Polly Toynbee on David Cameron. Guardian. I like her comment at the end about Downton Abbey. That stodgy series goes most wrong where it thinks it is most commendable, namely in its approach to “period detail”. People do not live in two-dimensional periods, and an English country house, more than anywhere, was a place whose fabric was layered. Some parts of a building were from one period, some from another. English houses, in consequence, had charm. Downton Abbey has about as much charm as a ballroom in a hotel in Dubai.
I think we are a more divided society than we were five years ago. She paints a depressing picture. But we aren’t Russia, where nothing is true and everything is possible.
Cameron’s tributes to Churchill today, the fiftieth anniversary of his funeral (a few days after the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz), were, I thought, flat.
We seem to have a balanced relationship with Churchill. He is not on a pedestal. We know his weaknesses and terrible mistakes. A man without hypocrisy, as his daughter said. One day, when I was a small boy, my mother (I am told) said to me: “Come to the radio. You will never hear this again.” It must have been one of his last speeches, but I have never been able to work out what it was.
I can remember a photo on the back page of The Times of him coming out of hospital in 1962, giving the Victory signal at the back of his car, or was he leaving the Commons in 1964?, and the days, in January 1965, of waiting for his death. Like everybody else, I watched his funeral on television. “The end of a nation,” Richard Crossman wrote in his diary. In a way, it was. Thank God, on balance, that immigration is renewing it.
During the broadcast, my younger brother stuck a Union Jack into my mother’s hair. An evangelising Jehova’s Witness rang the doorbell. My mother, unaware of the flag, said to the woman: “Do you really have to come in the middle of Churchill’s funeral?”
Cameron asked the nation to tweet its favourite Churchill saying. I didn’t comply, but had I done, would have tweeted the end of his last major speech in the Commons, on March 1 1955, a few weeks before his resignation as prime minister:
“Never flinch, never weary, never despair”.