Charles Moore Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 11 March 2006

As so often with people in public life, the career of David Mills is beyond satire. If an anti-Blair left-wing playwright invented him, critics would accuse him of improbability. Mr Mills seems to have done almost everything which traditional Labour supporters hate. He has made a career of advising people, including the loathed Silvio Berlusconi, on how to create offshore tax-shelters. He has given questionable court evidence for him, allegedly for money. He facilitated a £300 million sale of tanks by Ukraine to Pakistan. He administered a company in the Isle of Man. He lobbied to prevent the ban on tobacco advertising in motor racing because of his former directorship of Formula 1 Team Benetton. It would not surprise one to hear that he had arranged for General Augusto Pinochet to reside for tax purposes in the Cayman Islands, or flogged a few tactical nuclear warheads to Sir Mark Thatcher and Simon Mann. It’s a magnificent defiance of the goody-goodyism of his party (he’s Labour too) and his wife. What is really puzzling, though, is the houses. The Mills/Jowell homes in Kentish Town and Warwickshire are bog-standard, upper-middle-class residences which could have been acquired with normal professional salaries by a double-income couple in their forties or fifties. Everything about Mr Mills — his very good suits, permanent tan, strangely brown hair, raffish charm and posh cars, not to mention his entire career — puts him in a different league. Are those really the only houses in the Mills ménage? Tessa’s recreations in Who’s Who are ‘Reading, gardening, music, Italy’. Is there a palazzo somewhere?

The strangest aspect of the Jowell/Mills affair is the revelation that Alastair Campbell advised the couple not to separate on the grounds that, unlike a marriage, ‘politics is transitory’. One understands, though one does not admire, Campbell as the purveyor of cynical advice. But why is he turned to as a sort of New Labour priest, preaching the permanence of matrimony and the vanity of power? Campbell’s new views are laudable, but they surely prove that he is no longer serious about advancing ‘The Project’. Tessa Jowell, who presumably still is, therefore ignored them.

Craig Brown recently wrote about how boring things are strangely interesting. Last week I walked past a newspaper hoarding in a neighbouring village. It splashed the words ‘DENTIST REFUSES TO PAY PARKING FINE’. The truth of Craig’s theory was immediately proved. ‘Dentist’ is a much more interesting-boring word than ‘man’ or ‘doctor’. Why would a dentist refuse to pay a parking fine? What could have driven him to this confrontation with the authorities? Was he experiencing a personal or professional crisis? Is he a good dentist, or a bad dentist? I am enjoying the speculation so much that I have decided not to buy the paper to find the answers.

Of course Guantanamo Bay is a subject on which our leaders will want to state a view, but it is increasingly becoming a safe haven for condemnation when everything else about the ‘War on Terror’ is thought too sensitive. Sir Menzies Campbell tossed it into his inaugural speech as party leader at the weekend, and the Archbishop of Canterbury went on about it on television on Sunday. Dr Williams had only just returned from the Sudan. In the Darfur region of Sudan, which he did not visit, there has been genocide, and the expulsion of two million people. There is intense persecution of Christians by the extreme Muslim government and its proxies. In the south of the country, which the Archbishop did visit, the victory of the Christian-led Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the subsequent Comprehensive Peace Agreement have meant that this is one of the few places in the world where the imposition of sharia (Muslim law) has been successfully reversed. I gather from sources in the region, where Anglicanism is strong, that the Archbishop showed well-informed concern. What a pity that he does not convey this information and express this concern loud and clear back in England. There’s nothing he can do about Guantanamo Bay; there may be something he can do about Darfur. And there should surely be no doubt about which is the greater moral scandal.

Quite the nicest literary festival takes place in Aldeburgh. Invented by Johnny and Mary James, who run the bookshop there, it is pleasantly small. About 250 people crowd into the Jubilee Hall, and they compose a sort of idealised version of England — polite, well-read, intelligent, unostentatious and not oppressively young. Aldeburgh, which manages to be beautiful without being dead, makes you feel that our civilisation does still survive. The subject of the dialogue which I had with Barnaby Rogerson (author of The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad, just published by Little, Brown) was Christianity and Islam. In many other places, this would have led to explosions, but in Aldeburgh all was decorous. There was much talk about invoking God to justify one’s acts of violence. I felt sorry for Tony Blair after his appearance on Parkinson at the weekend. Critics have said he claimed that ‘God had told him to attack Iraq’. He never said anything remotely like this. What he said, slightly confusedly, was that he had prayed before invading Iraq. What else is a believer supposed to do? You can argue, of course, that Mr Blair’s conscience was wrong in its conclusion, but you cannot possibly argue that it is wrong to try to talk to God about such a subject. It would have been wrong not to.

It must surely be an advantage to David Cameron that the new leader of the Liberals and the expected future Labour leader both come from Fife. Sir Menzies Campbell sits for Fife North East and Gordon Brown for Kirkcaldy. The Kingdom of Fife (or ‘The Kingdom of Life’ as the local tourist board vaingloriously renames it) is a lovely place, not only for golfers. But it doesn’t — in the Tory buzz-phrase — ‘look like modern Britain’ (that’s what’s so nice about it) and it certainly has very little to do with modern England, where the overwhelming majority of the votes are. If King Gordon sits ‘in Dunfermline town drinking the bluid-red wine’, and Ming does something similar near St Andrews, young Dave will have a freer run at a kingdom even more important than Fife, that of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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Hunting the other day, I heard one old gentleman in a red coat lament to a fellow horseman, ‘The trouble with this wretched new satellite weather forecast is that it’s usually right.’ Is this the quintessentially conservative remark (right down to the fact that the satellite forecast complained of is not even all that new)?

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