The only place to be


Kenneth Roy

There is quite a lot to mourn, and quite a lot not to mourn, this morning. Where to start?….

Kenneth Roy

There is quite a lot to mourn, and quite a lot not to mourn, this morning. Where to start?
     I do not mourn the political reputation of Nick Clegg. I was unaware that he had any, so it is impossible to mourn its passing. The great advocate of change is deputy prime minister in a Tory government. Well, one must acknowledge it’s change of a sort, but perhaps not the change most of the people who voted for him had in mind as long ago as last Thursday. He has asked these voters to ‘keep the faith’. What on earth does Mr Clegg mean? What faith has he shown in them? The audacity of the new deputy prime minister is boundless. Although, as Rose Galt has pointed out, he was the tallest of the three presidential candidates (and therefore, in her opinion, likely to win), I propose to refer to him in future as little Nick Clegg. There are some people in this life who, whatever their height and their fancy title, are doomed to be called little. He is one.
     Vince Cable did have a reputation. Once a member of the Labour Party, he will be working next door to George Osborne in the interests of that piece of political humbug, ‘strong and stable government’. If the Bullingdon boy finds the axe too heavy to lift, no doubt his new best buddy Vince will be happy to assist. Do I mourn the passing of Cable’s political reputation? Not a bit.
     I do not mourn the passing from office, and into the dustbin, of New Labour. Nor did I celebrate its arrival, unlike so many others who wept tears of joy. This is the party responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq. It is impossible to give the exact number; no one ever bothered to count the dead; no one gave them even that basic dignity. This, too, is the party responsible for a wholesale attack on civil liberties and human rights in Britain. The new lot will do a little to restore the liberty of the individual. This will be a contribution to the public good; I expect it to be their only one.
     Since Gordon Brown shares collective responsibility for the death of so many innocent people in Iraq, and was always a keen supporter of the assault on civil liberties, including the compulsory ID cards scheme, I do not mourn his departure either.
     Well – there’s more not to mourn than I had imagined.

So what’s to mourn?
     Personally I mourn the death last weekend of Alan Watkins. He was my hero. For almost all of my working life, I have been buying the newspaper or magazine Watkins happened to be writing for at the time; often there was no other reason. He was proud of being Welsh; to the end he called himself a democratic socialist; he was proud, too, of being a journalist. But I never thought of him as a journalist. He was the last of the great essayists. I recommend any young journalist who is interested in the use of English to study Alan Watkins, although I do not think there will be many takers for this suggestion.
     We will never know what Alan, with his knowledge and wisdom, would have made of the repellent circus we have just been witnessing in London. For me, the sense of loss is acute.
     I mourn the death of intelligent broadcast journalism. All of it is so driven by the pressures of 24-hour news, the restless desire for sensation, that it has been reduced to a gabble. No one thinks any more; no one has the time to think. Journalists are mere followers of limousines, facilitators of lies and evasions, dutiful cheer-leaders. There is no way back. About the vile press, I say nothing.
     I mourn the fate of language. Little Clegg, with his limited vocabulary, was the worst offender. Listening with horrified fascination to his final address to some crowd in the street a week ago today, I was reminded of Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’ (which you can find in Volume 4 of the Penguin collected journalism and letters). I went to it later and read Orwell’s description of political language. It does not consist (he wrote) of picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists of gumming together words which have already been set in order and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. That’s Clegg.
     And, of course, I mourn the death of the Liberal Party. I never knew what the Lib Dems stood for – although we have a very much better idea this morning – but I remember as a young reporter working for a Liberal paper. It was the Greenock Telegraph and it was as proudly Liberal as Alan Watkins was proudly Welsh. A wonderful man called Jimmy Dow, a Church of Scotland minister with a taste for Burns and strong drink, came in every morning and knocked off with enviable speed a 500-word editorial expounding the Liberal point of view on all things in heaven and earth. It seemed to me that Liberalism was a distinctive and honourable tradition, and I admired the eccentricity of the Greenock Telegraph in supporting it in a town of socialist-minded shipyard workers. It finally expired last night.

Is there anything to be pleased about? Oh, yes. There’s Scotland. I am experiencing this morning a feeling unique in my lifetime. I am feeling glad to be Scottish. I may go out later into the streets of Kilmarnock, possibly even into the Goldberry Arms (Rose Galt is coming for lunch) and congratulate my fellow citizens for seeing through the humbug. Sixty two percent of us did not vote for this coalition; and to that we can safely add many of those who voted Liberal Democrat and bitterly regret it, and perhaps even some Conservatives. We are on our own now, that’s the trouble. But I tell you – it’s the only principled place to be.

Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.