Magazine article The Spectator

Has Blair Found His Scargill, and Hague His Militant Tendency?

Magazine article The Spectator

Has Blair Found His Scargill, and Hague His Militant Tendency?

Article excerpt

Throughout his career Michael Heseltine has been forced to live with the stigma of the self-made man. Alan Clark called him an 'arriviste who couldn't shoot straight' while Margaret Thatcher's chief whip Michael Jopling, a surer judge of these matters than Clark, infamously accused the hapless Heseltine of 'buying all of his own furniture'. These slurs hit home. On page 178 of his autobiography, published this week, the former deputy prime minister responds to Jopling's far from baseless allegation. This lengthy passage of self-justification, dwelling on the pleasures of visiting antique shops and country fairs with his beloved wife, Anne, is undoubtedly moving, though not without an element of unintentional comedy.

Like many people who have come a very long way in life, Heseltine feels ambivalence bordering on open hostility towards his modest, provincial roots. Only this can explain the snobbery allied to a certain social unease which seeps out of his autobiography like an oil leak. This unhappy psychological condition found its most virulent expression in last week's Spectator. Drawing on all the grandeur of his arboretum, his acres, his monogrammed iron gateway and his Northamptonshire mansion, Heseltine expressed a fastidious disgust for William Hague and what he represented - 'Little Englander Poujade lower-middle-class selfenrichment'.

In that killer phrase, Heseltine unwittingly explained why his own political career, so richly promising and enriched by many redeeming patches, can only be judged a failure. Margaret Thatcher had a genuine, unaffected admiration for what Michael Heseltine sneeringly called the lower-middle classes: that honest, hard-working, decent, patriotic body of men and women who live in the suburbs and strive to better themselves and do well for their families. They responded by winning her three successive elections before defecting to Tony Blair in 1997. Heseltine's social complex does not merely explain why Thatcher succeeded while Heseltine failed. It also illuminates the central paradox of his career: how a highly successful small businessman who believed in free markets and hated state regulation could simultaneously celebrate the idea of corporate government and the European Union.

This week has emphatically belonged to those very Poujadist lower-middle classes that make Mr Heseltine feel so squeamish. There has never been anything like the uprising that brought Britain so swiftly and so clinically to its knees. There had been hints of what was to come over the past few years: the Countryside Rally that immobilised London, the half-hearted 'dump-thepump' campaign earlier this year, whose failure gave the government a false assurance that all was well. But nothing like this. Blockades, strikes and disruption on the roads have indeed formed part of the vocabulary of British political protest in the last 50 years. But that kind of activity has almost invariably been organised by the trade unions and the Left. Till now the annual Oxford and Cambridge rugby match at Twickenham has been the only authentically documented example of a middle-class riot.

This week's blockades set a new pattern. The trade unions are not involved: indeed, the drivers and hauliers are defying the direct orders of the Transport and General Workers' Union boss, Bill Morris. …

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