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[/audioplayer]They have taken to calling themselves the ‘Runnymede Tories’: those Conservative MPs who, knowing that David Cameron has a majority of just 12, want to sabotage his manifesto commitment to end the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Britain.
‘Let me give you a Californian hug,’ says Steve Hilton, and I try my best to give him a Scottish one. We have met a few times before. He served as David Cameron’s chief strategist and his job was to keep out of the headlines and newspapers. In government, he took on a near-mythical status as a restless, shoeless radical who roamed around Downing Street terrifying civil servants. Then, after two years in power, he jetted off to California, where he has kept quiet.
Just under 100 years ago the headline in the Oban Times read ‘American family buy lodge and estate on the Isle of Jura’. They were my grandparents, who, although by then British, had both been born in America. They bought our lodge from the Campbells of Jura, who had had the misfortune to lose their heirs one terrible morning in the trenches of the first world war.
My grandparents were initially regarded with suspicion by the locals.
When I was asked to write this article I intended to start by saying that Nigel Farage had to choose whether he preferred that Britain should leave the EU or that he should remain Ukip’s leader, because the two were incompatible. I hope I was wrong about that, but there is some truth in it, and Nigel stated his own view a couple of months ago. ‘It is frankly just not credible for me to continue to lead the party without a Westminster seat.
It is said that the road to hell is ‘paved with good intentions’. Well, so is the typical front garden in what used to be our green residential streets. In the last ten years, 13 per cent of the lush greenery in British front gardens has disappeared; 4.5 million of our front gardens are now entirely paved over. We used to laugh at overgrown front gardens populated with bearded garden gnomes; but those are surely preferable to grey rectangular deserts of nothingness, mere off-street parking spaces for the car.
Gore Vidal once famously said that ‘Television is for appearing on, not watching.’ I feel the opposite. I’ve just turned down a financial offer from Celebrity Big Brother for this summer’s series so big it made my eyes water — and I’m not easily impressed, size-wise. Verbal people just don’t do well in such a visual medium — and speech is my second language, anyhow.
It would be easier to go in if I was guaranteed first eviction — but Liz Jones was stuck in there for weeks, and I’m a good deal more entertaining and lovable than she is.
After the first earthquake we were told that the chance of another one was 200 to 1. A fortnight later, when we were just beginning to recover, the second one hit. Perhaps I’m getting better at this, because this time I was able to control my body enough to run outside and join the crowd in the street. Standing with my family, looking back towards our home, I could see dust billowing from the foundations of the houses.
Napoleon didn’t think much of Antwerp. ‘Scarcely a European city at all,’ he scoffed. If only he could see it today. Ten years ago, Antwerp felt provincial. Now it feels like the capital of an (almost) independent state. ‘Jardin Zoologique’ it says outside the zoo, but that’s the only French signage you’ll see in this resolutely Flemish city. When they built the zoo, in 1843, Belgium was only 13 years old, and French was the official language throughout this mongrel nation.