The internet has turned this into the Love Actually election. Will it make Hugh Grant prime minister next?

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Tuesday 10 December 2019 16:45
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(Working Title)

Life often mirrors art, even when the art in question is a sub-par rom-com held bafflingly close to the nation’s hearts.

The election is almost over, so it’s time to admit the central issue that has come to dominate this bitterly fought campaign: Richard Curtis’ 2003 contribution to the Christmas movie canon, Love Actually.

Boris – and the majority of the mainstream media – predicted this would be the “Brexit Election”. Labour tried to make it about domestic policy. Jo Swinson and the Lib Dems talked about urm, nukes. And apologised a lot.

But there can only be one narrative arc to rule them all and a series of unfortunate events have decreed that the 2019 scrap for Britain’s government will be be remembered throughout history and GCSE exam papers to come as: "the Love Actually Election".

First, there was the unusual date selected for the UK to go to the polls.

The last Christmas election that happened IRL – and not in a work of fiction written by a man who stans middle class England harder than a 15-year-old in Lincoln does K-Pop – was 96 years ago.

Yet the human need to compare and contrast instantly prompted people to cite another election – which, it must be repeated did not occur in real life – when the 12 December was confirmed as doomsday.

“Politics nerds, when was the last time we had a UK election very close to Christmas?” asked one Twitter user, who apparently couldn’t access Google.

Someone quickly replied with a gif of Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually, hapless prime minister David who wins a pre-Christmas election, does a funny dance and also falls in love with a junior member of household which is definitely not a violation of any power dynamics at all, no sir!

Sadly it was only the beginning of the Love Actually/general election mash-up nobody asked for.

Next came the – admittedly excellent – memes, that took advantage of a surfeit of blank A4 cards and a scene embedded deep within the pop culture consciousness of many.

I refer, of course, to the infamous “notecard” scene in Love Actually, where Andrew Lincoln tries to chat up his best friend’s wife but it’s ok because something something Christmas, romance etc.

Left-wing activists were at it first, superimposing Labour policy onto the cards. They were followed by Tooting MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who re-enacted the entire scene in an election campaign video.

Then Boris Johnson got in on the act, filming his own version of the moment to much derision.

Yet perhaps the most glaring parallel with the original movie is the burgeoning political career of Hugh Grant himself.

Grant has longstanding beef with the Tory government, seemingly stemming from a perceived failure to crackdown on press intrusion, Grant’s personal cause célèbre after he suffered phone hacking at the hands of tabloid journalists.

Chancellor Sajid Javid once recounted to the Evening Standard Magazine how the actor refused to shake hands with him at a glitzy press dinner because of his failure to come down harder on media intrusion.

I recognised him and put my hand out and said, ‘Lovely to meet you’, and you know what he does? He refuses to shake my hand. He says, ‘I am not shaking your hand’. I am completely shocked. He said, ‘When you were culture secretary you didn’t support my friends in (anti-media intrusion campaign) Hacked Off.’ I think that is incredibly rude.

The phone-hacking scandal saw Grant initially enter politics via a pressure group, becoming director of press standards campaign group Hacked Off in 2012.

But the “excursion into another world,” as the actor put it, proved so interesting Grant has decided to make it permanent, using his platform to promote non-Tory candidates contesting marginal seats in the election and touring the country.

He’s made it clear he doesn’t exclusively back Labour or the Lib Dems, sharply correcting the Lib Dem press office when they tried to use his canvassing efforts for Luciana Berger as fodder for their campaign in general.

He is a Man in the literal middle with an aristocratic background, a career renaissance despite scandals, the ability to laugh at himself and a healthy air of disdain for the lies of politicians. He also once played a prime minister in the most New Labour film going.

And for that reason, the citizens of the United Kingdom are absolutely going to vote him as head of state within the next 10 years. Grant is the perfect storm of celebrity glamour and also offers the opportunity of bootlicking for members of the UK public who love to be subjugated by a member of an elite ruling class (he is unmistakably posh as hell).

But crucially, Grant doesn’t give a fig for that (thanks to the Hollywood money) and also is clearly bored of hobnobbing with fellow celebs too, a life he calls “synthetic”.

This gives him a veneer of relatability. Couple that with his strident refusal to be boxed into any specific political camp and you’ve got a ready-made political outsider, who has public affection behind him – and people who already see him as a leader thanks to the inability of the UK to separate fact from Richard Curtis-penned fiction.

PM in 10 years. Put a flutter on it and thank me later.

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