12 JUNE 2004, Page 11

R onald Reagan has been kindly treated in death by those

who so constantly opposed him in life. But the kindness itself acts as a sort of smothering of his achievement. Thus Gavin Hewitt (BBC) told us that his popularity had 'nothing to do with his politics', but with his geniality and optimism. It is perfectly true that the great actor presented a sunny character to the world, but that character chimed with his politics, and no modern American politician has been so consistent and serious in his political opinions. Reagan's optimism was rooted in his understanding of what freedom can do. His toughness was similarly related to his beliefs. We were told by Bridget Kendall (BBC) that he produced détente with the Soviet Union, 'even though he called it the Evil Empire'. Not 'even though', but 'because'. It was only when the Russians at last understood that the United States had the will to beat them and to summon up their subject peoples against them that they knew the game was up.

Ithink I may be under arrest. On almost my final day as editor of the Daily Telegraph in October last year, we published an article about Jean Peyrelevade, the former chairman of Credit Lyonnais. What it said need not concern us here, but M. Peyrelevade does not like it. Under the British system, he would simply sue. His country being France, however, the state gets involved. Libel there is a criminal matter and the judge (there is, under the Napoleonic dispensation, no jury) pronounces guilt, and can decide both the punishment for the perpetrator and compensation for the victim. As editor, I come first in the `responsabilite penale dire "en cascade", and before he gets going with the substance of the case the judge can summon me over in person merely to stand before him and say that I am who I am (or, in this case, who I was). No doubt if I refused to attend, they could come after me with a European Arrest Warrant. I am assured that I shall be allowed to return, but since my knowledge of French justice is based on A Tale of Two Cities, I fear I may be 'buried alive' for 18 years like M. Manette. I travel next week. Is it au revoir or adieu?

Michael Frayri has a writer in one of his fictions always inventing blurbs, first lines, characters, etc., for novels he will never write. I share this weakness, and apply it to films as well. I am currently not working, if you see what I mean, on a film along the lines of Austin Powers or Johnny

English. Its hero is called either Forwood Slash or Brent Crude.

Iike some Victorian prude unable to d utter the word 'bottom'. the BBC cannot bring itself to say 'terrorist'. It has decided that it is a loaded word, implying hostility to the person so described. This policy produced tragicomedy this week. Terrorists in Saudi Arabia shot and killed a BBC cameraman, Simon Cumbers, and wounded its security correspondent, Frank Gardner. The BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, appeared on his own channels and said that the deed had been done by 'militants'. But the world is full of people who are militant on all sorts of subject — punctuation, speed cameras, live animal exports —who would not dream of killing people. Militancy does not necessarily seek to justify murder: terrorism always does.

If the refusal of the IRA to decommission its weapons has had any good effect, it has been to create enough time in the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland for my friend and former colleague Dean Godson to complete his biography of David Trimble. The book is out at last (Himself Alone, HarperCollins,I30), and it is a triumphant combination of detached analysis and the inside track. Godson scotches one strange little rumour that circulated for years in the more paranoid regions of Unionism — that Mr Trimble 'tried to kill his first wife' and therefore signed the Belfast Agreement in order to avoid prosecution. What actually happened was this. Mr Trimble was divorced from his first wife and visiting his future (and present) wife, Daphne, at her

home in Belfast. He was clearing his personal protection weapon and, having removed the magazine, squeezed the trigger to clear the spring. 'There was a round up the spout,' Trimble tells Godson, 'which fired into the wall.' Daphne Trimble reasonably enough points out that if she had thought her boyfriend had been trying to kill her, she would not have married him. I find it strangely comforting to know that David Trimble lacks the physical competence, as well as the murderous inclination, to carry an Annalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other.

!There ought to be a special circle of 1 Hell for those who extend political partisanship into posterity. Labour members of Blackburn council want to erect a statue in memory of Barbara Castle, the town's former MP. According to the Dai4, Telegraph, the leader of the Conservative group on the council objects, saying, 'An inscribed urinal might be more appropriate.' A similar row about a statue grumbles on in Grantham, where the leader of the Labour group on the council writes to the Grantham Journal to describe the town's most famous daughter as 'a callous and destructive woman who damaged so much in our decent nation'. Another stout citizen writes that he doesn't see why a statue of Margaret Thatcher should have 'a single penny of taxpayers' money'. Can't people separate their personal views from the purpose of history? Barbara Castle was the first really important Labour woman politician. Margaret Thatcher was our first woman prime minister. Of course their towns should give them statues, whether you approve of them or not. Whenever I walk past the Houses of Parliament, I find it piquant that Oliver Cromwell stands in stone beside the body whose power he drained away — piquant, but also right.

Two people were murdered in an Oxfordshire village this week, and it took the police an hour to arrive. Luckily, the problem is usually burglary, not murder, but that is bad enough. I hear an answer more and more frequently recommended in the sad shires. Call the fire brigade. Apparently the rules insist that fire engines must be within 15 minutes of any possible blaze, and there is no equivalent rule for the police. The burgled householder who, after ail, wants sirens and signs of authority rather than any immediate detective expertise, should therefore dial 999 and shout 'Firer I don't know whether this is a criminal offence, but if it is it would make an interesting day in court.