We had all said everything there was to say about Brexit a hundred times over. So the conversation took different routes. We discussed D-Day, Philip Hammond, clichés and President Trump. D-Day: what an awesome concentration of men and materiel — what a magnificent expression of military, national and moral resolve. A youngster made the sort of point beloved of smartass youngsters down the ages. What about the Eastern Front; what about the Kursk salient? Should all that not put D-Day in a diminished perspective?
No, he was told, for two reasons. Without D-Day, the Soviet empire would have extended a lot further west, reaching the Rhine if not indeed the Channel. Equally, with some exceptions, especially when the Waffen SS were in action, the war in the west was as civilised as war can be. In the east, the earth and its inhabitants were ravaged by hell-driven barbarism.
Another question arose. Moral resolve: these days, could we as a nation ever mount an operation similar to D-Day? Let us hope that we never have to find out. Morals led us on to Philip Hammond. General agreement broke out among a group who are normally allergic to agreement, that there is no more honourable man in the front-rank of public life. In an era of illusion and fantasy, he is a tough-minded realist. Yet there would be no point in his running for the Tory leadership, a contest which Boris Johnson might win. This is not to the Tory party’s credit.
‘Philip’s not much of a politician,’ someone observed. ‘No,’ said I: ‘he has the defects of his qualities.’ That was immediately hailed as a brilliant remark. I swiftly rebuffed the compliments. A few decades ago, I had to delve into the minor political literature of the 1890s. In those days, ‘defects of his qualities’ would have ranked as an arrant cliché. At some stage, it disappeared into a linguistic culvert, from which it can now emerge, refreshed and renewed. Let us hope that the Tory party can undergo a similar transformation, in a shorter period, and under a leader who does not revel in the defects of his defects.
I called the meeting to order. We had been drinking an excellent Rhône red, a Brune et Blonde 2012 from the house of Guigal, a superb grower. I had recently experienced disappointments over Guigal’s ordinary Côtes du Rhône, which was merely trading on the name: not nearly as good as its equivalent from Saint Cosme. But the Brune et Blonde was delicious, and could indeed withstand plenty more years in the bottle.
I felt that we should all give it five minutes of undiluted concentration. We have all been guilty — I more than most — of being so caught up in talk that a good wine slipped unobtrusively across the palate. That Guigal deserved better, even if not as much as a ’09 La Turque, from the same stable. I shared a bottle a few weeks ago. It was worthy of a 21-gun salute.
Less worthy, President Trump received one. Which is more dispiriting: his opponents’ childishness or his determination to come down to their level? In the words of the late George Brown, he should treat Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable with a complete ignoral. In their turn, they should remember that he won because his opponent came from a family that give sleaze a bad name. Few Americans have been as different as he and T. S. Eliot. Yet Eliot captured the President’s character: Apeneck Sweeney. But if the Democrats choose, as seems likely, a candidate who seems ill at ease in most of America west of Manhattan and east of Hollywood, Apeneck will stay in the White House.
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