E very winter morning I take a scuttle down to the
cellar, fill it with coal and carry it up to light the fire in my study. The coaldust clings to my shoes and so, as the carpets testify, I have a carbon footprint. David Cameron wants to make it — and everyone else’s — smaller. He is now reaching the dangerous point when his generalised, benevolent sentiments about the planet start to translate into policies which would load new cost on to individuals. His suggested tax on flying is a political mistake because it will be seen, rightly, as hurting poorer people and those who have to pay with their own money. Huge numbers of flights are made by civil servants — often to attend international environmental conferences — but of course they won’t notice the increased cost. Young people, families, small businessmen, lovers all will. The most basic rule for any Conservative considering the structure of taxes should be — identify with the interest of the rising class and support it. Help the people who may not have much money now, but have the energy to try to get on in the world and give their children opportunities which they lacked. Thirty years ago, the prices of nationalised airlines were prohibitively expensive for such people, and so they rejoiced at the entrepreneurs who tried to break this monopoly. Mrs Thatcher, in the same position as David Cameron is today, duly hailed Freddie Laker as the people’s friend. For similar reasons, people often tell opinion polls that if Britain had a president, it should be Richard Branson. Mr Cameron reminds us that there is ‘a perfectly good train service to Manchester’. Perhaps, but its current second-class return from London costs £117. He told the Today programme that his ‘main purpose is to curb the growth of air transport’. You can’t do that without removing one of the great new freedoms of our times. If there really is a problem with the ‘carbon footprint’ of aeroplanes, the solution surely lies in fuel technology, not in trying to force what Mr Cameron irritatingly calls the ‘ordinary British holidaymaker’ to go back to Skegness.
Afriend of mine who lives in a north London street where there have recently been several burglaries was alarmed by a noise outside his house at two in the morning. Looking out, he saw men in black woolly hats creeping round near his dustbins, shining torches. He was about to ring the police when one of the men turned round, and revealed a sign on his back announcing that he was from the council’s refuse collection department. Last week, MPs voted for a wholly elected House of Lords. The Times described this as ‘historic’ and the end of a 700-year tradition. The Daily Telegraph explained that in fact nothing would happen. I hope it is not mere partisanship for the paper which employs me to say that the Telegraph got it right. To cut a very long story short, it will not be possible for the Houses of Parliament to reach agreement on a wholly elected House (where would poor, dear ex-Cabinet ministers, judges, bishops, generals, Cabinet secretaries go?). Without agreement, there is not enough time to get anything sorted out before the next election. Nor is it worth making any plan shortly before we have a new prime minister. Nor will that new prime minister, if he wins the next election with a small majority, want to plunge his party into all this wrangling. And if the Tories win the election, they will not want their first term wasted with such stuff. Because of our strange political situation at present, almost every issue is like this — a matter of positioning or ‘legacy’, not of action. By the same token, there will be no reform of party funding after Sir Hayden Phillips’s report this week.
Brigadier James Ellery, who was in charge of 7,000 UN troops in southern Sudan in 2006, gave a talk on the subject in London last week. Because James had been my host when I visited the Sudan in September, I was asked to introduce him. It was a brilliant talk, but the bit that the entire audience at the Rifles Club will remember came right at the end. James showed a slide of a python with its mouth wide open and its fangs caught on some wire. He asked each of us to write on a card what we thought was the story behind the picture and attach money in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. The winner got a cut of the money. The Prince of Wales, who was the guest of honour, wrote ‘He’s swallowed a cow!’ I thought this was far-fetched, but it turned out to be overcautious. When we had all handed in our entries, James Ellery showed a slide of the entire python. It had crept up on a sleeping security guard, strangled him and then swallowed him whole. You could see the body of the poor man silhouetted in the belly of the snake, almost as in a cartoon. Struggling with the weight of its lunch, the python had caught its fangs on the perimeter fence, and died. This gruesome scene gave everyone enormous pleasure.
It is a disgrace that David Coleman, Professor of Demography at Oxford, is being hounded by a government-funded body called Oxford Student Action for Refugees. Osar wants him out of his job for racism, and the ‘evidence’ is his link with the pressure group Migration Watch. Others have written, rightly, about what a good and respectable man Professor Coleman is. It should be added that Migration Watch is good and respectable too. I do not myself agree with its contention that immigration contributes little to Britain’s prosperity. Cheap and willing labour which would otherwise be short must be an economic advantage. But Migration Watch has been the pioneer of factual truth in this area. It noticed that successive governments were reporting and projecting the scale of immigration with desperate inaccuracy. The government predicted that there would be 13,000 Eastern Europeans coming to Britain as a result of our admitting them after EU entry, and excoriated Migration Watch for saying otherwise. Today the official figure is 580,000. Migration Watch also highlighted ‘chain immigration’ (arranged marriages, etc.) from the Indian subcontinent. Now, the government confirms, the number of spouses admitted has nearly doubled in ten years. It is the Home Office that should be sacked for the damage it has done to race relations, not Professor Coleman.
Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice, wants shorter sentences for murder because the prisons will otherwise be ‘full of geriatric lifers’. Lord Phillips is 69. Lord Bingham, the senior Lord of Appeal, is 74. Even groovy, lefty Lord of Appeal Lord Hoffmann is 72. It is unwise for judges to disparage geriatric lifers.