The downfall of Liam Fox strikes me not just as a loss to government of a decent and honourable man who made a mistake, but the loss of probably the best defence secretary we have had in a generation.
Fox’s dedication to getting on top of his brief — for four years in opposition and then in government — was exemplary. But among the aspects of his defenestration that particularly bother me one still stands out. That is the eagerness with which even newspapers which used to support the Conservatives turned on him. Obviously he had enemies inside the party as well as outside but this doesn’t quite explain the media aspect. I asked one friend from a “Conservative” paper: “Why did he have to go?”
“Well, he’d become the story, hadn’t he?” he said. “Because you’d made him the story,” I corrected him.
But here is the strange thing: the Left never do this. Not only do they never drop one of their own, they do anything they can to cover for their own. It’s tribal. I don’t think that is the right attitude. In fact, it stinks. But it does create a serious imbalance in our politics. The left-wing papers never hound left-wing politicians, only right-wing ones. But the right-wing ones hound anybody, and right-wingers with seemingly more glee. Perhaps this is another proof of the truth of O’Sullivan’s law, propounded by the journalist John O’Sullivan, that given time everything drifts leftwards.
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I was invited to address the anti-Durban conference in New York. This counter to the UN’s racist “anti-racism” conference includes ambassadors, authors and real human-rights activists (as opposed to the UN’s version) like Simon Deng, a former child-slave from Sudan. He speaks after me and for every reason I am grateful. The actor Jon Voight follows him and speaks beautifully. But how do you get the words out when the person before you tells a tale of horror with such dignity?
One of the opening speakers is Elie Wiesel. Ahmadinejad is about to speak opposite us at the UN. At Auschwitz and Buchenwald Wiesel saw the Holocaust that Ahmadinejad denies. Quietly Wiesel says that two things should perhaps happen: when the Iranian president speaks he should speak to an empty hall and when he leaves his hotel he should be met by police who question him on his stated ambition to commit another genocide. Everyone at our counter-event listened to Wiesel intently, but the UN-and the NYPD-of course did not. How will future generations view this if Ahmadinejad ever achieves his dream?
Back to London at last. New York can equal it, but nothing beats it. Yet even as the city becomes sprucer the culture seems to be going the other way. Nothing exemplifies this better than the ever-descending grossness of the British press.How, for instance, to explain the lascivious coverage of the trials of Amanda Knox?
Until her recent successful appeal the young American was convicted of a particularly lurid and vicious murder. The Italian court system found her guilty, though now believes otherwise. But why did the press, including once-fine broadsheets, leer throughout? When did it become seemly to refer to somebody convicted of murder as “Foxy Knoxy”? I remember some years back seeing two teenage girls holding up a sign outside a court building saying a young male defendant was “fit”. But they covered their faces as they did so, aware that it was embarrassing and probably shameful to lust after a person convicted of a serious crime. When it came to Knox the press responded with one big “Phwoar!”
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I go to the opening of an exhibition of photographs by Bill Wyman. The landscapes are beautiful, but the pictures of his fellow Rolling Stones remind me how few of their songs I can name, let alone sing. I slip out before dinner.
On the way home I stop at my local Indian to collect a takeaway. I’m waiting when one of those coincidences occurs that should worry a diarist lest he be disbelieved. In a quiet corner of the restaurant, with a couple of friends, is a recent X Factor winner. Our eyes meet and I look away quickly, feeling guilty for some reason. I realise I have already compared him with the host of the earlier part of my evening. The X Factor winner is maybe now just in his twenties. His whole life is before him, but the career he was thrown into — or at least its best part — is almost certainly behind him. When we are Bill Wyman’s age will my generation look back at the phenomenon of reality television as a musical trend or just a cynical exercise in the inflating and dashing of young people’s hopes?