Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Tony Blair gives a date for his departure. Many say that he would have been able to stay if he had not supported the war in Iraq. But what would have happened in British politics if he had opposed the war? He would for the first time have been the prisoner of the Left. The same voices in his party who ensured electoral humiliation with their support for unilateral nuclear disarmament in the Eighties would, along with the Euro-fanatics, have captured him. The Conservatives, given an opportunity at last, would have argued that, in the end, Labour can never be trusted to maintain good relations with our most important ally.

The main international blame for the fracture between America and Europe would have fallen on Mr Blair, and the war would still have taken place. His mission as Prime Minister has been consistent -- to make Labour the natural party of government. This meant no Clause 4 socialism, no income tax rises and no break in the Atlantic alliance. It is virtually miraculous that he managed to maintain this for ten years in No. 10. When we rediscover what the Labour party is really like, we shall miss him.

Returning to your home country from abroad, you sometimes see a national defect with an outsider's clarity. I came back last week from a week's riding in Turkmenistan to the story of Lord Browne's resignation. In almost every country in the world, there must be businessmen who have homosexual lovers recruited from slightly shady agencies. The only uniquely British aspect of the story is that we have a press that will pay the lover for the story and trump up a 'public interest' angle to catch out its victim.

Surely the reason Lord Browne lied was not because he feared the criticism of business colleagues or shareholders for being gay but because he feared the Mail newspapers.

Another British characteristic is the infuriating TV documentary. We now lead the world in documentaries which are vehicles for the presenter to show off his courage, humour, sensitivity, rudeness, ignorance etc. One such, which I watched in preparation for Turkmenistan, was called The Happy Dictator, and concerned Turkmenbashi (as he called himself), the late President of Turkmenistan and his personality cult. What it was really about was Waldemar Januszczak, who presented it. Look at me, he seemed to say, here I am in Ashkabat (the capital) and I am not allowed to make this film so I am shooting it with a hidden camera and amusingly drinking vodka with Turkmenbashi's head on it in my hotel room and generally being disrespectful and unshaven. My heart went out to the dignified Turkmens being guyed by this oaf and my head longed for more actual information about the place. A documentary should let its subjects speak. The presenter should be heard but not seen.

Inthis respect, Molly Dineen's The Lie of the Land was the model. It followed the work of West Country livestock farmers, huntsmen and the flesh men from the hunt who deal with fallen stock and are increasingly asked to kill healthy calves because there is no market for them. The men all spoke feelingly as they did their jobs, filmed without silly tricks. The film brought out their dignity and allowed them their voice. It also made good points about how regulation bears much more heavily on British farmers than on their rivals, and how the hunt ban prevents necessary control while other policies contribute to unnecessary slaughter. …

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