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.

Rampant rabids

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.

Absolutely Fabius

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.

Diamond geezer

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)

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.