"SIR - Thank God for a churchman with guts" - letter in defence of Cardinal Thomas Winning's comparison of the homosexual "threat" to the Nazi threat in the Second World War, Daily Telegraph, January 2000.
"It was appropriate that the defining moment of the Conservative conference, the rally for General Pinochet, took place in a darkened cinema, theatre of fantasy." - Andrew Rawmsley, The Observer, 10th October 1999.
"When cultures are in their death throes, they become unhealthily vicious, disturbingly aggressive, losing all their erstwhile self-confidence, and the self-control that came from it (even if you did not actually agree with the beliefs that lurked behind), and become frighteningly uncontrollable and dangerous." - me.
You know that newspaper with the "gothic" typeset for its title, dominated by Old Money, sneering at the New Rich? The one with the ostentatiously, deliberately old-fashioned typeface, the one that fears the internet like the upper class of the 1950s feared commercial television, the one that always supports the Tories, defends foxhunting and the House of Lords, regards even an unrecognisably watered-down Labour party as deeply suspect? The one whose letters page can sound straight from the 1930s and is often infinitely funnier than Sir Herbert Gussett or any other parodies hurled towards it by Private Eye? You always see it with the other broadsheets, you might strongly disagree with it or be blandly indifferent, but you'd never buy it, right? Well, nor should you and neither would I (the letters pages which appear on this website were of the "found on a train" variety - no money changed hands), but the "Torygraph" is currently a fascinating if utterly grotesque example of what happens when an authoritarian, imperialistic, dying culture faces its final hours and reacts with a belch of reactionary fear that would caricature itself were it not actually meant. I despise this newspaper and all it stands for, but this only makes me all the more interested in its workings and its general mentality (for you only win a war when you know your enemies).
Ten or fifteen years ago, the inhabitants of this little world could just about convince themselves that things were still going just fine. Margaret Thatcher was still in Number 10 and Norman Tebbit was burbling his dangerous talk about "national identity" in the context of cricket, there was not a huge impulse towards devolution and the Tories would never have allowed it anyway (it's hard to believe that, only 15 years ago, a Guardian editorial could say that Wales was "ever more conscious of its British identity" and the 1983 election had given Wales almost as many Tory MPs as Labour), the Church of England was still retaining just about enough worshippers for its claim to be the "national" church not to appear completely ridiculous and antiquated (Tony Blair's refusal to even consider disestablishment is, in my opinion, one of his most disturbingly neo-Conservative stances), and the internet had not yet arrived to become the ultimate threat to all forms of cultural protectionism, fear and nationalism, the final nail in the myth of isolation and removal, not just in Britain but everywhere. Back then, the Telegraph was a traditionalist Tory paper, as it has always been, but the influence of its relatively moderate editor of the time, the war correspondent Max Hastings (who was in trouble with its hard-right Canadian proprietor Conrad Black for writing editorials which dared to question Margaret Thatcher's judgement on certain issues), made it seem infinitely more rational and less extreme than it does today, even if you did not agree with its slant in any way. The influence of its ultra-c/Conservative editor since 1995, Charles Moore, has pushed it deep into the crazier shores of right-wingery (it's hard to imagine that Hastings, who has a deep admiration for the Jews and is a passionate opponent of anti-semitism in the aristocratic circles in which he mixes, would have published the letter which appeared last Friday suggesting that, had Jesus not been a Jew, then the Jews would now be a group of "troublesome peasants without any kind of developed civilization"), as has the influence of the increasingly deranged William Hague on the Conservative Party itself, but even more important have been a series of events, hardly noticed, which have quietly and subtly removed the world of the Telegraph from the world outside to an extent that would have been unthinkable 15, 10 or even 5 years ago.
Personally I think that Asian Dub Foundation get it right in "Real Great Britain", that Blair's "Cool Britannia", as it was initially known, is just the old Britain in new clothing. The Telegraph's belief that the "New Britain" branding is destroying everything before it is utterly unfounded paranoia which can and should be ignored. But in other ways, Andrew Marr is right (http://offthetelly.users.btopenworld.com/reviews/2000/daybritaindied.htm) - this has come to seem like a different country over the last couple of years. The royal family are the lowest-profile they've ever been, devolution is having a much stronger impact than the right-wing London-based press would have you believe, redefinitions of national identity are being pushed more and more into the centre of British cultural discourse (Britpop, with its attempts to reinvoke a dead, mythical national unity, seems like 20 years ago, not 5, and appears as an embarrassing aberration in the evolution of British popular music rather than the "rebirth" it was shamefully promoted as by the music press and national press at the time - see also http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/britpop.htm) and the very use of the word "Britain" is coming to seem more and more uncertain. In short, the old order seem more and more distant and outmoded, through a process which cannot be described in words but is gradually appearing all around us (although it is despite, rather than because of, the shameful apology for a Labour party which now governs). But where calmer men would gently retire and realise that their time has passed, the readers and writers of the Torygraph have thrown all restraint aside, completely lost themselves, and gone for it.
I can understand the argument of defence, offered by such a prominent liberal thinker and supporter of multiculturalism as Darcus Howe (http://offthetelly.users.btopenworld.com/reviews/2000/whitetribe.htm), that these people feel they have become "rebels" through Blair's "redefinition" of Britishness (which is in fact purely a surface thing). The trouble is that it's the most unappealing form of "rebellion" imaginable. If their "rebellion" against New Labour is to thunder that Blair's cabinet contains "known homosexuals", to say that General Pinochet has been "shamefully" held "in a country notorious for its barbarious inquistion methods" (meaning Britain) and that "no foreign government, of the Left or Right, will ever again have any trust in British integrity", and that "a meet of foxhounds" is "a proud occasion to tidy a farm, to dust a pub, to build a covert for wild birds", then I'd choose New Labour (although I would ideally choose a true Labour party, and I dream that such a party will flourish again).
The Torygraph, along with its sister publication, the Spectator, is coming on like an empire in its death throes, desperately getting more and more paranoid and fearful while the fire of change rages harder and harder outside. Its tower is getting more vulnerable every day. I hope and pray for its eventual demise. But I fear that New Labour's embrace of Old Conservative policies and attitudes, while the Tory party becomes even further to the right than the BNP on certain issues (which makes mainstream British political discourse the most right-wing it has ever been) will keep it going, albeit in a younger and flashier form to which The Times and The Sunday Times would seem much better suited than the Torygraph, well beyond the date of its natural demise. But this culture must die soon. Have a cursory online inspection of the Telegraph (though I don't feel I can morally link to any of its websites) and gasp fearfully at the anger and aggression with which it is spluttering to the grave.
Robin Carmody, 27th April 2000
Proof that the New Establishment is an impotent opposition: