Friday, 3 April 2009


In they flew like noisy rooks, the leaders of the governments of the world, twittering crossly as they settled in what must have been the ugliest tree on the planet. In their beaks these dark doves carried their plans for prosperity.

Their decision. Let's borrow from the Arabs and the Chinese, neither of whom we have given much cause to love the West. Living off the Chinese is an honourable Western tradition. The Americans have been doing it for years, as Gore Vidal was the first to point out. America's debt to China amounts to trillions. One can hardly blame the Chinese for hacking into our international computer systems. They are merely protecting their investment. One can only hope our new masters are better housekeepers than the West have been over the past two hundred years.

They are already showing the cane. An obvious fracture in the capitalist system has been the tax haven. The feeling was that the G20 would abolish them. Not so. The Chinese objected at the inclusion of Hong Kong and Macao - and that was enough.

And what of us? Once again the United Kingdom breaks records. Swarthy South Americans may live in Banana Republics: we are the first Banana Monarchy.

Harassed for three hundred years by money hungry Hanoverians, we now have the worst of both worlds. Politicians have elbowed their way to the trough. Amid the controversy over whether we should celebrate our Middle Eastern patron saint St George and risk offending his fellow Muslims, I am surprised no one has declared April 1 as our National Day. Clearly the entire Establishment looks on us as fools.

John Lyon, the present Commissioner for Standards, is the only watchdog we have: and to say the least he is pretty toothless. He does not have the tenacity of his predecessor Elizabeth Filkin, who was booted out of the job by that well known Speaker in unknown tongues, Michael Martin, after she had asked some vigorous questions about MPs' behaviour. At a time, it later turned out, that Martin's wife was charging us taxi fares for going shopping.

My own expenses when I was a working reporter were said by one news editor to be a demonstration of my creative powers. Another news editor told a reporter that in order to have spent the sum he was claiming he would “have had to stand on the running boards of two taxis, drinking champagne by the bottle whilst hurling gold coins at the heads of passers by.”

By the standard of today's legislators we were Selling Platers.

Take the fact that Britain is broke, and to paraphrase an old song, “There Will Never Be An England” ......again.

When I was broke, that was it. When the Government goes broke and has some bills to pay, it prints more money. If I had done that to pay the gas bill I would have got five years in prison. Nor did any bank manager at any time tell me that the way to get rid of my overdraft was to sign more cheques. Interestingly, Ma Brown, our grim Presbyterian Nanny, advised us to behave as we were taught as children. I would have thought, having listened to PMQ, THAT is exactly how we behave and is part of the problem. A little more grown up behaviour would be welcome.

He could try putting the cheques in the wrong envelopes. It does bring a stay of execution. It used to work for me with British Telecom and MANWEB. He might have saved a great deal if we had abandoned the G20 Summit. Though it says a great deal about the safety of the world when the President of the United States needs a bodyguard of 200.

I am not anti-American. Indeed when I served with the 8th United States Air Force on the Berlin Airlift some of my best friends were Americans; though of course I would not like them to have married my daughters.

The Yanks - as they liked to be called - were warm, witty and loyal; pathologically generous, though sadly sexually obsessed ....which I find the defining American characteristic.

This is, after all, the country that gave us the pin-up, the knickerless film heroine and Frank Sinatra. Not to mention AIDS and, during World War 2, a rapid increase in the incidence of social diseases.

What I am against is the Hollywoodisation of not only British culture, but their own. For America is a country where everyone wants to die and be reborn as John Wayne, that draft-dodging icon who sold his colleagues down the Red River during the McCarthy period.

Where New Labour is not aping generations of Conservatives, it is recreating the White House in our green and increasingly unpleasant land.

From America we have imported the tribal rhythms of Chubby Checkers and improved on them, if that is the word I want.

But this is the land that gave us the world’s finest entertainers, the moving picture - at its height, in my view, in the animated cartoon, and the spectacular musical; who gave us in Hemingway, an author who changed the language of literature and journalism; the great wits of the thirties, cool jazz and so much else.

Without American scholarship we wouldn't have Boswell’s journals. There is a library at Yale devoted to Walpole and indeed there are more of our literary artefacts stateside than there are here. But it's a notoriously long-winded scholarship, isn't it? And it has swamped our publishing industry. That can't be good.

We seem ashamed of our own culture. There was a lot of good in our Empire. The D’Oyly Carte was a unique British tradition, abandonded by the Arts Council. Pageantry is going. Even beef eating was illegal at one point. Why not a celebration of British culture whilst there still is one to celebrate?

What is the attraction of American culture? Copeland, the Algonquin wits, Norman Rockwell, the American musical film, Disney? Sure. But they are all pre-1950 and the dreadful Eisenhower. What is good about a culture that now is symbolised by an unwashed hippy with flowers and lice vying for posession of his hair, riding a Harley Davidson to the music of Chubby Checkers?

Ought we not to take a leaf out of the French book and enact laws to preserve the British way of life?

I read that Mandleson would be happy to lose British sovereignty. Clearly our culture means little to the Government.


At the non-mystical level at which I can appreciate them, the Ten Commandments seem to me nothing more than bye-laws. Indeed I believe that we would only have to adhere to them to live civilised and happy lives. So why don't we?

Or at least the last six. I believe in a single creator because nothing else makes sense; but sculpture, swearing and keeping the sabbath are all, it seems to me, matters of personal decision.

However, if we did no murder, adultery , false witness bearing or coveting other men’s wives, life, though a great deal duller, would at least be peaceful.

One of the commandments contravenes race relations legislation. If someone took Moses to a tribunal for insisting there was only one god, Moses would lose. The graven image ban would close all the art galleries - and how could you swear an oath without taking the name in vain?

Are we to believe the Commandments were handed down from heaven or was that a device for making them binding on primitive desert tribes?

Perhaps religion itself is old fashioned. Rabbi Lionel Blue once dismissed the notion that God answers prayers as 'superstitious juju'.

And the famous controversy over the Immaculate Conception found many adherents to the belief there was no such thing as a miracle. Doesn't that turn the Ten Commandments into sociology?


Gladstone claimed he had known eleven prime ministers and nine of of them were adulterers.

But can you imagine Mrs Gladstone being forced to go public on her pious husband’s nightly street patrols to save fallen women? “Save one for me” was the popular cry.

For my money, the so-called Clinton scandals were the non-stories of the year. Entirely manufactured by the American Press, with our uncreative media joining in the barking like starving street curs.

Belive me, as a member of that media for half a century, our eagerness to commit adultery would make Clinton appear monk-like.

Besides, we have our own Cads Cartel, which began with Palmerston and included Wellington. Surely, as the home life of our own dear Lloyd George demonstrates, powerful men have powerful urges.

Jefferson’s daughter brought a teenage slave girl to the White House. And it wasn't long before she was Jefferson's. Palmerston harnessed naked women in silken reins and drove them round the drawing room; Wellington gave his name to a number of old boots. Didn't make them less able. Indeed, Disraeli said that if people found out that in old age Palmerston had fathered a child they would never get him out of Downing Street. Clinton’s adultery united America behind him.




One great capital city, 20 world leaders – and 40,000 holes in the road





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