This is an interview I did with James Delingpole, the fiery right-wing commentator, some months before I started this blog. Reproduced, as so often, from Cherwell.
James Delingpole would make a poor politician. Nor would he mind me saying so. His colourful social commentary reminds me of George Galloway (he might mind me saying that). How about this on New Labour: ‘they raped our country…and we just had to spread our buttocks and take it’. Needless to say, Delingpole’s politics bear no resemblance to the Respect Party MP – in fact they are light years away from any mainstream figure. In our hour-long interview the right-wing journalist and author was characteristically impassioned, though I discovered a reflectiveness to Delingpole that did not leave me short-changed.
When discussing politics Delingpole is belligerent, ‘detest[ing] nuance’. For the author of How to be Right, subtlety and understatement – whilst noble Conservative virtues – are in fact rather ignoble in the face of the Bolshevistic threat the country faces. To avoid total capitulation to the ‘lefty, socialist consensus’, which the Cameron Coalition represents, James demands fellow conservatives employ ‘the tactics of the Left’, though beyond a shouty obstinacy it’s not clear what this entails.
On the one-hand I understand Delingpole as ‘terribly English’. Our tea is made splendidly (I wonder whether he has gleaned the insights of another, albeit more famous, novelist-cum-polemicist on this) and as we bask in the evening sunlight of his south-London semi, it is evident that the garden is immaculately well-tended to. He was famously portrayed in the Channel 4 docu-drama When Boris met Dave as a wet, naive schoolboy with aristocratic pretensions. The comparison with Charles Ryder of Brideshead Revisited is inescapable. We can only suppose therefore that the producers were confused when they modelled Delingpole on Evelyn Waugh’s other creation, Sebastian Flyte (on-screen James is shown – wholly inaccurately – to gander merrily about Christ Church with his teddy-bear). Alternatively, his frankness – what Delingpole would coyly describe as ‘fucking off lefties’ – is attributed to his West Midlands roots, the culture whereof is very ‘call a spade a spade’.
On the other-hand he is not at all self-conscious, being entirely immune to embarrassment. At times this has translated into an admirable audaciousness, such as when he broke what he later popularised the ‘Climategate’ story in 2009. A number of prominent climate scientists from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit were exposed conspiring in data fraud, employing ‘Mike’s nature trick’ to hide an ‘inconvenient’ set of results. Irrespective of your conclusions about the veracity of anthropogenic global warming, Delingpole undoubtedly performed a great service to the public in exposing the fraud. Most journalists, including global-warming sceptics, would not have touched the story but in his insolence, Delingpole did – it propelled him from blogospheric obscurity to become the media’s most infamous climate-sceptic and right-wing bogeyman. ‘Most people in the media I despise’ notes Delingpole; indeed the feeling, especially since ‘Climategate, is mutual.
Matt Ridley of the Spectator probably pinned it down most accurately when he characterised Delingpole as a ‘radical 18th-century pamphleteer lambasting the Whig establishment’. At least Delingpole thinks so. He has ‘always detested arbitrary authority’ though in his view, the last decade has seen the Conservative party he instinctively belonged to become the embodiment of that philosophy, rendering him a ‘Radical’. Funny, because Delingpole is a staunch conservative in almost every sense, save for a distinctly liberal use of expletives. Nor, it quickly emerges, is he fired up by the sort of social issues that many of his right-wing contemporaries proselytise about mercilessly. His defining life experience? ‘Taking my first E’ – imagine a Mail commentator confessing to that.
And what of the evidence that Delingpole’s brand of ‘libertarian conservatism’ is catching on? He certainly doesn’t do himself any favours. When Rowan Williams recently waded into a Westminster catfight about the Welfare Bill, James wondered aloud on his Telegraph blog whether the outgoing Archbishop was in fact the Antichrist. Understatement of the century? ‘I’ve never been known for my diplomacy’. Quite.
That aside, I put it to him that – all too often – he preaches to the converted; the only people likely to be persuaded are those who already subscribe to his rather niche brand. Is he the Polly Toynbee of the Right? ‘I totally accept that criticism…I’m not a politician; I’m not there to bring people over’. In fact he’s quite firm on that point, that ‘I’m best at being James Delingpole, so why should I try to be someone else?’ which bemuses me. Surely if you ardently believe in a cause, you want it actualised, and in a democracy that means bringing people over. Delingpole has no time for that, slamming the Cameroons for adhering to the cosy centre ground rather than ‘actually doing what is necessary’ to save the country.
I wasn’t convinced by this apparently disdainful attitude to public opinion, so I challenge him. In Delingpole’s bastardised Platonic ideal, I counter, only conservative solutions can rescue the nation, and if the public doesn’t want them, stuff ‘em! Unsurprisingly he’s not persuaded, referencing Thatcher as a politician who moved the centre ground rather than chasing it. His theory is that the next Labour government, led by a ‘monkey in a red rosette’ will test the consensus to destruction by ‘borrowing even more money and spunking it against the wall’ – leading to a seismic public mood shift. Interesting theory, perhaps Cherwell could get back to Delingpole about that one in a decade’s time.
From the transcript of our interview, Delingpole does not come across well. In-between insurrectionist ramblings are narcissistic ones – ‘it’s boring being right’ is a common afterthought – and the claim that the ‘Climategate’ revelations have ‘saved Western civilisation’ is, to put it kindly, dubious; less kindly, it was ‘weapons-grade bollocks’, to coin one of James’ phrases.
He does not share the avuncular manner of my other interviewees, quite the contrary. Yet I’m glad for it. Delingpole’s talent – and a rare one at that – lies in telling you how utterly wrong you are without being patronising. It’s hard to tell whether Delingpole’s style or substance will infect a broader demographic. Having recently escaped to the countryside, will James’ inner street-fighter mellow with age? The answer is that, by cultivating the habits of an English gentleman in his private life, he doesn’t have to. ‘Lefties’ should anticipate irritation for some time yet.