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Spare a thought for the troops whose Christmas just got cancelled

A soldier waits for the Queen to return from the State Opening

October 31, 2019 - 2:48pm

I was praying for a January election. Not for any political reason, but so we could have a Christmas. I knew that if it was held this year, Christmas would be cancelled. And ‘lo, it has been.

My partner is in the army, and yesterday his Christmas leave was cancelled. He is one of the few whose job revolves around state ceremonial events. Most of the time, it’s marvellous — all those shiny helmets, neatly-combed plumes and elegant horses.

It’s literally the stuff of Christmas cards. Ours will have apologies in them this year, as he won’t be going home for Christmas — he’ll be at work, with the rest of the ceremonial troops who now have the second State Opening of Parliament of the year to prepare for.

Christmas is an appalling time of year to have an election — hideous for MPs’ staff to have to campaign for their bosses, not knowing whether the next day, at the most expensive time of year, they will still have a job.

But at least they chose their path. For most of those soldiers — yes, soldiers, trained to fight the Taliban as well as do drill — giving up Christmas isn’t usually part of the deal. At least not in peace time. One State Opening a year, maybe; two, in a bad year. But two in a term, fatally wounding two successive leave periods?

This may sound like a sob story: we all make choices that lead us to where we are. My father, another military man, missed most Christmases, birthdays and summer holidays. I understand the demands. I understood this week when I heard the words, “this is my job”. I’m just thankful that we don’t have children.

It isn’t only the military that this election impacts. It’s all those ordinary people whose lives have been put on hold in pursuit of whatever unicorn we are chasing. Yet again, public services slip down the pecking order. Government initiatives have been halted, and no progress made, after three years of the same. Last week I wrote about Robert Jenrick’s plan to re-invigorate the building listed system — now it’ll be wasted, lost in a sea of electioneering.

No one thinks of the people behind the scenes when events like this occur. Those orchestrating the “soft power” we are so proud of — the horses, the guards, the bands – don’t have a voice. They just get on with it. But think of them, as you look forward to Christmas. They won’t be having one.


Eleanor Doughty is a freelance journalist, writing features and profiles across the national press, usually about the British establishment, in one way or another.


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