The week starts with a bang — literally — when my 1986 Land-Rover explodes, mid-gear change: CLANK and the exhaust pipe burps blue smoke. The old girl rolls to a halt. All we lack is the tinkle of a dislodged hubcap. I feel like Peter Cook’s Maj Digby Dawlish in the 1969 film Monte Carlo or Bust after coming a cropper. Daughter Honor, ten, will be late for school so I palm her off on a passing car. Its driver seems friendly. I suppose Social Services would want me to have had her CRB-checked. The AA tows me to our mechanic in Ledbury. Lewis has a poke under the bonnet. His oily head emerges, teeth twinkling in his gums. ‘She’s well an’ truly knackerrrrred,’ grins Lewis. It made his day, though not mine.
The media insist David Cameron is well an’ truly knackerrrrred, too. Not that Cam ever had much support — far less than Kinnock in 1992. That ‘unfairness’ by Fleet Street 21 years ago led us, by way of Alastair Campbell and Wapping, to Brother Leveson’s door.
Anti-Cameron viciousness on the loony right, which is as untrainable as a Patterdale terrier, was expected. Shrillness by centre-left voices against a PM who has promoted gay rights and high public-spending is less logical. It destroys any claim of editors at the Guardian, Independent, the BBC et al that they are interested in policy, not personality. These tribalists attack David simply because he is a Tory.
Lord Ashcroft, still called a ‘Tory donor’ though he stopped funding the national party yonks ago, is more elastic. He is reportedly consorting with Labour, whose spin chief Tom Baldwin is his old enemy. Baldwin is the poor girl’s Ally Campbell. Lobby hacks laugh at him stomping down their corridor. They do business instead with Miliband’s no. 2 spinner, ex-Mirror gumshoe Bob Roberts.
It goes almost unreported that at PMQs most Wednesdays Cameron eases past Ed Miliband. It goes unremarked that Labour is vacating the centre ground for the left. Through all his vicissitudes, David Cameron remains amazingly cheerful. There are no tales of Nokias splintering against the walls of No. 10.
Peter Morgan’s play The Audience, at the Gielgud, suggests that Gordon Brown took ‘stuff’ for depression in office. If this is wrong, as it surely is, will Morgan be hauled before the libel beak? Six of the best from Max Mosley! Allow me for once to put in a word for Gordon. Some say he is Parliament’s least visible MP. Not true. Shaun Woodward (Lab, St Helens S) has made just as few speeches this session.
Morgan’s watchable play is rotten history. Harold Wilson arrives for his first royal audience as PM in 1964 and has a class-war argument with HM, as though never before having met her. Hang on. Wilson was President of the Board of Trade in 1947. He must have had numerous dealings with the Windsors. Wilson’s 836-page book about the 1964-70 government, a cure for most bouts of insomnia, describes that trip to the palace on Friday 16 October 1964. It mentions that he declined to wear a morning coat but notes that the Queen ‘simply asked me if I could form an administration’. The only thing that surprised him was that there was no formal kissing of hands. ‘It was taken as read.’
Thatcherites will like a new ginger group called 4th Agenda, which has strong views on tax and foreign aid. Its website attacks today’s politicians for lacking principles. It has been started by a likeable wine merchant called Graham Mitchell. You may have heard of his brother Andrew, cyclist and MP.
Roger Scruton’s golden book Our Church, which praises the Book of Common Prayer, receives a predictably snippy Church Times review from Lord Harries, ex-Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer (few are fooled by that flag of convenience). In the week of Justin Welby’s disappointing remarks about welfare reform, Harries proves that no one is more snobbish than an egalitarian bishop. He argues that hoi polloi can no longer be expected to comprehend Cranmer. ‘The Church has a duty to convey its message in the vernacular of our time as Cranmer did in his,’ drones Harries.
Cranmer in fact used language already mannered for his day — slightly sham antique. ‘With this ring I thee wed’ says his marriage service, six words rhythmically balanced to reflect the two people before the altar. In plastic modern liturgy this becomes ‘I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage’. Do young brides really prefer that?
I am flirting with Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny in the mornings. Radio 4’s Today has been wrecked by Evan Davis’s obsession with Twitter, his sticky, Peter Pan giggles (Davis is in his sixth decade). At 7.58a.m. the other day he mewed to the weather forecaster: ‘Ta for that, Tom.’ Ta? No thangyew
Quentin Letts writes for the Daily Mail.