‘Away with the cant of “measures not men”! — the idle supposition that it is the harness and not the horses that draw the chariot along. No, Sir, if the comparison must be made, if the distinction must be taken, men are everything, measures comparatively nothing.’ George Canning said this in 1801 and recent events remind us that he was right. In the end the only way to change the policy is to change the person, as the individual determines the direction and is rarely willing to try a different route. As I have known this quotation for decades, it was naïve of me to expect the Prime Minister to change her policy. It is not how it works: the wrong policy means the wrong person.
As I had previously been vocal in my support for the Prime Minister, I thought once I had changed my mind I ought to make it public. Needless to say, I then ran into Theresa May in the division lobby, something that almost never happens. Fortunately, on what could have been a socially awkward occasion, the subject of Geoffrey Boycott came to mind. As a child, he was my cricketing hero and I could then have reeled off his statistics like a putative Bill Frindall. I even knew, but have now had to look up, that in 1979 he not only averaged over 100 for his batting but under ten for his bowling. In that amazing season in the County Championship he took nine wickets for 84 runs, and had he taken one more wicket would have topped both the batting and bowling averages.
Many years ago my father wrote this column and pointed out that the Queen is descended from the Prophet Mohammed. This is via Isabella of Castile, the daughter of Pedro the Cruel or the Just depending on your political affiliation. Isabella’s link to our Sovereign is a complicated one, but she was the great-great grandmother of Elizabeth of York, who was in turn the great-great-great grandmother of the Winter Queen, Elizabeth of Bohemia, who was the grandmother of George I from whom the crown descends directly. Perhaps more interestingly, if Asser’s life of King Alfred the Great were correct, Her Majesty’s lineage would inevitably start with Adam and Eve, but intriguingly passes through Wotan. The Queen is descended from Alfred via Matilda of Scotland, the wife of Henry I.
At the weekend, I went to speak at two Conservative Associations — Fareham and Upminster. Fareham is represented by Suella Braverman, who had resigned that day, while Upminster’s MP is Julia Lopez. Both are effective Eurosceptics and seem to have great support from their members. It always impresses me at such events how much good work volunteers do not just for the party but for local charities. Being an activist is usually not an ideological matter but is part of contributing to the local community, as with the marvelous 90-year-old lady I met who had raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the RNLI in Sutton Coldfield, one of the most land-locked constituencies
At both Associations I asked the audience who they would like to see as the next party leader. I did it by a voice vote followed by a show of hands if the result were not clear. Other than the fact that they cheered, quite rightly, their own MP the loudest, only Boris incited any enthusiasm. This is not to say there was universal approval, but the volume of the responses was many decibels louder than for any other name, and at the show of hands there were almost no abstentions. He certainly makes politics interesting and has the qualities of leadership. Surprisingly, some well-known names were met with near silence.
If there were a leadership election, which I hope there will be, I would not throw my hat into the ring as I fear it would be thrown back ‘Oddjob’ style. However, I was fascinated to discover a YouGov poll that listed all conceivable Conservative candidates. Quite a lot of people had not heard of any of us, which is a useful antidote to the vanity of politics. However, I was flattered to see that Tory voters quite like me, which is reassuring, but while ABC1 types think I am pretty awful, I am ahead with C2DE. Vox populi, vox Dei?
It is in my great good fortune to have six children aged from 11 to 16 months, Peter, Mary (ten), Thomas (eight), Anselm (six), Alfred (two) and Sixtus. As long as there is a visit to the Entertainer toy shop the older ones are all able campaigners at election time: who can refuse a leaflet from a six-year-old? Mary celebrated her tenth birthday at the weekend and as she is my only daughter, I dote on her and do everything she tells me in double-quick time. In return she occasionally laughs at my jokes, which only Sixtus can be relied on to do regularly. Alfred has taken to saying ‘that’s not funny’ which from a two-year-old is, of course, extremely funny.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.