When Britain’s insular political class thinks of Italy, it is usually as a byword for instability or venality – an unwarranted form of self-congratulation. Britain had no Tangentopoli: its forms of corruption are more sedate and domestic, and, if not always entirely legal, usually occupy a grey zone of establishment omertà.
There was no election for the House of Lords last week, obviously, so no surprise to wake up to on that front, but that doesn’t mean there’s no surprise at all. The numbers of the House of Lords are as follows:
In Roald Dahl’s The Twits, the eponymous couple wage attritional marital warfare. Mr Twit gradually lengthens his wife’s walking-stick and chair-legs to make her think that she’s got ‘the dreaded shrinks’ and will soon die by dwindling and finally disappearing. Such an end now awaits the fast-shrinking Big Society. Before Margaret Thatcher, Conservatives in government were chary of pursuing political projects. The likes of Lord Salisbury and Stanley Baldwin saw their job as keeping the seat warm, for fear it might pass to someone who meant to use office and not merely sit in it. But it doesn’t do nowadays for Tory leaders to own blandly that the propertied interest has its fists round the loot, and intends to keep things that way. Unlike Bob Cecil or Stan ‘the man’ Baldwin, Dave Cameron has to ‘reach out’ to the rank-scented many. Even the party of cloven-hoofed squirearchs must proffer a ‘vision’ or ‘narrative’ to voters who supposedly crave such a thing.
It's hard to know what to make of Lord James of Blackheath's bizarre speech in the House of Lords on Monday night, in which he said that he'd been approached by an anonymous and unfeasibly wealthy international organisation, Foundation X, which was offering billions of pounds to the British state to help it through the financial crisis. Mention of the Vatican's gold reserves and laundering money for the IRA under the approving eye of the Bank of England didn't make his story sound any more plausible. It's been suggested that he's either 'barmy' or the victim of a particularly audacious hoax.