“Angela Merkel,” said Bill Bryson, “is my hero.” We were sitting by a lake, in a quiet part of Surrey, talking about his new book, The Road to Little Dribbling. It was only a year since he had completed his own British citizenship test, after living in the “small island” that made him his fortune for nearly 40 years. Angela Merkel had just announced that all Syrians would be “welcome” in her country. “Germany is a strong country,” she said, “we will manage”.
You can see it in his face. You can see the horror and bewilderment written all over Jeremy Corbyn’s face. One minute he was happily spouting the scripts he has spouted, in draughty halls, for 32 years, about capitalism being bad and about why every international problem was really Britain’s fault. The next minute he was being asked if he would press the nuclear button. It’s like that dream where you’re suddenly at Wimbledon, facing Novak Djokovic and knowing that you literally will not be able to return a single shot.
So, it’s over. After six weeks that have felt much more like six months, this general election is over. And for many people, it really is over. For my dear friend, Stephen Lloyd, for example, the utterly dedicated MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, it’s very clearly over now. When I woke up, at 5am, he had just announced that he was retiring from politics, after losing his seat by a margin of 733 votes. I know how hard he worked. I know how much his constituents loved him. But his political career is now over. Politics is a tough, tough, tough, tough game.
“It is,” said the speaker, “a very difficult task to run a country in a different way to the opposition”. The speaker was the historian Donald Sassoon and he was speaking at a conference on “Is there a future for the left in Europe?”. The conference, organised by a think tank called the Danube Institute and David Goodhart from Demos, took place in Budapest last month.
“Why,” said someone on Twitter last week, “are all the people best able to run the country cutting hair, driving taxis or writing columns in newspapers?”. As it happens, I think my hairdresser might do a better job than most. She would certainly do a better job than Ed Miliband, who made more of a mess of his conference speech than any politician I can remember.
If you’re going to wreck someone else’s dreams, you’d better have a pretty good excuse. Sometimes, it can’t be helped. Sometimes, eggs have to be broken to make delicious meringues, even if one of those eggs turns out to be your brother. You have to break those eggs, because, although you’ve never actually made a meringue, you know you’ve got it in you to make the most delicious meringue in the world.