The toxic centre-ground
Sir: I found it hard to be convinced by Matthew Parris’s claim (‘The centre holds’, 20 October) that David Cameron has ‘brilliantly understood’ that old ‘nasty party’ problem. It is held by the soft wet left of the Conservative party that Mrs Thatcher’s party was that ‘toxic’ nasty party. However, the figures suggest the opposite. She won her first election as leader in 1979 with 13.7 million votes, her second in 1983 with 13.0 million and her third with in 1987 with 13.8 million. In the afterglow of Thatcherism without the poll tax, John Major scored a record 14.2 million. That master politician Tony Blair managed 13.5 million in 1997, but by his third victory that had fallen to 9.5 million and by 2010 Labour could muster only 8.6 million electors to support them. However, what Matthew Parris calls a brilliant understanding of political positioning harvested David Cameron’s friendly middle-ground soft-focus lovable Tories only 10.7 million. Sadly that was not quite brilliant enough to form a Conservative majority administration.
House of Lords, London SW1
Sir: Where there was darkness, now there is light: John McInnes has come among us (Letters, 13 October) with the news that ‘Classical music hasn’t changed, because there’s been no Lennon and McCartney in the mix, just (among others) [composers such as Purcell, Handel, Mozart and Elgar], who were certainly very talented, but sadly, not geniuses.’ In our ignorance, some of us had thought that classical music had indeed changed between Purcell and Elgar, and that Mozart, for example, was a genius. But with this magisterial stroke of the pen, centuries of misconception, libraries of music criticism, the sentiments of concert hall and opera theatre audiences for the past 350 years have been swept aside. The operas and oratorios of Handel? The piano concertos and operas of Mozart? Not up to the mark, I’m afraid. Mr McInnes tells us that the Beatles’ genius consisted in combining various styles, whereas the rest of us had thought that this technique, commonly known as eclecticism or pastiche, is as old as the hills. Mr McInnes finishes his music history lesson with the announcement that classical music is still waiting for a genius to arrive. We can only hope that, when it does happen, John McInnes, like his New Testament namesake, will be there to tell us who it is.
Sir: I read Charles Moore’s article on the police (Notes, 29 September) and Mr Thornton’s letter in response (13 October). As a serving police officer with 25 years’ service in two very different forces, I would disagree with the introduction of an officer class. With respect to Mr Thornton, he fails to understand the role and responsibilities of the police constable. A colleague of mine once met a general at a party and on telling him he was a constable, the general said, ‘Ah, I always think officers should join the police as chief superintendents and work their way up to constable.’
Confidence in the police will not be maintained by sweeping reform (although contrary to popular belief the service has undergone radical changes over the years to adapt and improve efficiency). It will be maintained by the overwhelming majority of honest, dedicated officers of all ranks continuing to serve the public by dealing with thousands of incidents every day to the best of their ability, and being accountable for their actions.
Sir: John McEwen, in his review of The Black Grouse (Books, 20 October) states: ‘Sterile tree farms (forest too good a word) now carpet a quarter of once nature-rich Dumfries and Galloway’. In the run-up to the centenary of the first world war, it may be timely to remind Spectator readers of the little-known fact that the war was nearly lost through a shortage of softwood. The minutes of an emergency cabinet meeting convened in 1917 to discuss the crisis, which threatened the war effort, are available in the National Archives in Kew.
This crisis, due to the interruption of supplies from Russia, Britain’s traditional supplier, via the Baltic ports, led to the foundation of Britain’s Forestry Commission by Lord Lovat, the soldier who had been in charge of timber supplies to the Western Front. I live in one of these ‘tree farms’ and can assure him that, far from being sterile, it provides welcome cover for teeming wildlife, including otters, newts, deer, stoats, rabbits, dozens of bird species, mosses, bryophytes, fungi and wild flowers including orchids. Grey hens fly in in the spring to feed on the Japanese larch buds and there is a leck on the neighbouring hillside. Maybe you can forward an invitation for him to come and see for himself?
Sir: Tom Hollander’s story (‘Strangers on a train’, 13 October) reminded me of a true story from a while ago. An ex-officer in the Life Guards was travelling on a night sleeper train in the US. He was allocated a top bunk and as he climbed into it to retire he saw that there was an attractive woman in the bunk below. He tossed and turned for a while before plucking up courage to lean over to pull back her curtain a couple of inches. He said: ‘Madam, I am a man of few words — do you or don’t you?’ She looked up at him with some surprise and replied, ‘Not usually, but you’ve talked me into it…’
Sir: The caption to your amusing ‘I hate the Archers’ cartoon (20 October) is quite wrong. The correct lyrics are ‘Dum-di-dum-di-dum-di-dah, dum-di-dum-di-dah-dah’. I suppose one could make a case for ‘der’ instead of ‘dah’ but frankly the substitution of ‘de’ for both ‘di’ and ‘dum’ is inexcusable.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 27 October 2012