Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Magazine article The Spectator

Letters

Article excerpt

Hastings basting

From Mr Peter Fullerton

Sir: Max Hastings's well-known love of blood sports should allow him better to distinguish between the functions of a hound and an untrained rottweiler ('Lamontable performance', 2 October). His case against Norman Lamont, omitting for a moment the inaccuracies and adjectival malice, is that Norman supported John Major for prime minister for the sole purpose of becoming chancellor; that he hypocritically defended in public a policy he opposed in private; and that he failed to resign when an Important Editor told him to.

Had Mr Hastings read In Office and not just the extracts, he would have understood the widely shared political reasons for Norman's backing of Major; his being made chancellor was not one. That he subsequently supported a policy in whose adoption he had not been closely involved, is hardly surprising, since it was an official policy introduced by the prime minister and agreed to by the previous prime minister. Not everyone travels as regularly to Damascus as Mr Hastings, and most people's views are modified gradually by experience and circumstance. That Norman became increasingly disenchanted with the ERM (and the attempts he made to seek reconsideration of the policy with Mr Major) is thoroughly detailed in his book. Had he not continued to support the policy in private - and one wonders what 'private' means to a journalist - as well as in public, would not Mr Hastings's then paper, the Daily Telegraph, have been among the first to headline `Cabinet split over ERM'?

As for resignation, it is undisputed that the prime minister urged Norman not to resign. In an otherwise unfriendly extract from his book in the most recent Sunday Times, Mr Major acknowledges that, in the period between Black Wednesday and his ceasing to be chancellor, Norman set in place the policies that produced the healthy economy which Labour inherited. Despite admitting that the Daily Telegraph under his direction and against the advice of his financial editors promoted a mistaken editorial policy, it appears not to have occurred to Mr Hastings that he might have resigned.

Then, in pseudo-tolerant affection - `his capacity for scrapes' - Mr Hastings goes ad hominem. He recites the Threshers and the basement tenant incidents again, knowing that they were invented by vindictive newspapers to damage the chancellor.

Mr Hastings should read In Office. He would find that the memoirs are not `entirely sour and cross'. He would find them self-deprecating and thoughtful, acknowledging mistakes, with plenty of gravitas and with a careful analysis of Norman's economic and fiscal policy, including a superb essay on monetary union.

It is surely time to stop such personal vitriol as `his face was bloated and darkened by bitterness'. I've known Norman since we became friends at Cambridge and amused ourselves there with politics. I talked to him frequently immediately after his resignation and recognise none of the characteristics which are automatically attributed to him, as if journalists' computers are programmed to include 'bitter' and 'resentful' whenever they type Lamont. Certainly he was unhappy, shocked and disillusioned who wouldn't have been?

Historically, scapegoats - and he has been made one - were sent into the wilderness after the sins of the people had been laid on them; but at least they were not pursued by galumphing hacks throwing stones.

Peter Fullerton The Reform Club, 104 Pall Mall, London SWI

Patten's proposals

From Mr Alistair B. Cooke, OBE Sir: Chris Patten claims that his report is based `on what the people of Northern Ireland told us about the sort of policing they wanted' (Letters, 2 October). One of the most striking features of the report, however, is its ruthlessness in setting aside powerful expressions of public opinion that happen to be inconvenient For example, a survey carried out for Patten by independent consultants in May and June this year revealed that 75 per cent of those who had had contact with the RUC during the previous two years were satisfied with the way that they had been treated, and that sentiment was only slightly less prevalent among Catholics (69 per cent) than Protestants (77 per cent). …

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