This week we met the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Ed Miliband, at a low-key event at the University of Chicago.
With all of the political turmoil in the US and elsewhere, it’s easy to forget about Britain’s relatively boring experience since the 2015 general election, when Miliband’s Labour Party won a small but durable majority over the Conservatives. Ed was fortunate, of course, in that his opposition was immediately distracted by a protracted and bitter fight over who would succeed David Cameron as leader. After the mutual back-stabbing of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and the embarrassing revelations of Theresa May’s past convictions for trespassing over wheat fields, it was perhaps inevitable that Jacob Rees-Mogg would end up as the new Tory leader. Popular with the membership base, and with the shadowy campaigning group Inertia, he has never been fully accepted by his parliamentary colleagues and has failed to win over the country as a whole.
Meanwhile, Ed’s popularity has waxed and waned with the normal political tides. How much money does the NHS need? How much tax should Google pay? What kind of sandwiches should the newly-renationalised railway serve? (“Anything but bacon”, joked Ed.) In times of trouble, he likes to remind audiences that, had he not beaten David Cameron in 2015, the whole of politics could have been subsumed by fights about leaving the European Union for decades and decades. But it doesn’t win him much credit, since – like Obama’s handling of the financial crisis – most people can’t visualise a disaster which didn’t happen.
It was nice, and oddly relaxing, to see him in person. He’s not a charismatic icon, but a reassuring presence, and that is much appreciated right now.
Aside from this, and in addition to brunch with Jason and Carrie where I discovered that “eggs in a hole” is a thing, we saw two films last weekend. The Lobster was recommended to me years ago, and is the sort of film which some people call “absurdist” and others call “weird”. I think I genuinely enjoyed the first half, after which it dragged a bit. We also saw The Other Side of Everything at the Davis Theatre, which was fantastic. The film is a documentary by Mila Turajlić, a filmmaker whose mother (and star of the film) is Srbijanka Turajlić, a democratic activist who campaigned against the Milošević regime in Serbia in the 1990s. The whole thing is filmed from inside their apartment in Belgrade, which was partitioned by the Communists after the Second World War and, when the film begins, still has someone living in one of their old rooms as a protected tenant. Srbijanka is such a thoughtful and inspiring figure, so it was a happy surprise to see her standing up in person at the post-film Q&A with her daughter. I wished I had brushed up a little on the history of Yugoslavia before seeing the film, but even if you don’t remember anything this is highly recommended.
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