Douglas Hurd has just finished the first of a new ‘Sunday supplement’ series on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour. The former Conservative Foreign Secretary is discussing the relevance of Anthony Trollope’s novels to today’s politics.
Lord Hurd’s first instalment focused on the power of the press. This builds on a Spectator article he wrote a year ago when he complained about Britain “becoming a nation of strong journalists and weak politicians”.
Lord Hurd quotes from one of my very favourite Trollope novels, The Warden. This section describes the unaccountable power of Tom Towers, Editor of ‘The Jupiter’:
"It is true that in far-off provinces men did not talk daily of Tom Towers but they read the Jupiter, and acknowledged that without the Jupiter life was not worth having. This kind of hidden but still conscious glory suited the nature of the man. He loved to sit silent in a corner of his club and listen to the loud chattering of politicians, and to think how they all were in his power— how he could smite the loudest of them, were it worth his while to raise his pen for such a purpose. He loved to watch the great men of whom he daily wrote, and flatter himself that he was greater than any of them. Each of them was responsible to his country, each of them must answer if inquired into, each of them must endure abuse with good humour, and insolence without anger. But to whom was he, Tom Towers, responsible?
No one could insult him; no one could inquire into him. He could speak out withering words, and no one could answer him: ministers courted him, though perhaps they knew not his name; bishops feared him; judges doubted their own verdicts unless he confirmed them; and generals, in their councils of war, did not consider more deeply what the enemy would do, than what the Jupiter would say. Tom Towers never boasted of the Jupiter; he scarcely ever named the paper even to the most intimate of his friends; he did not even wish to be spoken of as connected with it; but he did not the less value his privileges, or think the less of his own importance. It is probable that Tom Towers considered himself the most powerful man in Europe; and so he walked on from day to day, studiously striving to look a man, but knowing within his breast that he was a god."