Hermione Eyre: Nonsense? At least the Tories are thinking

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The Independent Online

Let's be clear: the Policy Exchange's suggestion that certain northern cities are not worth regenerating is pure, steaming nonsense. Government funding should be used to correct the gravitational pull of money and commerce to the south, not to reinforce it. But however ill-judged that particular report may be, and however much bad publicity it has caused for David Cameron (closely allied with the Policy Exchange, he was a guest speaker there in July) it is a sign of something good: the Tories are thinking.

What, at the same time as walking and chewing gum? Yes it's easy to get snide about it. But there genuinely does seem to be intellectual leg-kicking coming in from the right of the field.

Take, for instance, the new Conservative Humanist Association, founded this summer and already boasting about a forthcoming event with Richard Dawkins ( www.conservativehumanists.org) at the party conference. It doesn't have many major party names on board as yet, but the staid, traditional alliance with the Church of England (once "the Tory party at prayer") is clearly no longer automatic. Then there's Standpoint, a new conservative arts magazine, only a few issues old. Clearly based on the model of American right-wing publications, it's a nourishing kind of read, formal and dedicatedly un-hip. The Spectator wants to be champagne for the brain; this is more like port.

And then there are the centre-right think tanks. The Policy Exchange may have caused a stinking row this week, but this is, after all, what think tanks are there for: churning ideas up. It's also what the Centre for Policy Studies, Keith Joseph's alma mater, does on a regular basis. I have attended CPS debates on topics such as how Conservative policy should respond to radical Islam (Charles Moore created an elaborate analogy between self-appointed imams and the leaders of the trade unions in the 70s) and another where atmospheric physicist Fred Singer opined that global warming was not, in fact, caused by human activity. Contentious topics, but the atmosphere at both these meetings was sincere and questioning, as if the think tank were dreaming aloud, formulating its policy in the privacy of opposition. Often, as with the Policy Exchange's report, these ideas don't stand up to robust media scrutiny. "The danger with think tanks," as one retired politician told me, "is that there are so many bloody intellectuals in them." They can give politicians great support – think of Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher – but they can bedevil them too.

Standpoint, with its paeans to classical music ("so much better than musicals!" declares one piece this month) and the Conservative Humanist ("For the one Conservative life we have") are, like a think tank staffed by intellectuals, liable to be eccentric. But they are genuine. They are unforced. They are exactly what a party in opposition needs.

Thank GodPeaches didn't end up called Mrs Rotter...

So Peaches Geldof has become Mrs Max Drummey. It could have been worse. She could have been Mrs Donny Tourette (remember that bandy-legged rocker she used to date?) or Mrs Faris Rotter (her most recent beau, of the band The Horrors) or even Mrs Frederick Blood-Royale (a muso given to wearing silken neckerchiefs). Cor, she does know how to pick 'em. Is there no-one in the girl's acquaintance without a silly surname?

Anyway, it seems unlikely she will stop being Peaches Geldof, married or not. And although the union was a little premature – they'd been together a month, apparently – it's hard to see why everyone is taking it as a sign of her imminent personal apocalypse. Steady on guys, it's just a blessed sacrament.

I just hope that in a year's time she has better things to say about it than Britney Spears has about her white chapel drive-through wedding: "It was a total 'ugh'."

* I wake every morning convinced my house guest Larry has died. I rush to check on Larry's breathing. The white furry chest is still heaving. Good news. Another day down. Larry the hamster may yet live to see his family come back from the Auvergne. Pet-sitting is always a dangerous game. But with Larry the hamster it has been Russian roulette.

It was clear from the off that he was a very senior rodent. His hips were going (the legacy of a mousetrap injury sustained during the Great Escape of 2007) and his cage had been adapted to suit his reduced mobility: mezzanine access had been removed, ditto his wheel. As his two small adoring owners handed him over, Larry looked up at me through one eye, his face full of the weltzschmerz of a hamster who has lived long and hard. I wondered: did the children know he was on borrowed time? "Yes, we know he could be in trouble if..." If what? "If he has any lettuce." Kiddo, I wanted to say, lettuce is the least of this hamster's problems. Instead, I waved them off merrily.

Larry and I have taken it easy, talking about the war, the decay of family values and the best way to peel a grape. In youth he was a fierce anti-cage vigilante, but in his dotage has become a mild and well-mannered house guest, barely making any attempt to escape at all. As the days have gone by, he has grown weaker. Sweetcorn is now too much of a struggle, so we have been settling instead for a milky drink. Becoming confused one night – and possibly in a flashback to the Cat Attack of 2005 – he tried to bite my finger, but this wasn't a problem as he only has one tooth. Sans teeth, sans wheel, sans everything.

The ultimate dilemma approaches. Should I take Larry for his final injection? Is a text message an acceptable way to break the news to his family? What should I use as a mausoleum? And who knew a hamster could cause so much grief? Pet-sitting: only for the brave.

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