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Sunday 19 August 2007

Memories of Nixon demise as Black is not brought to book

Conrad Black had intended to be on a book tour now, selling his Richard Milhous Nixon: The Invincible Quest, but as Judge Amy St Eve ponders what she will sentence him to on November 30, he's confined to Chicago and Florida. "As it is now," he explained in Conradese, "my geographic limitations are not conducive to a massive book tour."

The judge will now have on her desk a demand from the prosecutors that Black and two of his co-defendants forfeit $16.9m (e12.5m) (including Black's Florida house) in what they consider ill-gotten gains, though the jury found them guilty of misappropriating only $3m (e2.2m), so she has plenty to think about. So does Black. Does he, I wonder, re-read what he wrote about Nixon's downfall and draw comparisons with his own?

"The great puritanical conscience of America, irrepressible, no matter how overlaid by the mawkishness, cynicism, and pecuniary baseness and vulgarity of some parts of American life, had been roused to end his presidency.'

The similarities are certainly there, for Black's downfall followed a puritanical outbreak of anger over fat-cattery that punished people by changing and implementing the law retrospectively. Black believed Nixon to be more sinned against than sinning and clearly believes himself not to have sinned at all. 'The Inferno' is the title of the chapter dealing with events up to and including Nixon's resignation: Black's enemies take note that the next and last chapter is called 'The Transfiguration'.

Black sees few similarities between their personalities, however. "Nixon was in many ways a morose and very solitary figure," he said last week, "and I'm not. I get on quite well with people. We all have our down moments but in general, I'm quite equable." And in a moment of unBlackian modesty, he reflected, "He was a great historic figure, and I am just who I am. The comparison falls there."

There was an afterthought, though, and one that enraged the puritans: "It's hard not to acknowledge his sleazy side, which I do not have."

According to Black's assessment, Nixon eventually regained much of his reputation because he never acknowledged wrong-doing, but went quietly and without recriminations. Well, there isn't much sign that Black is following suit -- except in the not acknowledging wrong-doing department. While he's certainly not whingeing, he's dead set on fighting his appeal and he's begun a row with the Canadian government on another front.

The row has nothing to do with the reluctance of the government to give Black back the citizenship he surrendered when he was offered a British peerage, but concerns the Canada Memorial in London's Green Park, unveiled by Queen Elizabeth in 1994.

This was a project which Black inspired: he helped raise private funds for it, chaired the jury that chose the sculptor and when the elderly officers who looked after it could no longer do so, he and the Daily Telegraph funded its upkeep. Now that he's impoverished and the Telegraph is no longer his, no one is looking after it, the structure is deteriorating, it's dirty and the pumps keep breaking down.

The Royal Parks says the pumps have nothing to do with it; the Canadian government says it won't look after what it doesn't own, and no one seems to know who actually owns it. The Canadian government is "fumbling around", said Black, and the High Commission's explanation was "bunk": it's a Canadian responsibility. "If I wasn't preoccupied with other things, I would raise or contribute a fund adequate to assure maintenance. All the High Commission has to do is send someone over for half an hour three times a week to clear the leaves and check the machinery. Is that too much to ask for our veterans?"

I admit I've gone soft on Black, but I think there's something magnificent about all this. If he could get his citizenship back, he could serve a far shorter time at a much more agreeable jail than beckons in Chicago. But he's too bloody-minded to let such considerations inhibit him from challenging what he sees as political immorality. He loves the country he was born in as well as the one to which he's confined. Sadly, the affection is not reciprocated.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards