Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

It is terribly disheartening for those of us who want the Conservatives to be ready to govern again to see them stuck in a cul-de-sac of their own choosing about the Iraq war. The revelation that, because of this, George Bush refused to sec Michael Howard earlier in the year was bad enough for the Tories, but I found myself actually blushing at the Tory response to Karl Rove, the President's right-hand man. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the aides spoke to Howard and 'he told us to tell Rove one word - Tough'. Imagine someone from the leader of the Opposition's office squeaking 'Tough!' down the phone to the White House, and imagine the fear this must have struck in Mr Rove. It may be true that Mr Howard will not win many votes at present by being close to Mr Bush, but he won't win any by being close to Mr Kerry, and in fact he is close to neither, while Mr Blair is managing to be close to both. The Tories' attempt to get out of having supported the war by quibbling about its sub-clauses has made them waste an entire year. Every time they try to lacerate the Prime Minister on the subject, they lacerate only themselves.

Most of us, I suspect, are disturbed from time to time by strong public reactions to news stories which make us feel alarmingly distant from our fellow countrymen. For me, in the last month, there have been two such. The first was the outrage at the fact that a convicted criminal won £7 million on the National Lottery. The second was the intense interest in the inner feelings of Paula Radcliffe.

I have no idea whether Mark Thatcher had anything to do with the attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, but I did find myself fantasising about what fun it would have been if his mother had been involved in a successful effort. After all, she took over one corrupt but oil-rich state 25 years ago, and sorted it out pretty smartly. Equatorial Guinea would have offered a nice little retirement opportunity, with great speeches attacking the Summer of Discontent in which, under President Teodom Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dead lay unburied in the streets. After a few bumpy years taking on the diamond miners' union, she could have turned the place into the most prosperous state in Africa.

An acquaintance of mine in the overseas aid business found himself, a few years ago, in one of those southern African countries in which the rebel faction controlled a large part of the territory. Due to some exceptional diplomacy, he reached agreement that a senior representative of the government and ditto from the rebels would meet him together to see if any deal could be done to help the aid. He was surprised, at the meeting, to find that the rebel leader was Simon Mann, the mercenary boss now awaiting sentence in Zimbabwe, whom he had last seen at Eton.

Ah, Eton. The continuing power of that single word is strange. Readers may have seen the story last week that the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, had refused permission for the typescripts of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time sequence, and other Powelliana, to continue to be housed in Eton College Library in lieu of inheritance tax. She says that they must be put in the British Library, against the wishes of the Powell family and the recommendation of the committee of the Historical Manuscripts Commission that deals with these matters. …

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