Two weeks ago, Tony Blair told the road-toll petitioners by email that his government was not trying to impose ‘Big Brother surveillance’. That was accurate, if disingenuous. The real Big Brother doesn’t announce himself. He comes creeping up on you, by stages, until you realise that you are being snooped on, scrutinised and spied upon in all sorts of ways that would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago.
Crack crack crack. Three shots, really close, from a car-park just across the road. Everyone in the crowded street stopped. No doubt what this was — gun crime erupting under our noses. Two more shots. Crack crack. Then another. Crack! My eight-month-old son was in a buggy and I shoved him into a gap between two parked cars. What next? Run for it? But I might charge into the line of fire. I paused, terrified.
It is always cheering to encounter a politician who refuses to offer up the easy answer to challenging questions but instead delves beneath the surface and, with candour, delivers himself of an opinion which runs counter to the popularly held belief. So let’s hear it this week for Peter Hain, the agreeably tanned candidate for the post of deputy leader of the Labour party.The question in this particular case was this: why does the British public view politicians, and especially leading members of the current administration, with cynicism and bitterness? The easy, glib answer for Peter would have been: ‘Because of the opportunistic and cynical behaviour of people such as myself.
George Jellicoe, who died last week, was an early member of David Stirling’s SAS, and soon became commander of the Special Boat Service. We first met in pitch darkness soon after midnight on 24 June 1942 in a cove off southern Crete, both of us in rubber boats, one of them taking off Jellicoe and his comrades — most of them French — back to Mersa Matruh, the other landing me on the island for a SOE mission.
Don’t say Tony Blair didn’t warn you that you won’t like a world in which America has decided to become a self-centred spectator rather than a player. That day seems to be approaching, a response to the self-indulgent anti-Americanism that has become so fashionable in Britain and Europe. The American presidential election campaign is about to get serious, and sooner than usual, since about half of all the delegates to the nominating conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties will have been chosen less than a year from now.
Britain doesn’t do Lord High Executioners, but if it did, Gordon Brown would probably be the best in the world. The prospect of the Chancellor in this role occurred to me while listening again to Gilbert & Sullivan’s masterful satire, The Mikado. Ko-Ko makes his entrance with ‘a little list’ of those who are for the chop. Among the joys of W.S. Gilbert’s libretto is its invitation for a contemporary version of victims.
A leadership election opens up, uniquely, the opportunity to debate and decide on the future course of a government. I am standing because I believe there are several areas of policy where a fundamental change of direction is now needed. And though Spectator readers may initially be sceptical about the relevance of my policies to them, I believe that if they read on with an open mind, they’ll find much that they agree with.