Major election win: sixth sense or is it just the heat?

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The Independent Online
There is a feeling going the rounds just now that John Major is going to win the election. The feeling is not widespread. A Gallup poll last week showed that the Government was losing rather than gaining popularity, despite its assaults on Johnny Foreigner and the recent advent of fabulously low mortgage rates, rising house prices and busier shops. But the feeling exists, and not just among the people at the Daily Mail who are paid to feel it. I've heard it at lunch and I've heard it in the pub. "I dunno I just have this feeling that Blair isn't going to do it." Why? "I dunno. Maybe because I don't fancy him much." I'm not offering you science here - my sample is small and confined to London, and the reasons why people feel this way remain rather opaque. One theory runs that Blair cannot win because no political leader educated at public school (Fettes in his case) has ever beaten a state schoolchild to the prime ministership. Y'see, guv, yer public won't stand for it. But since a state school v public school contest has happened only twice since the war (Wilson v Douglas-Home and Thatcher v Foot), that hardly counts as science either.

Perhaps it's the heat. On the other hand, a piece in the current Spectator made me think it was more serious than summer madness, not because of the writer's reasoning but because of the writer's identity. "I can confidently assert," wrote Jan Morris, "that the ghastly Tories are going to win the next general election." Jan Morris? The sex-change Welsh Nationalist who has written so many fine books of travel and history? Precisely so. And what would a 69-year-old woman who lives in the hills of North Wales know about the mindset of the C1 voter in Coventry? Perhaps no more than me or you, unless you are that voter. But ever since Jan Morris wrote a letter to the Times in 1981 I've credited her with the gift of second sight. The letter was published at the time of the wedding jubilations of the Prince and Princess of Wales and spoke ominously of the Romanoffs. I've quoted it in this column before. The reason I remember it is that while many royalists loved the wedding and smaller numbers of republicans hated it, Jan Morris was the only observer who saw it not as the rejuvenation of the monarchy, love it or hate it, but as the beginning of its end. This time I hope the seer of Llanystumdwy is wrong, as does the seer herself.

Perhaps football will supply the vital catalyst to the "feel-good factor". The English soccer team wins the European championship, everybody feels jolly good about being English, the country (or at least England) feels at ease with itself, and Major, man of yer public, rides to triumph in a snap election. England's World Cup victory in 1966 is often recalled in this context, though, as Alan Watkins would be the first to point out, Harold Wilson won the election before the World Cup was played.

Remembering 1966 is now an industry. Everybody remembers Kenneth Wolstenholme's line "They think it's all over..." (God, don't they just); Tony Blair remembers hearing it over the radio when he was on hols in France (not Whitley Bay, notice - the Fettes factor at work again). For me, it was the year I discovered I had a missing gene. I was living then in a flat in Glasgow with a reporter on the Evening Citizen and a soft-spoken man from the Highlands who worked in a dry-cleaning shop. We led careless lives of self-inflicted damage. The kitchen contained only one foodstuff, an industrial-sized tin of powdered onion soup without a label. Warm water from the tap made the Nescafe. My fingernails, I remember, began to grow ridges from the poor diet. And yet somehow (amazing in retrospect) I had a girlfriend, Arlene, who captained the Glasgow University women's golf team and glowed brown from her walks on the fairways. John Betjeman might have gone to jail for her.

I watched the final on television with the dry-cleaning man and the golf captain. They were subdued until Germany scored their equaliser late in normal time. Then they jumped up and down on the already-broken settee, cheering and clapping. England for them was the enemy, and Germany, the enemy's enemy, was their friend. I didn't feel that, though I went to see Scotland when they played at Hampden Park and imagined that in Jim Baxter ("Slim Jim teases the English defence!") we had one of the finest footballers the world had ever seen. But England, after all, began only a hundred miles to the south; the Charlton brothers were from the pit villages of Northumberland just over the border.

The gene missing in me is the one that fuels gut Scottish nationalism and I discovered its absence that afternoon on the broken settee, though that was not the only barrier that fell between Arlene and me there later, before she got the last bus home to Wishaw. (Sexual intercourse, pace Philip Larkin, did not start in Scotland in 1963; my case suggests it had some way to go even in 1966.)

Another Scotsman deprived of the same gene is Kenneth Roy, founder and editor of the Scottish Review. In the current issue, Roy has a brilliant piece of invective which rails against the low-browed Anglophobia of the Scottish middle-class. Roy, recalling the Scotland v England rugby game earlier this year writes: "Since no good ever comes of racial intolerance and triumphalising I will admit the inadmissible: I was glad, patriotically glad for Scotland, that we lost that match and that the streets were subdued that night."

For similar reasons, I hope England don't win too often over the next two weeks. Ultimate victory might make the place unbearable. There is something wrong with the psyche of a nation that attaches so much hysterical importance to a game that it does not even play very well - an emptiness at the centre, something which Scotland could have told England about long ago.

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