The Spectator's Notes

The strangeness of Jeremy Hunt’s leadership campaign

1 June 2019

9:00 AM

1 June 2019

9:00 AM

Jeremy Hunt’s approach is very odd. It is the first time I remember an aspirant for the top job saying: ‘Choose me: I’m frightened of a general election.’ He is obviously right that an election without Brexit accomplished would be very difficult for the Conservatives to win, but the way through that is not to narrow your possibilities in advance. If the newly chosen leader, with the mandate that being newly chosen brings, decided that no deal were his necessary negotiating backstop (which surely it is) or, more controversially, that he wanted it without negotiating at all, he would then be in a strong position to dare his parliamentary party to vote against him, bring down him and his government and thus nullify the choice the party members would just have made. Even in these weird times, there would surely be very few who would commit political suicide by doing this. He might even succeed in calling the bluff of the opposition because, despite its repeated calls for a general election, Labour has agonising doubts about whether it can win one at present. The Conservatives do have some chance of winning, particularly as Jeremy Corbyn seems too weak to prevail within his party and yet too strong to kick out. ‘Gouverner, c’est choisir’, but Mr Hunt seems to say there is no choice at all. ‘We shall NOT fight them on the beaches’ is not much of a slogan.

Alastair Campbell was obviously right to follow his conscience and vote Liberal Democrat in the European elections; and Labour was obviously right to kick him out for doing so, since no party can make defection compatible with membership and expect to survive. When he was effectively in charge of New Labour, Campbell would have seen that with piercing clarity and enforced it with utter ruthlessness. But Campbell’s support must be a mixed blessing for the party he now backs. Since the passing of Alan Clark, I can think of no one in any mainstream political party less temperamentally suited, less liberal or less democratic. Perhaps the Lib Dems need not worry, however. The Campbell move is presumably intended to start the latest coup attempt against Mr Corbyn. It really has nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats at all.

At mass in the little chapel at Chideock, Dorset, near where we were staying last weekend, an elderly visiting priest told us that he had served for 56 years in the Solomon Islands. When he first arrived, his was the only white face on the particular island which was his parish. The islanders explained to him their beliefs about skin colour. God, they said, had painted most people brown, black or yellow, but then had run out of paint. White people were the resulting unfinished products. This explanation chimed with my own observation. Black, brown and yellow skins generally look intentional and complete. White ones vary enormously. Some look beautiful, some appalling. None looks as if the artist had finished the job. It is rather like the difference between polished and distressed furniture.

It comes as a relief in our household that Butterfly Conservation is standing up for moths. A YouGov poll conducted for the charity has revealed shocking levels of prejudice against these delightful creatures. Seventy-four per cent of those interviewed ‘linked moths to negative things’, mostly eating clothes. This is grotesquely unfair. Rather like those people who think that Isis and Islam are synonymous, these mottephobes use a tiny, violent minority to damn the many. There are roughly 2,500 species of moth in this country and only three eat your clothes. One of these three is very rare, so it is highly unlikely that you have more than two species — Tineola bisselliella (the common clothes moth), or the now more common Tinea pellionella (the case-bearing clothes moth) — to fear. Most large moths are lovely to behold, and although micro-moths are on the dull side unless you look very closely, they all make their contribution to the oeconomy of nature, many by pollination. It seems that many gardens are hostile to moths, being too tidy for their taste, but my wife makes sure we keep open house (literally, since they often come through the windows and brush our cheeks in the dark) and messy gardens for them. Attracted by the light of her friendly moth-trap (which releases them unharmed), they congregate just outside our garden door at night and are recorded early each morning. On the morning I am writing this, for example, the night’s haul of 31 species (rather a low count for this time of year) includes a tawny marbled minor, a sharp-angled peacock, a flame shoulder, an orange footman, a Hebrew character, a swallow prominent and numerous micros. In all, she has recorded 832 species in our garden, including 58 Nationally Scarce ones and seven Red Data Book species, and established that we are part of a ‘wildlife corridor’, a category which demands reverence from planners. We are near the south coast, so now and again unusual weather blows in exotic visitors from across the channel. No doubt Mrs May would have wanted these immigrants subjected to a ‘hostile environment’, but they have stayed safe in Caroline’s entomological Ark.

Sadly, we are preparing for my father’s funeral. As I go through the order of service, I am reminded that hymns, unlike Scripture, have no canonical version. They are frequently tampered with by editors and clergy, and there is often no way of establishing which is ‘right’. One of the hymns we want is ‘Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken’. The version I know from childhood says, in the last verse, ‘Saviour, since of Zion’s city/ I through grace a member am’. But my uncle by marriage, who is a bishop and is kindly preaching the address, pointed out that there is another version which replaces the word ‘since’ with ‘if’. My father was in that large (some would say, virtually synonymous) category of Anglican agnostic, so he is clearly an ‘if’ sort. It is kindly that this choice is on offer.

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