Tony’s mate Muammar, Marr the monarchist and my poetry triumph
Now that Muammar al-Gaddafi has been summarily bumped off by our new best friends in Libya, along with 53 "loyalists" in his home town of Sirte (are we quite sure they don't include "innocent civilians" who require humanitarian intervention?), we must hope that at least a few of the dictator's family and close allies are spared to stand trial in The Hague. The crux of their defence case would surely be that they believed they were always acting with the support of enlightened liberal westerners, such as Tony Blair, Prince Charles and Peter Mandelson. Letters from Blair to "dear Muammar" keep turning up amid the ruins of Gaddafi's palaces and it seems the two corresponded more frequently and more warmly than I did with my late father (who often sent me a used fiver, but no oil). No doubt Blair and the others would happily appear before the International Criminal Court to give character references.
On Europe, I have always been a sceptic in one of the four senses offered by the OED: "an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite convictions". I suspect the European Union of being an anti-democratic, capitalist cartel, and Brussels of being infested by corporate lobbyists. For example, EU regulations strongly favour competition in the provision of public services, but that is an aspect of Brussels tyranny that we rarely hear about.
What invariably swings me towards support for the European Union, however, is the sight - to which we have just been treated - of Tory backbenchers and the Tory newspapers in full anti-foreigner cry. Any institution that can have Tories foaming at the mouth over the "imposition" of labour and environmental protection regulations can't be wholly bad. When Tories say they are happy with a free trade area but not with loss of sovereignty, what they really mean is that they prefer a capitalist's paradise of zero government and zero regulation, where countries compete by continually lowering taxes, eroding wages, increasing working hours, abolishing safety regulations and reducing consumer protection.
The only sovereignty that most Tories care about is the freedom of private corporations and their rich owners and executives to do what they please.
At the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards in central London - where I receive, for a long NS piece on Rupert Murdoch, Media Commentator of the Year, my first award since the 1956 Leicestershire Schools Verse-Reading Cup (under-12s) - I talk to the admirable Labour peer Helena Kennedy. Normally a cheery soul, Kennedy thinks little can be done to stop the coalition all but dismantling the NHS. The right has infiltrated market principles into health provision over 30 years, so that we are close to a largely privatised service without anybody noticing. "They've taken a strategic approach," she says. "We on the left aren't good at that. We don't do deferred gratification."
How has it come to this? Fabian socialism, one of the pillars of the early Labour Party, had deferred gratification built into its philosophy: one should wait for the right moment to strike, "as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal". But Fabianism fell out of fashion in the 1960s. The European left was captured by the spirit of 1968, as summarised by Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "If a revolutionary movement is to succeed, no form of organisation whatever must be allowed to dam its spontaneous flow." Unfortunately, most lefties of that generation ended up flowing spontaneously and unstoppably to the right.
If you have ever dreamed of sailing round the world, do it in 2012. Stay at home and you will have to contend not only with the Olympics - making travel in London impossible next summer - but also the Queen's diamond jubilee, which, like any big royal event, will cause almost everybody to abandon their critical faculties. One should not expect much of Andrew Marr as he ascends towards Dimblebyhood, but it is still disappointing to find him, in a Sunday Times trailer for his book The Diamond Queen, renouncing his youthful republicanism as "an adolescent pose to make me seem clever".
The grown-up Marr hangs his piece on an argument put to him by an anonymous propagandist for the Windsors: because they "know they have done nothing to deserve . . . their position . . . [it] makes them in a funny way almost humble". Which suggests that Marr is still trying to seem clever, but with diminishing success.
Ees are bad
In its unsurprising (except to some deluded politicians) analysis of the August riots, showing that most of those arrested were poor, the Home Office itself commits an act of egregious vandalism, not against property but against the English language. Its report refers to "arrestees" on 35 occasions. One might have hoped that, under the Tories, government departments would avoid such outrages, but perhaps the Lib Dems, always inclined to modishness, are responsible. "Arrestee", a truly ugly word, is an American invention, and even the Americans seem to have managed without it until the 1940s. We already have "attendee"; and David McKie of the Guardian once saw a bus sign declaring room for 16 "standees". I suppose that soon, if you assist an old lady across the road, she will become a helpee.
Peter Wilby was editor of the NS (1998-2005)