There is poisonous nationalism, and then there is joy in British engineering: the two are not to be confused. And so news that the new Prime Minister, whoever it is, will be transported in a German-made Audi – and not the British Jaguar or Range Rover as is the custom, due to production problems – is bad news for everyone.
This is not the same conversation as worrying about the color of your passports. That’s not a serious problem, and anyone who thinks it’s a serious problem is crazy. Personally, I didn’t care for the maroon, but if you still don’t realize there are more pressing issues than the color of a laminate, you never will.
But Britain, shabby as it may feel at times – both mentally and materially – continues to make some of the world’s best cars, even if the owners – the investors – are not British. I’ve ridden a few and written about them for The Spectator, although many of them are so perfect they’re almost indescribable. Because Tolstoy was right: imperfection is more interesting. Yet our ministers should use these cars. To argue otherwise is to misunderstand representative democracy. The cars do not belong to the ministers. They are ours and they ride in them to our delight. It’s perhaps the only stylish thing they do: It’s better to go on the Titanic than a bath toy. In other words: you are not doing it for the minister. You do it for the car.
Choose from wealth. Some are easily rejected. Morgans, which are being built in Malvern, are beautiful, that’s true, but there isn’t much room for the red box and shovel. Plus, they have ruffles. I can’t see a Morgan, which feels more like an ornamental bath than a car – essentially you drive lying down – catching a lot of gunshots or even rain. Nor would the majority of senior ministers enjoy Mr Toad’s unmistakable atmosphere, although I can think of one who would.
How about an Aston Martin built at Gaydon in Warwickshire with models called DB for Dave Brown, the toolmaker who bought the company in 1947? You might say, aren’t they just sports cars? No. They now also do a 4×4: the beautiful DBX, the only Aston Martin in which the driver doesn’t look like he or she is dragging the A-roads for mutually enjoyable encounters. (I like to park an Aston Martin outside ScrewFix, or other hardware stores, to see what happens. Nothing ever happens. It’s the possibilities.) Another question is, does anyone want a politician to have this much fun? Maybe not. Still, I’ve found very few immutable truths in life, but one is: if you can get your hands on an Aston Martin, you should. Like the movie Casablanca, everything they say about it is true.
How about a Cowley Mini? I’d say yes for the comedic value. But names matter, and the Mini is an honest car. It’s too small. You could call it a very tall cabinet and drive them around in very small Minis, but I doubt it would do anything for our international stature.
So to the heavyweights. It can’t be a Rolls-Royce, you could say it’s too elitist. dad. Says who? Will you leave them to the Eurotrash and the mobsters? I’ve driven many Rolls-Royces – the Cullinan, the Phantom (not quite a city car, but a marvel nonetheless) and the Dawn – and a Rolls-Royce will be whatever you want it to be. That’s why it’s a Rolls Royce. If you look at a Rolls-Royce and you don’t like it, it’s because it’s not your Rolls-Royce, it’s someone else’s. They are all custom made and roll like a breath from Goodwood in Sussex. Just don’t make it lime green or acid orange and put the stitching away.
I suggest the Cullinan (the 4×4) in the black badge finish. It’s the scariest car you can imagine: it looks like a Range Rover that took the serum that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk. I think it would annoy Vladimir Putin. He’d immediately spend some of his stolen billions – hey, maybe steal some more – to commission the aforementioned lime-green Phantom with his own face in lights in the roof (Rolls-Royce designers can) to compete and we could all laugh at him some more because the alternative is not to laugh. Not all wars are fought on battlefields.
But I’m afraid the right choice is also obvious: the Bentley, from Crewe. The Queen’s car. The state limousine. Not a Continental GT, of course. It’s too much like a car running away because it’s my car running away: a GT feels like it’s never going to stop. Instead, I recommend the Mulliner or the Flying Spur. More will be needed to restore confidence in the political class. But put a minister in a Bentley and at least one of them does a good job. That is – it’s a small start.