A Very English Way Of Doing Things
So Britain is to have another election – hardly any surprise there, as the current leader of the opposition is a phantom who has all but destroyed Labour’s core voter base. Jeremy Corbyn is a career politician with the magnetic presence of a retired postman and is unable to make a stand for or against anything with any degree of believable conviction.
If the politicians have got wetter, the system hasn’t changed much. I’ve just read John Preston’s ‘A Very English Affair: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment’, concerning the only murder trial ever heard (I presume) against a party leader. I remember the case very clearly from the time, but had not realised how much the establishment had closed ranks around a guilty man. The events themselves defy belief; the charismatic Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe systematically covered up his sexual relationship with mentally unstable Norman Scott and eventually arranged to have him shot dead, but the dimwitted hitman only succeeded in killing Scott’s dog.
Thorpe did not sully his own hands, of course, but used his most loyal supporters to do his dirty work and even had the judge prejudiced, resulting in the most ludicrously one-sided summing-up in British legal history.
But what shocks the most is how incompetent everyone on both sides proved to be. They were hampered by the English way of doing things. Nobody ever castigated anyone else directly for failure – in much the same way that Corbyn’s colleagues never berate him for failing to make a stand on Brexit and Europe, for example. Instead they sent each other polite letters, vague ‘coded’ promises, carefully worded statements and cautiously qualified promises, and when all of those failed, they simply lied.
Against this, the horribly blunt tub-thumping of American politics seems positively refreshing, because in the UK everything is so – well, the word ‘slippery’ turns up in Preston’s book an awful lot. Typically, it feels that if everyone had been honest from the outset, a sense of genuine democracy would have prevailed. But they weren’t, and probably never will be.
During my lifetime a great many revisionist political histories have appeared as secret documents have come to light. What they show is that the very English way of doing things continues much as it ever did. Preston’s jaw-dropping book is out now.