Magazine article The Spectator

De Haut En Bas

Magazine article The Spectator

De Haut En Bas

Article excerpt

Last week I did PMQs with Sky television's Adam Boulton. PMQs sounds like something that affects women around that time of the month but it is actually an acronym for Prime Minister's Questions at the House of Commons. Boulton -- whose smoothly smiling face resembles an Edam cheese with powers of reason - invites certain 'pundits' to watch PMQs with him and then comment on the debate.

I was one of these 'pundits'; the other, Hugo Young. Hugo Young is what might be described as a super-intellectual, the Linda Evangelista of political journalism he doesn't get out of bed for less than 10,000 words a day. One of that afternoon's issues - what is an issue, incidentally? Is the 't' silent, leaving it something to be sneezed at? - was the Prime Minister's attempt to deflect Ken Livingstone from his charge at the London Mayoralty.

The media, particularly the loftier broadsheet element of it, had already condemned as both outrageous and undemocratic Mr Blair's attack on the People's Ken. Two days later, a newspaper disclosed that MIS had warned Blair that Livingstone had frequent contacts with members of Sinn Fein, some as late as 1996.

This news failed to daunt the Ken partisans, rather it encouraged them. This was particularly true of the grander element of the Tory establishment -- which professes to regard Livingstone as one of the last great figures of British politics and any attack on his reputation as a direct hit on the freeborn Englishman's liberties.

What nonsense. I have never been able to fathom how such people as Livingstone and Tony Banks and to a lesser extent Dennis Skinner could be held up as examples of something admirable. The paternalist grandees smile indulgently at their excesses and murmur `what character'. They do have character but not the sort you would like to meet on a dark street at night.

Their alleged integrity is usually bullheadedness and vanity; their courage a mere insensitivity to danger; their fabled frankness a lack of manners. I suppose, though, that the principal reason for the popularity of Livingstone and the rest is that such people correspond to the romantic idea of the working class. Worse, they are the contemporary equivalent of the once fashionable blackamoor servant; or, worse still, the Alan Clarks de nos jours - dancing bears.

The prospect of an alliance between Whiggish Tories and the ruffians of the far Left surprises most people, but it is, when one thinks about it, realistic. …

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