I switch personalities at Spectator parties, depending who the guests are: for our readers’ tea party, I am a warm and gracious semi-host, swigging scotch, but graciously answering questions about my drinking, love life and writing habits. For our summer Speccie spree, I turn into a tight-lipped, street-smart tough guy, conscious of my brave obscurity but determined not to give in to the Rachel Johnson syndrome of self-advertisement. (Whew, that wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.)
The tea party for our readers is always a polite affair. After all, the ham better be nice to the knife, or else. I particularly liked meeting the father and son from Mexico, both loyal readers, Louis the father coming all the way over to meet the son who is studying up in Manchester. I don’t think any publication can match the gentleness and savoir faire of our readers, and I even managed to convince some of them to skip the tea and try the scotch. (But I missed the lady who began subscribing the year I was born, 1936. Perhaps it was too hot for her to drive to London.)
The summer shindig one week later is an altogether different occasion. It is a rowdy, sweaty affair, with people pushing and shoving and some even trying to brush up close to BBC sex-pots like Emily Maitlis and Laura Kuenssberg. They should be ashamed of themselves. This year we had the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and the Minister for Brexit all attending. Personally, I was happy to stand and drink G&T all evening in the company of Lord Lamont and my buddy Simon Reader.
While discussing sex with Rowan Pelling and Lord Worcester, the sainted editor drifted over and told me to go and greet a past editor, now Foreign Secretary, Boris himself. Cyprus and the impasse with the occupying Turks came up. I cannot use the language I’d like to concerning Erdogan and the ruling Turkish gang, but the Greek foreign minister, the old, hard-core communist Kotzias, is no better, in fact he’s worse. But commies have always known how to negotiate hard, hence the collapse of the talks. Boris, who as editor once saved my job, also asked me about my love life. Now I know that the world is full of wretchedly poor people for whom my love life represents, above all, the possibility of escape, however fleeting, from the grimness and despair of their own lives, and that is the sole reason the Right Hon. Boris Johnson asked me. So I demurred, despite the fact that it made me feel self-absorbed and uncaring for the poor and wretched of this world. (Whew, that was a bit harder.)
In The Radetzky March, Joseph Roth’s 1932 novel, the author kills off its most admirable character in a scene of comedy as well as tears. Damant kills the swinish Tattenbach in a duel he did not initiate, and is killed in return as Tattenbach drops dead. One kills a scoundrel and he kills you back. Life might be sweet but you can’t have it all. I thought of Roth and his novel while speaking with Norman Lamont about Iran and the American-Zionist campaign to discredit the Shiite Republic that has been going on full steam since the fall of the Shah in 1979.
Since the catastrophic George W. Bush decision to invade Iraq, Israeli activities in Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in isolation from one another. However great the blunder of 2003, George W. managed to legitimise Israeli policies among Arabs who had sworn eternal enmity to the Zionist state. In fact, they’ve all become secret Arab allies, and Israel is no longer viewed as the central problem plaguing the Middle East. According to great democracies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAR, it’s Iran and its client state of Syria that are the causes of all evil in that sweaty part of the world.
Not so fast, says the great Middle East scholar Taki. Incidentally, does anyone reading this remember a place called Palestine, and how its inhabitants lost their land to the Zionists, who cried foul and asked for American help while evicting Palestinians from their birthplace? Nah, I didn’t think so. Well, Iran is now the bogeyman because the Saudis said so, and we know that the Saudis are never wrong, plus they just pulled off a major victory when they killed hundreds of camels caught between their sands and those of Qatar.
Iran is not an Arab country, nor is it an expansionist power. It tries to protect the Shiites spread all over the Middle East, and also supports militias that resist Israeli aggression such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The latter are called terrorist organisations by the state of Israel, no stranger to terrorising its neighbours, and by Uncle Sam, also known to bomb so-called enemies to smithereens from 30,000 feet. In Iraq, all Iran did was fill the vacuum after the Americans overthrew Saddam and left. That was to be expected as, after all, Shiites are in the majority in Iraq, a small detail that escaped the great mind of the man who decided to attack Iraq in the first place.
But not to worry. Both Lord Lamont, a former chancellor of the exchequer, and I know the score, which means everything will be honky dory in the Middle East sooner rather than later. Yippee!