfares, I counted one Labour poster, one Green and one Lib Dem – the latter outside the home of the local Lib Dem councillor. As for campaign literature, leaflets were received from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, but of Labour and the Greens (who amassed 6,000 votes here in the last parliamentary election) there was no sign.

Two questions naturally arise out of this conspicuous lack of interest in the democratic process. When did the great mass of the population lose its taste for political engagement? And when did the tribalism that underlay it begin to disappear? To walk the streets of south Norwich at election time in the late 1970s was to patrol a landscape in which people not only took their politics very seriously, but divided up on class lines. Unthank Road in those days was a forest of blue posters, just as the council estate that adjoined it was a forest of red. Not only that, but adult interest rubbed off on the younger generation, and I can still remember a furious argument between two boy scouts over the entirely plausible question of "What have the Tories ever done for the working man?"

Ask a political pundit why the modern elector is no longer interested in politics and he, or she, will generally reply that it stems from a suspicion that all the major parties – a few mavericks excepted – are more or less the same, staffed by the same beaming impresarios (certainly Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband look as if they could have been plucked from the same college photograph) and stalk a terrain whose ancient ideological divides have largely ceased to exist.

Worse than this, perhaps, is a widespread feeling that, here in a world run by international capital and rootless technology, genuine political autonomy is no longer possible and probably not even desirable. Even in the 1970s Tony Benn's calls for a properly left-wing fiscal policy (import controls, siege economy, workers' committees etc) were regarded as the ramblings of a dullard by his cabinet colleagues. Forty years later a Dodo spotted on the Mauritian strand would be more credible.


The fall-out from black comedian Reginald D Hunter's warm-up act at the Professional Footballers' Association award dinner lasted an entire week. Mr Hunter's performance, liberally sprinkled with the N word, was described as a "huge mistake", attracted vigorous protests from Lord Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out, the anti-racism in football campaign, and a demand for the fee to be returned.

Several mysteries hang over this embarrassing incident. One is why the PFA were so keen on Mr Hunter, who confessed that he knew very little about football, and why someone didn't trouble to check out his racially provocative banter in advance. The other takes in the comments of the PFA chairman, Clarke Carlisle, who declined to criticise the contents of the act on the grounds that Hunter's comments would be acceptable in a comedy club – where "moral compasses" are left at the door – but not at a gala awards ceremony.

Dry old stick that I am, I have never understood the very common idea that certain kinds of behaviour are acceptable in certain places but not in others, and that – say – yelling obscenities at a football referee is OK whereas yelling them at your grandmother is not.

Complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority some years back about an advert in Viz in which a computer-game android offered to bite the participant's fucking head off, I was a bit puzzled to be told that the panel deemed it unoffensive owing to the nature of the medium in which it appeared. But surely a fucking head ripped off is a fucking head ripped off, whether in Viz or The People's Friend? If it comes to that, few places are in greater need of a moral compass than a comedy club.


The news that actress Keira Knightley has "channelled her inner fashion icon", as one columnist amusingly put it, to play Coco Chanel in a short biopic directed by Karl Lagerfeld, prompted the sad reflection that Miss Knightley, in her promotional photograph, looks nothing like her subject. She looks, in fact, like a modern actress got up to play a figure from the past. The same point can be made of all those historical epics in which Hollywood sirens with fine white teeth masquerade as Tudor princesses using the gestures and intonations of 21st-century New York.

There is absolutely no point in complaining about this, for popular art always takes from history exactly what it wants and reproduces the bits with which its audience feels comfortable. But it does make you pine for a production like Peter Flannery's Civil War-era The Devil's Whore, which appeared on Channel 4 some years ago, where Charles I looked like Charles I, Cromwell was authentically wart-ridden and Andrea Riseborough, playing the female lead, had clearly just stepped out of a Peter Lely portrait.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam