Conrad Black

Diary - 1 November 2012

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Air Canada has outwitted the superstorm and I am about to return to Canada after my nine-day stay in London following an absence of seven years, and nine years since I actually lived there. I was launching the British edition of my book, A Matter of Principle, which describes the legal onslaught against me in the United States that consumed most of those years. As these matters have been amply aired in the London media this past week, I avoid them here. As Truman Capote famously said to a British (male) television interviewer, ‘Why don’t you read the book, darling?’

The Sunday Times sent the notorious Camilla Long, beaming, bearing chocolates and bulging out of her eye-catching bloomer-suit, to ask one of Canada’s leading barristers, in whose offices we met, if he were my assistant, before writing her hit-job. I arranged a telephone interview with the Mail on Sunday’s very professional Elizabeth Sanderson to counteract the Long mugging, after so many from News Corp and my former friend Murdoch these nine years. Anticipating it, and some of the other pyrotechnics that followed, I reflected that, with many conspicuous personal exceptions, the London media are the lowest mutation of human life I have encountered (except for American prosecutors), and that does not exclude the many hundreds of people I met in the US Federal prisons to which I was sent for a total of three years, and where I was proud to serve for crimes I manifestly did not commit.

That preemptive comment on that fetid and narcissistic infestation of self-obsessed, drearily predictable, lazy, reckless self-exalted wits was proudly upheld by Adam Boulton, incapable of a civil syllable, and Ian Hislop, a whey-faced jack-in-the-box who has not, as I reminded him, advanced much beyond his opening publication Passing Wind and his apprenticeship to that appalling hypocrite Richard Ingrams. Jeremy Paxman and I are cordial, and we were being a bit histrionic. (As I wrote in this week’s Mail on Sunday, I was grateful for Rupert Murdoch’s friendly tweet and would be happy to bury that hatchet.)

When next in Britain, my presence will not be to launch a book, will not be newsworthy, and the controversies of the last week, amusing though they were at times, will not be repeated. The personal highlight of the visit to London has been the reunion with many friends of the tremendously enjoyable 15 years I lived here. The variety, culture, originality and sparkling conversation has reminded me of how much I have missed this great city through this purgatorial time. The loyalty of the English (or at least most English people of my acquaintance) is under-recognised, even by the English themselves, and I am truly grateful for it.

One of the more frequent questions put to me was whether I should not be more conciliatory and show some remorse. There is no point in conciliating to those who accuse you falsely, and it is mere hypocrisy to be remorseful over acts you (or one if you prefer) did not commit. But a reply I gave to that question in several interviews, but which seems not to have survived editing, was that I am full of remorse for mistakes I have made. Though none of them have been illegalities, I find them no less reprehensible and embarrassing for that.

A highlight of the week was my return to the Brompton Oratory, where I was a very present parishioner when I lived here. It was where I first realised that I had lost faith in the non-existence of God, the most important milestone on the road to my conversion to Roman Catholicism. As those fine and now far-off years in London passed, I was a fairly frequent confessant and penitent in that splendid church, and I can set at ease the minds of those concerned about it that my fallibility is a relentless preoccupation, and frequent subject of conversation with qualified and appropriate people.

On the subject of remorse, there were a few occasions when it was not bumptious to raise, very gently, my disappointment that there has been so little recognition that Margaret Thatcher was correct in her reservations about an ever closer European Union. She may have been undiplomatic and intemperate at times, but she was right, and was unjustly dismissed by an ungrateful party for her trouble, a party which she had led to three consecutive full-term majorities, a unique achievement since before the First Reform Act.

While I am on this subject, British anti-Semitism seems, if anything, sharper and more widespread than I remember it. It is rarely virulent, just a staring down the nose as if one’s fish has gone off, and the adaptation of the word Jew from a noun to an adjective, like fanatical American Republicans, usually of the most conservative variety, who emulate Joseph R. McCarthy in referring derisively to the ‘Democrat Party’. (Democrats are supporters of the Democratic Party.) Some British people who grumble about the ‘Jew problem’ might wish to reflect that it would be much less of a problem if Balfour had not promised the same territory as a homeland to the Jews and the Palestinians in 1917. The Jew problem, historically, is more of a Foreign Office problem, a supremely unapologetic and remorseless institution.

Given how unstable and (benignly) German-dominated Europe has become, and how erratic the United States has been these past 15 years, I suggest a rediscovery of those with whom we have most in common; let’s have as much co-operation as everyone is comfortable with between the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and India. I will try this one out in Canada in the next little while.

Thank you my London friends, and even most sceptics, and goodbye until 2013.