Sunday, November 27, 2005

 

Jeffrey Archer, Politicians and Lord Acton's Disease

I note that Jeffrey Archer has applied for the whip in the Lords. When Jonathan Aitken tried to seek acceptance as a Conservative candidate before the last election, Michael Howard gave an emphatic 'no'. I also note that David Cameron has also ruled out a return to the party of Lord Archer, judging, no doubt, that such a move would taint hisparty just when he yearns for the sqweakiest of cleanliness. All this raises again the topic I discussed relating to Conrad Black: why the fall of certain people in the public domain cause delight- even if slightly shameful- and others cause much emphathetic mourning. For me the 'delight' attended the fall of Black, as we have seen, Aitken with his ludicrous 'sword of truth', Thatcher, with her teary eyed departure and vicious judgement on her assassins; Maxwell, who slipped overboard to avoid shaming bankruptcy; and Archer, the eternal courtier to Thatcher and then Major but without any substance as a politician and a seeming fantasist in most of his personal life.

An example of the other kind? For me it was David Blunkett, brought down by treachery and naivety rather than personal failings-though there is some evidence that he had changed much from the original poor blind boy who overcame titanic odds. Most assessments conclude the damage was done by the malady so memorably diagnosed by Lord Acton.

Maybe it is purely personal- I felt political sympathy with Blunkett but not with the other names mentioned. But here's a strange thing. There was a time when I would have loved to see Kenneth Baker's ruination. He once supported Heath with uncritical fervour and then switched far too easily to Heath's successor. He was the evil genius behind the Poll Tax and expressed a kind of oleaginous cringing attitude to power combined with what I saw as contempt for the public. And yet, when I interviewed him a while back for some research I was doing, he was charming, thoroughly likeable and the reverse image of what I expected.

This is where the personal and the public conflict: how can I claim consistency of judgement and allow myself to exult at the destruction of careers when my own feelings are so contradictory? I suppose it's because we just cannot know the reality behind the public mask. If I met Archer, would I be charmed- as so many have- or would I be confirmed in my intense dislike? It's a worrying thought which undermines much of what I feel about politicians; and there is no escape from it.

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