Bruce Anderson

In turbulent times, there’s sherry

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I sometimes wander through Trafalgar Square in the small hours when the traffic has abated and children are no longer scrambling over Landseer’s lions. Hard by his own Whitehall, there is Charles I, a symbol of the constitutional agonies of that era. To most high Tories, he is Charles, King and martyr, Anglicanism’s only saint. Even Marvell saw the romance. -Others’ -responses blend tribute with exasperation. Raison d’état can require ruthlessness and Charles I was not the first failed monarch to meet a premature death. If only Cromwell had arranged for an accidental discharge, rather than a judicial murder.

Moving on and looking up, the eye can feast on unalloyed romance: that most glorious of heroes, Admiral Lord Nelson, on his column. He too can claim the laurels of martyrdom, for he fell protecting his country’s freedom. ‘Bonaparte may come to England, Sire,’ said St Vincent to George III, ‘but he will not come by sea.’ There are various versions of this. Old Jarvie probably said it more than once. But Nelson vindicated his prediction.

The only person who makes any sense is Tony Blair. What a mess

Contemplating the column and its guardian lions, we are aware of more symbolism, for they belong to an age of serene imperial self-confidence. These symbols direct the eye down Whitehall, past the offices that were at the centre of a great empire on which the sun never set, to Westminster Abbey, the parish church of that Empire, to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament: more mid-Victorian serenity. The Palace of Westminster also contains Westminster Hall, peopled by ghosts from much less serene periods. Opposite is the statue of the last imperial lion, Winston Churchill. History is here, as statuary and architecture. History is now and England (plus the other three).

But T.S.

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