General Election is, as everyone knows, the main character in the much-loved 1970s WWII sitcom Up The Army!. Gen. Bertrand Election started the show as a fussy, uncomfortable, endearingly incompetent bureaucrat, utterly devoted to the bigwigs at Allied Command, and subjected to constant, ambiguously good-natured ribbing from his men. But as is so often the case, as the show began to drag on and the writers lost creative inspiration, Election went from character to caricature. By the time Up the Army! was cancelled in 1979, he wasn’t just incompetent but insensible: a sad, roving, pathetic, confused old man. He didn’t seem to realise there was a war on. When he spoke with his officers there was always a look of veiled panic in his eyes, as he tried to work out who the person in front of him was. For most of the last series, he had trouble remembering his own name.
In fact, a similar set of transformations seemed to affect the entire cast of Up The Army!, one that became uglier the further it went down the ranks. Major John Spendings-Cutts grew gaunt, his weak and watery eyes peering out from two immense, dark, ridged concavities, his bony limbs thrashing about like treetops in a winter storm. Corporal Ned Punishment went from being a stern disciplinarian to an almost inhuman sadist. The beatings he administered to his disobedient subordinates were long, gruelling affairs; he’d slice away fingertips with a rusty knife or claw out an eyeball with his bare hands, all the while vigorously pumping on his long, thin, curved, barbed penis. The only one that didn’t change was Private Property. He only grew. Private Property was an entity – although entity might be the wrong word – that swarmed and sprawled, a buzzing, violent mess of content without form. He was chirpy and polite, forever doffing his helmet to his superiors, and he had a charming, naive faith in King and Country, but he was insatiable. First he glooped over the mess hall, translucently, like an amoeba, and swallowed it up, then the briefing room, then the entire base.
What’s strange is that nobody ever commented on any of these changes, the little weekly stories kept on going, just as they always had. The final episode centred around a teacup that’d been stolen from the officers’ mess. In the end it turned out Private Property had taken it. He’d taken everything. The planes, the tanks, the guns, the Nazis over the hill, the hill itself. Everything took place just below the surface of Pte. Property’s shimmering, iridescent skin, and when the A-bomb finally fell on Hiroshima, it left just the smallest of wobbling ripples on his surface.
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The latest political news is disturbing. Labour leader Ed Miliband has erected an enormous stone obelisk, on which he’s carved his election platform. The idea is that his promises are to be ‘set in stone’, and as a symbol of their permanence, his stele will be sailed down the Thames, out to sea, and stood among the pyramids at Giza, to take their place among the eternal testaments to human imagination. Hegel, in his Aesthetics, says of such structures that what is preserved naturally is also interpreted in its idea as enduring. Herodotus says of the Egyptians that they were the first to teach the immortality of the human soul. With them, that is, there first emerges in this higher way too the separation between nature and spirit. He also notes that we have before us a double architecture, one above ground, the other subterranean: labyrinths under the soil, magnificent vast excavations, passages half a mile long, chambers adorned with hieroglyphics, everything worked out with the maximum of care; then above ground there are built in addition those amazing constructions amongst which the Pyramids are to be counted the chief. Like the iceberg, what we see of Miliband’s stone is not the entire thing; it extends underground. The stone has a buried double, an inverted image of itself: something cannot last forever without the incorporation of its antithesis, which is also its truth, into its totality. The shadow-stone promises the economic ruin of the ruling classes, vows to smash the NHS, and praises the undifferentiated tide of immigrants, all scowling, all crawling with fleas and disease, that will come to sweep away the rottenness of this country. And just as the sublunar stone is a monument to the Gods, in the form of the news media whose signals bounce around off satellites on the chilly edge of outer space, so too does the subterranean stone have its audience. After the election is lost and won, the obelisk will be set up, and beneath it there must be a tomb. Inside: the shrunken, dessicated corpse of Ed Miliband, his skin grey and stretched over fossilised bone, his body untold thousands of years old.
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Russell Brand, marmoset rights advocate and the foremost political thinker of what will come to be known as the UKTV Dave Age, has reversed his former electoral pessimism and is now encouraging us all to vote. Disputes over the strange cultural practice tend to pit those who think voting is the sole mode of human self-realisation against those who think it’s a spectacular distraction that has never once changed anything whatsoever. The answer isn’t in the middle, but buried deep beneath both positions. The single vote, cast anonymously, for a single person instead of a course of action – these things aren’t democracy, they’re a quirk of the democratic system that has come to engulf the entire structure. In classical Athens, governmental positions were usually determined by lots, to counteract the advantages enjoyed by rich citizens and great orators. The only time as as a fifth-century Athenian citizen you’d ever actually vote for a politician, it was because you were casting an ostrakon: voting for them to be exiled from the city. If we’re to extract the rational kernel from the parliamentary madness that surrounds us, this is a practice that must be reinstated. On polling day, your duty is to vote for the candidate you like the least.
This election is the tightest and most unpredictable in decades, but it’s still singularly unexciting. Everyone is pretending that nobody knows what will happen after the 7th of May. Will there be a minority government? A grand coalition to save the Union? Will Scottish raiders once more descend from their barbarian highlands to steal our cattle? Will the Liberal Democrat front bench die on the way back to their home planet? It’s a ruse, a shoddy imitation of the alliances and intrigues that They see us enjoying on TV, the Game of Thrones-ification of electoral democracy. We all know what’s going to happen, whoever wins. The Mother of All Parliaments is falling apart; the Commons will have to relocate to a nearby conference centre for five years while repairs are made to the Palace of Westminster. There will be more cuts, more austerity, more privatisation, more war. There will be an expenses scandal, a corruption scandal, a sex scandal, a socks-and-sandals scandal. It’s not just that. The newspapers keep making their probability pie-charts and speculative coalition Venn diagrams to cover up a terrifying truth. There can be no doubt what will happen after the election. After the election, sooner or later, you are going to die.