Quentin Letts

Diary - 3 December 2015

On being a climate-change apostate; Cardinal Roger Harrabin; a ghostly encounter; Keith Vaz; cows

Diary - 3 December 2015
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First, an apology. Thanks to me, all journalists at BBC Radio’s ethics and religion division are being sent for indoctrination in climate change. Sorry. In July I made a short Radio 4 programme with them called What’s the Point of the Met Office?, which accidentally sent orthodox warmists into a boiling tizzy. Amid jolly stuff about the history of weather predictions and the drippiness of today’s forecasters, we touched on parliamentary lobbying done by the state-funded Met Office. All hell broke out. Cataracts and hurricanoes! The Met Office itself was unfazed but the eco-lobby, stirred by BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin, went nuts. I was accused of not giving a proper airing to ‘prevailing scientific opinion’. Apostasy had occurred. I was duly flogged on the Feedback programme.

That was the last I thought of it until last week, when I was sent an enormous draft report from the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee. This said I was likely to be found guilty of a ‘serious breach’ of ‘impartiality and accuracy’. The tone was akin to something from the International Criminal Court at the Hague or the Vatican in Galileo’s day. Did my little programme err? I certainly didn’t try to give listeners a reverential précis of ‘prevailing scientific opinion’ — didn’t think that was my remit. But we did have some fun interviewing an engagingly untidy climate-change sceptic called Piers Corbyn. His brother is now leader of HM Opposition. The BBC hierarchy’s overreaction to all this has been an education, as has the activism of Harrabin. Meanwhile, my ethics and religion mates have been sentenced to hard labour on the BBC Academy’s impartiality online training module, with ‘a substantial scenario on reporting climate-change science’. At school they call this detention.

An enterprising newsdesk might enquire how much the BBC spends on politically correct courses and who runs them. As for Cardinal Harrabin — for that would have been his rank in Galileo’s day — times are good. He has landed a sideline with the Open University, doing a series of climate-change interviews. We are paying. The £1.5 million project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a quango run by scientists and ‘parented’ by Sajid Javid’s Business Department. Sajid will be proud to see his budget being used in this important way.

To Radio 3’s In Tune programme to discuss my novel The Speaker’s Wife. Presenter Sean Rafferty, one of the BBC’s finest, introduces me as a ‘paramilitary sketchwriter’. Harsh but true. The book is about Parliament, the Church of England and things that go bump in the night. Ask people ‘Do you believe in God?’ and many instantly say no. Ask ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ or ‘Would you swear in an empty church and dance on a grave?’ they pause. I have only once encountered a ghost. Our Herefordshire home is an old mill where a 19th-century miller died after falling into the grinding wheels. Two summers ago, needing to prune a rose, I stood on a wobbly chair near the site of that accident. As I mounted the chair, a strange woman’s voice said, quite clearly, ‘Don’t fall off’. I was sober at the time.

Security minister John Hayes wobbled while giving evidence to Keith Vaz’s Commons home affairs select committee the other day. Mr Hayes is a man of theatrical extremes, almost a pantomime pirate. I am told that in the Tory whips’ office, when his name comes up, certain whips start doing Captain Pugwash impersonations, covering one eye and saying ‘ha-harr!’ in a Cornish accent. Select committee aides have multiplied in recent years. Fifteen years ago it would be one clerk and maybe one researcher. At the court of Vaz last week there were eight flunkeys, most looking dead bored. I have a feeling one of them may have been Keith’s food-taster.

It may not be ‘prevailing scientific opinion’, but you sometimes hear vegetarians blame climate change on flatulent cows. This irks my neighbour Will Edwards, a dairy farmer. ‘Cows don’t fart,’ says Will. ‘They burp a bit but you never hear them let off. They are physically not capable of it.’ Here is a story for Roger Harrabin to stick his nose into. He’s an expert in this area, I believe.

Staying with wind, did you see that video of a seven-year-old boy leading the singing of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ at a baseball match in Brisbane? He was afflicted throughout by hiccups. Last week I was walking through London’s Berkeley Square. A middle-aged woman strode towards me in power suit and heels. Gosh she looked stern. She was five paces away when she was hijacked by the most enormous hiccup. Better than any nightingale.