I once applied to be a peer. This was not because I wanted to be known as Baron Hitchens, but because I thought it might be possible to do some good in the House of Lords, where the brutal and rigid party machines do not bully members into line the way they do in the Commons.
The Government of the day said it would appoint a small number of ‘People’s Peers’, the sort of people who might not normally get in.
I filled in a long form explaining my virtues. Silence fell, and many months later I read in the papers that Elspeth Howe, wife of the former Cabinet Minister Geoffrey Howe, had been chosen.
I’d actually assumed she was already a Baroness, since she was exactly the kind of great and good soppy liberal person who normally does get ennobled, or was in those days. So I laughed, and told myself not to be so silly in future.
I invite those of you who still think Mr Johnson is a traditionalist patriotic conservative to ask yourself why he has put Ms Fox into Parliament
Since then the Upper House has got worse and worse. There are quite a lot of people there now who are so dim and unqualified that it defies belief. And I have for some time thought the moment had come to abolish the whole thing.
But then came the Prime Minister’s latest list of new peers. There are some reasonable people on it, though if I were Mr Johnson I’d have hesitated before elevating my own brother to the peerage. It just doesn’t look good, from any direction.
But the really strange appointment was that of Claire Fox. I invite those of you who still think Mr Johnson is a traditionalist patriotic conservative to ask yourself why he has put Ms Fox into Parliament.
I have known Claire for years and actually quite like her. I’ve watched in admiration as she has used her headship of a mysterious thing called The Institute of Ideas to create a major broadcasting career. She has some sound instincts, and – as we shall see – she can be ruthlessly honest.
But no traditionalist conservative could conceivably give her a lifetime seat in Parliament.
Claire was for many years a member of a strange cultish group called the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). This wasn’t a youthful dalliance like mine in the International Socialists, which I left in 1975. She carried on belonging to the RCP for 20 years after leaving university.
Its newspaper, The Next Step, said at the time of the 1993 Warrington bomb, which killed three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry: ‘We defend the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom’
And there is every sign that she still hasn’t really broken with it. The RCP itself has disappeared after a series of misfortunes, and how has a ghostly afterlife in web-based outfits such as Spiked.
In this strange milieu, she must have met Munira Mirza, head of Mr Johnson’s policy unit but weirdly far less famous than that other crazy Downing Street radical, Dominic Cummings.
Ms Mirza, whose husband used to be famous for organising sex parties, is also linked with the RCP. And she has been close to Mr Johnson since his days as Mayor of London.
So could Lady Fox’s ennoblement have been her idea? Who can say?
What startles me is how little fuss it has created. Baroness Fox, in her RCP days, defended the cruel, violent actions of the Provisional IRA. This was RCP policy.
Its newspaper, The Next Step, said at the time of the 1993 Warrington bomb, which killed three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry: ‘We defend the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom.’
Long ago? Well, yes, but Lady Fox was challenged about this very recently when she stood as a Brexit Party candidate for the European Parliament in a constituency which includes Warrington.
Did she say, ‘I am deeply ashamed of these policies, which I now see as having been gravely mistaken’? She did not.
Last April, politely but firmly confronted by Tim Parry’s father Colin, she said that she stuck by what she had believed back in 1993.
‘My personal politics and views are well known and I have never sought to deny them, though on this issue they have remained unaired for many years.’
This statement (were her views well-known?) was carefully surrounded by various sentiments of sympathy at the loss suffered by the Parry and Ball families. But Colin Parry himself reckoned (as I do) that she had not actually changed her mind.
He still thinks she hasn’t, and when her peerage was announced, he tweeted: ‘We all do and say things when young that we later regret. Claire Fox never apologised for defending the IRA bombing of Warrington which took the life of my son Tim and Johnathan Ball. Now she is offered a peerage. This offends me and many others deeply.’
I think he has a point, though of course nobody will now pay attention to his reasoned and civil protests. But ask yourselves why a supposedly Tory Government should give such an honour, and such a part in running the nation, to such a person.
No doubt there is a case for having all kinds of people in Parliament. But how strange that this award should come from a party whose emblem is the Union Jack, which is given to singing Land Of Hope And Glory, and which excoriates Jeremy Corbyn for meeting terrorists. Have we been had?
Repression by men in black uniforms is not a good look
The great city of Melbourne in Australia is now under a severe six-week curfew from 8pm until 5am.
Its businesses are crippled. Even the authorities admit it could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Muzzles are, of course, compulsory. Inhabitants can leave their homes only once a day for essential supplies and food, and once for one hour of exercise, within a three-mile radius.
The local police chief, Shane Patton, fetchingly dressed in black shirt and black tie (does he know no history?) is pleased that non-muzzle-wearers are being ‘shunned’ and says his officers ‘had’ to smash into cars whose drivers did not co-operate with stop and search
Police and soldiers are hammering on the doors of those who have tested positive for Covid (who are now forbidden to exercise), to check they are at home. Huge fines face those who don’t comply.
Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews says: ‘We can no longer have people simply out and about for no good reason… you will be stopped and you will be asked and need to demonstrate that you are lawfully out and you are not breaching that curfew.’
The local police chief, Shane Patton, fetchingly dressed in black shirt and black tie (does he know no history?) is pleased that non-muzzle-wearers are being ‘shunned’ and says his officers ‘had’ to smash into cars whose drivers did not co-operate with stop and search.
Why this wild repression? Because of 15 deaths in a day, mostly among the very old, in a state of more than six million people. Once again, the words ‘out of proportion’ spring to mind.
I predict that a major British city will be subjected to something similar in the coming winter.
Strikingly, it is in the formerly free English-speaking world, inheritors of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, that the most severe attack on freedom is happening. They seem confident we will not defend it.
I gave blood- and got freedom
I am pleased to report that I have now managed to donate the pint of blood I tried and failed to give to the English Blood Service last week. They refused to let me do so because I was not prepared to wear a muzzle.
I gave my blood in Wales, and found the Welsh Blood Service staff every bit as delightful and helpful as their English counterparts.
Better still, they do not have concrete-headed dogmatic bosses who treat donors as nuisances, and lack any flexibility at all. So no muzzle.
Luckily for me, I have both the time and the money to travel 200 miles to give blood. But others, at present, must either submit to this dodgy diktat (many believe it is unsafe as well as needless) or stop giving freely of their own blood.
In any case, my critics will now have a tough time calling me selfish for making a stand. My blood does just as much good in Wales as it would have done in England.
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