Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Gilbert Adair

One of the things that stood out from the Guardian obituary of Gilbert Adair was how similar his clear desire to distance himself from his early life, his refusal to talk about any aspect of it, was to that of many British people of his generation who were in every other respect his antithesis, his nemesis. I have spoken often enough before about my great sadness that so many of Adair's generation aspired in the opposite direction to him both geographically and culturally, and the long-term damage this did to British society; there could not have been a more grimly appropriate night for such a man to leave the world, a night when the ruling elite decisively and perhaps forever refused and rejected his view of everything this country could potentially have been (at least if - as I think became a lot more likely at the end of last week - that country is England in constitutional realities rather than just off-duty romanticisation; it may be more apt than he'd have been able to believe for the vast majority of his life that Adair was born in Edinburgh).

And yet, of course, I was often as alienated from Adair himself as engaged by him; we came from wholly separate worlds, and no amount of guilt on my part could change that. I admired - sometimes almost loved - him precisely because he never even tried to inhabit my world; precisely because he did not compromise, stood out as a corrective force. Had he attempted to come to terms with the world I, however unwillingly, take for granted, he'd have been worse than useless, as hopelessly impotent as Cameron in Brussels. His presence justified itself; he did not need to play by anyone else's rules or criteria, least of all those of the new, post-Blair establishment, and precisely because of this he made many of us doubt everything we thought we knew (and, just as importantly, everything we thought we didn't know). As much as Jake Thackray or Tony Judt, he is a parallel public figure of the Britain that might, just, have emerged had one operation succeeded, and another not attempted in that form and in that way. He is as great a loss as could be imagined.