The Fourth Reich, my trouble with 3D and why women don’t swear

Simon Heffer crosses swords with Richard Evans in the Wars of the Fourth Reich, minds his language,

Spot the dictator
The ambition of part of a lifetime was attained when I read last week's New Statesman and saw that I had been upbraided by Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History in the University of Cambridge. I was honoured by being in excellent company: Sir Simon Jenkins also felt the professorial toecap up his fundament. Our offence? Writing in our respective newspapers that Germany was leading an anti-democratic putsch in Europe in order to preserve the EU's basket case of a single currency.

Evidently short on both humour and powers of observation, the professor took exception to my use of the phrase "Fourth Reich", a usage that strikes me as being a statement of fact rather than a term of abuse. "Rhetoric such as Heffer's or Jenkins's is an unthinking throwback to the language of the post-reunification years, even more ignorant and hysterical now than it was then." In my experience of academics, they get adjectival when allowed into the press, usually to try to prove that English is not their second language.

I cannot answer for Sir Simon, but I am bemused. One thing I always thought bound Gladstonian Liberals like me with lefties like Professor Evans was that we supported democracy. Thanks to Germany, and solely to Germany, we have just witnessed coups d'état in two European countries and the installation of unelected heads of government; and they may not be the last. If Professor Evans is relaxed about this, I'm not, and I doubt whether anyone other than a closet totalitarian should be.

Blue notes
Newspaper offices are famed for their climate of profanity, but when it comes to uttering four-letter words there is, I have always thought, a time and a place. I can't help noticing how people one would otherwise imagine perfectly respectable eff and blind in public without any regard for the sensibilities of their audience. I say "people" but I mean men, because I never overhear women on a Tube train having the sort of conversation I couldn't help but hear two men have a few days ago.

Both in their thirties, and in suits and ties, they spoke something like this: "I f***ing told him that the c*** would shaft him if he let him have any f***ing say in the matter, but the c*** just f***ing ignored me." And so it was all the way from Tottenham Court Road to Liverpool Street, at a volume to be heard above the noise of the carriages. Perhaps nobody minds any more. You appear to be able to say anything on television these days, which I presume convinces those of a naturally coarse disposition that they can yell out these words in public. Women, as I say, don't do it. But do they still mind? Judging by the looks of clenched resignation on the faces of female passengers when these louts were sounding off, I think they might.

Travelling blight
Nothing soothes more after a hard day at the cutting edge of the digital revolution than some mindless telly: and I rather enjoyed Pan Am when the series took off the other week on BBC2. The Americans do day-before-yesterday drama so much better than we do (cf Mad Men). I endured little of a recent BBC effort, The Hour, set in 1956, before hooting with derision at the solecisms and lack of attention to detail. The only thing that annoyed me about Pan Am was the reminder of how good airline food used to be: a wide selection, cooked and not micro­waved, not much different from what one might find in a decent restaurant. I recently flew BA back from business in New York and was offered a selection of three of the most repellent meals imaginable - and that was in the dine-before-you-fly facility at JFK. My ticket wasn't cheap. Perhaps starving the passengers lightens the load and helps save on fuel.

Two lenses right, three lenses rights
I love gadgets, but there is one that, as a man a couple of blinks short of a guide dog, I can't embrace: 3D vision. Contact lenses don't agree with me and, forced to wear specs, I can't also fit on the glasses that everyone else wears for the 3D cinema or TV experience. I suspect this may violate my human rights. Before Dave finally repatriates Britain's powers in this respect, I must see what my exclusion from this new vogue is worth. Now doubt a lawyer will soon be in touch - no win, no fee, of course.

Sorry, Leon, euro on your own
It is, I know, cruel to rub it in about the euro, but there weren't many of us 20 years ago who warned it wouldn't work (three cheers, as always, for Tony Benn, though). Yet I am astonished by the way that accredited euromaniacs still refuse to believe that the whole thing was doomed, or to say sorry for their part in seeking to inflict it upon us.

One who should have known better was Lord Brittan. He claimed in the Financial Times last week that, had we joined the euro, things would have been different because of the size of our economy and our "influence". I knew it would be our fault eventually, and I hope Gordon Brown is properly ashamed of himself. Sorry, Leon, but wrong, wrong, wrong. Had we joined, there would still have been the fiscal disparities that did, in fact, bring the project to its knees. For Greece would still have had an entirely different benefits system from that of Germany; tax would still not have been
collected as efficiently in Puglia and the Peloponnese as in Bavaria; and the European Commission would still not have brought errant countries into line by the system of fines and other penalties that the original plan for the euro had enshrined in it.

I am sure Lord Brittan has no other agenda and believes sincerely in the great project. However, I do wish that when former Eurocrats like him inflict their views on us, they would do us all the courtesy of declaring their interest in making the points they do. They might let us into the secret of just how much, exactly, the EU pays them in pension entitlements. We might, then, be better informed as we make up our minds about how far to take them seriously.

Simon Heffer is the editor of Mail Comment Online and a columnist for the Daily Mail.
His new book is "A Short History of Power" (Notting Hill Editions, £12

Simon Heffer is a journalist, author and political commentator, who has worked for long stretches at the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. He has written biographies of Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell, and reviews and writes on politics for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the muslim brotherhood

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The Tories' aim is to put Labour out of business for good

Rather than merely winning again, the Conservatives are seeking to inflict permanent damage on the opposition. 

The Conservatives are numerically weak but politically strong – that is the peculiarity of their position. Their majority is the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974. Yet, to MPs at the Tory conference in Manchester, it felt like “2001 in reverse”: the year of Tony Blair’s second election victory. Then, as now, the opposition responded to defeat by selecting a leader, Iain Duncan Smith, who was immediately derided as unelectable. Just as Labour knew then that it would win in 2005, so the Conservatives believe that they have been gifted victory in 2020. David Cameron has predicted that the party’s vote share could rise from 37 per cent to a Thatcherite 43 per cent.

For Cameron and George Osborne, who entered parliament in 2001, this moment is revenge for New Labour’s electoral hegemony. They believe that by applying Blair’s lessons better than his internal successors, they can emulate his achievements. The former Labour prime minister once spoke of his party as “the political wing of the British people”. In Manchester, Cameron and Osborne displayed similarly imperial ambitions. They regard Jeremy Corbyn’s election as a chance to realign the political landscape permanently.

Seen from one perspective, the Tories underperformed on 7 May. They consistently led by roughly 20 points on the defining issues of the economy and leadership but defeated Labour by just 6.5 overall. It was their enduring reputation as the party of the plutocracy that produced this disparity. Those who voted for Labour in spite of their doubts about Ed Miliband and the party’s economic competence may not be similarly forgiving of Corbyn. To maximise their gains, however, the Tories need to minimise their weaknesses, rather than merely exploit Labour’s.

This process began at conference. At a dinner organised by the modernising group the Good Right, Duncan Smith, Michael Gove and the Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, affirmed their belief that, contrary to Thatcherite orthodoxy, inequality is a problem. Only the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, an admirer of the libertarian heroine Ayn Rand, insisted that equality of opportunity was the defining metric.

George Osborne’s assured speech was most notable for his sustained appeal to Labour voters. Several opposition MPs told me how unsettled they were by the Chancellor’s declaration that Labour’s new leadership calls “anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy and the country living within its means” a Tory. He added, “It’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right. Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.” The shadow minister Jonathan Reynolds told me: “We’ve got to be extremely clear that this is not business as usual. This is a real attempt by the Tories to put us out of business – possibly for ever.”

The Conservatives’ aim is to contaminate Labour to the point where, even if Jeremy Corbyn were deposed, the toxin would endure. For those opposition MPs who emphasise being a government-in-waiting, rather than a protest movement, the contrast between the high politics of the Tory conference and Corbyn’s rally appearance in Manchester was painfully sharp. They fear guilt by association with the demonstrators who spat at and abused journalists and Tory delegates. The declaration by a rally speaker, Terry Pullinger, the deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, that Corbyn’s election “almost makes you want to celebrate the fact that Labour lost” was regarded as confirmation that some on the left merely desire to run the party, not the country.

But few Tory MPs I spoke to greeted Corbyn’s victory with simple jubilation. “It’s a great shame, what’s happened to Labour,” one said. “We need a credible opposition.” In the absence of this, some fear the Conservatives’ self-destructive tendencies will reassert themselves. The forthcoming EU referendum and leadership contest are rich in cannibalistic potential. Tories spoke forebodingly of the inevitable schism between European Inners and Outers. As the Scottish experience demonstrated, referendums are almost never definitive. In the event of a close result, the party’s anti-EU wing will swiftly identify grounds for a second vote.

Several cabinet ministers, however, spoke of their confidence in Cameron’s ability to navigate the rapids of the referendum and his pre-announced departure. “More than ever, he’s the right man for these times,” one told me. By this December, Cameron will have led his party for ten years, a reign exceeded in recent history only by Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. That the Conservatives have so far avoided cataclysm is an underappreciated achievement.

Yet there are landmines ahead. An increasing number of MPs fear that the planned cuts to tax credits could be a foul-up comparable to Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate. Despite the appeals of Boris Johnson and the Sun, Cameron and Osborne have signalled that there will be no backtracking. At such moments of reflection, the Tories console themselves with the belief that, although voters may use Corbyn as a receptacle for protest (as they did Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband), they will not elect him. They also acknowledge that the current Labour leader may not be their opponent in 2020. The former paratrooper Dan Jarvis is most often cited as the successor they fear. As with Cameron and Blair, his relative lack of ideological definition may prove to be a strength, one MP suggested.

William Hague is fond of joking that the Tories have only two modes: panic and complacency. If the danger before the general election was of the former, the danger now is of the latter. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.