Nowadays, at the Cenotaph, a wreath is laid in memory of those Irishmen who served the forces of the British Crown in the two world wars. Its green stood out so movingly yesterday in the sea of red poppies. Those many brave men, who sometimes endured socio-political ostracism, deserve our thanks. It shows how enormously relations between our two countries have improved that this wreath is proudly laid and gratefully accepted.
It is also a reminder of how ridiculous is the EU’s position about the Irish border in relation to Brexit. Britain and Ireland share a massive common interest in a border which is easy to cross. It is a commercial and human necessity – especially for the Republic. We established this in bilateral treaties many years before we both joined what was then the European Economic Community. We successfully maintained it – despite the need for vigilance because of terrorism – right through the Troubles.
"Slipping into the discussion is the dangerous idea of a new 'special status' for Northern Ireland, perhaps keeping it, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, in the customs union"
If London and Dublin were free to sort out together the changes required by Brexit, they could achieve this with the greatest of ease (although there would be some Irish Republican noises off). They cannot, however, because of EU theology, which prevents Ireland, as an EU member, from making any sort of special arrangement with us.
Slipping into the discussion is the dangerous idea of a new “special status” for Northern Ireland, perhaps keeping it, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, in the customs union. This would turn the North into a semi-colony of the EU – having to take, but not help make EU trade rules. It would curtail the province’s free access to the wider British market, which is an essential part of our being one nation.
Conservatives need a BBC "safe space"
Having appeared quite often and for many years on BBC’s Question Time, I have come to recognise the form of words used by the programme’s friendly staff as they lead me to the stage. “We’ve got a lively audience tonight,” they say. It is their way of breaking to me gently – as if I didn’t know already – that it is a Left-wing one.
So it proved when I appeared on the programme last week in Trinity School, Croydon. Before we went on air, the chairman David Dimbleby urged women in the audience not to let themselves be drowned out by the men. They certainly heeded his appeal.
But what is really needed on such programmes, if “balance” is ever to be achieved, is for Dimbleby to encourage people of conservative views to speak up more. And even that is not much use if there aren’t many of them in the hall in the first place.
"Have you ever seen a Question Time when the majority of the views from the studio audience were anti-mass immigration, in favour of lower taxes, and pro-Brexit?"
Our public culture has a passionate commitment to “Diversity”, with one glaring exception – diversity of opinion. Huge efforts are made to promote different races, sexes, sexualities, faiths and, to a lesser extent, ages, but the BBC fails almost every time to “look like modern Britain” in the range of views expressed on its airwaves. Have you ever seen a Question Time, for example, when the majority of the views from the studio audience were anti-mass immigration, in favour of lower taxes, and pro-Brexit? Yet these are pretty much majority opinions across the country as a whole.
Sometimes well-meaning, nicely bred BBC people recognise this problem and say rather desperately, “Shouldn’t we find more people from Middlesbrough?” or anywhere else they see as benighted. But they need to recognise that it is in the nature of conservative-minded people that they are reluctant to push themselves forward. They are particularly reluctant to do so because they know what the BBC thinks about everything and therefore about them. If they did express their views on air, they would be turned on as if they were shouting in church. They need, to use a fashionable phrase, “a safe space”.
Obviously, the BBC won’t give it to them. So it is not surprising that Broadcasting House was so utterly shocked when the largest number of British people who have ever voted for anything (17.4 million) voted to Leave the EU last year. The BBC barely knew such creatures existed.
Somebody has invented Equal Pay Day. Its sign is “=”, expressed in two heavy black bars of equal length. Leading BBC women have tweeted pictures of themselves holding these bars on a piece of paper.
As a reluctant BBC licence-payer, I am happy that Sarah Montague and Mishal Husain should get the same as John Humphrys and Nick Robinson, but only if the pay drops at least to what the women currently receive rather than rising to the amazing piles collected by the men. Nothing wrong with those equal bars, so long as they are half the size of the old ones.
The blessed decline of the sandwich
There is much criticism of Generation Snowflake, but the young are not always wrong. Market research reveals that they are leading the trend away from sliced bread. Over five years, sales of the basic sliced loaf have dropped by 12 per cent. Few phrases in the English language are more peculiar than “the best thing since sliced bread”, or more depressing than “Shall we grab a sandwich?”. It is not good for the mind, the soul or the digestion to “grab” food; and food specially designed for grabbing is usually extremely dreary, none drearier than sliced bread. Our youngers and betters are teaching us something.