The shadow chancellor George Osborne has been lunching privately with the textiles magnate Richard Caring, the Labour-supporting businessman who got caught up in the cash for peerages investigation. It is less than a year since Osborne demonstrated a catastrophic failure of judgment by being lured onto a yacht owned by the disreputable Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. After the Deripaska episode Osborne promised to have nothing more to do with political funding. Yet here he is consorting with another party donor. What on earth does the shadow chancellor think he is doing?
To Northamptonshire for cricket against my friend William Sitwell. I ask his mother for a guided tour of the house. In due course we reach the gloomy room which had been the study of Sacheverell, William’s grandfather, and Mrs Sitwell told us a story. ‘After the [first world] war,’ she said, ‘my father-in-law went to Paris and got to know some painters. On his deathbed Modigliani offered him the contents of his studio for £400. So Sachy asked his father Sir George for the money. But Sir George said no.’ Later Sacheverell lined up another of his artist chums, a promising youngster called Pablo Picasso, to paint the frescoes of their Italian villa, Castello di Montegufoni in Tuscany. But crafty Sir George blocked that too. We thrashed Sitwell’s abject team.
For the second time running a Labour prime minister has imposed on the Secret Intelligence Service a chief it did not want. John Scarlett, Tony Blair’s choice, was accepted under sufferance. John Sawers. Gordon Brown’s appointee, is being greeted with something not far off rebellion.
Meanwhile the political class reckons it’s got away with it. Each political leader has cunningly sacrificed a handful of backbenchers, such as the blameless and irreproachable Douglas Hogg. However, the real culprits survive and apparently prosper. Consider this: neither Gordon Brown, David Cameron nor Nick Clegg has sacked one senior colleague as a result of this affair. Indeed Cameron has put one of his worst offenders, Alan Duncan, in charge of cleaning up the system. Parliament has signalled open defiance of ordinary decency by electing John Bercow, one of the more appalling expenses cheats, to the formerly magnificent post of Speaker. Under Bercow’s squalid leadership, the House of Commons (with the secret support of government whips as well as the Tory opposition) has sabotaged the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Every single one of the key measures designed to impose honour, integrity and honesty on our scurrilous legislators was voted down last week in the Commons. Now this flawed but sadly necessary measure is coming under fresh assault in the Lords. Our bent politicians are calculating that voters will have forgotten parliamentary corruption by the time of the election. I so hope they are wrong.
Two weeks ago my wife Martine was ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral. I was careful not to let on beforehand that I was looking forward to the event with some trepidation. There were 36 clergy to be ordained, and a congregation of 2,000 to receive communion. I calculated that the event would take at least four hours, valuable Saturday afternoon time that could otherwise have been spent watching the British Lions against South Africa.
In the event it was a superb service, terrific hymns and a rousing sermon from the Bishop of London who concluded proceedings, without ever seeming hurried, in two hours flat.
On Monday night I discussed the ‘future of progressive politics’ at the think-tank Policy Exchange. Everyone else present felt that David Cameron’s conservatives should be ‘progressive’. This is hopeless. Think of the ‘progressive’ educationalists who have systematically destroyed our schools over the past few decades with the result that children can no longer spell and know no history. The Iraq war, and the proposition that you can impose democracy on a foreign country, was a progressive notion. So was the Blair method of government, with its incompetent, centralised meddling. Conservativism is based on a more realistic idea of human nature than the naive optimism of the progressives. True Conservatives realise that there are problems which no politician can solve, and are sceptical of grand projects. They appreciate the fallibility of human beings and the importance of inherited institutions. The idea of progress died in the trenches and gas chambers of the 20th century. If David Cameron tries to put his nonsensical concept of progressive conservatism into practice he will fail.
For the last six months I have travelled around Britain making a film about child homicide. One child a week gets killed by its parents — if it was swine flu we would call it a pandemic and do something about it.
But the sheer courage of the survivors of these terrible tragedies is so inspiring. In one violent backstreet I came across a 14-year-old who had been shot four times by his sister’s partner the previous year. He was lively, cheerful, full of hope, fully recovered and — thanks to the Prince of Wales Trust — about to sail round Britain from Southampton to the Orkneys. Meeting this splendid and brave young man, I thought that the human spirit could conquer anything.