In January, as the then schoolboy editor of the Eton College Chronicle, I wrote to Sir Edward Heath to ask him for an interview for my school magazine. A few days later, a typed letter from Sir Edward arrived through my letterbox. He was flattered, he wrote, to have been asked, and would be delighted to meet me, but he feared that such an interview, despite the Chronicle’s limited readership, would attract undue and unwanted attention to him in the run-up to the general election.
First, a macabre coincidence. The last Ashes series, the eighth straight pitiful England capitulation, started days after the Bali bombing which killed 88 Australians and 26 British travellers. Now, as the Lord’s Test begins, London reels from the atrocious targeting of morning commuters.
The recent bombings have evoked enormous and deserved admiration for stoical Londoners. Down in the convict colony, headline writers and cartoonists have utterly exhausted the clichés depicting ye-olde-Dart-never-surrender-stiff-upper-lipped-British-bulldog spirit.
The House of Lords has already been subjected to thoughtless changes. It is now threatened with further political correcting, including a change of name. This government is not only hostile to its ethos and its historical resonance. The Blairites resent the Upper House’s independence and its ability to make life awkward for ministers.
Last Thursday, both of those attributes were on display. It was only a three-hour debate, on a motion for papers, with no legislative consequences.
Watching the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw this week, as he denied any link whatever between the London bombings and the war in Iraq, I must confess that I felt the tiniest prickle of sympathy. How undignified it must be, endlessly having to pretend that black is white, the sun sets in the east and the Pope’s religion is really not quite as simple an issue as some irresponsible commentators make out.
The terrorist attacks of 7 July, as the ludicrous BBC refuses to call them, have raised many questions. We might ask what turned ordinary Muslim youths into mass murderers. Or we might wonder how a religion of peace can inspire people to terrorism across the world.
A more pressing question, however, is: why Britain? Not why was Britain attacked, because the list of countries targeted by Islamist terrorism is growing so fast it will soon be quicker to list those unaffected.