On Tuesday night, at a Spectator readers’ evening, Andrew Neil interviewed me about my biography of Margaret Thatcher. He asked me if, after leaving office, Lady Thatcher had come to the view that Britain should leave the European Union. I said yes (I think it happened after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992), although advisers had persuaded her that she should not say this in public since it would have allowed her opponents to drive her to the fringes of public life. I had believed this was widely known, but according to Andrew, it is a story. My revelation, if such it was, came on the same day as Nigel Lawson’s piece in the Times saying that he would now vote for Britain to leave the EU. How things have changed. Even the BBC treats Lawson’s view as respectable. In this year, the 25th anniversary of the Bruges speech, people can see much more clearly that, far from living in ‘a ghetto of sentimentality about the past’ (© Geoffrey Howe), she was thinking harder than her contemporaries about the future of Europe.
Counter-factual questions tend to reflect current preoccupations. The one I keep being asked just now is, ‘If Mrs Thatcher were in politics today, would she be a supporter of Ukip?’ This is always asked as a question expecting the answer ‘Yes’. After giving the necessary preliminary that one really cannot tell, because if Mrs Thatcher were around today she would not be the same woman, I tentatively answer ‘No’. For her, loyalty was a higher value within a political party than any particular idea at any particular time. Thus, although she always preferred Enoch Powell and his views to Ted Heath and his, she could never accept Enoch’s reasons for leaving the Tory party. She also understood very well that parties should be vehicles for attaining power rather than mere expressions of belief. She would never have joined a party which could not win a general election.
Now that virtually any well-known male entertainer of a certain age is arrested for alleged sexual offences, it is becoming clear that this is more a culture war than a set of proper criminal investigations. This does not necessarily mean that all the allegations are false — look at Stuart Hall — but it does suggest that a new way has been found of ruining people’s reputations before anyone has established their guilt. The undeniable fact that so many of the men accused wore deplorable clothes in public all through the 1970s is not, in itself, proof of iniquity. Enraged by Leveson, the press argue that naming people being investigated for sex crimes is a brilliant way of smoking them out. Possibly it is, but it is also an unfair process because the anonymous accusers can do damage with impunity. The new doctrine that one must believe victims assumes that anyone who says he or she is a victim is. It gives legal force to the old feminist claim that ‘All men are rapists’. Even the less irrational cry that ‘All elderly presenters from popular BBC kiddies’ programmes are rapists’ cannot be true.
This desire to convict regardless of evidence is deep in the human heart, but it has taken a politically correct form in recent times. Attacks on traditional, ‘reactionary’ injustice often ape the evils they condemn. In 1999, the appalling report by Sir William Macpherson on the Stephen Lawrence affair formally declared that: ‘A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. This means that any incident of anything, ever, can be racist so long as one person in the world can be found to declare it so. Against this doctrine, no form of justice can stand. The same applies to the automatic credibility of anyone who claims to be the victim of a sexual offence.
And now comes the arrest of Nigel Evans, the deputy speaker. In yet another copying of former oppressors, militant homosexuals spend a lot of time nowadays trying to ‘out’ fellow gay people who, for whatever reason, would rather stay quiet. This seems to have happened to Mr Evans two or three years ago. Now two men have accused him of rape, and the goody-goody police, bursting to show that they yield to no one in their detestation of whatever it is that their paymasters have told them to detest, have made a public show of nicking him, destroying him in the process. Of course it is possible that Mr Evans is guilty. I doubt it, but I do not know. My general point is that a mixture of madness and malice has now entered the whole subject of sex and crime. Let’s all join in. When a policeman stops you for bad driving, accuse him of raping you and force him to arrest himself.
I see, by the way, that riders wearing high-viz jackets on horseback may be committing the offence of impersonating a police officer. What are the other symptoms of this crime? Eating huge amounts of burgers and buns all day? Waddling round in pairs talking to one another and never looking at passers-by? Making up tabloid stories about Cabinet ministers having called you plebs?
The only bad symptom of this beautiful time of year is the barbecue. The mischief lies in the definite article. A barbecue, simply meaning something cooked al fresco, can be lovely. But ‘the barbecue’ — as when weather forecasters say, ‘time to get out the barbecue’ — means a contraption smelling of lighter fuel for which a part of the garden has been specially despoiled. Near its smoke you must stand, wearing shorts, and eat meat which is half-black and half-raw, covered with sauces out of bottles. All your drinks must come from tins, and if you are a man you have to talk about sport. It is the grimmest form of social interaction yet devised.
I was sorry obituaries of Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles MP did not mention his best contribution to political wisdom. When Tory backbenchers in the early 1970s were experiencing jitters (about Europe, I think), he stood up and said: ‘Pro bono publico, no bloody panico.’