We think we’ve got it bad over here. I’ve got friends in Canada – can you imagine what it must be like for them? They’re the next-door neighbours of the country upon which the world’s attention is focused today, yet they’ve no more ability to participate and affect change than we have. It’s akin to the Scots voting in an independence referendum in which the rest of the UK has no say and…oh, sorry, I forgot; we’ve already been there. Anyway, the disqualification of one half of North America in deciding the fate of the western world aside, the fact that the USA has to choose between a devious upholder of Washington’s status quo and a misogynistic billionaire narcissist is surely something nobody would envy. Suddenly, having to weigh-up the respective merits of David Cameron and Ed Miliband just last year doesn’t seem like such a terrible dilemma after all. The fact that both are now parliamentary toast shows how far we’ve travelled since the spring of 2015, whereas the US is now confronted with a similar scenario, albeit on a Hollywood blockbuster scale.
The first Presidential Election I was aware of took place forty years ago, when the incumbent occupier of the White House, Gerald Ford, took on the virtually unknown Georgian peanut-farmer Jimmy Carter. The former probably stands as the luckiest man in American history, becoming Vice President due to the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973 and becoming President due to the resignation of Richard Nixon the year after. I remember the Ford family being photographed during a visit to Disneyland in 1976, an image reproduced in the weekly I was subscribing to at the time, ‘Mickey Mouse’; but Ford’s luck ran out not long thereafter. He was defeated in November by Carter. Since Jimmy Carter ingratiated himself in the collective memory of my generation via his visit to the UK the year he was inaugurated, I have been a long-distance witness to nine further Presidential Elections, and this is the tenth. I can’t remember another like this one, though.
We’ve become accustomed to our own excessive political circuses in the age of 24-hour news media – two General Elections and two Referendums in the last six years – but being bombarded by Trump and Clinton these past few months has been especially frustrating in that we can look but not touch. Many comparisons have been made between the northern industrial wastelands that voted Brexit here and those poised to vote Trump there, and it’s hard to avoid such comparisons when the impact of globalisation has hit traditional providers of British and American economic prosperity with such devastating ruthlessness. Figures were bound to emerge to speak on behalf of those deprived of a voice, though it’s a shame they had to be figures like Nigel Farage or Donald Trump.
Donald Trump I find fascinating, if only as a classic American sitcom character ala Archie Bunker or Homer Simpson; that he’s actually on the cusp of being elected leader of the free world places this fascination in a state of disbelief. This can’t be for real, can it? So it would seem. History has taught us that a vacuum can be exploited by any opportunist, and if that opportunist be a reality TV star, that seems perfectly in tune with twenty-first century sentiments. In many respects, it’s a miracle Trump didn’t select Kim Kardashian as his running mate.
Trump may have attached himself to the Republican Party, but he has no real affiliation with the issues that have dominated Republican politics over the last decade or so; he certainly hasn’t played the God card, which has been the default position of every Republican candidate since Reagan, and one wonders if he’s hitched a ride on the Republican express simply because starting his own party would have rendered him a minority independent with no chance of gaining the keys to the White House. That he managed to blow the true Republicans (and their fanatical obsession with what their fellow Americans do below the waist) out of the water says all you need to know about that party.
Yes, he has galvanised the majority of fervent blue-collar Republicans who couldn’t get excited over John McCain or Mitt Romney, but he has also caught the attention of non-partisan voters in desperate search of someone to offer an alternative to the production-line politicians Washington produces with the same slick ease as Westminster.
Hillary Clinton’s FBI reprieve last weekend places the decision of the organisation that named and shamed her the week before in a curious situation; did the FBI announce the reopening of the email investigation to simply cover their backs on the off-chance that, should Trump become President, they could point to that announcement as evidence they were prepared to pursue it and therefore weren’t politically biased? The haste with which they subsequently declared there was no foul play on Clinton’s part makes their initial announcement appear even stranger. Why bother intervening in the campaign if there was nothing to report anyway? If that was the FBI’s strategy, it has ultimately backfired, as changing their minds just a couple of days before polling merely gives fresh ammunition to Trump’s avowed belief that ‘the establishment’ is against him.
Oh, well. Time’s up for speculation now. Come this time tomorrow, we’ll know where we stand – more of the same or a leap into the unknown. And no one here will have any say either way.
JIMMY YOUNG (1921-2016)
The death of Jimmy Young aged 95 is yet another passing to add to an increasingly long list where 2016 is concerned. Coming just a few months after the death of Terry Wogan, this latest annotation to a dismal year’s catalogue of obituaries is especially poignant for anybody who recalls a time when a particular kind of diction dominated the airwaves. The handover between the two broadcasting mainstays that formed a crucial element of Radio 2’s morning schedule for years was one that those of us who grew up with grandparents or parents whose loyalty to old Light Programme routines governed breakfast listening habits cannot help but mourn the loss of.
The 50s chart-topping crooner may have been an unlikely addition to the original Radio 1 line-up, but Young helped make the journey from the ‘housewives’ choice’ school of 60s daytime broadcasting to the 70s concept of pop radio a largely painless exercise. He represented a bridge between the pre-pirate era and the generation that found fame on the high seas, an old-school personality DJ whose reassuring presence during the uncertain, formative years of Radio 1 was essential to the tricky transition. Transferring to Radio 2 in 1973, Young continued to speak to the same demographic for whom DLT or Johnnie Walker, and their insistence on spinning chart sounds, were anathema. As with Radio 2 listeners today, what Radio 2 listeners in the 70s wanted to hear were the sounds of twenty years before. In the 70s, that meant Doris Day or Guy Mitchell, precisely the kind of soundtrack I will always associate with Jimmy Young, courtesy of my grandma’s listening habits when I stopped at her home as a child.
Jimmy Young’s tenure on Radio 2 lasted until as late as 2002, when the periodical revamp tactics of new radio controllers finally caught up with him. But he had made an indelible mark over 35 years, and the station with which he will always be linked was poised to embark upon its most radical shake-up, for better or for worse. He belonged to a broadcasting era that was already drenched in nostalgia by the turn of the Millennium, and for anyone whose aural memory connects Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan with happier, more innocent times, this is indeed a sad day.
© The Editor