It’s funny how we’re told that kids want to do certain jobs. When I was a schoolboy it was engine driver. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up? Bet you want to be an engine driver!’ Well, no actually. Firstly it was so far out of my world it would never have occurred to me to aspire so high, and secondly I’d no idea what it involved – I didn’t even have a bike. Thirdly, all that coal, it looked very dirty. Now it’s football. Thank the Lord no-one asked me if I’d like to be a footballer, the point of chasing a ball around muddy field has always evaded me. Besides, when I was at school we’d get an hour’s detention if we were seen kicking a ball – any ball – instead of picking it up and running with it as God and Thomas Arnold decreed. A grammar school with a public school ethos, I kid you not. But I digress.
Did anyone, ever, get accused of wanting to be a politician? Only in the richer end of Hampstead perhaps, or the cleaner end of Islington would anyone dream of asking ‘well, little miss, do you want to be like Dianne Abbott when you grow up? Do you want to be a politician?’ If it ever becomes fashionable to ask such a thing we will know that the end of our civilisation is at hand. And yet there they are, on TV, in village halls, wandering through the crowds in town marketplaces with their badges and leaflets and ingratiating smiles, pleading to vote for me, let me represent our village, our county, our land. How ever does this happen?
In my case it was an encounter with rights of way legislation. The application fell through the letterbox like a thunderclap. Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago the common land in the village had been enclosed. The Act of Parliament that enforced this land grab closed all the old footpaths and bridleways, then reinstated some and established new ones. The one outside my back door – in a wooded strip which would have allowed anyone to hop unobserved over the fence into my garden whenever the coast was clear – was non-standard, not marked in the way that others were and simply shown as a dotted line and a legend ‘Footway for Miss ffolkes’.
I’ll spare you the years of wrangling with the applicant, the county council, the local councillor, the Rambler’s Association, the bills from the very expert barrister – ‘to reading email £35 plus VAT’ – the final bill of thirty five thousand quid between five of us. The county paid another twenty thousand. In one heated discussion I told our local councillor – excellent at her job, doing her best but constrained by being a Tory – that there would be a political cost. Little did we know.
Our submission opposing a path that literally could not have been walked legally since 1819 when the village street road was moved came to dozens of pages, the application the same. The Inspector dismissed the matter in one sheet of A4.
£55,000 for nothing.
Rights of way law is odd. In normal legal practice the applicant has to provide proof. In ROW cases the opposition has to prove a negative. The judge who established this inversion of established precedent was, put simply, an idiot. The law needs changing and I started to correspond with my MP who is, I discovered, highly educated but utterly lacking in any background outside of school, and a career path of university, SpAd, bag carrier and toady, MP…. Politics all the way down to bedrock, if the slippery mud and quicksand that forms the foundations can be called bedrock.
I was getting nowhere with the footpath thing but my other interest, the dubious science of climate change, triggered some interesting exchanges. This was an MP with a big majority and his politics were just what he was told they should be. “Spring in the air, Bloggs”, said his Secretary of State and boing boing he went. If this is politics, I thought, maybe I should have been paying more attention. If this is the quality of our politicians no wonder the country is losing its place in the world, no wonder there are problems with roads, immigration, terrorism, energy security…
Maybe I should get involved and help the sort of people who could do better to get into office. Did I want to be a politician myself? Of course not: in spite of the evidence of my own eyes I thought they were a breed apart.
There was a piece in the local paper about some rebel, someone who wanted to smash UK politics and reform it in a way to actually put the interests of the British people first. He was having a meeting in a local town hall, all free, everyone invited. This I must see, I thought. Who is this guy?
Nigel Farage? Never heard of him.