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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

March madness seems to have infected international politics

Foolish behaviour reminds us that humans are not exempt from Mad March – and that politicians are sometimes desperate creatures, prepared to do almost anything to catch our eye

Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and the founder of Fishing for Leave, Aaron Brown, symbolically dump fish into the River Thames next to the Houses of Parliament. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage and the founder of Fishing for Leave, Aaron Brown, symbolically dump fish into the River Thames next to the Houses of Parliament. REUTERS/Toby Melville

This is the time of year when the countryside of northern Europe is full of spring flowers – and the antics of the Mad March hare. The hares – the scientific name for the species is lepus europaeus – breed in the month of March and in the spring they do some crazy things. They appear to box or fight, claim dominance and behave in the mad ways which charmed Lewis Carroll and led to the wonderful scenes at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Sadly I have never seen a hare go mad in March. However, I have witnessed plenty of Alice in Wonderland-type activity from Mad March humans. First, there is the peculiar tale involving British politicians and a bucket of dead fish. Then there is the row over a hat. The Mad Hatters concerned in that case worry it might be a Russian hat or even a Marxist hat. I’ll explain in a moment. And finally, there is the prospect that two elderly political leaders will start boxing for dominance as Mad March humans prove they are even crazier than hares.

Before we examine the bucket of fish – if you can bear it – here’s what is happening in the real world. The US and China are squaring up for a trade war. Stock markets around the world are down. Russia blames Britain for the nerve agent used to poison two Russians on British soil. Two of the world’s more erratic leaders, the President of the United States and the leader of North Korea, plan to meet to discuss nuclear weapons. And Britain continues its self-imposed crisis over Brexit.

Now, against that sombre background, here’s how the Mad March humans are behaving. A group of British political activists threw dead fish into the River Thames near Parliament in Westminster. They were led by the man who, arguably more than any other, brought about the Brexit vote, the former leader of UKIP and long-time Member of the European Parliament, Nigel Farage. The stunt was to highlight what Mr Farage calls the “betrayal” of Brexit by the British government by not – in his view – securing the future of the British fishing industry. Those of us not infected by March Madness have pointed out that instead of wasting his time (and some good fish), Mr Farage could actually have done something useful. As an MEP, he could have fought within the European Parliament for fishing rights, when in fact he missed most of the meetings about fisheries.

But then at the other end of the bonkers British political spectrum, the Mad March humans have been arguing over a hat. It was worn by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has a wispy beard and whose hat looks similar to that made popular by Lenin in Soviet Russia. Some Labour activists have complained of “BBC bias” for showing Mr Corbyn in his hat, along with pictures of the Kremlin, as if he is some kind of Russian stooge. It comes as British-Russian relations are in deep freeze over the nerve gas attack on a former Russian intelligence official and his daughter. But for those of us struggling to retain sanity this March, here’s a top fashion tip: if you don’t want to look like Lenin, don’t dress like Lenin.

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Read more from Gavin Esler:

How a simple postie can teach us all a lesson about tackling social ills

Headless chickens or sitting ducks? The Tories' lack of strategy in Brexit makes their leader a prime target

The 'gotcha' game might make good TV but exposing politicians' lies takes real skill

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The Mad March humans are not confined to Europe. In the US a few days ago, Donald Trump appeared to challenge the former vice president Joe Biden to a fight. No, I am not making this up. Mr Biden is 75 years old. Trump is 71. Mr Trump was unfit to fight in Vietnam in his 20s but almost 50 years later is now – apparently – fit enough to threaten to beat up Mr Biden. We are truly witnessing a Mad March miracle.

All these foolish trifles remind us that politicians are sometimes desperate creatures, prepared to do almost anything to catch our eye – anything except the one thing they are paid to do, which is to make our lives better. For a touch of sanity this Mad March, I was hoping that Britain’s very sober prime minister, Theresa May, might prove an antidote to the madness, but sadly not. She has a difficult job but found time this March to announce that the British penny coin – a unit of money so worthless that it can buy absolutely nothing – will not be scrapped as one of her senior ministers had previously announced. And British passports which, Mrs May told us, will change to a traditional British blue once we leave the European Union, will have to be reprinted. That’s fine, but the contract for this great patriotic shift from burgundy red passports now to British blue after Brexit will not benefit any British workers. The contract for the new patriotic passports has been awarded to Gemalto. It’s a Franco-Dutch company, which means British printing jobs may be lost in a move designed to help rebuild a sense of Britishness when we leave the EU. Alice in Wonderland seems a sane place in comparison. Let’s hope April proves to be better.

Gavin Esler is a journalist, television presenter and author