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The Cottesloe factor

The Cottesloe factor

Andrew Brown for Punch

Commander Raymond, from Wing Headquarters is giving Biggles his orders. His voice is as clipped and firm as his hair. New man, he says: Duncan Smith. Iain Duncan Smith. Remember that name. No one else will. But this man has the right stuff. He could be a character in a story John Buchanís son told. This was a man who spent a winter as a fur trapper in Canada in a cabin with another trapper. Both men you see. Didnít talk unless they had something to say. So they only spoke twice all winter. Spring came. Thank you, said Pierre, the other trapper. You have good manners. If you had talked more, Iíd have had to kill you.

Thatís the sort of man IDS is. Canít wait to hear him say that to Paxman. Itís what those BBC geldings need to hear.

The reason I hear these voices from Commander Raymond is simple. Iím British. These voices burble in my bloodstream to remind me. And since this island is one small family, it turns out that I am almost related to IDS. On my motherís side, I am a tenant of his mother-in lawís. IDS married a Cottesloe, you see. Good family. My mother knew them. Not like that, dammit. There was never anything knowing in those circles. My grandmother said to me once that she didnít understand the obsession with sex in the modern world: There was only one thing you needed to know, she said: "When you married a Bartley; you knew he would come to you clean." They were the right sort of people. Thatís how they knew the Cottesloes.

When the Cottesloes learnt that my grandfather was a judge in India, they realised his wife was a suitable tenant. The cottage they rented, at Swanbourne, only had three reception rooms. Four bedrooms. Five Acres. Just enough for a small family of the right sort. They needed tenants would keep the place fit for heroes. So my grandparents got the place. Kept their side of the bargain, too: they had three children old enough to fight in 1939; one son was a fighter pilot, and another , an army doctor. The eldest daughter worked at Bletchley, and then in a rather spooky department of the foreign office. None of them died for their country, but they did their best. The fighter pilot broke his neck, and the code-breaker worked herself into a breakdown. And they were all proud to do it. After the war, the fighter pilot, neck recovered, married Deborah Kerr in the village church. Sort of thing a hero ought to do. IDS would have done the same if his country had called him.

Lots of people think the Cottesloeís England was a fantasy. BBC constantly sneering at it. My own mother, who grew up there, thinks of it as the land of Cockayne, a lost and timeless mediaeval paradise. It was feudalism with a human face; in fact no other face has ever seemed properly human to the people who grew up there. You canít understand the Tory party unless you understand the real people grew up in villages like Swanbourne; and that they were tough and serious and quite prepared to die for them. Those young men in their baggy flannel trousers, strolling through the orchard with shotguns under their arms, whom I see in family photographs, were not reared for country life. They were training to run the world the way the Cottesloes ran their estate: benevolently, intelligently, but with no question arising about who owned it.

Nowadays you see that sort of thing sold as lifestyle. Make believe. Something Estate Agents can use to garnish their photographs. But any estate agents who came prowling round the Cottesloe estate would find themselves in mantraps, or shot by the gamekeeper. Owning a village or two and a house large enough to look down on it was where the power lived, in the greatest empire in the world. Thatís why people liked it. And, for about 150 years, it worked.

But we donít have an empire now, Biggles. You must have noticed. The army does its best, but more and more weíre fighting for other people. Kept the Middle East safe for feudalism. We try to keep the Balkans safe for the American army. So whatís a chap to do, when he was raised to run an empire? IDS was a soldier, so the question must have occurred to him. Heís not a fool. Seems a decent, straight-forward chap, said one of my uncles, who will vote for him. A lot of his appeal to Party members is just that he seems simple, upright, like proper English spaghetti. Straight as a die. Not like that twisty slimy european "pasta".

Anyway, the European business just wonít do. Stupid people think thatís because itís run by Germans. But the real objection is that itís not run by anyone. Itís like Milton Bloody Keynes which they build just up the road from Swanbourne. Democratic, domestic, bureaucratic. The world does not shake at news from Milton Keynes. No. If you like empires, there is only one of them in the world today, Biggles. Thatís the one run from Washington. Thatís the one that IDS believes in of course. In Washington they take him seriously.

You might think this isnít very patriotic. It doesnít go with the idea of renewing England, or defending it from foreigners. But the people who run empires donít believe in individual countries at all. They canít afford to. They believe in an idea. The whole point of an idyll like Swanbourne is that it has only the right sort of Englishmen in it. Some may be rich, in a well-bred sort of way; some may be poor, in a pictaresque kind of way. But absolutely none of them could tell you whether Birmingham is North of Newcastle or vice versa. Thatís the sort of place we ought to live in, Biggles and IDS will keep it safe for the USA.

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