When I was asked to write the foreword for the document which launched the Nothing British campaign this week, I hesitated. The campaign draws attention to the BNP’s abuse of military symbols and its attempts to recruit servicemen and their families. It is a good cause, but I am slightly suspicious of the easiness with which middle-class people parade their ‘courage’ in standing up to the BNP — ‘yielding to no one’ in their detestation of its ‘loathsome’ attitudes — when it actually requires no courage at all. If there is an establishment conspiracy to suppress the BNP, that can only feed the myth upon which it thrives. But I eventually agreed to help the campaign because of its specific focus on the armed services. We do not know how lucky we are to have non-political armed forces, and that political detachment needs constant policing. The current chaos in defence policy makes the ranks vulnerable to the politics of resentment. We may imagine that we have never encountered this problem before, but a version of it was widespread at the end of the second world war. The left gained control of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, and preached to servicemen who, with reason, were fed up with the status quo. It was the forces’ votes which produced the Labour landslide of 1945. The belief that the state could ‘win the peace’ just as it had won the war plunged this country into errors from which it has never fully recovered. Luckily, the BNP are much stupider than the mid-20th-century left. But they are socialists — national socialists — peddling illusions about equality — for white people — and a siege economy. It is conservatives, not the left, who are best placed to oppose them.
Although it is fun deploring modern trends in the entertainment of children, the last 20 years have been far more creative than when I was growing up. Nothing much new happened with any medium between about 1955 and 1990. The Jungle Book seemed the same sort of thing as Pinocchio, but worse. Cinemas closed down; little got started. Our children, born in 1990, have had the opportunity of computer games, email, Facebook, Photoshop, Wii etc. All offer new imaginative possibilities. For me, the outstanding addition has been the computer-generated cartoon. Toy Story is lovely, full of the excitement which comes when a new art-form emerges: it could not have happened any other way. Now Up, which I attended on Saturday night, wearing 3D spectacles, competes with Toy Story for the top slot. Because its heroes are human, rather than toys, Up makes slightly less perfect use of the possibilities of the genre: it has no single character to rival Buzz Lightyear. On the other hand, its choice of theme is bolder and deeper. The hero is old and he and his wife tried and failed to have children and now she is dead, and nothing in the film reverses this sadness. This makes the inevitable happy ending much more truly happy than it would otherwise be. In fact, the film is so much better than almost anything with real actors that you wonder why Hollywood bothers any more with all their tantrums, lawyers and fees. You also wonder why computer-generated cartoons for grown-ups cannot take off too. They could be the beginning of the end for celebrity culture.
As people agonise over the failings of Parliament, they often lament the power of the whips. They are right that control by the executive is too great, but one of the odd features of the Blair/Brown cultural revolution has been a downgrading of the whips. The Chief Whip has been moved out of No. 12 Downing Street, to be replaced by spin doctors, and is now a figure of little account in the corridors of power. It is easy to forget that whips are not there only to suppress dissent, but also to listen to what MPs are saying. Rather like prefects in a well-run school, or serjeant-majors in the army, they find out what the masters/officers cannot. Good whips empower backbenchers, passing worries up the line. As the expenses crisis staggers on, you can see again and again that Gordon Brown simply does not know what his MPs are thinking, and so he cannot get a grip on the situation. Whips take their name from whippers-in on the hunting field. The analogy is exact: it is moderately rare for the whipper-in to whip a hound. His main duty is the welfare of the pack. Without him, the pack will riot.
Journalists are always pleased to be noticed, so I should have been delighted the other day when Jon Snow quoted me on Channel 4 News. I had written that George Osborne looked like ‘a powdered French aristocrat in 1790 staring affrighted from the window of his carriage as the sans-culottes start to try to turn it over’. Snow deployed the phrase with relish. What he didn’t say, though, was that this was my impression of Mr Osborne at last year’s Tory conference. This year (Notes, 12 October), previously posh and pampered George made successful efforts to be the ordinary oppressed commuter, crushed by Mr Brown’s taxes, worried about what the country was coming to. Was this just a muddle in the cuttings by Mr Snow’s researchers, or a deliberate attempt to paint the Tories as having learnt nothing from the past year of economic misery?
This column recently pointed out (18 July) that the Prince of Wales had made a mistake, from his own point of view, by saying exactly how long we have left before ‘irretrievable climate and ecosystem collapse’. Early July 2017 was his cut-off date. Now the Prime Minister is at it, in more extreme form. Mr Brown declared this week that unless the right things are agreed at the climate summit in Copenhagen, it will be too late. There are therefore ‘50 days to save the planet’, he says. This is such an obviously preposterous lie that I am surprised even Mr Brown was prepared to utter it. Presumably he is only invoking the Apocalypse because he knows that agreement will, in fact, be reached. At the G20 last year, he claimed to have saved the world from financial catastrophe. So this year he needs to trump that achievement: he is going to save the whole of life on this planet. Vote Labour or die.
On the subject of clean energy, I commend an eloquent article by my former boss, Conrad Black, written from prison in Florida. In the course of a sweeping survey of what President Obama has so far failed to do, Lord Black says: ‘Nothing is forecast to turn America back from a consumption to a production economy, apart from the President’s own fable about huge numbers of people building windmills: a new, enhanced version of quixotry.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated October 24, 2009