Macron’s manifold flaws

Jumping into a taxi in Paris, Dalrymple gets talking to the (Vietnamese) driver about the presidential election. The driver says he is not a fan of Marine Le Pen, but if in the second round she is pitted against Emmanuel Macron, he will vote for her. Dalrymple asks what puts him off the male aspirant. The driver points out that Macron

  • is an unknown quantity
  • has an unpleasing face — not exactly ugly, but hard, ruthless and predatory
  • is too young
  • is a bungler
  • has enjoyed a too meteoric rise
  • is a half-cocked tinkerer at the margins rather than the radical reformer needed in these times
  • lacks experience
  • has a personal life that is rather odd (maybe he is his wife’s puppet)
  • is too plainly the candidate of the European political élite, something which of course counts greatly against him

The low intellectual level of people at the centre of power in Britain

Dalrymple writes that the title ‘director of communications in the administration of David Cameron’ is one that is

instinct with dishonesty. At least one knows what a second-hand car salesman does.

One holder of the office, a man called Craig Oliver, has written Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit. The book is, says Dalrymple,

one of the worst on any subject that I have read in a long time. It is a blow-by-boring-blow account of Mr Cameron’s referendum campaign, principally in the media of mass communication, to keep Britain in the European Union.

Dalrymple notes that

a very bad book may, in its own way, be highly instructive, as this one is. If mediocrity can ever be said to shine, then it shines from these pages.

Oliver,

though a journalist, has no literary ability whatsoever.

  • He writes entirely in clichés.
  • There is not a single arresting thought in over 400 pages.
  • Wit and even humour are entirely absent.
  • He seems unable to use a metaphor, almost always tired to begin with, without mixing it (‘We are likely to succumb on this if they get on their high horses and cry foul‘).
  • He has no powers of analysis.
  • He has no sense of history.

There is, Dalrymple concludes,

no plumbing his shallows.

Oliver was

at the centre of power for several years. Everyone around him, including the prime minister, comes off as just as uninteresting as he; though it has to be admitted that the author could make Talleyrand seem a bore.

The one outstanding quality that these mediocrities seem to share is

ambition. It is disconcerting for the citizen to be faced so starkly by the fact that ambitious mediocrity is now the main characteristic of those who rule him.

Dalrymple points to

the abysmally low cultural level of the British population, including of the most highly educated class, as this book amply demonstrates.

The most boring man ever to be prime minister

Dalrymple notes that the politician David Cameron was

a dullard.

Worse, left to his own devices, Cameron was

a terminal bore.

This was tacitly admitted when

a man called Bill Knapp, a consultant (in what, exactly?)

had to be brought over from the USA in order, in the words of Cameron’s fourth-rate ‘director of communications’,

to sharpen lines for the PM’s Question Time appearances and the wider TV debates.

Dalrymple notes that Cameron was in point of fact

the dullest man ever to hold the position of prime minister.

A Procrustean political bed

The purpose of the European Union, writes Dalrymple,

is to fuse very different countries in the hope that something powerful will emerge, so that European politicians may play a role on a larger stage than their own. Who would have heard of Mr Juncker had he remained a former prime minister of Luxembourg, Mr Barroso had he remained a former prime minister of Portugal (and Maoist student agitator), or Mr Kinnock had he remained but a failed leader of the British Labour party?

The failing unitary European state

Dalrymple notes that the European Union is

  • corrupt
  • bureaucratic
  • cumbersome
  • archaic
  • inhibitory of enterprise
  • economically dysfunctional
  • undemocratic

He points out that

its two most recent major innovations, the single currency and free movement across borders, have been disasters for many of its members.

Death as a faux pas

When A.E. Housman was born, writes Dalrymple,

at least a quarter of children died before the age of five, and one in six before he was 12 months old. Housman’s much-loved mother died when he was 12, and her death caused him to lose his religious belief. Death was not then the best-kept secret of life, as it is now, hidden away out of sight as a kind of social faux pas, or locked away from view as mad relatives once were, but an ever-present reality that could result from a trivial accident or seemingly minor illness. In fact, it would have taken a special kind of obtuseness not to have noticed the fragility of the human hold on life.

Latrine-cleaners and politicians

Dalrymple writes:

Someone has to do politics, just as people have to do other unpleasant jobs, such as cleaning lavatories.

That happy land

Dalrymple points out that in Switzerland, people don’t even know who their president is, he being so profoundly unimportant.

Fish and Superfish

Still Life with Goldfish, 1972, Roy Lichtenstein. Dalrymple writes of enslaved aquatic animals: ‘What about the goldfish? Are not bowls their cages? Why should it be wrong to keep robins captive, but right to enslave goldfish? Their colour? What has that to do with it? As Nietzsche would have said (had he been a goldfish), better a day as a Superfish than a lifetime of safety, subsisting merely on the infantilising pity of an owner and a daily pinch of fish food.’

Trump’s coarseness and vulgarity

Dalrymple is no admirer of Trump. Far from it. The taste of this casino magnate, he writes, is that of your average oil sheikh: lots of money but no style. Dalrymple differs with some of his US friends on this, arguing that Trump’s vulgarity and coarseness really do matter.

Ik ben geen bewonderaar van Donald Trump: ik kan me er niet toe brengen een bewonderaar te zijn van een casinobouwer wiens persoonlijke smaak doet denken aan dat van de gemiddelde oliesjeik. Veel geld, weinig stijl. Anders dan sommigen van mijn Amerikaanse vrienden die voor hem hebben gestemd, denk ik dat zijn grofheid en vulgariteit er wél toe doen. Ik denk ook dat het waarschijnlijk is dat het nettoresultaat van zijn politieke carrière de grip van politieke correctheid zal versterken op de harten en geesten van de jongeren. Laat dat nu net de groep zijn op wie die grip nu al meer dan sterk genoeg is.