Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

No one, I think, has pointed out so far - I did not have room to mention it in last week's Independent on Sunday - that Hugh Gaitskell, like Tony Blair, wanted to reform Labour's National Executive Committee. Anthony Crosland and Roy Jenkins were also much in favour of giving Labour MPs some representation on that body. They and others thought this a cause worth pursuing; whereas trying to change Clause Four was to pick a pointless fight which Gaitskell was bound to lose, as he duly did. At the same time his proposals for reform of the NEC somehow trickled into the sands. So Mr Blair has succeeded with not one but two changes, both Clause Four and the NEC, over which Gaitskell failed. Would he have been comfortable with New Labour? And would Crosland, the 20th anniversary of whose early death falls in 11 days' time? In his writings after the 1959 defeat, Crosland certainly envisaged a party very like Mr Blair's today. Nevertheless he had a sentimental but, sadly, unreciprocated regard for the trade union movement and the working classes generally which was a form of inverted snobbery. Above all, he believed not merely in equality of opportunity but in equality. The paradox of this almost great man's career was that by enforcing comprehensive education while leaving the public schools well alone (a course against which I warned him in the late 1950s) he did more than anyone to bring about greater inequality in our society.

It is a minor but an agreeable fact of my life that I am never importuned by people working for opinion polls. I was certainly not asked by Waterstone's to name my five favourite books published in the last 100 years. Nor was I among those famous authors such as Julian Barnes whose own lists were solicited by energetic feature writers. But I am reluctant to be left out of things. By the way, it is not quite clear to me whether the respondents (as they are called in the opinion polling trade) were required to name their five favourite books or what they considered were the five best books published in the period. I am going for favourites: A. Conan Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmes; Richmal Crompton, William; Anthony Powell, From a View to a Death; Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust; and P.G. Wodehouse, Ukridge. To forestall clever-dick correspondents, I should point out that the Holmes book was first published by George Newnes in 1905.

The BBC is running a television series on the aristocracy. The first programme consisted largely of pretty pictures and beguiling anecdotes, all right if you like that sort of thing. Those in search of political enlightenment should look elsewhere. The narrator told us that in 1906 `Asquith and the Liberals' won a landslide victory. There are two things wrong with that. The election took place in 1905 not 1906. And the Liberals were not led by H.H. Asquith but by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was prime minister until he was succeeded by Asquith in 1908. The narrator moved rapidly to the House of Lords crisis and informed us - I took a note from the video recording - that `the resulting Parliament Act did not in fact diminish the power of the Upper House much at all'. Oh yes? The 1911 Act deprived the Lords of all power over Money Bills and allowed them to delay a Bill passed by the Commons in three consecutive sessions by only two years, after which it became law: the principal exception was a Bill purporting to prolong the life of a Parliament beyond five years. …

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