Matthew Norman: The happy union of Marx and Enoch
Monday 01 June 2009
I am overjoyed to report not only that the neo-Cromwellian ambitions of Simon Heffer thrive, but that in pursuance of them he has formed potentially the most significant left-right axis Britain has known for more than 60 years.
As you will know, since this column broke the story a fortnight ago, Simon pledged in his Daily Telegraph column to stand against deputy speaker and gardening super-claimant Alan Haselhurst in Saffron Walden unless he paid back £12,000 and apologised. Sir Alan did promise to return the money, but since he has not admitted any error or offered a sincere apology Simon is closer than ever to declaring his candidacy. His chief adviser and prospective campaign manager, meanwhile, is his Essex neighbour Francis Wheen, and the two were expected to spend the weekend closeted in top-level strategic talks. Anyone bemused by this alliance between the admiring biographer of Enoch Powell and the admiring biographer of Karl Marx is reminded that in moments of national crisis, even the deepest ideological differences must be subjugated beneath the yoke of necessity.
Clement Attlee served as Winston Churchill's wartime deputy, and there could be no more striking precedent for the Heffer-Wheen axis than that. A patriot is a patriot, after all, regardless of political outlook. At this early stage, it is unknown whether Francis has plans to run for parliament himself; or whether, if and when he completes his march to the Protectorate, Simon means to ennoble Francis and bring him into a government of national unity. These are matters for the distant future. For the present, all you can do is lick the lips, and invite the Lord Almighty to have mercy on Sir Alan Haselhurst's soul.
Mac not PC
You wait years for a sparkling double act between a red-haired political writer and a distinguished columnist with wildly differing views, and two of them ... I refer to the collision on Thursday's Newsnight between the immovable object that is The Times's Daniel Finkelstein, and that irresistible force of Kelvin MacKenzie of The Sun – an electrifying meeting of minds, amusedly refereed by Paxo, in which the former stoutly defended the political class against the latter's nuanced opinion that they're all a bunch of crooks who should be chained together and marooned on an Alabama alligator farm (I paraphrase a little) with pieces of raw chicken strapped to their genitals. Cracking knockabout, and the BBC should offer them their own show.
Eagle's second eyrie
Yet the dog that didn't bark during a debate that brought to mind an All Souls symposium held at Millwall's ground (working title for that show: Daniel in the Lions' Den) was Kelvin's commitment to cleaning up Westminster. Given that he recently stood for his Surrey council on the vital single issue of railway station parking fees, you'd have thought a general election run was a gimme. So far Kelvin has been reticent on the point, but if he is looking for a Haselhurst of his own, Labour's Maria Eagle may be vulnerable after claiming £3,500 to refurbish a second home bathroom. Ms Eagle's seat is Liverpool Garston. That'd be fun.
Chipping in his two penn'orth, meanwhile, is John Prescott. The Tudor Beam King focuses that powerful mind on the paramount concern raised by the scandal in an online article that calls on new Press Complaints Commission chair Peta Buscombe to investigate whether the Telegraph's expenses disc was stolen; and if so, whether there's been a breach of clause 16 of the Code of Practice regarding criminals profiting from their crime. Bless him, he even quotes section ii) in full; "Editors invoking the public interest to justify payment would need to demonstrate there was good reason to believe the public interest would be served." Now there's a tough ask. You wouldn't envy Telegraph guv'nor Will Lewis if he's ever compelled to explain why the public being informed that their elected representatives are ripping them off blind is vaguely in their interest.
The temptation is to settle Mr Prescott in an armchair, give him a cup of sweet tea, and gently enquire as to the whereabouts of his carer.
Let's be clear
Having said all that, the old goat did make one good point. It is a bit rich for newspapers to demand an end to MPs regulation while self-regulating themselves via the PCC. Perhaps, newly infused by the spirit of transparency, the industry will wish to abrogate oversight to those with no compelling personal and commercial interest in the judgments they make. And perhaps not.
One obvious downside to that, finally, is that an independent regulator, mindful of the public distaste when MPs do the same, might ask insolent questions about payments to spouses, or in this case, aptly enough, to their exes. That's absurd, and might even deprive readers of book serialisations like the one for which The Sun's Rebekah Wade presumably paid Ross Kemp (Ross Wade as was) a fortune. None who read the breathless highlights of his adventures dodging bullets, landmines and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan will ever dispute his official status as TV's Hardest Man. "In the year that followed my first major excursions, I knew that I wanted to go back," he reflects. "Maybe I was addicted to the thrill of it. Maybe, when you've been in a war zone, the rest of your life seems a little bit bland."
Maybe it does, love. Or maybe you should leave the troops in peace and give it another go with Rebekah. That might fill the adrenaline void, and make life off the front line seem worth living again.
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