There is a place for crude, raucous populism and poujadism and there are newspapers which provide it. You will enjoy them, if that is the sort of thing you enjoy. But there is no place for insincere pretend poujadism in newspapers which ought to know better. Yet last Friday, the Independent worked itself into a wholly unconvincing fit of indignation – because a lot of MPs have been visiting foreign countries. The Independent, for goodness' sake: if ever a newspaper should have argued for the beneficial effects of foreign travel and the necessity for MPs to broaden their perspectives, it ought to have been the Indie. As Kipling almost wrote, "What do they know of Britain who only Britain know?" On that point at least, the Independent should have applauded him.
The paper would have had a point, if the MPs in question had been flying off to the tropical island of Luxuria (capital: Sybaris) as guests of the Ministry of Tourism, to sample Luxuria's efforts to create an absolutely top-of-the-range beach resort for squillionaires. Most of the MPs were indeed going to capitals, but not to Sybaris. I have observed a number of these trips and they are hard work. There will be lots of meetings, and lots of speeches. Banalities and platitudes will chunter on for hours. There will be lots of visits to factories, schools and other worthy places. MPs who go on those sort of trips usually come back with an enhanced respect for members of the Royal Family.
None of this should be confused with Nadine Dorries' visit to Australia, though that too was productive. After reviewing the progress of her political career, she seems to have concluded that she is unlikely to become leader of the Conservative party, but would be happy to act as Boris Johnson's campaign manager. Their slogan: "Common sense and moral depth; vote Boris/Dorries to restore dignity to public life". They are hoping to recruit Sally Bercow.
Should Nadine have gone to Australia – or ought the question to be: "should she have been allowed back"? It may be time to renew transportation. Somewhere in the outback, there is said to be a lion reserve, placarded with notices saying: "Do not get out of your car. Do not even open your car window. If your car breaks down, do not panic. Just stay where you are; the roads are closely monitored. WE will rescue you, quickly". Then there is another notice: "Poms allowed in on bicycles". That might be the perfect location for another film.
There is of course a strong argument that Nadine should not be allowed to have a passport. If she goes abroad, especially as an MP, she will undermine this country's reputation. As Hamlet said of Polonius, "Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in's own house". Nadine is harder to repress. The nonsense will continue.
So should MPs' foreign travel; so, let us hope, will the Independent, for which I used to write. For some years, the Indie has been undergoing an identity crisis. When it was set up, there was a clear role. It would assume the pulpit which the Times seemed happy to abandon and become the house journal of the establishment. That is a dangerous word: arguably, the worst cliche in the political lexicon. When you come across it, you can usually guarantee that the next two paragraphs will be complete froth. There is a basic problem. It is highly questionable if there ever was an establishment, at least after 1945. Even when Henry Fairlie coined the phrase in the late Fifties, it would have stretched credulity to claim that the country was really run by about 2,000 persons whose mental processes were homogeneous. Today, if there were such a body, it would include both Dame Suzi Leather and the Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg. No tent is big enough for that. I have come across only one definition of the establishment which is remotely useful. "A member of the establishment is someone who reads the newspapers to find out what they have found out".
But the Indie hoped to appeal to Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Houses and other sonorous persons who would be attracted by a serious, high-minded journal – which is what they got, in those early days. Socially liberal, economically conservative, cautiously in favour of progressive causes, it eschewed political tribalism. Foreign affairs were taken seriously. Hacks liked the paper, because it looked good, which was its undoing. The designers were able to exercise their skills, because they never had to worry about a late ad. wrecking all their clean lines. There were no advertisements.
So the Indie ran out of money, and stumbled from owner to owner. At one stage, it was nearly captured by Bob Maxwell. From high-mindedness to him: Hyperion to a satyr. What is a really strong word for irony? Some of the proprietors were beneficent: most notably, Tony O'Reilly. The current lot, who are Russians, seem inscrutable – which is a polite way of saying that no-one knows what they are planning. As for their paper, in recent years, it has become a poor man's Guardian: not a sustainable vocation.
The Indie stiill has excellent journalists, such as Chris Blackhurst, Adrian Hamilton, Don Macintyre, Simon O'Hagan and Amol Rajan: all friends of mine (at least until they read this article). I cannot believe that any of them would object to MPs travelling. On the contrary, they might castigate the ones who never leave the country because they are too busy acting as social workers in their patch.
I would have hoped that some – all – of them would have resisted poujadism, and that they will at least now feel guilty at their failure to do so.