21 MARCH 1987, Page 6


From the beginning of the Wright trial in Australia, I have been convinced that the 'destabilising' of the Wilson and poss- ibly other governments is the only thing worth bothering about, and that fourth, fifth and nth men, Sir Roger Hollis and the rest of the stage army should be returned to central casting. How we all laughed when Lord Wilson first made his allega- tions some years ago, and how wrong we seem to have been! There is, however, one obstacle in the way of a full investigation, quite apart from Mrs Margaret Thatcher's politically understandable intransigence. Lord Wilson's memory is not what it was, as Mr Terry Coleman demonstrated sym- pathetically in a recent interview. The failing, I am told, derives from Lord Wilson's serious operation, when he failed to recover from the effects of the anaesthe- tic.

Whave been asked to participate in a neighbourhood watch scheme. These associations, much in vogue in London, seem to be commended less for their effectiveness in deterring evildoers than for their proclamation of social advancement in a street or area, like a school run or a builder's skip. Indeed, I heard of one area where burglaries had increased since the introduction of a scheme — presumably because the thieves considered that the residents had something to safeguard. I remain agnostic. I like to think that I should in any case either intervene myself or inform the constabulary if I saw any- thing amiss. On the other hand, if I observed two persons removing a televi- sion set in daylight through a neighbour's front door into a waiting van I should probably keep quiet. If I saw them taking carpets and pictures at the same time, my suspicions might be aroused. But I have yet to see anyone take the slightest notice of a ringing burglar alarm. The assumption is always that it has gone off by mistake.

Reading Mr Anthony Howard's biography of R. A. Butler, I was reminded of how quickly Butler rose to pre-eminence in his party after the war. Mr Howard correctly writes that he was passed over, or passed himself over, not twice but three times — the first occasion being Winston Churchill's stroke. The reviewers and com- mentators have drawn numerous parallels with Butler's career generally. Most of them seem to me unapt. Thus: Hugh Gaitskell actually became leader of his party and later died, though I remain convinced that he would somehow have contrived to lose the 1964 election. Iain Macleod did not get to the starting line in 1963 or 1965, and five years later, when he also died, his time had gone. The two most apt parallels we ignore because, like G. K. Chesterton's murderers, they are so ob- vious: we are used to them. Mr Roy Jenkins came a respectable third in the leadership election of 1976 and might have stayed with Labour if the winner, Mr James Callaghan, had offered him the Foreign Office. And Mr Denis Healey was passed over three times: in favour first of Mr Callaghan, then of Mr Michael Foot, and lastly of Mr Neil Kinnock, when he did not even bother to fight. Just like Butler.

Mr Callaghan was the only Prime Minister of this century who had addi- tionally held all the great offices of state. He was always regarded as a unique repository of political folk wisdom, as he still is. Word in your ear, nod's as good as wink, ho, ho, I see there's a change in the weather: Jim's a wise old bird, knows a thing or two. Yet the truth is that virtually every political decision that Mr Callaghan took turned out to be a disaster for his party. He postponed the election. He imposed an absurdly low limit on pay increases which primarily caused the trou- bles of that winter: He had no idea how to deal with those troubles. He had previous- ly allowed himself to be impaled on the hook of devolution. When the Scots and the Irish gave a tug, he was sunk. Ten years before he had, as a member of Lord Wilson's Cabinet, led the successful resist- ance to Mrs Barbara Castle's trade union proposals. The New Statesman, of which I was then political correspondent, editorial- ly supported Mrs Castle and Lord Wilson. I, perhaps mistakenly, inclined more to Mr Callaghan — though my information came chiefly not so much from him as from Richard Crossman. When Crossman be- came editor of the NS in 1970, Mr Cal- laghan said to him that he supposed he would be 'getting rid' of me. That, at any rate, was Crossman's account. There was no reason for him to be untruthful on this occasion. It seemed to me rather ungrate- ful of Mr Callaghan in the circumstances, and remains one reason for my wariness of him.

In my boyhood we went either to Tenby or to Aberystwyth for our summer holi- days. My father preferred Aberystwyth, which, he said, was more 'homely', and where he could walk up and down the prom, spotting old acquaintances (Isn't that Miss Prosser, who used to teach at Blaenau?') and conversing with them in Welsh. My mother preferred Tenby, and so did I. It remains the nicest small seaside town that I know in England or Wales. The most exciting part of my visit was always the trip to the monastery on Caldey Island. Today I read that it may have to close owing to the advancing years of the (now Cistercian) monks and the shortage of younger supplicants. It was the creation of Lord Halifax, who bought the island in 1906, and of Benjamin Carlyle, a kind of eccentric freeland priest, who erected buildings of preposterous, fairyland beau- ty. Until the first world war, when it went over to Rome, it was an Anglican monas- tery, where the young Ronald Knox spent some of his happiest times. I have always wanted to return there, either as a day visitor or, if the monks would have me, for one or two weeks. Going into retreat has always struck me as more sensible than going to a health farm.

Travelling about London or any other large town at around lunch time, I see queues of usually young people on the pavement outside banks. They are queuing for the cash dispenser. They do it even when it is raining. They do it, moreover, when the queue inside the bank, out of the cold and rain, is shorter or when there is none at all. Why do they behave in this way? It seems odd to me. I have asked several friends and relations, who have come up with the following answers. The queuers obtain nice clean notes in neat bundles. Or they are overdrawn and do not wish to confront representatives of the management. This is surely an inadequate explanation, for you can walk into any bank and draw f50 on production of your cheque card; unless presumably your name and number have been circulated on some black list or, rather, in-the-red list. Miss Katharine Whitehorn, in her Observer column, has produced a psychological theory: there are times when people just do not want to deal directly with other people, preferring to use machines instead. I remain puzzled.