Since the editor is filling this page with its former occupants, I naturally responded to his invitation by looking back to the days 20 years ago when I filled this hole. In most respects, the subject matter was the same – why doesn’t the health service work, how to make peace in Northern Ireland, how the government is ignoring Parliament, why can’t children read and write, the problems of tax, crime, roads, housing, defence and, of course, Europe.
In the last column that I wrote for this paper before becoming its editor (24 March 1984) I was in Brussels for a summit in which Mrs Thatcher was fighting for ‘our money’. Explaining why Britain would continue to be in trouble with the Continental powers over what was then the EEC, I wrote: ‘The founders and perpetuators of the EEC idea do not think of it as static. They hope that the Community could eventually run the foreign policy, the entire trading system and even, perhaps, the defence of its members, and that it should do so through permanent supra-national institutions which would be sovereign over the nations which they subsumed. One does not need this week’s opinion polls to confirm that any British politician ready to countenance such a development would effectively destroy his own career.’
In the week in which the British government draws its thin ‘red lines’ and refuses a referendum over the European constitution, the Groundhog Day feeling is overwhelming, so instead I shall write about something which never featured in columns on British politics 20 years ago – Islam.
On Monday, the BBC Today programme decided to start the week of the second anniversary of 11 September with an interview with Abu Omar, a young spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, a London-based organisation which is holding a meeting to celebrate the ‘magnificent 19’ – those who flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and those who crashed in Pennsylvania trying to do something similar.