Napoleon notoriously preferred his generals to be lucky — and on that score at least, he would have approved of David Cameron. The triumph of the Syriza party in Greece presents him with a glorious opportunity to solve the European question that has bedevilled the Tories for so long. Europe’s difficulty is Cameron’s opportunity.
The European elite has been shaken by the scale of Syriza’s victory. Just a few weeks ago, Cameron was arguing in private that Greek voters, who remain overwhelmingly pro-EU, would ultimately not back a party that was intent on a confrontation with the eurozone authorities.
When republicans meet, we console ourselves with the thought that our apparently doomed cause will revive. The hereditary principle guarantees that eventually a dangerous fool will accede to a position he could never have attained by merit, we chortle. With Charles III, we have just the fool we need.
I don’t laugh any more. Britain faces massive difficulties. It can do without an unnecessary crisis brought by a superstitious and vindictive princeling who is too vain to accept the limits of constitutional monarchy.
The most significant achievement of this coalition, the only thing they really have any right to crow about, and possibly all that posterity will ever remember them for with anything approaching gratitude, will not be the ‘long-term economic plan’ they never cease to talk up, but the school reforms that the Conservatives seem almost to want to deny as the general election approaches.
This reticence is a mistake.
Let’s face it. Whatever Pope Francis actually means when his head is in the clouds during those in-flight press conferences of his, we Europeans need to breed like rabbits if we want to preserve Europe. That is not why I have bred like a rabbit, but it is the brutal truth.
I have five children aged 11 down to three — because until the age of 40 I thought I was infertile and did not think I could breed at all, let alone like a rabbit; and because though I am a devout agnostic, I am married to Carla, a devout Catholic, who is much younger than me and refuses to use contraception.
I think I’m coming down with galanthomania. It’s a rare affliction, but one that’s hard to shake, and it’s affecting more people every year. Galanthus are snowdrops, and galanthomania is a 21st-century version of that 17th-century craze for tulips which began in the Dutch golden age. At the height of the tulip mania some bulbs were selling at 3,000 or 4,000 florins, almost ten times a craftsman’s annual wage.
Abuja was eerily quiet when I arrived. The capital of Nigeria is normally bustling, but that morning the wide boulevards were empty. The red dust was undisturbed; the call to prayer echoed through the city like the sad lament of the lonely. There is an election approaching, and a lot of people take that as their cue to leave the country. You’ll find much of Nigeria’s ruling class in the Harrods food hall at this time.
Sachsenschweine — Saxon pigs — said the graffiti as my train moved out of Berlin on its way to Dresden. Germany is not as monolithic as it can seem: not only do some of its ancient kingdoms continue a ghostly existence as states of the Federal Republic, but also their populations nurture historic rivalries, at least on the football pitches. But the new popular movement in Dresden — Pegida, or ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, no less — has thrown into relief keener intra-German divisions: not only those between immigrants and ethnic Germans but also those between many German voters and the country’s mortally politically correct establishment.
I was working on the final edit of my book — a fictionalised account of the year Charles Rennie Mackintosh spent in Suffolk — when news came in that his most famous architectural creation, The Glasgow School of Art, was on fire. My heart lurched. This was an unimaginable tragedy, not just for Glasgow, but for Britain. Students were weeping in the street. I struggled not to cry myself. Poor old Mac (as the Suffolk locals called him).