Wednesday 23 September 2015

Nothing new to see here: move along

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Ecclesiastes, 1:9 

I have never before been moved to start a column with a quotation from the Bible. But, freed from the tyranny of print deadlines and editorial oversight, I can see no reason not to allow the Authorized Version to sum up in 31 words what I shall now struggle to convey in a further 800 or so.

Namely the acute sense of déjà vu that accompanies every glance at a newspaper or TV bulletin.

It would be lazy to suggest that the triumphant Jeremy Corbyn is simply a throwback to the 1980s; a reincarnation of Michael Foot. Foot was an intellectual and bibliophile, a brilliant writer and a great Parliamentary orator; I remember sitting in my car in a supermarket car park during the Saturday emergency debate on the Argentine invasion of the Falklands in April 1982, unable to tear myself away from either Foot’s speech or the subsequent contribution from that other Commons star, Enoch Powell.

Much good, incidentally, did this skill do either of them or the other most talented Parliamentary debater of recent times, Jeremy Thorpe.

Foot was also nothing if not a British patriot, unlikely ever to have consorted or sympathized with terrorist groups in Ireland or the Middle East. So the great parallel boils down to both being on the left of their party and a certain sartorial unconventionality – though the donkey jacket that Foot was forever damned for wearing at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 1981 was, in reality, no such thing.

Just like Mr Corbyn not singing the national anthem in a church full of service grandees and Battle of Britain heroes, he was trying to be respectful.

Surely, you might think, Mr Corbyn must at least have broken new ground is his selection of the shadow secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs. For Kerry McCarthy, the woman tasked with calming down the angry farmers and turning the true blue shires red, is a committed vegan.

Not only that, she is on record as saying that meat eaters should be treated like smokers, nudged by the Government to abandon their dirty and life-threatening habit. Opening up a vision of fillet steaks being sold in plain wrappers adorned with pictures of a cancerous colon, and bacon sandwiches scoffed in the rain outside the doors of pubs.

Yes, this is pretty mad stuff, but some of us are old enough to remember the furore that erupted in 1965 when Harold Wilson appointed as his transport minister Barbara Castle. A woman who could not drive!

As if that were not bad enough, she went on to introduce the breathalyser and a permanent nationwide 70mph speed limit, challenging the age-old right of the Englishman to drive home from the pub at 100mph while completely plastered. A pretty theoretical right, it must be admitted, since in the late 1960s most British cars could only exceed 70mph very briefly, after being driven over a cliff.
But what, then, of Mr Cameron and the small matter of drugs, the Bullingdon Club, Piers Gaveston Society and that pig. Surely this must be unprecedented? Only, I suspect, in the willingness of the national media to write about such things, which would previously have been censored to avoid maiden aunts having to be revived with smelling salts at the breakfast table.

Upper class halfwits have been baying for broken glass at Oxford for as long as anyone can remember, and inventing arcane and vaguely disgusting initiation rites for their absurd societies. 

Regular readers of my columns will have grasped by now that I am no great fan of Mr Cameron; indeed, I have yet to meet anyone who is, and he is cordially detested by nearly all the journalists with whom he had dealings in his brief non-political sojourn as a corporate PR man.

Even so, I have to say I rather admire him for snubbing the billionaire who thought he could buy his way into office by financing the Conservative Party, and for the rhinoceros hide from which the current allegations appear to be bouncing off.

In short, no change, as they like to say on election night. We are blessed with a Prime Minister relatively few regard with enthusiasm until they contemplate the alternative of Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. Will the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn change that?

Let us just say that I don’t think we will need the assembly of an Argentine invasion fleet to guarantee the general election of 2020 bearing more than a passing resemblance to that of 1983, in the admittedly unlikely event that Mr Corbyn is still around to contest it.

Mr Cameron, of course, has promised that he won’t be hanging around to contest it, either. But then Mr Cameron’s record on promises is probably worth a future column all of its own.

So let me end, as I began, with a quotation: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.”

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