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Sunday 3 August 2008

Black's searing views from jail cell 

Disgraced media tycoon Conrad Black, bloodied but unbowed, talks politics and justice with Ruth Dudley Edwards

Although they had a mutual friend and she knew he was inter alia an excellent proprietor of the Daily Telegraph, Spectator and founder of the excellent Canadian National Post, and that she was a brilliant columnist, Ruth Dudley Edwards was no fan of Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel, whom she perceived as arrogant, snobbish social climbers who splashed their money for effect.

Assigned to write regularly about the trial of Black on numerous counts of fraud, Edwards gradually decided he was being hounded by zealots and treated unjustly, and developed great respect for his stoicism and guts and for his wife's intelligent loyalty. After the trial, Edwards emailed him to ask his opinion on his hero, Cardinal Newman, founder of University College Dublin, her alma mater, received a most thoughtful response, and began an unlikely email friendship mostly centred on politics, on which he is erudite and unorthodox. Her last communication, just before he went to jail in Florida for six-and-a-half years in March, was: "I wish you well in the next stage of your adventurous career, and I look forward to the book."

The reply was classic Black. "Dear Ruth, Thanks for your message. You might enjoy my farewell greeting in the NP [National Post] on Monday. The government's case is still disintegrating and I still expect justice to prevail. We soldier on. Best wishes, CONRAD"

IHAD hoped he'd be out in June, but he lost his appeal and those in the pipeline don't look too promising. Although he's not requesting it, the main hope now is that George Bush will include him among his valedictory presidential pardons. (And before anyone gets indignant, may I remind you that Clinton pardoned utter scoundrels.) I've been reading Conrad's punchy articles in the National Post and wanted to write to him, but had failed to remind our absent-minded mutual friend often enough that I wanted an email address, so I was delighted to receive an email last week from the man himself, via his long-time assistant, which showed him in great form.

"Dear Ruth, I am writing to assure you that I am still alive, that this place is not oppressive, and the fellow residents are somewhat interesting in ways that range from Damon Runyan stories, to very aberrant and therefore unusual personalities. It is better than I expected and is more of a sociological laboratory than I had foreseen. I have practically unlimited access to email, the media, visitors, and the telephone, and spend some time tutoring high-school leaving candidates in English, and lecturing on American history to a rather academic group in an accredited course. I always hated most teachers, but can now see the rewards of the occupation, as well as the disappointments."

His next book "on the farrago of outrages that has been inflicted on me, will emerge next spring, pulling no punches, and laying this mockery of a system bare for what it is".

And he's being tempted by his American and Canadian publishers to write a book based on the lectures he's given in jail. Then he got on to politics, on which, almost always, we agree. "I was proud of the Irish in the referendum, and will enjoy the gymnastics of the EU bureaucracy in trying to get around this," he said, but the US presidential campaign is what is mainly on his mind, as it is on mine. I couldn't find anything to dislike in Barack Obama at first, though I thought him too ignorant, inexperienced and soft on terrorism to be president, but now he frightens me: More messianic by the day, he appears to believe his own meaningless rhetoric: 'CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN'. For God's sake, what the hell does that mean?

Insofar as I understand his juvenile, hubristic speech in Berlin, Obama's going to unite the whole world, after which the entire population of the globe will take on climate change and win. He offered precedents: "Not only have walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and

Catholic found a way to live together." Actually, Mr Obama, it ain't that simple. Walls have gone up, segregation has increased, Gerry Adams is trying to destabilise power-sharing, the loyalists won't disarm and dissidents are killing again, but sorry, don't let me stop you. "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." Oh, and all nuclear weapons must be eradicated. What a guy! Do you reckon he'll get it all done in his first term or will it take two?

Black is hopeful John McCain can win and took me for a quick skip through the history of the Democratic party. "Large parts of the media are finally clicking on to the Obama scam, the vacuity of his comments and his galloping narcissism. I don't see how he survives his claim that the surge hasn't worked and yet that he has modified his troops-out posture. The demise of Billary is very heartening. Obviously, after McGovern, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis, the party of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, had to go for a winner, but they were holding their noses at the antics of the Clintons until they got another winner. Obama isn't so much a winner as someone who relieves the whites of their guilt complex vis-a-vis the blacks, as long as they elect him as the ticket out of their guilt problem. This is the core of Jesse Jackson's objections, as he could never get beyond the guilt trip and no one has been listening anyway. If McCain keeps his wits about him, stays on message, and appears to be alive, he should win."

So that's the view from my learned friend in the penitentiary, who is unbowed, fighting fit and full of optimism. Maybe we should all do a spell there.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

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