Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

What is it that people do not understand about the concept of retirement for politicians? Those who think I should not have participated in Strictly Come Dancing seem to believe I am doing a job called 'ex-politician'. I have no idea what it involves. I have left the House of Commons and have not been invited to join the House of Lords, which must surely leave me free to do anything I like as long as it is legal. Only popes and monarchs stay in post until they die.

Actually, there are strong similarities between a dance competition and life in the Westminster village: smart manoeuvres, about-turns, fancy footwork, audience appeal and outlasting the competition. One is dull and the other is glamorous but in each it is the style which determines the outcome. Anyway, I knew I was ready for retirement when I began to prefer the countryside to the metropolis and Countdown to Question Time. I wanted to travel so six months in Luvvie Land is a good start.

A few days ago, I led two donkeys, one bedecked in tinsel and the other in a Santa hat, along a street in Newton Abbot. The exercise was taken in good part by the residents who have for more than two months looked on in quiet bemusement as the paparazzi have invaded the small town where my dance partner Anton and I rehearse. This time I was promoting a charity which I hold very dear: the Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land. It was formed by an English air hostess who couldn't bear the ill treatment and neglect and now it houses scores of grateful ungulates. My favourite tale is of the two Palestinian boys who found an abandoned donkey too ill to walk. They knew of the shelter but had no means of getting the animal there so they approached, of all people, an Israeli soldier, who in turn summoned assistance, and off the beast went in an army truck to be nursed back to health before enjoying a life of idle munching.

Sometimes folk call me eccentric to worry about far-off donkeys, but after a story as powerful as that one I think I am not such an ass.

The snow lies round about us but it is not deep and crisp and even. It is slushy and frozen and doubtless the NHS is now being overwhelmed with broken bones.

On Dartmoor, where I live when I am not prancing the paso doble in Shepherd's Bush, it is beautiful, coating the moors with white, throwing the dark, roaming cattle into relief. …

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