Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Spads, Spuds, a Hunt and a skinned Prime Minister

Those who have been following the Hunt saga with bated breath won’t need any introduction to its salient points. Just in case, however, there are readers in some remote and benighted corner of the world like the United States, who haven’t been enthralled by this edifying tale, here is the gist of it.

Firstly, it has nothing to do with pursuing a fox to extinction. That activity has been banned in Britain for many years, a matter on which we liberals congratulate ourselves with great satisfaction even though the practice continues unabated, with the police turning the kind of blind eye towards it that they reserve for the misbehaviour of the ruling classes.

No, in this case the quarry is the Hunt himself. More specifically, it is Jeremy Hunt who is our Minister of Culture. If you tend to think of ‘culture’ as the kind of thing a life scientist produces in a lab in order to grow large numbers of unpleasant bugs, then you’ve probably got a pretty accurate picture of the man.

It has recently been revealed that he, or at any rate his office, had been far too close to Rupert Murdoch’s empire, at a time when Hunt had to adjudicate over an acquisition which the Murdochs were keen to make and which would have been very lucrative to them.

It has to be said that Hunt has shown all the honour we expect of him, and allowed a special adviser to fall on his sword on his behalf.

I didn’t get much further with this story because at about this point the article I was reading began to refer to this special adviser as a ‘spad’. I’d forgotten that this was the familiar term for these characters. My problem is that I can’t see the word without thinking of ‘spud’, the humble potato that naturally bears so little resemblance to the noble spad.

But then, on the other hand, perhaps they’re not that different. We used to have a chain of shops int this country, and possibly in others (perhaps including the benighted States), called ‘Spud-U-like’. It used to serve jacket potatoes which you could take with any of a wide range of toppings. They always smelled mouthwateringly good and turned out to be rather disappointing: once the topping, the superficial attraction, was gone all you had left was a mushy pile of starch with little flavour and even less nutritional value.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t that different from a spad.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Hunt goes on. Yesterday Members of Parliament summoned the Prime Minister to come and talk to them about the affair. David Cameron looked deeply upset at being treated this way.

‘Me? They dare to summon me? To appear in front of them?’ He looked like Charles I, the last British monarch convinced of his divine right to rule, a delusion Cameron probably shares.

Playing the role of Cromwell to Cameron’s Charles was one of the great institutions of the House of Commons, Dennis Skinner. Despite being eighty, Skinner can still wield a mordant wit as sharp as any executioner’s axe. He asked the Prime Minister whether he was protecting Hunt out of a sense of self-preservation, knowing that if Hunt went he, the Prime Minister, would have to face the ‘bullets’ himself.

‘Well, the honourable gentleman has the right, at any time, to take his pension and I advise him to do so,’ Cameron quipped back.

Oh dear, oh dear. I’ve always thought that the saying ‘the truth never hurts’ revealed particularly limited understanding of life. Didn’t Cameron prove the point? If Hunt goes, he certainly is the next in the firing line. And that truth has got him so rattled he can no longer control his temper. Not even in Parliament.

Perhaps he ought to remember what happened to his illustrious predecessor who believed he ruled by the grace of God. Charles I also treated parliament and certain hard-hitting parliamentarians with contempt.

Look where that got him.

The moment Charles I realised he could have
chose his tactics more judiciously

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