If you are a monarchist, this does not automatically make you an admirer of the royal family. But it does lead you to give members of that family the benefit of the doubt, particularly when so many others so viciously do the opposite. In general, too, our monarch has shown shrewdness in preserving the institution and so one trusts her judgment more than that of her more emotional, wilful heir. But, try as I might, I cannot see that her refusal to attend the marriage ceremony of Prince Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles does anything but harm. It is easy to understand why, over the years, the Queen has opposed her son’s remarriage, but now that it is happening, matters can only be made worse by foot-dragging. On moral, ecclesiastical and prudential grounds, some people question the legitimacy of the marriage. Therefore the task for the Queen is to give it legitimacy. She has agreed to this by making Camilla ‘HRH’; now she undercuts it by not attending the legitimising moment. It is a serious mistake.
I cannot persuade anyone to share my concern about Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, yet the risk is real. As pointed out before in this column, the Brigadier is the only living impediment to a full church wedding for the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles. No brigadier, no need for registry office; no registry office, no anxiety about the established Church, the venue for the ceremony or the presence of the groom’s mother; none of these troubles, no threat to the throne. Of course I am not suggesting that anyone in the circles of power is plotting anything against this gallant former soldier, but isn’t it a little surprising that a man who was head of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps does not appear in Who’s Who? It is up to the public to make sure that the brigadier is not quietly airbrushed out of our national life.
‘Forward, not back’, ‘Forward, not back’: thanks to my family’s scholarly knowledge of the subject, I have returned to the source of Labour’s current election slogan. In an episode of The Simpsons, presumably produced at the time of the 1996 US presidential elections, Homer is fishing in a lonely spot when he is abducted by aliens. They want to know who the presidential candidates are. When he tells them, they kidnap Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, and come to earth disguised as them. At a campaign meeting in Springfield town hall, ‘Bill Clinton’ (actually the alien Kodos) addresses the crowd as follows: ‘My fellow Americans, as a young boy I dreamed of being a baseball. But tonight I say: we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.’ Will the Prime Minister’s advisers draw further on their source as the campaign progresses? On the steps of the Capitol on election eve, Kodos/Clinton speaks in public once more: ‘I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent bloodbath.’ Are we quite sure that ‘Tony Blair’ is who he says he is?
Dreadful as are Charles Clarke’s proposals for house arrest, and even more dreadful as have been the government’s methods of forcing them through the Commons, one wonders if the Conservatives are placing themselves rightly in the whole argument about terrorism. It is hard to think of a single useful proposal made by the Tories on the subject since 11 September 2001. Although some of Tony Blair’s moves on the subject are bogus and others are oppressive, he is at least making the running and trying to work out what needs to be done. He is also positioning himself — always his greatest skill — carefully. Aware of the fate of Aznar in Spain after the Madrid bombing, he is warning of terrorist disruption of the coming election and seems to have persuaded his namesake, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to say the same. Aznar lost because he blamed an al-Qa’eda attack on the Basque separatists, Eta. If there is a terrorist attack during our campaign, Mr Blair will attribute it correctly, remind voters that he warned of it, and act fiercely against its perpetrators. The Conservatives will have nothing with which to respond. In The Simpsons episode (see above), the alien who pretends to be Bob Dole says: ‘The politics of failure have failed. We must make them work again.’ It’s a warning to the Tories.
We all know that the war against terrorism is a hard one to win, but it has got nothing on the government’s other battle, the war against terriermen. Most of those who voted for Tony Blair’s hunting ban (the most divisive piece of legislation introduced in modern times) are probably only dimly aware of who terriermen are. They are the people who know all about dogs — as opposed to hounds — and all about foxes. They deal with a fox when it has gone to ground. Terriermen are not normally people with a university degree in civics, a strict regard for the letter of the law or a reverence for politicians. When hunting was legal, and therefore controlled in its practices by the Masters of Foxhounds Association, terriermen would, more or less, obey its rules. If they did not, their hunt would be suspended, which no one involved wanted. But now there is a ban, the MFHA writ no longer runs. Since almost all hunting activity is illegal, terriermen will tend not to pay attention to any rules at all. They will abandon all restraint against antis. More important, they will often ignore the old rules against certain forms of ‘bolting’ (driving a fox out of its earth with terriers) and against ‘bagged’ foxes (foxes caught in one place and released in another to be chased). All bad laws have unintended consequences. With this one, the unintended consequence is cruelty to foxes.
Full-page newspaper advertisements try to explain the Disability Discrimination Act to small businesses, which are now about to come under its purview. A self-employed builder in one, a car mechanic in another, stare out at the reader. They ask questions which the Department for Work and Pensions duly answers. The builder is advised that he should bring a pencil and paper with him to make things easier for deaf people. The car mechanic asks: ‘Does “disabled” just mean someone in a wheelchair?’ and is told: ‘No, the law covers all kinds of disability — including, for instance, people with autism or poor eyesight. So think about keeping background noise down, or using bigger type on signs to make them more readable.’ I have two autistic nephews. I am trying to think of a single car workshop which could successfully and affordably adapt its noise levels so as not to worry them if they entered it (why would they, by the way?), and of the legal action for non-compliance that might be taken against the business. Yes, we are governed by aliens.