It is worth fixing for posterity the feelings which, on polling day, swirled in the breasts of many who wanted a Boris victory. Being a journalist, I normally enjoy the electoral scene with some detachment. I cannot claim to be neutral, since I have never, even in Tony Blair’s pinkish dawn of 1997, wanted a Labour government; but I can take it in my stride. This time, however, millions, including myself, were knotted with fear that anything other than a clear Tory victory would destroy Brexit and make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. The risks were actually frightening.
We sought distractions. Listening to the Radio 4 Today programme that morning, I heard the sports presenter admitting he did not know how to pronounce his tipster’s selection for the 2.30 at Newcastle, Calliope. ‘Call-EYE-ope!’ I shouted at the radio, remembering my schoolroom acquaintance with the muse of epic poetry. No, said Mishal Husain, backed up by Professor Mary Beard, whose opinion was sought, it is ‘Callee-Ope’. Hoping that our classically educated Prime Minister might be at a loose end, I texted him for an opinion. ‘Call-EYE-ope,’ he replied at once. It relieved my feelings to have his support, and, at that tense moment, his attention.
Even in classical pronunciation, politics intrudes. Ms Husain and Prof Beard spoke the muse’s name as they did because it is more politically correct to pronounce ancient Greek words with noises similar to modern Greek. It is more conservative to use the pronunciation favoured by Boris and me, since that is the tradition of English classicism. Same sort of difference as saying ‘Porto’ rather than ‘Oporto’, or ‘Firenze’ rather than ‘Florence’. Calliope finished second, by the way.
By good chance, long before the election was called, I had accepted a kind invitation to hunt away from home last Saturday. How I wished I could summon the muse of epic poetry to record our great joy as I joined the South and West Wilts for its meet. The squalls of the night had passed. The bright sun lit the vale, the distant downs and a mounted, partly plum-coated field of about 70 happy people aged between eight and 80. Away hounds went, at a cracking pace rare at the start of a day, and we splashed excitedly behind them, as the keen wind blew all the Corbyn cobwebs away. One of the mysteries of the Corbyn world-view, nourished in his youth as a hunt saboteur, is that he sees any killing of any animal as atrociously cruel, but seems content when the IRA blows up Conservatives or Hamas kills Jews. Between him and us lies an unbridgeable cultural and moral chasm. We hunted within the law, of course — the law which Corbynites did so much to push — but all the same, we suddenly felt free.
This article is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, available in the magazine’s Christmas special