The Spectator

The Spectator’s Notes | 4 December 2010

Part of the pleasure of the WikiLeaks revelations is that they confirm the view now universally reviled as ‘neocon’.

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Part of the pleasure of the WikiLeaks revelations is that they confirm the view now universally reviled as ‘neocon’.

Part of the pleasure of the WikiLeaks revelations is that they confirm the view now universally reviled as ‘neocon’. It emerges that whereas the public pronouncements of the Arab world all concentrate on Israel as the villain of everything, what really worries the Arabs is Iran. The Arab regimes share Israel’s view that Iran is an ‘existential threat’. They also turn instinctively to America to sort out the problem. While President Obama has tried unsuccessfully to pursue a doveish policy, real, live Muslims want Ahmedinejad’s nuclear ambitions stopped, if necessary by violence. The leaks expose clearly the way our media, most notably the BBC, ‘privilege’ the Palestinian question, failing to report countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and even Iran itself, in any depth. Of course, Palestine is important. It is a running sore. But it is not the key to the politics of the Middle East or the main explanation for Muslim rage. The situation is rather like the late Thirties, in which idealistic people expended their passion on the Spanish Civil War, and didn’t do nearly enough to stop Hitler.

Sir John Major is a subtle man. As he will surely have calculated, the suggestion contained in his recent lecture at Churchill College, Cambridge, that the coalition should, if possible, be prolonged beyond this Parliament, made the news. This meant that less attention was paid to the historical element of his remarks. Speaking of his early years as Prime Minister, he said, ‘As we returned to growth, I wished to exit the Exchange Rate Mechanism... It was time to leave.’ It is almost as if Margaret Thatcher were suddenly to reveal that she’d never thought much of the poll tax. Again and again, over that punitive summer of 1992, Mr Major (as he then was) furiously rejected the idea that we should leave, warning that the consequent devaluation would be ‘fool’s gold’. He was almost the same in private. In his memoirs, Norman Lamont, who was Major’s Chancellor, records that in the summer of 1992 he set up a meeting with Major to propose that Britain leave the ERM. The subject of the meeting was agreed but, when it took place, Major said, without explanation, ‘I don’t want to discuss leaving the ERM’ and turned instead to a speech which he was making the following week. If you never discuss a key economic possibility with your Chancellor, it must be assumed that you are not actively working to bring it about. Our membership of the ERM was a failure that had many fathers (and one mother — as Sir John was at pains to remind us), but he was one of them and he must not be allowed to make the policy an orphan. This matters because membership was an error of economics and politics brought about by a delusion about what produces stability. That delusion persists, and is currently bringing several European countries to their knees.

James Viane has been the chef at the British embassy in Paris for 40 years. Recently, the present ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, gave a dinner at the embassy in Mr Viane’s honour, attended by five former ambassadors, and including Lady Soames, Churchill’s daughter, whose husband Christopher was Mr Viane’s first. It proves that all is not lost with French civilisation that the French prime minister, François Fillon, attended the dinner, investing Mr Viane with the Legion d’Honneur. M. Fillon had just survived an attempt to throw him out. Imagine the idiotic row which would happen here if David Cameron took an evening off from cutting public expenditure to honour the cook at the French embassy — the six-course menu execrated in the Daily Mail, the cant, the bile.

Last year, in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit, Gordon Brown said that we had only ‘50 days to save the world’. The summit failed to achieve his goals, but the world has not ended, and Copenhagen’s successor, in Cancun this week, excites little interest. No government has yet recanted its climate-change alarmism publicly, but most have gone rather quiet. This does not mean, however, that governments are about to get rid of the taxes, regulations and extra costs which have been imposed in the name of the environment. Quite soon, this will explode politically. Outside London, I find that the main subject of public policy conversation is wind farms, and almost every single person who is not getting money out of them is against them. How long before a mainstream political party sees the votes in this?

As the chairman of the think-tank Policy Exchange, I follow closely how we are reported on the BBC. It has three descriptions of think-tanks. One is ‘respected’. This is only ever applied to a think-tank which tends to the left and represents the producer interest, such as the King’s Fund. The second is ‘independent’. The third is ‘right-leaning’ (the phrase ‘left-leaning’ is never used). If a report by Policy Exchange finds favour with the BBC, we are called ‘independent’ (never ‘respected’). If it is disapproved of, it is ‘right-leaning’. One is not allowed to be respected, independent and right-leaning.

Last week, we visited the white cattle of Chillingham, in Northumberland. Although I had seen pictures, nothing had prepared me for their primeval strangeness and beauty. Being completely undomesticated, the beasts are thin and fierce. They can run at you at 30mph, and gore you. Before the bulls fight, they paw the ground and spray their hairy heads with mud and dung as a sort of war-paint. These are the beasts which Julius Caesar saw. There are 94 of them now (and a much smaller herd looked after secretly somewhere else in the British Isles). The warden told us that they have been so long inbred that their DNA bears no relation to any other cattle currently living on the planet, and they have come out the other side of genetic malformation, and now have no known hereditary defects. They are like a great, ancient monarchical family, with no modern nonsense about refreshing the bloodlines.