Magazine article The Spectator

How Psychoanalysis Will Solve the Mystery of the Missing Tories

Magazine article The Spectator

How Psychoanalysis Will Solve the Mystery of the Missing Tories

Article excerpt

Last week's flight of Mr Michael Heseltine and Mr Kenneth Clarke to a platform presided over by Mr Tony Blair was, of course, the most notorious since that of Burgess and Maclean or, indeed, of Rudolf Hess. What are the known facts about Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine? All we know so far is that the two men, who had worked together for many years, disappeared from the Conservative front bench some time after 1 May 1997. According to the Sunday papers, at 11.40 a.m. on Wednesday of last week, they slipped into No. 10 Downing Street through a back entrance. They had been tipped off by Mr Chris Patten, the Third Man. In No. 10, they met whom some say were their controllers, Mr Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press spokesman, and Mr Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff. The next day they appeared in public, espousing the cause of a foreign power alongside Mr Blair.

For some, then, the two Tories' motives are obvious. `Traitors,' cried the Daily Mail headline. This is probably the most simple explanation, the one on which history will agree, though we cannot exclude the possibility that they were kidnapped and drugged. Part of me tells myself that the obvious explanation is the correct one: that they defected out of idealism; out of a belief, however perverse, in an internationalist movement directed from Brussels. But the psychologist in me would also, because it is more interesting, like to believe that such idealism is the mere outward explanation for their departure, an excuse rather than a cause, and that the cause is to be found deep within their complex, disturbed personalities. Admittedly, this wish on my part immediately confronts the difficulty that one of the two - Mr Clarke - does not seem at all complex or disturbed. So, for the purposes of psychoanalysis, we shall just have to assume that the man's easygoing manner is just that - a manner. Inside him, all is turmoil.

Thus I find myself in the position of Cyril Connolly, the most fashionable literary type of his day, in his now hard-to-find pamphlet, The Missing Diplomats, published in 1952 after the two Foreign Office men, Burgess and Maclean, disappeared but before they made it known that they had defected to Moscow. In his foreword to the pamphlet, Peter Quennell, another literary person, wrote that it was unlikely that the problem of the diplomats' disappearance `would ever be completely solved... The episode will remain a minor historical enigma - one of the most remarkable presented to us during the last 200 years.' In words which some may apply to Mr Clarke and Mr Heseltine, `they are now representative, curiously tragic figures. . . The experiences which they have undergone have purged their characters of triviality. Were they helpless victims; high-minded, muddleheaded conspirators; determined but incompetent traitors? The story remains unfinished. Probably we shall never know.'

Actually, we knew already. Only aesthetes like Quennell and Connelly did not. It was obvious from the start where Burgess and Maclean had gone. Their destination could be discovered from that source which aesthetes never consult: the popular press. That was why all my childhood neighbours were better informed than Quennell and Connolly. But such figures as Violet Bonham-Carter preferred to denounce the low prints for harassing Mrs Melinda Maclean, the wife who was left in Britain, though not for long since in due course she took herself off to Moscow too.

Yet, while happy to jeer at them, I sympathise with Quennell and Connolly. …

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