Was there ever a more unilluminating political idea — for voters rather than practitioners — than triangulation? For those readers so pure and high-minded that they have not followed politics for 20 years, I should explain that triangulation came from Bill Clinton, was imported by Tony Blair, and is now practised by David Cameron. Clinton’s adviser, Dick Morris, put it thus: ‘The President needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party’s views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate.’ The Tories’ adoption of the Living Wage is the latest example. This concept, almost as mystically bogus as the medieval concept of the Just Price, is an entirely left-wing one, but Mr Cameron believes it helps him claim (see Tuesday’s Times) that his is ‘the true party of working people’ while he cuts benefits at the same time. It may well help him electorally, of course: he is timing it to reach the specific sum of £9 per hour for those over 25 in the year of the next general election. But the Living Wage is simply bound to slow the creation of new jobs and encourage the shedding of old ones (and/or swell the black market), because it makes jobs artificially expensive. It will drive automation and work against small and struggling firms. Whereas today the minimum wage is paid to 5 per cent of workers, it is estimated that the Living Wage, by 2020, will be paid to 11 per cent. So a Conservative government is quite fast developing an incomes policy. The triangle will eventually go pear-shaped.
The more one thinks about the current witch-hunt against alleged paedophiles in the establishment, the more beyond satire it seems. What mordant novelist could have imagined, even ten years ago, that the police would be devoting massive amounts of their time to investigating famous people who were a) suspected on no actual evidence and b) dead and therefore beyond the reach of the law? Yet it has happened. It just goes to show that even a society which self-consciously prides itself on its tolerance will always contain those who are desperately searching for people to ruin and then to scream at those who suggest they might be wrong, and — which is worse — that the authorities will cave in to their menaces. What is odder still, at a time when gay rights trump everything, is that behind a good deal of the current obsession lies the old idea that an unmarried man must be homosexual and that a homosexual is scarcely distinguishable from a child-abuser. This seems to be the basis, for instance, of the suspicion of Sir Edward Heath. Why do the police stop there? Why not exhume the private lives of other bachelor prime ministers — A.J. Balfour, Pitt the Younger, the Earl of Wilmington?
‘Germany! Germany!’ shouted the crowds of would-be migrants in Budapest station this week. It may be difficult for that country to admit so many at once but, given the German past, could there be any better evidence of its absolute redemption than such a cry, from such lips?
An MP tells me that he not only has to keep a separate diary for private engagements, but has to make sure that his secretary does not know what these engagements are lest she start to assist with them on a publicly funded computer system, thus laying herself and her boss open to the charge of misusing taxpayers’ money. We seem to have reached a point at which we trust the people we elect so little that there is really no point in electing them.
Oliver Sacks, who has just died, had an exceptional understanding which must have come, in part, from how strange he was himself. One tends to be suspicious of psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, even neurologists (which Sacks was) because of their apparent superiority to the conditions which they examine and their consequent detachment from their patients as actual people. Sacks, I think, had none of this. There is a very touching essay of his called ‘The Lost Mariner’. In 1975, in New York, he treated Jimmie, a man who could remember nothing that had happened after 1945, while remaining perfectly clear about everything before it. Nothing in the present seemed to reach Jimmie. Sacks considered him a ‘lost soul’ and said so to the nuns at the home where he (though an atheist) worked. ‘Watch Jimmie in chapel,’ they said. Sacks writes: ‘I did, and was profoundly moved and impressed, because I saw an intensity and steadiness of attention and concentration that I had never seen before in him… I watched him kneel and take the Sacrament on his tongue, and could not doubt … the perfect alignment of his spirit with the spirit of the Mass…. There was no forgetting …for he was absorbed in an act, an act of his whole being.’ A similar effect came through music, art and gardening. Sacks wrote about such things so well not only because he was an extremely intelligent observer but because he was sympathetic, in the exact sense that he felt with the person he observed. Instead of attempting, vainly, to cure the human condition, he wanted to be ever more fully part of it.
Two recent nightmares were so vivid that they woke me up. In the first, I shot a flanker on a grouse-moor. In the second, the night after, Pope Francis was at some gathering in which he suddenly burst into a song-and-dance routine. The first, I am glad to say, had no foundation in fact. I wish I could say the same, with absolute confidence, about the second.
An American friend who has just read volume one of my biography of Margaret Thatcher asks for elucidation of three terms of what he calls English ‘slang’ in it. My answers are — ‘privileges granted to labour unions excusing them from legal suits against secondary picketing etc’, ‘T bills’, and ‘French kissing’. See if you can guess the original phrases.
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Trade union ‘immunities’, the ‘gilts’ market, ‘massive snog’.
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