As the media gears up for an orgy of pointless comment on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the death of Diana — now dubbed, scandalously, the most significant date in twentieth-century British history, according to a poll conducted by the History Channel — it is more pleasant to travel back to a story from the previous week’s newspapers.
For on the August Bank Holiday Weekend of 1997, the young, thrusting, brand new Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague (pictured right), visited the Notting Hill Carnival with his partner Ffion Jenkins, in order to be photographed with a whistle around his neck, drinking from a coconut, and generally hanging out with the kids, in order to show a commitment to multicultural Britain and having fun, two things with which the Conservative Party wasn’t – and isn’t – generally associated. (Around the same time, Mr Hague was also photographed in a log flume wearing a baseball cap).
This particular incarnation of the People’s William was, of course, swiftly abandoned, in favour of a more thuggish persona, a shorter haircut and increasingly harsh policies on immigration, asylum, lauranorder and other issues, as both Government and Opposition strove to outflank one another on the right on most questions of social policy in the period from 1998 until finally (and predictably), Mr Hague was swallowed whole, thoroughly chewed up, and spat out onto the dustbin of history by New Labour at the General Election of 2001.
An interesting moment, though, in the political history of the present, and from whose vantage point, of course, the Notting Hill jaunt now falls exactly at the midpoint of the ten-year-long, continuing saga with no end in sight of the political impotence of the contemporary Conservative Party. For after virtual level-pegging between the two major parties in the opinion polls through the Summer of 1992, in the wake of the surprise victory for John Major in the General Election of that year, the Tories began their general collapse in September, amidst Michael Heseltine’s closure of the pits on the one hand and the pound falling out of the ERM on the other. (Between July 1990 and September 1992, the Tories were never below 34% in the Gallup poll; after that they were never above it for at least the next seven years, probably longer [the numbers I have in front of me only go up to December 1999], and the only time they have pulled ahead of Labour was during the freak politics of the fuel protests in 2000, and even then for one month only).
To end back where we started, at least for the moment: I thought everyone had heard this joke, but apparently they haven’t, and it does survive repetition: What’s the difference between Diana and Lot’s wife?
Diana turned into a pillar of concrete.