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 strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.