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How I miss Amis and Larkin

Kingsley Amis at home, 1969. Photo: Michael Ward/Getty Images

I’m no Tory myself, says an anonymous writer in The Critic, and can hardly look at the current Cabinet without “feeling the need for a bath”. So things have come to a pretty pass when even I despair at our total lack of Conservative novelists. But I do. In fact, nothing would give me “greater pleasure” than the emergence of some “proper right-wing literature”.

Or rather re-emergence. Until the mid-1990s, Britain had plenty of Tory writers, among them Kingsley Amis, Ferdinand Mount, VS Naipaul, Piers Paul Read, Anthony Powell and, of course, Philip Larkin. They didn’t fill their work with propaganda, “but it was impossible to read their books without divining that their approach to life was essentially reactionary”. In the late 1980s, the literary right was so popular that Margaret Thatcher would ask Amis, Larkin and Powell to dinner to discuss the issues of the day and the books of the past. “Mrs T turned out to be surprisingly knowledgeable about Dostoevsky.” Boris Johnson couldn’t cobble together a conservative-minded literary list if he tried.

So where did the right-wing writers go? Did they die out or are they in hiding? Perhaps publishers no longer care to publish them. Or, more likely, general wokery and hostility to reactionary art means they can’t publish them. But that sort of cancel culture is precisely why we need the challenge of right-wing writers so urgently. Instead our conservative literature consists of “a few tiresome journalists, a blinkered historian or three and Lionel Shriver. We can – we must – do better than this.”

Why oaks aren’t woke

“Nature is queer,” tweeted Extinction Rebellion, explaining that trees can be male and female, and even change sex. Good for them, says Peter Franklin in UnHerd. But I’d be careful looking to the natural world for “models of progressive politics”. If Mother Nature was a person, she’d be cancelled “on any self-respecting campus”.

Many socialised species provide the worst possible role models. Witness the “ruthless resource exploitation of the locust swarm”, or the “totalitarian hierarchy of the ant colony”. Even those huggable trees aren’t great: some species rely on allelopathy, meaning they poison the local environment in order to monopolise it. If we want to avoid unnatural way: “unselfishly”.