Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Last week at Policy Exchange, the think tank of which I am chairman, General David Petraeus gave a fascinating lecture about what we are now not allowed to call the War on Terror.

He spoke tactfully, but between the lines I thought I read a feeling that the fight in Afghanistan is in the balance. This made him emphatic in his praise of British troops: he can see the political dangers if we withdraw, he needs more of our men, and he wants this to be clear to a new Tory government. Now the Washington Post has leaked the views of the general on the spot, Stanley McChrystal.

He sounds almost desperate for a greater US effort. The fact is that the Obama administration, having tried to reassure those anxious about withdrawal from Iraq by saying how important Afghanistan is, has not really followed up. It backed the re-election of Karzai despite British anxieties about his uselessness, and now appears not to have the will for what is needed next. Many welcome the retreat of American power after the Bush era, but what is actually happening is that small countries that want to be free are suffering, and big nasty ones - China, Iran, Russia - breathe sighs of relief. It is beginning to feel too much like the Carter era repeated.

The oddest thing about the case of Lady Scotland and her Tongan housekeeper is the speed with which it was 'settled' by the Borders Agency. A quasi-judicial process was all sorted out in a couple of days. Would anyone who is not a government minister get that sort of service?

In the new biography of Alan Clark by Ion Trewin (Alan Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £25), there is mention of a correspondence about how to write between Alan and his father, Kenneth (of Civilisation).

'I find, ' Alan tells K, 'that once I start to think of grammar I become so nervous that I can no longer put pen to paper. It is like thinking about your feet when running down stairs, or the phonetic oddness of words generally, when making a speech.' This is neatly put, and true, but some people might use it to bolster the idea that grammar should not be taught. Surely it points the opposite way. One is self-conscious on the subject because one's knowledge is not quite good enough. Only when you have been taught something really well can you afford not to think about it.

John le Carre is the only person quoted in the Clark biography to have noticed that he 'had a homo-erotic quality. He exuded that. Much more a man's man than a woman's man. Women were the enemy.'

This chimes with my observation of Alan Clark. I must have met him at dozens of parties. I never saw him engage a woman in conversation, or speak to one if there was a man to talk to. Most women I know who knew him say they did not enjoy talking to him. Other evidence - obviously - suggests that he spent a good deal of time with women, but perhaps his interest was never conversational. It is fascinating that he made an exception of his wife, Jane. They always seemed to be chatting away about everything.

My battle against the BBC gets more confusing. Having refused to renew my television licence since July, I have now received a letter from TV Licensing informing me that 'your details are being passed to our enforcement officers'. …

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