The Hated Peter Hitchens, woken by the screaming of the peacocks on the terrace of his moated Jacobean manor-house, brusquely orders his servants to prepare his usual breakfast – a large whale steak accompanied by a generous slice of pâté de foie gras.
He is seriously hungover, having spent the previous evening drinking bumpers of best Cognac, while composing an article denouncing cannabis.
But he cures himself by a brisk walk, during which he shoots a number of badgers. Then it is time to have the Bentley brought round, so that he may drive it rather aggressively into London. There, after a large luncheon in a club that bans women, he composes his column, in which he once again denounces the poor and needy.
Well, not exactly. The ‘Hated Peter Hitchens’ is a character invented by my family, who are amused by the caricature of me that is common on Twitter and elsewhere. Once a person has been officially classified as ‘Right Wing’, very large numbers of people will immediately have readymade and unalterable opinions about him or her.
The ‘Hated Peter Hitchens’ is a character invented by my family, who are amused by the caricature of me on social media
The same is true of anyone who writes for Associated Newspapers (inaccurately known as ‘The Mail’ by many who never read our papers because they already know they won’t like them – but don’t let that stop them having very strong opinions on the subject).
As it happens, I live in a semi-detached suburban house. I have no servants, and wouldn’t dream of eating whales or the livers of tortured geese (indeed, I am too tenderhearted even to eat lobster). On the contrary, I eat organic as far as possible because I think it good for its own sake and because I think it leads to more humane treatment of animals and better stewardship of the countryside.
I travel to work by bicycle and train, and loathe cars, for the way they foul up the landscape, for the filth and noise they emit and because of the nasty effect they have on so many of those who drive them. I long for the renationalisation of the railways. And I rarely drink more than one small glass of wine.
I don’t mention these things because I think they make me virtuous. I don’t. Most of them are the plain duty of anyone who can afford to do them, many of them are beneficial to my health, and several of them are pleasurable in themselves. Virtue is decided elsewhere and on different grounds, and I do plenty of bad things all the time, like everyone else.
I mention them because my enemies and critics think they are virtuous, and will – I hope – be confused to learn that I behave in this way.
Even more, I hope that the paradox will make them think about this. Try doing so: you probably disagree with my support (under very strict conditions) for the death penalty and with my doubts about the view that global warming is caused by human activity. You may well think me wrong to want strong restrictions on immigration.
That’s reasonable. These are important and contentious matters. But are you right to assume that your opinions make you morally superior to me? And can it be that simple? Is there a sort of interlocking set of opinions which are right and good, and an opposite set which are wrong and bad? If so, I don’t have either set. I opposed the Iraq and Afghan wars, from the start, and I’m against attempts to draw us into war with Russia.
While I’m not in favour of abandoning all nuclear weapons, I think Trident an absurdly elaborate and extravagant system. I’m a lifelong trade unionist. I favour nationalisation of industry where it makes sense. I want a national system of grammar schools restored because it will help bright children from poor homes.
Is there a sort of interlocking set of opinions which are right and good, and an opposite set which are wrong and bad?
I opposed detention without trial and identity cards, and defend the jury system and the presumption of innocence. I am very sceptical about the ‘Homeland Security’ frenzy, pursued on the dubious pretext of terrorist danger. I don’t like Jeremy Clarkson and I loathe the Tory Party. I even buy The Big Issue quite often.
Well, I don’t expect any of this will make my left-wing critics like me or regard me as an ally. That’s too much to ask. We still disagree about plenty of important things, and I am glad of it. Nobody is right all the time, and our system of adversarial politics is designed to stop anyone being too smug or too certain or too strong.
But it also relies on us realising that the other side is made up of human beings, not caricatures, to whom we can be polite and friendly, and to whom we can listen with profit. Try it sometime.
Now I must go and feed those peacocks.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday, occasional broadcaster and author of several books, including The War We Never Fought – the British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs