About 15 years ago, following some outrage or other, there was a demonstration in southern Turkey in support of human rights. In the course of it a policeman, one of many supervising the proceedings, was unfortunately killed. Accordingly the local police decided to hold a demonstration of their own. A few days later they marched around the small town carrying placards bearing the message: "Death to Human Rights."
If only they had waited for the new century, they might have become Labour candidates in the United Kingdom, once certain formalities had been overcome. One or two of them might even have ended up as Labour MPs, in which capacity they would have been happy to serve the young war criminal himself, Mr Tony Blair.
For nothing so much distinguished the Labour majority in the Commons last week as its utter contempt for human rights of any kind, wherever they were to be found, and whatever the circumstances. The Turkish policemen would have been perfectly at home; they would have been proud to be part of that majority. It secured a triumph, or a succession of triumphs, for the Prime Minister which surprised some commentators, though not this one.
Perhaps I ought to have grasped this before: but a few weeks ago I saw Sir Richard Branson on television congratulating some intrepid US aviator who enjoyed a commercial relationship with him. I realised then how closely Mr Blair's style was modelled on Sir Richard's. Or perhaps it is the other way about. It matters not, as the barristers say. It may be that both of them have arrived independently at a technique which appeals to modern audiences.
It involves a good deal of idiotic grinning, a lot of teeth (cf. Ms Julia Roberts), various uncoordinated hand gestures and a mode of speech in which self-depreciation is combined with a studied vagueness. In the Commons, and on other public occasions, Mr Blair adds what I call his blazing insincerity.
You can always detect the onset of these bouts because he jettisons the grin and begins to talk very fast. He gave us a display at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday about the absolute necessity of turning the "glorification" of terrorism - a word hitherto unknown in our criminal law - into a crime.
On these occasions, I am reminded of Samuel Johnson's response on being told that David Garrick felt like a murderer whenever he played one. In that case, Johnson said, he ought to be hanged every time he did it. Likewise, Mr Blair has the capacity to persuade himself that what he is saying at any given moment is true, even if it is the greatest nonsense imaginable, as it clearly was over the glorification of terrorism.
Or, to adopt another analogy, it is a bit like writing a leader-page article for the Daily Mail or for the old Sunday Express. The proposition being advanced is either malign or of the utmost fatuity. The trick, or succession of tricks, is to write very fast; not to pause; above all, never to stop and look back over what you have already written, in case its sheer lack of sense or logic becomes a cause of shame.
In much the same way does Mr Blair speak very fast when the mode of blazing insincerity is upon him. But because he persuades himself, he persuades other people, or enough of them to provide him with a comfortable majority, as they did on Wednesday. From Mr Blair we expect this kind of thing.
When Mr Gordon Brown goes in for the same activity, when he seems to be trying to out-Blair Blair, we - or, at any rate, some people - are more surprised. Last week, Mr Brown proposed a new "Britishness Day" when we already have two perfectly good days of military commemoration, 11 November and Remembrance Sunday, not to mention Battle of Britain Day. The Treasury press office assures me he did not call for a "Veterans' Day".
Mr Brown does not possess any military experience. He would be well advised, I think, to give these matters a wide berth in future. However, he has already suggested the reintroduction of cadet forces in secondary schools. What will they be called? The Brown Shirts? Or, perhaps, the Brown Shorts? This would follow Roderick Spode (closely modelled on Sir Oswald Mosley) in P G Wodehouse's book The Code of the Woosters, whose supporters were named the Black Shorts. Mr Brown will no doubt be calling for the reintroduction of national service next, though we may be sure that, if there were any votes in it, Mr Blair - our most bellicose Prime Minister since Lord Palmerston or, possibly, Pitt the Elder - would have reintroduced it long ago.
There is a theory going the rounds that what we have been seeing in the past few weeks is not the real Brown but a false Brown or, at least, a deutero-Brown or a meta-Brown. He is going through various Blairite motions because he has to, or believes he has to, in order to prepare himself for the Great Succession. Afterwards it will once again be our Gordon, the teacher from the Socialist Sunday School.
For some reason, this theory is highly popular with the women columnists of The Guardian. They undoubtedly view the Chancellor in a romantic light. Perhaps it is all on account of those adolescent hours reading Wuthering Heights with a torch under the blanket, and Mr Brown is Heathcliff. Who knows? Who can tell? Who indeed!
It is fair to say that the leader column of the paper in question takes a different view: that Mr Brown may just possibly mean what he says. If this is so, there is no great difference between Mr Brown and Mr Blair. One of the arguments for giving loyal support to Mr Blair - that he will in due course be succeeded by the more desirable Mr Brown - accordingly disappears.
There is an even more theological argument going on. Is Mr Brown now joint Prime Minister? Or is he not? There has been nothing like it since the argument about the Trinity in the Early Church. Is it Brown the Father, Brown the Son or Brown the Holy Ghost? It is perfectly all right, by the way, to express the difficulty in this form, for Christians commonly possess a more robust sense of humour than Mohamedans, unless they have the misfortune to belong to the Evangelical party. My view is that he is still Brown the Son, who will in due course inherit the kingdom, as the recent conversion of Dr John Reid convincingly demonstrates.Reuse content