David Calling

Animal Farm Come to Life

This past fortnight I have been in the United States, hence the silence of David Calling. One of the purposes of my journey was to do some research in the Beinecke Library at Yale, where my father’s papers are housed. Here is a mass of material for the memoir I hope to write. To be reading the correspondence between one’s parents gives a creepy sense of peeping through a keyhole. It is altogether strange to confront letters from all my relations, my wife and children, and finally from myself–many rather insignificant family matters beautifully preserved. But for whom? The library came to seem something like a cemetery.

The Britain I came back to is in full crisis. There is a run on sterling, as the pound has lost at least a third against the dollar and looks like it will be losing more. The stock market sinks. Unemployment is about two million, or seven percent and rising as businesses go bust. The folly of bankers has been almost unimaginable, and one insolvent bank after another is being nationalized, a sort of backstairs socialism that is likely to prove no kind of solution. Presiding over the meltdown, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer evidently have no coherent idea what to do to prevent recession blooming into a major depression.

Familiar pieces of the landscape are falling away, and the Evening Standard is only the most recent. For a century and a half, this has been London’s leading evening paper. Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail picked it up cheap when the previous owners, the Beaverbrook empire, got into financial trouble. Under Rothermere, the paper was pretty feeble and shallow, therefore making huge losses, said to be at least ten million pounds a year. And now Lord Rothermere has sold it on to one Alexander Lebedev for a nominal one pound.

Lebedev is a former KGB agent, once stationed in London, and he glories in that fact. Nobody knows how he became an oligarch, but according to Forbes he is the world’s 194th richest man, worth two billion dollars or more. He is said to have been a friend of Yeltsin, and now is on good terms with Putin. So a title with influence comes into the hands of a former Communist secret policeman and spy, whose past is as invisible as his present activities. Reportedly, Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair will sit on some advisory board. The cabinet minister with responsibility for approving the transfer of title is Peter Mandelson, himself once a Communist and now a good friend of Oleg Deripaska, another dubious Russian oligarch.

Does this not remind you of the end of Animal Farm, George Orwell’s satirical masterpiece, when the revolutionary pigs and the capitalist humans celebrate together whatever they can grab, and nobody can tell which is which.

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