|What We Think||December 1999: The degeneration of British public life|
Pardon us if we allow ourselves the indulgence of a quiet smile at the spectacular political crash last month of Jeffrey Archer - multi-millionaire novelist, ex-Tory deputy chairman and general whizz-kid, and, not least, nearly Conservative candidate for Lord Mayor of London.
It is perhaps poetic justice that this fallen idol is a man who has managed to encapsulate in one personage just about everything that is rotten and putrid in late 20th century British politics.
It seems only a short time ago that Jeffrey was bouncing along the streets in pursuit of his mayoral campaign proclaiming loudly to any reporters around to listen how delighted he was to see more and more black and white couples on the London scene - a sentiment transparently phoney but an obvious part of the act that the candidate felt he had to put on to place himself in the slipstream of political correctness and court the ethnic minority vote. Now the dream is all in ruins, as Archer is set to be kicked out of the Tory Party and even, possibly, to be prosecuted for conspiring to pervert the course of justice and land in jail.
The catalyst was the disclosure by a friend of Archer, writer and actor Ted Francis, that he (Archer) had asked him to provide a false alibi for the night in 1986 when Archer had slept with a call-girl. The alibi was part of Archer's case in a libel suit brought against the Daily Mail over the affair.
Francis had for some time harboured a grudge against Archer. His complicity in the alibi had been bought by a pledge by the latter to invest £25,000 in a TV project in which Francis had been involved. Archer later came up with less than half that money (£12,000). Nevertheless, he went around bragging that he had provided Archer with £20,000. After smarting for years over the affair, Francis approached publicity agent Max Clifford and sold the true story of the alibi for £15,000. Because the evidence eventually did not get to court, Francis is immune himself to any charge of perjury.
Whilst this sordid business does not exactly cover Francis with glory, the light it sheds on Archer is revealing. It shows him to be typical of a very common modern breed of politician: utterly consumed by personal ambition, without an atom of moral sense, not a half-pennyworth's regard for the truth, no loyalty whatever to friends and a preparedness to use anyone when convenient, then to injure them afterwards when they seem to have outlived their usefulness.
Just how Archer managed to retain his place in Tory Party favour for years until this latest exposure says as much about the party as it does about himself. His character traits and dubious record were common knowledge in Tory circles but he was not only accepted but positively admired as a successful 'adventurer' whom nothing seemed to be able to keep down. Latter-day Tories tend to idolise 'winners', no matter at what price in honour their victories are obtained. From being the party of grandees, they have become the party of careerist spivs to whom any commandment may be broken except the eleventh one, which deals with getting caught. Archer's final ruin has come though his violation of this eleventh commandment, nothing else.
Only the previous month, Tory leader William Hague had championed Archer in the London election as a candidate "of probity and integrity" - which suggests either that Mr. Hague has been dwelling on another planet or that he would not let on about Archer nearly as much as he knew. In any event, Hague's fitness as a would-be national leader has once again been reduced to a joke.
Bruce Anderson, writing in the Daily Mail on November 23rd, surveyed the pitiful selection of candidates lining up for the London mayor's job, of whom Archer was merely the most outrageous in his unsuitability, and said: "What a shambles, what a disgrace, what an insult to our capital city."
But he might have gone further, and said: "What a commentary on British politics that such a creature as Archer could have come so far, conned so many people, achieved such success and enjoyed such favour before meeting his deserved nemesis."
Another sell-out politician
When David Trimble first became the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, we gave him the benefit of the doubt. His record of utterances on the Northern Ireland troubles suggested firmness tempered by a polite manner and a finely tuned political sense. There was just one niggling doubt: he had a good press, and that is not a recommendation for any politician in the way of trustworthiness in defending British interests.
The niggling doubt has turned out to be fully justified. Trimble has now declared that he is prepared to accept Sinn Fein as a part of the new government of Northern Ireland without a single gun, bomb or packet of semtex being surrendered. And he has done so at the apparent risk of huge divisions in his party, which could even culminate in his being deposed as leader. The persuasion applied to Mr. Trimble to get him to consent to such a move must have been very powerful indeed!
Of course, all this talk of the need for Sinn Fein/IRA to decommission on weapons is largely a red herring. Just supposing that these gangsters did start decommissioning, how would we know how many of the tools of terrorism they still had up their sleeves? A token offering of a few guns here and a few explosive devices there would be utterly meaningless in terms of the terrorists' ability to return to their favoured trade just as soon as it suited them to do so - which would undoubtedly happen if the timetable for the British pull-out from Northern Ireland was not proceeding to their satisfaction.
This latest farce only underlines the truth of what Spearhead has said all along: that there is no effective way to peace in Northern Ireland other than through the total annihilation of the IRA and allied terrorist groups by all means necessary.
Jealous Germans - really?
We British - and particularly some of our journalists - seem to have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception.
Some readers may know that there has been a move afoot for the British telecommunications company Vodafone to take over the German firm Mannesmann. The move is encountering considerable opposition in Germany, with Chancellor Schroeder himself intervening in the matter.
Stephen Glover, writing in the Daily Mail (23rd November) thought the Germans were being most unreasonable, and he went on to contrast the British approach to business with that of the Germans and French, who tend to protect their own domestic industries from foreign competition and takeover while we are only to happy to have ours sink or swim in an unfettered global market. The Germans, said Glover, oppose Vodafone swallowing up Mannesmann because they "hate our success."
Now that really is a revelation! British industry more successful than German? One only has to take a look along our city streets and motorways, and one will find German cars, motor vans, heavy lorries, fire engines, ambulances and police vehicles in profusion - with no parallel intrusion of British products into the German market. One notes that Rover is now owned by BMW and Rolls Royce by Volkswagen, with no British ownership of any part of the German motor industry that we're aware of. One notes that nowadays the QE2 has to be refitted in a Hamburg shipyard, while the latest huge ocean-going cruise liner to be ordered by a British company will be made in the same city.
And gross domestic product per capita is about 50 per cent higher in Germany than in Britain.
And while Vodafone is certainly a British success story, it should not be forgotten that that company only supplies mobile 'phone services. In fact, there is not a single British-owned, UK-based company that actually makes mobile 'phones. Try and buy one, and you'll soon find out!
So just what is the 'success' on Britain's part that the Germans should be jealous about?
From their point of view, the Germans are of course quite right to object to the takeover of Mannesmann by a foreign company, British or otherwise, just as from their own point of view the French are quite right not to buy British beef. Instead of whining when our competitors look after their interests and put ours down the list, we should be doing just the same thing. Instead of being hurt and angry when the Germans want to keep Mannesmann under their own control, we should be setting about taking back Rover and Rolls Royce!
Must apologies be one-way?
According to the Jewish Chronicle (19.11.99), church leaders have signed a 'declaration of repentance' for the treatment of Jews in Britain over more than 2,000 years(?). The international director of Coventry Cathedral, Canon Andrew White, led a service at the House of Lords which he described as "a public confession of Christian fault before God and the Jewish people... We repent our wrongdoing towards the Jewish people... Christian arrogance and persecution... have contributed to the first attempt to eradicate a people by industrialised mass murder."
Now this really is touching, but if we are into the apology business might it not be a bad idea for the rabbis to issue a declaration of repentance for the Jews having given the world communism, with all the mass murders that are known to have taken place in the name of that creed?
Of course, not all Jews are responsible for communism. But for that matter neither are all Christians responsible for unpleasant things that have happened to Jews.
But it seems that in the grovelling season none of these truths matter.
Some sports commentators have lamented the absence of a rousing reception for new world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis on his return to Britain following his taking of the title from Evander Holyfield in Los Angeles last month.
In fact, it was noticeable that, despite tremendous media hype, Lewis's bid for the title mostly provoked little more than a yawn this side of the Atlantic - by contrast with days of old when British heavyweights Tommy Farr, Bruce Woodcock, Don Cockell and Henry Cooper made their bids (in Farr's and Cooper's cases very nearly successfully) to be World No. One. Then there was tremendous excitement and patriotic fervour accompanying the fights. But not this time.
The difference, of course, is that deep down in the consciousness of the British sporting public, while these previous contenders were seen as 'True Brit', Lewis is not. They were white, and he is black.
Good luck to Lennox Lewis. We wish him well, and we praise his win. But this is not a win we feel we can wave the flag over. That clearly is the national mood. We cannot, of course, expect newspaper writers to understand this. They live in a different world to the ordinary folk of this country. They expect us to cheer, and are baffled when we don't.