Dairy: We lost the election? Phew, what a relief

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The Independent Online
THE government is riven by dissent over foreign and economic policy. The Lords are in revolt, the backbenchers mutinous and the country disillusioned. A weak and demoralised Prime Minister, who took over his party's leadership from a grand elder statesman, presides over increasing disorder. After one in a series of humiliations he writes: 'No one with the commonest self-respect can remain the head of the Govt under such circumstances.' Soon he loses a vote, partly because of a whipping coup by the Opposition, partly because of his own supporters' treachery. The government resigns, an election is called, and the party does not regain power for 10 years. That was 1895, the last time a government with an overall majority fell. The Prime Minister was the Liberal Lord Rosebery, the retired elder statesman Gladstone, and the final straw the 'cordite vote', where the Opposition succeeded with a motion to reduce the salary of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman out of disgust at his Army reforms (in particular, because of his failure to supply enough cordite to the troops). Rosebery's administration, it is said, seized the chance of escape from the cares of power with great relief: in the election the Liberals failed to contest 175 seats and Rosebery prayed - successfully - for defeat. The issues today may be greater, but 1895 should at least remind us to pity the Prime Minister. Michael Bentley writes in his history of the period, Politics without Democracy, that when the cordite vote brought an 'absurd end to an absurd ministry', the battered Rosebery was given 'the prospect of his first night's decent sleep in months'. In 1899 Rosebery wrote: 'There are two supreme pleasures in life. One is ideal, the other real. The ideal is when a man receives the seals of office from his Sovereign. The real pleasure comes when he hands them back.'

OVER at Jennings Road, St Albans, a retired archbishop of Canterbury named Lord Runcie keeps goldfish in a pond. Sadly, this is plagued by a pair of hungry herons named, friends say, George and Eileen by the Runcies. Quite coincidentally these are the first names of Dr Carey, the new archbishop, and his wife.

ACID TESTS

Why has Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, been sitting on two reports which show that Britain's forests are suffering from the effects of acid rain to a much greater extent than previously admitted? One, from nature quangos, saying that at least 25 per cent of upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest are suffering damage, was due to be published last week, but will finally surface tomorrow. And a Department of the Environment study, showing the strongest link to date between acid rain and forest damage, expected last Thursday, will be published in December. Now a significant cause of acid rain is, of course, sulphur emissions from coal-fuelled power stations. And there is little love between the Thatcherite Howard and Michael Heseltine. But can it really be true - as maliciously rumoured around the DoE - that Howard stifled the reports because of a marked reluctance to provide ammunition that might have helped his beleaguered colleague put the argument against the coal industry?

WHO wins PR Week's award for 'outstanding individual contribution' this year? Des Wilson, of course - for his handling of the Liberal Democrat general election campaign, 'regarded by many political commentators to have won the campaign battle, if not the election'.

COMMUNITY AFFAIRS

Mills and Boon does its bit for closer European union. 'Euromances' are 12 novels, set in each EC member state, in which 'American and British heroines will meet and fall in love with the men of Europe'. The publishers pant on: 'They will be swept off their feet by a hot, passionate Spaniard, or share a candelit dinner with a smouldering, enigmatic Frenchman.' Curiously there's no mention of what our heroines will get up to in Belgium. Each book will include a map of the country and a 'Welcome to Europe' section that tells you how to say 'I love you' in the relevant language. Next month sees the exploration of a Portuguese kind of loving, under the title Haunting Alliance.

A DAY LIKE THIS

28 October 1961 J R Ackerley writes to James Kirkup about his alsatian: 'I have decided about Queenie. She is to have her quietus tomorrow, if the vet can manage. Now I have taken the decision I feel quite calm; it will be a great relief not to have to see her in her present state any more. She has dwindled away and is as gaunt as Don Quixote; when I carried her on to the terrace this morning and watched her try to defecate and collapsing, I realised with absolute conviction (the thing I have hitherto lacked) that the end of the journey had come. The sense of pity has come; it is at last utterly clear that life is a humiliation and a burden to her. The relief of no longer having to fight this so sad, so disappointing losing battle will be greater than the grief, I hope.'

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