I look at the race to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader and I wonder, to modify our Sunday Poem, where are the squares of yesteryear? No Conservative seeking to maintain political viability wants to seem too disconnected from the debauchery of contemporary Britain. So it has become the habit to confess to "youthful indiscretions", "youthful" being a term of art stretching easily into late middle age.
This time round the craze is for drug-fiend Tories. Of this week's crop of alleged leadership contenders, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says he had a cannabis lassi while backpacking in India; International Development Secretary Rory Stewart admits he puffed on an opium pipe at an Iranian wedding; my old boss Boris Johnson claims to have snorted icing sugar at Oxford; former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab discloses he's tried cannabis but never any "Class A drugs"; and, just to put the hallucinogenic icing on the psychotropic trifle, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove reveals he only does "Class A drugs".
Mr Gove purports to have taken cocaine as a "young journalist" twenty years ago - that's to say, when he was in his thirties and working for The Times. He applied for a job round about that time at a publication for which I then wrote, and the chum of mine who took the interview reported back that Gove was one of the most boring men he'd ever had the misfortune to sit through lunch with. If he was snorting in the bog between the soup and fish, it evidently didn't add any sparkle to his repartee. For American readers, the notion of Michael Gove as a cokehead is roughly analogous to discovering Mike Pence spends his weekends in a gay leather bar: It renders the very concept of transgression pointless. Given what he's like on his face, the idea of Gove off his face is too surreal to contemplate.
I'm doubtful this latest desperate Conservative stratagem will work. Around the turn of the century, I seem to remember some or other prime-minister-in-waiting acknowledging that he had "had homosexual experiences in his youth" - a pleasant young lad who popped round every Tuesday afternoon. As I wrote in the Telegraph back when gay Tories were the coming thing:
In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, the gay former Tory MP Michael Brown raised the stakes: "They take risks - and how! - which is why we need our gay MPs and their scandals."
In the course of this thesis, Mr Brown observed: "The press were generally indulgent towards me: maybe that was partly thanks, once, to my having oral sex in Douglas Hogg's Commons ministerial office (I was his PPS) with a lobby journalist."
It's hard to decide what's most kinky and transgressive here: the homosexuality, the lobby journalist or Douglas Hogg's office carpet.
Mr Hogg doesn't seem to have been present on this occasion, although these days most senior Tories would be chuffed to wander in on such a scene, weary of being flayed by Francis Maude and co for being too "white, male, middle-class and heterosexual": "Excellent work, Michael. Just the ticket! Hold it right there until the camera crew arrives for the campaign video."
Let nobody say the Tory party doesn't move with the times. Forty years ago, it was considered daring when Lord Hailsham did the Hippy Hippy Shake on television. A mere generation later and his son's ministerial office is a notorious gay bathhouse without the cover charge. It's like a glimpse of a wild Westminster board game - Screwdo!: "Michael Brown. With the World Service engineer. In Viscount Whitelaw's drinks cabinet."
I hasten to add Mr Brown wasn't just rubbing it in for those of us who've led more sheltered lives. He was making a big political point, to whit: "It was such recklessness that made me willing to go on holiday with an under-age man in 1994 - the flip side, I suppose, of the political recklessness that made me willing to threaten to resign my seat and cause an embarrassing by-election if nuclear waste was disposed of in my constituency. Thank God for the risk-taking by reckless politicians."
Got that? The gay sex and the maverick iconoclastic political courage go hand in hand.
(PS The joke the editors cut: "So on nuclear waste, he's just another 'Not In My Back Yard' type. On underage boys, he's quite the opposite.")
Back then I found a political theory based entirely on Michael Brown's tastes in oral sex somewhat, er, hard to swallow. A decade on, cocaine, in the Brexit context, seems too obviously a transnational, Europhile, globalist pastime. It has the whiff of après-ski at Davos about it. In a Canadian context, I'm reminded of André Boisclair, the cokehead who was briefly leader of the Parti Québécois and had been addicted to it while sitting in the Quebec Cabinet. Which one can well understand. Likewise I can sympathize with any middle-aged British Cabinet minister who became addicted to cocaine - or meth or heroin or solvents or industrial alcohol - while having to listen to Mrs May sell-out Brexit these last three years. You picked the wrong Cabinet to quit sniffing glue.
Other than that, I'm so bored by modish Tories. I would give anything to see Lord Hailsham emerging through the haze of opium and marijuana hanging over the Conservative Party and hippy-hippy-shaking them back to anything real.
~Back on this side of the Atlantic, Anthony Furey has a disturbing column on the state of free speech:
Likewise the general mood around Canada's free speech debate that occurred a decade ago when Maclean's magazine, Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant and others faced human rights complaints for publishing and writing what was deemed offensive conduct.
Because I seem to recall that there were many people across the political spectrum that came to their defence on a matter of principle. Conservative, yes. But liberals, centrists, leftists. Everyone stood up for free speech.
Not "everyone", but enough. Liberal MP Keith Martin and Liberal senator Jerry Grafstein. Principled American leftie Glenn Greenwald. Noam Chomsky. Richard Dawkins. Even Margaret Atwood and the PEN crowd, eventually. By the end, Section 13 had no defenders other than its principal beneficiaries (Richard Warman, Bernie Farber, the "human rights" commissars themselves). Mr Furey continues:
Many of them cited the aphorism, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, that while I may disagree with what you have to say I will fight for your right to say it. They may not all have personally cared for what Steyn, Levant and others were writing, but they appreciated the value of free speech.
Ten years on, among leftists and "liberals" there are no takers for Voltaire. It is accepted that on an ever increasing list of topics - Islam, gay marriage, immigration, climate change, transgender bathrooms - "free speech" is subordinate to other considerations. One recalls that in America, until thirty years ago or so, the Second Amendment enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. Then it became a right-wing thing. The same is now happening to the First Amendment (and to the US Constitution more generally). For those under forty - fifty? - free expression is a mere partisan bugbear. Hence the pajama boys at Vice last week sneering about Steyn "biovating [sic] about freedom of speech". Even the most cocksure know-nothing leftie would not have sneered so breezily a decade ago.
And, when a cause becomes the province of "the right", it's easy for the squish right - the opportunist right, the pandering right, the finger-in-the-windy right - to abandon it, as Oz Liberals, UK Tories and now Andrew Scheer have all done with free speech in recent years. Final word from Anthony Furey's column:
The other day I was chatting with Barbara Kay – another decorated veteran of the last free speech debate – about this and she was not optimistic, fearing that they'd lose this time around.
We shall see.
~I won't be joining Tucker Carlson tonight, but in lieu of that here's the legendary Rich Little, king of impressionists, from a few weeks back doing the traditional Carlson/Steyn sign-off. Tucker and I come in the midst of Tony Curtis, David Niven, Dr Phil and Ronald Reagan, and turn up around 5.45 in:
As Rich concedes, a lot of those in his act are "deceased". So I fit right in, at least as far as Vice is concerned.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline. Our Saturday movie date marked the centenary of a great and influential acting teacher, and our above-mentioned video poem selection went off in search of the snows of yesteryear. Finally, our Song of the Week blew the roof off the joint with a rousing encore of "We Are the Champions". If you had no time for losers this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or two of the foregoing as a brand new week begins.
After all the compliments about our new Netflix-style tile-format Tales for Our Time home page, we decided to do the same for Steyn's Sunday Poems, which we hope makes it easier for you to dial up Keats or Kipling if you're in the mood for some versifying. Incidentally, a brand new Tale for Our Time starts this Friday.
Tales for Our Time and Steyn's Sunday Poems are made possible thanks to The Mark Steyn Club. For more information on the Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our special Gift Membership.
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