Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

One day last August, with the dust-motes swirling in the summer heat, I ran into Robin Cook in a corridor of the House of Commons. The place was almost deserted during the long recess, whose length Cook later truncated as part of the sweeping reforms he brought in when Leader of the House. The Spectator had just published an article by me expressing my misgivings at the prospect of a war on Iraq, and Robin told me he agreed with many of the points I had made. It therefore came as no surprise to me that his own doubts should have surfaced steadily to the point where he resigned from the government. Just as Robin agreed with me, so I agreed with him in many of the arguments he put forward in his masterly Commons resignation speech - his `personal statement' is one of the few specimens of quaint Commons phraseology that Robin unaccountably failed to abolish. I especially empathised with his excoriation of the ghastly President George W. Bush. However, I did not agree with his conclusion that he would vote against the government, since to me Security Council resolution 1441 provides sufficient legal justification for military action. I do not think Robin would have chosen to end his career in front-bench politics to the accompaniment of a standing ovation from the Liberal Democrats, loathing for whose cynical opportunism was widespread on both Labour and Conservative benches on Monday night. I wish that Robin's reforms had included changes in the rules governing television coverage of the Commons to allow panoramic reaction shots, since it would have been educational for the wider electorate to have seen the giggling and smirking that so often permeated the Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist benches during that tense and sombre evening.

Stephen Daldry has made it known that, if the wins the Oscar for best director on Sunday, he will use his acceptance speech to attack war on Iraq. I hope he does not get the chance - not because I want to suppress his political views, but because I loathed the widely praised film for which he has been nominated. The Hours is exactly the kind of dull, drab, pseudo-literary movie - with contributions from posh Brits such as Daldry and Sir David Hare - for which vulgarian Hollywood nabobs are such suckers. That is why they gave the Best Picture award to the almost equally stilted, stuffy Shakespeare in Love when the vigorous, brilliantly edited Saving Private Ryan was in contention. The Hours has every ingredient that can be relied on to intimidate Hollywood and to make any self-respecting movie-lover cringe: high-- flown sentiments, convoluted construction posing as skill, and self-consciously 'great' performances, especially that of look-at-me-- I'm-acting Meryl Streep, who is almost as irritating in the almost equally phoney Adaptation. With grisly credentials like these, I fear that The Hours is bound to win a slew of awards and Daldry may even get to make that speech.

In this week's Sunday Telegraph Matthew d'Ancona cruelly listed the categories of rebel, rather along the lines of Polonius's categories of actor, cited in Hamlet: `historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral'. D'Ancona's rogues' gallery consisted of `deadbeats, crypto-Trots, bearded headbangers, ale-soaked has-beens, failed poly-lecturers and professional whingers'. …

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