Just another Tory who didn't use a condom

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HERE is a general theory of grotesque errors of judgement. We make these grotesque errors of judgement in the following circumstances: when the sums of money involved in some transaction have proved too much for our poor little personalities to handle; when we are in love or in the grip of some wild infatuation; when we are divorced; when our vanity has been tapped; when we are 'out of touch with our true feelings' - as, for instance, in the case of someone who has been humiliated but has not yet had time to admit that he has been humiliated.

The vanity-tapping scenario is topical. It is known as the Dacre syndrome, after the case of Lord Dacre who seems to have convinced himself (on the basis of an afternoon's perusal) that if he said the Hitler diaries were genuine, they would sort of become genuine on his say-so. In the topical case, the great scholar H C Robbins Landon must have known that to judge the authenticity of a lost Haydn manuscript on the basis of a photocopy was asking for trouble. But then the excitement of discovery overtook him and his judgement went out of the window.

People make grotesque errors of judgement when the possibility of finding a lost Shakespeare poem comes within their compass. One minute they are men of good sense. The next moment they are spouting garbage.

I know myself to be very much in danger of falling into this trap, because I often while away a few hours imagining I have discovered Love's Labour's Won. All I hope is that when some grubby little manuscript with this title comes within my grasp, there will be some friend ready with a straitjacket and syringe.

The last scenario in my general theory, that we make grotesque errors of judgement in the period between being humiliated and recognising our humiliation, covers the case of Tim Yeo. He had been forced by his constituency to resign, and his colleagues were dealing out the con-

ventional wisdom: take your medicine like a man and then keep your mouth shut.

But he could not do so. His blood was up. He seemed to himself to be a man with a grievance. So he gave an interview - not a very remarkable one - to the Daily Express, in which he attacked a prominent lady in his constituency. Now his colleagues did not mince their words. What he was doing would make his return to government impossible. Once and for all, he must shut up.

Whether his next move should be counted as a grotesque error of judgement depends on your point of view, but I think it was pretty reasonable to go down in a blaze of frankness and give yesterday's interview, asking for another baby to be taken into consideration. Certainly, if it was a grotesque error, then it was a grotesque error as executed by Torvill and Dean and deserving 'a clean sweep of sixes for artistic impression'.

The fact is that Mr Yeo managed to make a few interesting points - interesting to me, at least, since I have to confess that in all 20 years of his career I have hardly given him a thought. But it seemed reasonable to point out that when back to basics began he was not one of the leaders of the swivel-eyed brigade; he was not a Lilley or a Portillo or a John ('Dawn') Redwood.

What was he supposed to do when back to basics began? Resign? Cross the floor and take the Liberal Democrat or Labour whip? Or sit there feeling uncomfortable about that part of policy, but hoping the whole moral mood would blow over?

I agree that the last course is not heroic, but membership of a party does not imply that one subscribes with equal enthusiasm to all of the party's campaigns or policies.

The Labour Party has always been full of elements who would cheerfully ditch whole sections of official policy to which they must, for a while, pay lip-service. No doubt Mr Yeo thinks of himself as a Tory through and through, but as a member of one particular Tory tendency rather than another.

But he is a hypocrite.

Yes, but there are various forms of hypocrisy. One is that you set one standard for the world at large, while knowing quite well that you will not live up to it yourself. In this kind of hypocrisy you consciously deceive the world at large. In another kind you unconsciously deceive yourself. You have a private life which is at odds with your public pronouncements, but there are good reasons for this. There are mitigating


Or, in another kind of hypocrisy, you fail to connect the public you with the private you. So, when it is pointed out very forcibly that you are living by a double standard, this comes as news to you. You thought, somehow, you were just muddling through like anyone else.

But he is a moral coward. He should have stood up to the Redwoods in his party. He should have resisted back to basics.

Well, the answer may be, from the accounts of the other misfortunes inflicted on his family, most of his courage was deployed elsewhere in his private life, in coping with tragedy. So we should not sneer or mock or dance gleefully around him making funny faces. He is just a Conservative who should have used a condom.

So who can we sneer at or mock or dance gleefully around? Oh, the real villains, of course. There are still the Dawn Redwoods. (The Dawn Redwood otherwise known as Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a tree long considered extinct and known only from fossil specimens, until, to the amazement of the scientific community, a living specimen was found in the Welsh Office.)

There are still the Lilleys and Port-eel-yos, through whose sea-green incorruptibility back to basics was launched upon the world. There are still the Virginia Bottomleys, gabbling away on the Today programme, desperately trying to cover up for John Major, when the best anyone could really say about back to basics this week was: 'Heigh ho, back to the drawing board'.

Then there is Mr Major himself, whose brilliant idea it was (now that single mothers will for ever remind the electorate of bonking ministers) to turn and pick on Bryn Melyn, and its Outward Bound methods, as the next public sacrificial victim. It is amazing, isn't it, that the country is going to the dogs, and it is all because of what goes on in some ramshackle old farm in North Wales.

For my part, when I look at the really scary types in government, people you dread walking behind you in a darkened street, people such as Michael Howard, what I feel is not that it is all the fault of Bryn Melyn so much as that it is all the fault of Tony Blair. After all, it was the move by Labour in the direction of law and order that pushed the Government in the direction of its present policies.

Mr Blair may say he has played straight and spoken perfect sense. He may say our present sufferings are a price worth paying, if Labour is to get in next time round. All I can say is that Labour had better succeed. It will have been a long wait, lost in the thickets of Metasequoia glyptostroboides.