Diary - Peter Hitchens

Life as a wicked right-winger: a night behind enemy lines, a quarrel with a female minister I used t

Friday night found me many miles behind enemy lines, embedded in a social gathering of the Metropolitan Liberal Elite (MLE). Such chances to fraternise with the other side are rare but gratifying. There are still a few members of the MLE who don't believe that being right-wing automatically qualifies you for a seat in the dock at the next war crimes tribunal, and are prepared to risk inviting me along. My appearance at these occasions, knuckles visibly brushing the ground, can cause some surprise and lead to some funny looks.

At another such event Jeremy Paxman asked me: "What on earth are you doing here?" But this time it was my turn to be abrupt, in an odd reversal of roles. It happened when I met two very old friends who have done well out of the class war. She is a minister, he a potent apparatchik. I regard our friendship as deep-frozen until the longed-for day when this dreadful government falls. But perhaps it cannot now ever be defrosted.

As we exchanged pleasantries, I found myself almost involuntarily saying how astonishing it was that they should be part of a war government, dismembering children. I am told that she complained later to others that it had been quite wrong for me to say such a thing at a party. On the contrary, if the powerful knew for certain that they would never be able to escape such reproaches, they might be more careful about what they do. Anyway, for some unfathomable reason the Prime Minister has not given me a peerage, so I cannot give her a piece of my mind in the House of Lords, which is where I imagine these things are supposed to be done.

This is just one of many odd experiences I have had since I found I could not support the war on Iraq. My reasons - concern that this does not qualify as a just war under Christian rules, belief in national sovereignty and scorn for Gladstonian moral posing - are quite different from those of the "not in my name" lot. But I have badly confused those who are happier when everyone falls into predictable categories. I have had hardly any broadcasting engagements since war became the dominant topic on the airwaves, presumably because producers don't want to upset the simple (and wrong) belief that the left is against war and the right is for it. Still, I am pleased that my position has made at least some of my opponents recognise that the simple-minded caricature of the wicked right-winger is inaccurate. Some surprising people have started to be civil to me.

That is especially important at the moment because I have just published a book which is partly intended to perplex socialists. People who think of themselves as "progressive" dominate so much of Britain that if you cannot get their attention you have little chance of affecting the way the country is run. The intelligent left, I tell myself, can't possibly want us to carry on as we are doing, destroying our liberties as we fail to control crime and disorder. Try as I may, I cannot always get this message across. Gaia Servadio's response to the book was to suggest on Radio 4's Start the Week that I might be a fascist. If so, I'm the world's first fascist to believe in the right to silence, jury trial and habeas corpus. If you are against compulsory identity cards, against increased police powers, CCTV surveillance and DNA databases, then you may be surprised to find that this particular fascist is on the same side as you.

But not, perhaps, on the same side as my big brother. After 11 September, Christopher surprised many with his new enthusiasm for American imperial strength. I think I know why. It is America that has changed, much more than Christopher. Ahead of most people, he sees that the US is now a multicultural power hostile to the old conservative nation state. When I was trying to explain this to readers of the Spectator, I recalled a long-ago cold war evening when he had expressed a rather different view of matters. As we fraternally debated the deployment of cruise missiles, I suggested they were needed to keep Soviet conventional forces from dominating Europe. Christopher riposted: "I don't care if the Red Army waters its horses at Hendon." I never supposed he meant this literally. Even so, it disclosed a certain cast of mind rather common among nuclear disarmers. They thought the Soviet threat was phoney and that America in some ways represented a greater danger to peace. They have been proved wrong and they ought to admit it. But no. Christopher now denies having said it at all, and has publicly accused me of lying. So I take this opportunity of repeating the story, which is perfectly true and to which I have a reliable witness. My experience, by the way, is that if you really, really change your mind, you don't object to admitting your past mistakes.

We are a much poorer society now that the solemnity of Good Friday has been abolished and this holy day is now just another shopping day. It once helped us grasp that death happens to us all, and that it may not be the end. Perhaps if we considered death - and what lies beyond it - more often, we would be less relaxed about inflicting it on innocent people from a height of 15,000 feet.

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday. His book A Brief History of Crime is reviewed on page 52

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