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12 December 2013

Taking Jeremy Clarkson seriously, a second honeymoon and the death of an elephant

Amol Rajan, editor of the Independent, writes the diary.

By Amol Rajan

Having studiously avoided it for half a lifetime, next year I shall learn to drive. This prospect is terrifying. Not because my wife – as I must get used to calling her, having wed in September – won’t forgive me if I fail to pass. No, what scares me is the fact that driving is an inherently conservative experience. With its celebration of individual freedom and private enterprise, dependence on rules, respect for wealth, national stereotypes and Jeremy Clarkson, no respectable member of the left ought to get behind a wheel without knowing he is also behind enemy lines.

Quite how readers of this magazine reconcile themselves to this vulgar capitalist practice, I haven’t a clue. For a lapsed Whig like me, the temptation to veer to the right will be irresistible, not least because I get an appalling thrill out of speed and will spend all my time in the fast lane. If learning to drive in 2014 does change my life, it won’t be because I can get from Exmouth Market to Exeter in under four hours. Rather, it will be because in becoming a petrolhead, I will have learned to take Jeremy Clarkson seriously.

Right Hon honeymoon 
Such conversions are, I am told, an early sign of the adjustment to married life. It’s been ten weeks now, and the best thing so far is not being divorced. In January, during the bleak English winter, we shall fly off for our second and final honeymoon, to my spiritual home in the Caribbean. That honeymoon is about the four Rs: romance, rum, reggae and reading. The first three I can handle. The last I am soliciting help for. What books to take? My wife is taking our new Kindle. I’m too old-fashioned for that. So far I’ve got: Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher, Ramachandra Guha’s biography of Gandhi, and Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. You’ll notice a pattern.

Naturally I have to take some political porn too, so I have got hold of Double Down, the sequel to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s superb account of the 2008 US election. Plus, a bit of P G Wodehouse to keep the laughs up. The other day I came across possibly my favourite line of prose ever, when in Very Good, Jeeves, Wodehouse writes: “The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!’”. It made me think of a dear friend of mine, who is a Tory columnist.

Up the garden path 
Once the honeymoon and driving are done, the next project for a married man is obviously more domestic. All my life I’ve dreamed of saying, when invited somewhere, that I am too busy contemplating my garden. But a garden is beyond most Londoners today, because of the disgusting injustice and cruelty of housing policy. This is the great hypocrisy and scandal of our age, a shameless and cynical ploy by the rich to rob the poor. It is state-sponsored theft.

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When a very well-placed source had the misfortune to hear me moan about London’s property prices recently, she told me that the people in the Treasury running the Help to Buy (Votes) scheme, who are not natural Tories, refer to it as Osborne’s sub-prime scheme. One difficulty for the Chancellor, as a chap from No 10 explained to me over dinner, is that it is very hard to have a national housing policy, because policies that could help in the north might just make things worse in the south. Another difficulty for the Chancellor is that he needs to be re-elected; inflating an asset bubble is his best chance.

Felled giant 
Last week we launched this year’s Christmas appeal for the Independent titles and Evening Standard in the Attlee Room of the House of Lords. We’re fighting to raise funds and awareness for Space for Giants, a charity that may single-handedly preserve Africa’s elephants from extinction. Dr Max Graham, the charismatic chief executive, showed us a moving video about the threats to this most gracious of mammals. One scene elicited a very loud gasp from those assembled. It showed the flesh of a recently killed elephant being hacked into by a local. Aargh! went up the cry, followed by tears from a few.

Rather ungraciously, I later consoled these watery witnesses and enquired whether or not they are vegetarian, which they weren’t. I thought I ought not to push them. This was a charity do after all. But why is the murder of an elephant any more wrong than that of, say, a cow? It isn’t. The difference lies in the shock caused by the sight of a vast open wound, a bolt of blood and flesh. But – and I say this as a weak, part-time vegetarian (lapsed, you could say) – endless blood has been spilled to give you the meat that ends up on your plate. If you thought about it, or saw it, you’d be shocked. Contrary to what the peerless John Gray has written in these pages, progress does exist and one measure of it is the granting of rights to groups of beings previously deemed unworthy: blacks, women, gays. If man has a moral revolution left in him, it may transcend the species barrier.

A hero comes along
At the launch party of a book by the Authors Cricket Club this summer, my teammate Ed Smith (of this parish) told me that Michael Carberry, the left-handed batsman, was a talent to watch. Now, he is opening for England in the Ashes series in Australia, and looks every inch the Test match player. Carberry may be the most inspirational England player in a generation. A few years ago, a blood clot on his lung nearly killed him. He retrained as an electrician, set up his own company – and didn’t stop batting. What’s more, I’m pretty sure I bowled at him in the nets at Spencer CC when we were both playing in the Surrey championship years ago. Back then we both dreamed of playing for England but only one of us had what it takes. What a hero. l Amol Rajan is editor of the Independent. He tweets as @amolrajan

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