Surely there is a bit of humbug in this outrage about the two remaining jihadi Beatles, Kotey and Elsheikh, and Sajid Javid’s difficult but correct decision to send them for trial in America. Suppose the grisly pair had been located a couple of years ago in Raqqa. And let’s suppose there was a Reaper drone overhead, and that British intelligence could help send a missile neatly through their windscreen. Would we provide the details — knowing that they would be killed without a chance for their lawyers to offer pleas in mitigation on account of their tough childhoods in west London? Would the British state, in these circumstances, have connived in straightforward extrajudicial killing? Too damn right we would. It was just such a drone strike that vaporised that other ‘Beatle’, Jihadi John, and I don’t remember hot tears being wept for him. These four ‘Beatles’ were responsible for killing at least 27 people, and there are credible accounts of other bestial behaviour. Of course we legally justify these drone strike assassinations as preventative: to stop future acts of terror in Syria. But that scarcely masks the reality that killing them is also retributive — payback for the filmed executions of innocent people. So why do we support these extra-judicial killings, with no due process, and panic at what might happen in American court? The best hope of bringing Kotey and Elsheikh to justice is in America, and in sending them there the UK government has not dropped its opposition to the death penalty. We had to balance two risks: the risk that they would be simply set loose, like so many other jihadis, to roam the streets of London again, or the small risk that they might receive the death penalty under the US system. Sajid Javid and I decided that the first risk was worse than the second. Who really believes we were wrong?
This summer is incredible: nothing like it since 1976. Then the taps ran dry on Exmoor; we washed in the river, itself a trickle. Everyone suddenly decided to take their clothes off, including, spectacularly, the au pair girl. Would we do the same today? After decades of liberation we have become a bit more buttoned up. Good thing or bad thing?
Imagine you leave some stifling desk job and decide to get out into the big wide world — make new contacts in America, that kind of thing. How would you feel if your former company still treated you like an employee? What would you do if you had to obey all the organisation’s rules, and do exactly what they told you? What if you got regular emails saying do this, do that, make me a cup of coffee, your skirt’s too short, please cough up for the company car park — even when you had left? You’d go nuts. You can’t leave an organisation and still be bound by its rules. But that is what the Chequers white paper means. It is vassalage, satrapy, colony status for the UK. For the first time in a thousand years our laws will be made overseas, enforced by a foreign court. It can’t and won’t work. Chuck Chequers.
I took my daughter to see Imperium, the RSC’s fantastic adaptation of the Cicero novels by Robert ‘Moneybags’ Harris, and we watched with eyes bulging like prawns’. There it was for the first time on stage, everything I have always felt about the atmosphere of Rome in the 1st century bc: a republic in decay, a people tired of civil war, the old virtues under threat from the ruthless bisexual opportunist Julius Caesar and the incestuous Clodia Metelli; a time of weird omens and sinister plots — above all the conspiracy of Catiline. What was it really, this Catiline Conspiracy? And why did Cicero bang on about it so much? Was the public really in danger? Was there really going to be chaos, riots, civil disobedience? Well, I don’t want to give it away, but it turns out that Cicero himself has not been entirely straight with the documentary evidence. Yes, there are those who say the Catiline Conspiracy was an early example of that basic utensil of politics — scaring the public witless to achieve your ends. Otherwise known as Project Fear.
Andrew Roberts has kindly invited me to the launch of his latest Churchill epic, Walking with Destiny. I owe Andrew big time. He gave me some wine-fuelled tutorials that helped me with my own book on Churchill. I don’t know what he has truffled up, but I can pass on a tip from an American publisher to all would-be Churchill authors: ‘Two subjects never fail to sell: Churchill and cats.’ There’s still time to hit the Christmas market with the last word on Churchill’s cats.
After two years of disuse, my bike is oiled and pumped. As I sail helmetless down the sunny street I feel like an ape released back into the wild by Howletts zoo — slight apprehension at being up close to other members of my species, with no keepers to look after me; but also an unmistakable sense of relief and joy.