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Diary

Conrad Black’s farewell to the British press

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

The astonishing level of enthusiasm over the birth of the new prince goes far beyond the pleasure that people naturally feel for an attractive young couple who have had a healthy child. If there is any truth at all to these estimates in the North American media that trinkets and other bric-a-brac, and even increased numbers of tourists, will produce hundreds of millions of pounds for the British economy, the answer lies not just in normal goodwill and the effusions of the most strenuous monarchists. If my memory is accurate,  the last time there was so much public interest in a royal event, albeit of the exactly opposite nature, was at the death of the newborn prince’s paternal grandmother, Diana. How implausible, the widespread predictions of the demise of the monarchy around that time seem now.

Diana was running a parallel monarchy and the combination of her talent at manipulating the media and the mischievous pleasure of much of the press at disconcerting the royal family, and the gaffes some royals made, incited the belief that the institution was no longer on a firm foundation. Since those unhappy days nearly 16 years ago, there have been no serious problems. The Queen, mother of the nation at last, has determinedly passed her 50th and 60th anniversaries and is closing in like a heat-seeking missile on Queen Victoria’s record reign of 63 years and seven months, which comes up in September 2015. She has not failed, disappointed, or even slightly embarrassed the country once in all her reign. It is a record of astonishing diligence and virtuosity.


Ceremonious presidents, as in Germany and Italy, are stand-ins for deposed monarchies and cannot possess the legitimacy or the popular interest of a monarch and royal family: it would be impossible to pay anyone to discharge such a task as dutifully as the Queen and her family do. The French and American republics are more interesting and their presidents more glamorous because the chief of state is the head of government, but replicating that would require a revolution against the entire parliamentary system and there have been no audible agitations for that.

The Queen is not the part of the political system that has failed. She did not sever the connection with Britain’s real, and as it has turned out, most successful allies, the old Commonwealth of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to plunge headlong into a Eurofable. And she did not distance Britain from Europe to place all the country’s bets on the American alliance, a subject in which the Americans no longer have any interest, as they effectively withdraw from a world that no longer seriously threatens them as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did. Her Britannic Majesty has her ministers to thank for those brainwaves, as the United Kingdom has lost its industrial edge and placed all its bets on the service economy. It is not necessary to incant ‘God save the Queen’ other than ceremoniously; it is not the Queen but her subjects who are in need of salvation.

The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was a magnificently tasteful occasion, which highlighted Britain’s strengths, as well as some soft areas. The Queen and Prince Philip attended. Nine of this monarch’s prime ministers have died (including Clement Attlee, who served her father but he was leader of the opposition when she became Queen), and she attended the funerals of only two, Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher, presumably because they led the country out of the greatest difficulties it has known in her lifetime. I could not fail to note when I was there at the time of the funeral how ungenerous most of the media was, even trying to incite anti-Thatcher demonstrations and publishing snide comments on the traditional aspects of the service. The Queen was criticised for attending, and it was suggested that she would have difficulty deciding whether to attend future funerals of prime ministers. She has had no evident problem making those decisions in 48 years since Sir Winston died.

The tenacity of this nasty attitude to Margaret Thatcher was certainly not the spirit of the tens of thousands who stood for hours in intermittent rain to pay their respects to her; it was the creation of the London national media, which I have known from all angles. They are, with a great many personal exceptions, the bane of the country, the most highly concentrated and the most destructive and irresponsible press corps of any advanced country in the world. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be chairman of the Telegraph newspapers, and was proud of our titles, including The Spectator. But it is one of the pleasures of advancing years that apart from when I am honouring agreements with publishers as I sell my books, I will not have to deal with the British media again.

Lord Black of Crossharbour is a former proprietor of The Spectator. His latest book is Flight of the Eagle.


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