Journalists are chronic exaggerators. Strong words are always being thrown away on trivial events. ‘Whitehall was shocked last night as a bitter new row broke out…’ Translation into truth-speak: ‘There was a certain amount of interest in some quarters of Whitehall yesterday as an exchange of memoranda between the department of string and the ministry of candle-ends revealed…’
Now we truly are in shock and bitterness. Nation divided, party divided, Union in peril, City under threat, entire economy under threat. Europe weakened, the West weakened: Putin delighted, Trump delighted. A great nation has turned itself into a music-hall act for the gratification of domestic and global cretinism. I am sure that some Brexiters are still rejoicing, and as a patriot, I hope that they are right.
The other day, someone referred to me as a veteran commentator. ‘How dare they?’ I thought. ‘I’m only — Yes, I suppose I see what they are on about.’ But in more than 40 years of political obsession, I have never wanted to be proved wrong. To be fair, I do not think that I have been wrong too often. Now, passionately desiring the best outcome for this country, I long to be proved wrong. Yet I do not see how. It is the sovereign people who have got everything catastrophically wrong. I would not be surprised if there is a surge in demand to recall David Cameron, in months rather than years. Not so much ‘Come back, all is forgiven’ as ‘Come back, and forgive us.’
It was in the early summer of 2005 and it seems like the day before yesterday. That is how veterans’ memories compress la recherche du temps perdu. David Cameron and I had enjoyed a leisurely lunch at his house in Oxfordshire. After making an indentation into a magnum of Langoa-Barton ’96, we left the rest for tea, following a gentle stroll. David asked whether he should run for the Tory leadership. It was clear that he had made up his mind. I enthusiastically supported his decision. ‘I won’t be able to have so many lunches like this,’ he mused. I uncharacteristically conceded that a very few things in life were even more important than lunch with a drop of claret. The rest is, pro tem, history.
Five years later, the venue was 10 Downing Street, the claret an ’82 Haut-Brion, a congratulatory present from Michael Spencer. It was a wine worthy of a fanfare of trumpets: a new Prime Minister worthy of both. Like Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron often cooked dinner in No. 10, as he did that evening. He found it relaxing. His repertoire was simpler and more masculine than hers, consisting largely of steak and sausages. One could easily go further and eat worse. Well, David Cameron will now have more time for cooking and for claret: again, let us pray, pro tem.
The other evening, a few despondent Remainers gathered with the intention of cheering ourselves up. One of our number was a successful inventor. He has explained some of his inventions several times. I have never understood him. Veteran I may be, but not yet as old as Peter Carrington. I have heard him say that he had been at school before science was invented. When I listen to my inventor friend, I sympathise.
He must be a good inventor, because he has educated six daughters. I have never understood why girls’ schools should cost as much as boys’ ones. Although it ought to be cheaper to teach domestic science than inventors’ science, I suppose that feminism allows the girls’ governors to charge up. Anyway, even after paying the fees for Cordelia, Goneril, Regan et al, he provided a brace of ’97 first growths: Margaux and Mouton. The Margaux was beautifully balanced, like a charming girl domestic scientist. The Mouton was a Nobel-class physicist. 1997 was supposed to be an off year. With wines like this, there are no off years — only off countries.