Despite already knowing about the IRA’s involvement in the £26 million robbery of the Northern Bank, Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, last month approved a renewal of the exemption which allows Sinn Fein (and other political parties in the province) to raise money abroad. This privilege is denied to mainland parties which do not rob banks, such as the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats. So the proposed ban on Sinn Fein fund-raising in America is, in effect, not supported by the country whose citizens were the victims of the robbery and of the Robert McCartney murder. An aspect of the funding exemption which deserves more attention is that it permits anonymous donations. Again, this is denied to the mainland parties. What it means is that Sinn Fein can accept laundered money with impunity, and that is precisely why the provision is there. I wonder if the party’s coffers have filled up since those of the Northern Bank have emptied.
On Breakfast with Frost on Sunday, David Blunkett recited some verse of his own devising: ‘One day when you are feeling important/ One day when your ego is in bloom/ One day when you feel you are the most important man in the room/ Take a bucket and fill it with water/ Put your arm in up to the wrist/ Pull it out and the hole that is left there/ Is the measure of how much you will be missed.’ Perhaps unconsciously, Mr Blunkett’s muse is echoing W.H. Auden’s poem ‘As I walked out one evening’. Auden’s narrator, on his evening walk down Bristol Street, hears a lover singing, ‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you/ Till China and Africa meet’, etc. But the clocks in the city counter with a more cynical song (‘O let not Time deceive you,/ You cannot conquer Time’) and tell the listener, ‘O plunge your hands in water,/ Plunge them in up to the wrist;/ Stare, stare in the basin/ And wonder what you’ve missed.’ I know that all this public humility is part of Mr Blunkett’s attempt to rehabilitate himself as an attractive human being, so that he may enjoy a political comeback, but it is still poignant, particularly when the Auden echoes in his memory exclude the images of sight, images which he is denied.
Graham Allen, the Nottingham Labour MP, is very angry with Steve Green, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire, for having the temerity to complain in the Sunday Telegraph about his force’s lack of money and the consequent problems he faces trying to investigate 30 murders. Mr Allen feels these sensitive matters should not be raised in public, but with him. I hope that when Mr Green does talk to Mr Allen, he will remind him that he voted to ban hunting, thereby adding to the chief constable’s already overlong list of potential criminals whom he must watch such dangerous types as Lt Col. G.E. Vere-Laurie and Mrs H. Oldershaw-Dubey, joint masters of the South Notts Hunt.
In fact, the authorities knew, even before it came into force, that the legislation imposed by Mr Allen and his friends was unworkable. I have seen a record of a Cabinet committee meeting held just before Christmas in which the various parts of government concerned with the hunting ban earnestly discussed what the law meant. They helpfully pointed out to one another that the law focused on ‘the hunting intentions of dog owners, not dogs’ (it would be a new principle in English law if dogs could be criminals), and they wrote out quite a list of the difficulties the police might encounter in trying to enforce the law. These included the problem of establishing intent ‘without significant resources’ and the prohibition on entering private property. They also agreed that the police were ‘not obliged’ to respond to calls reporting hunting in progress. Then they sat around and worried about what would happen if farmers, in protest, ‘refused to take sludge’. Given these difficulties, I was not very surprised to hear of a master of foxhounds somewhere in the west of England who was visited by the police last week. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ they said plaintively, ‘but would you mind being a little more discreet?’
If you’re sick of words on the above subject (apologies for my part in that), look at some glorious pictures. Just out is The Art of the Chase (Adelphi) by Amanda Lockhart; and last year came Hunting with Hounds (Mansion Editions) by Homer Sykes. The former is more lyrical, the latter more comic. Between them, these beautiful photographs tell you just what the thing is like.
My eye fell idly on a magazine profile of an American actress this weekend. She is, said the introduction, ‘a Hollywood child who has no time for showbiz nonsense’. Have you noticed that this seems to be true of every Hollywood actress ever interviewed? It is like politicians, for all of whom ‘family comes first’.
At Christmas 1984 I was editing The Spectator, and I was in a hole. Taki, then as now the paper’s High Life correspondent, had taken the title of his column too literally and had been sent to prison for possession of drugs. So there was a space to fill. I seem to remember that there was no shortage of boastful boulevardiers who thought they could fill the Greek’s gap, but this was obviously a bad idea. Instead, I jumped at a suggestion of the Low Life columnist, Jeffrey Bernard. Why not get his friend Anna Haycraft, known to the public as the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis, to step in? Anna’s chosen form of Life was neither High nor Low but Home, and she did it brilliantly, taking subjects that can so easily be dire and twee, such as the Aga going wrong, and making them funny. Her home really was her life, as it is for hardly any men and increasingly few women. In her kitchen, books got written, talk was endless and enormous numbers of children and friends passed through, eating and drinking as they went. Although, unlike her companion columnists, Anna was modest, her columnar voice was confident, distinct, clever and eccentric. She told good stories, like that of the jeweller’s customer who asked for a cross. He was shown several, but rejected them all. At last he said, ‘Yeah, but haven’t you got one of them crosses with a little man on it?’ Taki got remission for good conduct for some reason and returned to his column, but the ‘stopgap’ Anna ran for several years. It is astonishing to think that, with the distinguished exceptions of Rose Macaulay and Katharine Whitehorn, Anna was the paper’s only non-specialist woman columnist in its history. I was about, mechanically, to write that it was sad that she died last week, but she would certainly not have thought so. She was devoted to the ‘little man’ on the Cross, and did not cling to this life.