‘No great surprise’ headlined the BBC television news on Tuesday lunchtime. The BBC does not admit it now, but it has been extremely surprised by Boris’s success, as have most senior Conservatives. They wrote him off at least twice — first when Michael Gove stabbed him after the referendum; second, when he resigned from Mrs May’s cabinet. His triumph confounds mainstream conventions about how to get on in Tory politics. It is partly to do with his personal qualities — his charisma, and even more, the attribute, visible in all the top-rankers, of mental and physical resilience. Over the years, I have often known Boris waver and hem and haw his way out of trouble, but I have come to understand that this is essentially tactical. It conceals utter determination. Shortly after he resigned in protest at Mrs May’s Chequers plan last summer, I had lunch with him. Amid the usual merriment, abstracted pauses and moments of gloom, he suddenly looked at me and said: ‘I’m going to win, Charles.’ Because he spoke with perfect seriousness and at the low point of his public reputation, I noted this well.
The other reason for Boris’s victory is the logic of democracy. It has to be endlessly repeated that our democracy cannot retain trust unless the result of the 2016 referendum is implemented. All politicians who deny this come to grief. True, this does not automatically mean no deal: there are imaginable deals which would respect the result. But Mrs May failed because people realised that what she was offering was not really leaving at all. Logic therefore pointed to a leader who was a Leaver, and had risked his career in the referendum. That meant Boris: one does not think of Boris and logic in the same breath, but there it is.
Which leads me to wonder about the diehard Remainers who resigned before they were pushed. One tends to believe in the devilish cunning of the people one disagrees with, and so I have assumed that the Philip Hammonds, David Gaukes, and Alan Duncans are acting with unity and subtlety. Perhaps they are about to announce a merger with the Liberal Democrats, Sir Keir Starmer and Yvette Cooper; or something. But if my logic is right, it could be that these people have gone slightly mad. Ever since the 1960s, pro-Europeanism has been the prevailing belief-system and the right career move for rising Tory politicians. This law seemed to survive everything — Mrs Thatcher’s later years in office, the fiasco of Black Wednesday in 1992, even, Mr Hammond seems to have thought, the referendum result itself. The new logic, however, makes Brexit the expedient choice as well as the principled one. Which leaves the Remainer rebels in the uncoveted role traditionally occupied by Tory Eurosceptics: that of swivel-eyed loons.
In the wake of the conviction of ‘Nick’ — Carl Beech — it is worth emphasising exactly why McCarthyism is so evil. It is not just spreading lies. It is spreading lies about really dangerous matters, and thus making it easier to hide real iniquity. In the McCarthy era, there were some real communist agents in the United States. In the Tom Watson era, there are real paedophiles. Tom Watson eventually said sorry for describing Lord Brittan, days after his death, as ‘as close to evil as a human being could get’, but excused himself on the grounds that he was merely quoting an alleged victim. He did not explain why he thought he had to say it. He will not say if his source was Beech. What we do know is that his readiness to use his prominent position to fan unsubstantiated abuse claims, including Beech’s, led to the Metropolitan Police, terrified of being accused of cover-up, persecuting Lady Brittan, Lord Bramall, Harvey Proctor, Lord Janner and several others, proclaiming as they did so that Beech’s claims were ‘credible and true’, and then attempting a genuine cover-up — of their own errors. What credibility does Mr Watson have as a standard-bearer against Labour’s undoubted anti-Semitism when he has recklessly encouraged a witch hunt as nasty as the anti-Jewish blood-libel? Despite Beech’s conviction and earlier victories in civil actions, Lord Janner’s family still have to fight the fact that their father’s case remains ‘Strand One’ in the never-ending IICSA child abuse inquiry, set up by Theresa May in a panic after Mr Watson’s dark hints in parliament about an establishment paedophile ring. IICSA says it is a ‘test case’ of policy towards paedophiles, though the evidence against Lord Janner has collapsed. Behind all this is the rotten, question-begging, McCarthyite doctrine that ‘All victims must be believed’, much encouraged by Sir Keir (see above) when he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Mr Watson and Sir Keir are supposed to be our defence against Corbynite extremism. I’m not sure which side is worse.
A consolation of bereavement are kind condolence letters. My father having recently died, I received one such from Australia. A Mr Donald Rule had been at the same tutorial establishment near Newmarket as my father, and wrote that he had helped form his mind, including a love of racing. In 1949, he said, the two returned early for the summer term in order to attend the 2000 Guineas. This rang a faint bell with me. In my early Thatcher researches, I had discovered that Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) had been to Newmarket races in that year with her then boyfriend, Willie Cullen, winning on two horses, Squander Bug and Scorned. Excited by her triumphs, she had interpolated her wins into Willie’s diary, adding ‘I SAW PRINCESS ELIZABETH AND SHE SAW ME.’ Through an expert friend of the great Marcus Armytage, I established that the day she mentioned was indeed the 2000 Guineas. So it was attended by the future Queen, the future prime minister and my future father. None met the other, which was perhaps just as well, but I find that coincidence of one day 70 years ago very satisfying.