16 MAY 1992, Page 24

Beachy Head memories

Sir: I am sorry that my friends Michael Cockerell and Alan Watkins should have fallen into dispute as to what Jim Callaghan said, or I said, or I said that he said, about Moses, the Promised Land and all that (Letters, 9 May).

Since they are both wrong, may I set them right? What was said was said by me in a speech on 7 September 1977, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. What I said was that Jim had ruminated to me, walking near Beachy Head, that he felt a bit like Moses because, while he hoped to lead the country out of Egypt into the desert, he knew that he would not live (politically) to see the arrival in the Promised Land.

The moral of the story, as I told it, was that at last we had a political leader whose time horizons were those of the long-term health of the nation rather than the much shorter ones of tomorrow's headlines and the politician's own skin. What a contrast, I thought but did not say, with the 20 degrad- ing years of 'the two Harolds' (1957-1976), which alienated a whole generation from public life as a serious activity!

It was also in this speech that the phrase 'the new realism', later adopted by Mrs Thatcher, was first used to describe a turn- ing away from the general economic and political rottenness of the previous era.

You can imagine my feelings at the time when these remarks were greeted with an article by the prolific Mr Paul Johnson scorning me for not knowing my Bible and in particular for not knowing that Moses led his people into the desert, but himself never made it to the Promised Land. This, of course, was the whole point, missed by Johnson then and missed by Cockerell and Watkins now. I will try harder.

Peter Jay

39 Castlebar Road, London W5