I can remember exactly where I was when I experienced my first spasm of savage Right-wing indignation. It was 1984, at breakfast time – about 10.40am – and I had a spoonful of Harvest Crunch halfway to my lips. The place was the Junior Common Room of my college.
For the previous two decades I had viewed politics with a perfectly proper mixture of cynicism and apathy. Whatever I read under the bedclothes, it certainly wasn’t Hansard. Like everyone at my school, I had undergone vague sensations of enthusiasm when the Falklands were recaptured, but otherwise, frankly, I did not give a monkey’s.
Occasionally I would glance at the political columnists in the newspapers, and be amazed that anyone could pay them to write such tosh. I hadn’t a clue who was in the Cabinet. The world was too beautiful to waste time on such questions.
So I was sitting there in a state of glorious indifference, hungover, probably lovesick, when something happened that caused a sudden streak of rage to course across my brain. Someone was rattling a tin in front of my nose.
I looked up. I stopped crunching my Harvest Crunch. It was one of the goateed Marxists, and he wanted me to cough up for the miners. Normally, I was as soft a touch as the next man for your right-on cause: debt relief, leprosy projects – count me in.
But, as I reached for my pocket, I found myself remembering some stuff I’d read about these miners, and the chaos they were causing with their illegal strike. Oi, I said to my fellow-student. No, I said. I won’t give any dosh to these blasted strikers, because, as far as I can see, they are being execrably led, haven’t had a proper ballot and are plainly trying to bring down the elected government of the country.
The bearded student Marxist (I think he’s now at Goldman Sachs) looked so amazed that he almost jumped out of his donkey jacket, but I stuck to my ground.
In fact, I became ever more indignant; and of course I think back now to that instinctive burst of middle-class outrage, as I look ahead, with mixed feelings, to the campaign of disobedience over hunting.
The other night I was ranting before an audience of about 200, about the monstrous illiberalism of the ban. There was much applause and hear-hearing, as I flayed Blair for his cowardice. I said that I could understand the sense of betrayal in the countryside, and the desire of so many to raise the standard of revolt. As I spoke, a cry was taken up from table to table. “Otis!” they called. “Give us Otis!” Across England there are thousands of people yearning for someone to marshal them in rebellion. They need a Spartacus, a Wat Tyler, a Joan of Arc.
It may indeed be Otis, the son of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry, or it may be someone else. In this week’s Spectator, Charles Moore says that the Countryside Alliance has passed its Chamberlain period, and is now in need of a Churchill. Charles is far too modest to point out that he is himself ideally suited to the role, and that all his life has been but a preparation for this moment and this hour.
But if they cannot persuade Charles to serve, someone will be found over the next few weeks and months, and you can bet that the generalissimo will launch a serious and organised campaign. These people have innumerable Land Rovers. They have land. They have digging equipment, and bulldozers, and access to prodigious quantities of manure. They own the fields next to key strategic railways and motorways. They know all about burning bales of hay. There is no doubt that they could cause major economic disruption.
All my romantic instincts tell me that their cause is high and noble and just, and deserves support. But when they speak about “bringing down Blair”, I must confess that I fear for what will happen to them; and not just to them, but to every other cause with which they are associated.
Go back to that miners’ strike, and the Scargillian revolt. Remember how people began with some feelings of sympathy for the rebels. We all heard their message; the threat to the communities, the Hovis ad pit villages, the way of life that would never return.
But suburban Britain was never likely to indulge Scargill for long, and as soon as police were pictured with blood running down from under their helmets, the mood began to turn. Neil Darbyshire was spot-on in these pages yesterday, when he noted the basic apathy of suburbs on the question of hunting. Middle England may be interested in principle in the doctrine of liberty, but if the pro-hunt lobby starts impeding their liberty to use the motorway, or to get home for supper, then there will be hell to pay.
Scargill led his men to ruin. Defeat in the miners’ strike meant not just the end of trade union militancy; it meant a wholesale rout for that kind of socialism. It was not just catastrophic for the National Union of Mineworkers; it was a disaster for trade unionism. The whole effort and enterprise was discredited, and membership has been on a steady downward path ever since.
And the miners’ strike was a disaster not so much because of the aggressive tactics used, but because they failed, and Scargill was seen to have grossly misunderstood the public mood; and the tactics failed because, in the end, suburban Middle England looked at him and said no, stuff it, we don’t want you to use bully-boy tactics to bring down the elected government.
That is why the coming leader of the countryside revolt must ponder his tactics hard. If they fail, it is a defeat by association for everything they stand for – shooting included. It may be possible to win, but the worst thing would be to pick a fight and lose.
Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator
News: Ferry vows to bring down Blair
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