And the election results too were like nothing I’d ever seen before, with a genuinely left-wing Labour Party winning an astonishingly large number of votes.
As it has been 18 years since I haven’t been allowed to vote in Britain, and as I have no intention of moving back there (alive or dead) I tend not to follow the country’s pre-election debates. But days before the June election, I stumbled across one which had me all but choking on dejà vu. The format - a cross-section of British citizens asking questions to the two main candidates in a TV studio - was identical to one I saw at the age of eight, back in the ’Sixties. To make matters worse, the Tory candidate, Theresa May, was stunningly similar in manner and appearance (especially the eyes) to her ’Eighties equivalent, Margaret Thatcher. And then the presenter - heretofore invisible - broke in with a question of his own and I thought no, it can’t possibly be, surely he’s not still alive, but yes, it was David Dimbleby, he who had presented the current affairs programme ’Panorama’ when I was in my teens, four decades ago. The questions too, had a creepily familiar ring to them. May was berated for introducing cuts to the National Health Service, something which Conservative leaders have been berated for, for at least five generations. And Corbyn was asked about whether he would launch a nuclear attack if necessary. Seen from Catalonia, this sounds extraordinary, if not downright demented; but in Britain, pointed questions about the nuclear threat have been a way of cornering the more left-wing members of Labour since time out of mind. I felt I was watching a debate which could have taken place when I was a kid, an adolescent, a twenty-something or even when I was squirming into early middle age, not least because the brand new context created by Brexit - which obviously didn’t exist in past elections - was steered clear of, despite all of its many potentially devastating consequences for the UK. (Things are, indeed, looking so bad that even English farmers, steadfast conservative Brexiteers in the main, faced as they are with reduced investment and a dwindling European workforce, are having second thoughts - or perhaps the first thoughts that somehow eluded them when they cast their votes).
However, when I finally tuned in to election night, any sense of dejà vu was swept happily away. It was the first time I’d seen at least half of the BBC’s election reporters with Asian or Afro-Caribbean phenotypes (Catalan public TV, please take note!); and it was the first time I saw Scotland, Wales and England being treated as three different political subjects (Madrid, please take note!). And the election results too were like nothing I’d ever seen before, with a genuinely left-wing Labour Party winning an astonishingly large number of votes. And the morning after, closer to home, I was hit by another first: in a move unprecedented in all of Europe, the Catalan government announced the date for its unilateral referendum. All this political change, then, all brought about by the simple placing of pieces of paper in ballot boxes. In a nutshell: last month left me feeling more optimistic than I had in years.