Cameron’s secret Budget plan James Forsyth 16 march 2013 ❘ £3.50
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Cut and run
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God and taxes
rom Robert Runcie’s attack on Tory Pharisees to Rowan Williams’s missives on the Iraq war, the ecclesiastical opposition housed in Lambeth Palace has in recent times been a frequent source of unease to the government of the day. If any ministers were hoping Justin Welby would be a quieter presence than his predecessor, they were disabused of this notion last weekend when, before even waiting for his enthronement, he backed a letter signed by 43 bishops attacking welfare cuts. The letter claimed that the proposed changes would throw 200,000 children into poverty. It is understandable that the new archbishop felt obliged to sign the letter: this peculiar way of viewing child poverty has been woven into the Lambeth creed under Rowan Williams. It is an old trick. An arbitrary poverty line is drawn, and if a family’s income is £1 below it, then their children are said to have fallen into poverty. If tax credits put them just above this threshold, the children are deemed to have been ‘lifted out of poverty’. One can search the Bible in vain for such a definition — the Good Samaritan hardly stood on the roadside with a calculator and a tax credit application form. But over the years, the Church of England’s interventions on social policy have been reduced to stone-throwing, easy protests and signing themselves up to the fashionable orthodoxy of the day. This is a great pity given the vast extent of the Church’s own social outreach — volunteers who are, in hundreds of ways, improving the lives of the poor. But it was encouraging to see that when the archbishop spoke on his own terms, in a blog, he showed a keen understanding of the problems created by the welfare system as well as a respect for the man charged with sorting out the mess, Iain Duncan Smith. The
nub of the issue, Dr Welby recognised, is that the welfare system is a trap. Try to escape by getting a job and you may be penalised, which in turn will put you back on welfare dependency, which in turn will have corrosive effects on the ambitions of your family. Welby, unlike many senior Anglicans, has first-hand experience of dealing with the families caught in this trap. He recounted conversations with parishioners during his time as a parish priest: when they tried to take on extra work they found themselves in receipt of less money. This was — and remains — an outrage. This explains why foreign-born workers account for most of the rise in employment that David Cam-
Justin Welby is prepared to debate, not just deliver lofty sermons eron likes to boast about. Our own people are still paid to do nothing. This is not just an economic failure but a moral failure, as Welby pointed out. The welfare state is not a safety net but ‘a system that most people admit is shot full of holes, wrong incentives, and incredible complexity’. Conservatives in recent years have frequently been accused of following a freemarket ideology which is at odds with Christian teachings — but only by those who make a greater mistake. That is, to judge a policy by its intentions, not its results. However well-intentioned the last Labour government was, it failed to make serious progress on poverty because it consigned so many to a life of welfare dependency. A theme of self-reliance runs through the Bible, too. Universal credit, hinted Dr Welby, is a noble reform — even if he cavils at a real-terms reduction in benefits.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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With his background in business, Dr Welby brings a very different outlook to the Church of England to that of Dr Williams, an aloof academic whose interventions in public debate were often diminished in their effect by dry and plodding prose. Not only is Welby’s understanding of economic reality much greater, he communicates in terms which are understandable to people without a degree in theology. With the Catholic church struggling to make its voice heard above the child abuse scandals, Welby has an even greater opportunity to seize moral leadership. He cannot take a partisan stance in political debate, but neither should he shy away from speaking on subjects such as taxation, crime, defence and all the other issues which make up the business of the state. Western churches were not born as obscure sects catering for a religious fringe, but as institutions at the heart of government. It is much to the benefit of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards that it has the Archbishop of Canterbury sitting on it. If ever there was an example of how modern society occasionally loses its moral underpinnings, it is the parts of the banking system over the past couple of decades where greed was allowed to block out any kind of responsibility towards others. In Justin Welby, David Cameron has an intelligent, clear and independent critic of government policy who is prepared to debate, not just deliver lofty sermons. His enthronement presents a chance for the relationship between Downing Street and Lambeth Palace to be better than it has been for a generation. A more positive relationship with the Church of England is an important part of the process by which the Conservatives can make themselves once more a party which can reach across the whole country. 3
For other political news, see p10
Welcome to Bohemia, p51
The hunt for gay animals, p18
THE WEEK 3 Leading article 7 Portrait of the Week 9 Diary Quentin Letts 10 Politics James Forsyth 11 The Spectator’s Notes 17 Rod Liddle 18 Barometer 19 Ancient and modern 27 James Delingpole 28 Hugo Rifkind 29 Letters 30 Any other business Martin Vander Weyer
BOOKS & ARTS 12 Retreat into danger Leaving Afghanistan will be one of the Army’s toughest challenges Con Coughlin 13 Getting out gracefully Lessons from the Soviets Sherard Cowper-Coles 14 Christopher Hitchens betrayed What is his old publisher up to? Nick Cohen 18 Beastly prejudice The insulting cult of the gay animal Brendan O’Neill 20 A royal notebook The Queen, the Commonwealth, and the electric heater Robert Hardman 22 Election season in the bush What really happens when Kenya goes to vote Aidan Hartley 24 Was Iraq worth it? A tenth-anniversary debate Emma Nicholson vs Simon Jenkins
Books 34 Charlotte Moore Servants, by Lucy Lethbridge
37 Martin Gayford The Books that Shaped Art History, edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard 38 Paul Binding The Child’s Child, by Barbara Vine Peter Parker The Blind Man’s Garden, by Nadeem Aslam 40 Richard Davenport-Hines Distant Intimacy, by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein Maurice Riordan ‘The Cuckoo Clock’: a poem 43 Ysenda Maxtone Graham A Green and Pleasant Land, by Ursula Buchan 44 Penelope Lively The Unknown Bridesmaid, by Margaret Forster Wynn Wheldon I Know You’re Going to be Happy, by Rupert Christiansen 45 Stig Abell The Scent of Death, by Andrew Taylor Bookends Cressida Connolly
Cover by Anton Emdin. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Bernie, Evans, Geoff Thompson, Nick Newman, Holland, Colin Wheeler, Grizelda, RGJ, Adam Singleton, Paul Woods, Dorrance, Alexander, Mazurke, Russell NAF, and K.J. Lamb. www.spectator.co.uk To subscribe to The Spectator for £104 a year, turn to page 29 Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (editorial); email@example.com (for publication); firstname.lastname@example.org (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0219 Advertising fax: 020 7681 3773 Independent Schools Guide If you are an overseas reader and would like a copy of The Spectator Guide to Independent Schools please email s pectator@servicehelpline. co.uk with your name and address and subscriber reference if appropriate Subscription and delivery queries Spectator Subscriptions Dept., 800 Guillat Avenue, Kent Science Park, Sittingbourne ME9 8GU; Tel: 01795 592886 Fax: 0870 220 0290; Email: email@example.com Newsagent queries Spectator Circulation Dept, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Distributor COMAG Specialist, Tavistock Works, Tavistock Road, West Drayton, Middlesex UB7 7QX Vol 321; no 9629 © The Spectator (1828) Ltd. ISSN 0038-6952 The Spectator is published weekly by The Spectator (1828) Ltd at 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP Editor: Fraser Nelson
Contents_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Democracy in action, p22 Servant problems, p34 The revelations of Barocci, p49
LIFE Arts 47 Robert Gore-Langton How musicals got religion
Life 61 High life Taki Low life Jeremy Clarke
48 Music Damian Thompson
62 Real life Melissa Kite
49 Exhibitions Barocci: Brilliance and Grace; Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch Andrew Lambirth
63 Long life Alexander Chancellor
51 Bohemian Lights: Artists, Gypsies and the Definition of the Modern World Laura Gascoigne
64 The turf Robin Oakley
Three apparent masterpieces of opera from England in a decade is impressive, indeed unprecedented. And they are all quite different Michael Tanner, p54
65 Bridge Susanna Gross And finally . . . 66 Chess Raymond Keene
67 Competition; Crossword 68 Status anxiety Toby Young Dave Michael Heath
52 Theatre The Audience; Making Dickie Happy; Lloyd Evans
69 The Wiki Man Rory Sutherland
54 Opera Written on Skin; Tosca Michael Tanner
70 Drink Bruce Anderson
Mind your language
55 Cinema Welcome to the Punch Deborah Ross
Your problems solved
Tom Baldwin is the poor girl’s Alastair Campbell. Lobby hacks laugh at him stomping down their corridor Quentin Letts, p11
Seeing a photograph of Nurse Jenny walking with a redhead who was not Simon Heffer made my blood boil Taki, p61
57 Television Clarissa Tan 57 Radio Kate Chisholm Culture notes Radhika Kapila
Contributors Nick Cohen, who writes about an attack on Christopher Hitchens on p. 14, is a columnist for the Observer and blogs at spectator.co.uk/ nickcohen.
Aidan Hartley, whose dispatch from the Kenyan elections is on p. 22, is The Spectator’s ‘Wild life’ columnist.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Richard Davenport-Hines has recently published Titanic Lives and An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo. On p. 40, he reviews a collection of emails.
Peter Parker is the author of Isherwood: A Life Revealed. He reviews a novel of post-9/11 strife on p. 38
Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s books include The Real Mrs Miniver, The Church Hesitant and Mr Tibbets’s Catholic School. She considers Ursula Buchan’s thoughts on landscape on p. 43.
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hris Huhne, the energy secretary until last year, and his former wife Vicky Pryce were each sentenced to eight months in jail for perverting the course of justice. Huhne’s sentence was reduced by 10 per cent as he had pleaded guilty, on the eve of his trial. Abu Qatada was returned to prison for allegedly breaching his bail conditions, which prohibit his use of mobile phones. The government went to the Court of Appeal to have a ban on his deportation to Jordan lifted. A bomb thought to have been planted by Irish republicans exploded as police responded to a call on the outskirts of Belfast, but none was hurt. Kenny Ball, the jazz-band leader who had a hit with ‘Midnight in Moscow’ in 1962, died, aged 82.
he Queen withdrew from the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, attended a reception at Marlborough House but cancelled other engagements, a week after leaving hospital, where she had been monitored for symptoms of gastroenteritis. Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government’s chief medical officer for England, described growing microbial resistance to antibiotics as a ‘ticking time bomb’. Britain’s largest coal mine, Daw Mill in Warwickshire, closed, with the loss of 650 jobs but 56 million tons of coal remaining, because a fire 1,800 feet below ground continued to burn three weeks after breaking out. British manufacturing output fell by 1.5 per cent in January. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Jordan.
imiting a rise in benefits to 1 per cent until 2016 would have a ‘deeply
disproportionate’ effect on children, according to a letter to the Sunday Telegraph signed by 43 Church of England bishops and backed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. In response, Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said ‘I don’t agree that the way to get children out of poverty is to simply keep transferring more and more money to keep them out of work.’ Foster carers and families of armed services personnel were to be exempted from reductions in rental support for those with unused bedrooms. The Office for Budget Responsibility corrected a remark about it made by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, when he said, of a slowdown in growth: ‘They are absolutely clear that the deficit reduction plan is not responsible.’ The OBR replied: ‘Every forecast published by the OBR since the June 2010 Budget has incorporated the widely held assumption that tax increases and spending cuts reduce economic growth in the short term.’ Lady Gaga sued three Lloyd’s of London syndicates for not paying out on terrorism policies after a concert in Jakarta was cancelled following its denunciation by an Islamic group as ‘satanic worship’.
n the Sistine Chapel, 115 cardinals voted for a new pope. In a referendum the people of the Falkland Islands voted by 1,513 to three to remain a British overseas territory. Uhuru Kenyatta was elected President of Kenya with 50.07 per cent of the vote, or 6,173,433 votes, against 5,340,546 for his rival, Raila Odinga, the prime minister. Nelson Mandela, aged 94, the former president of South Africa,
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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spent a night in hospital. At least 51 people died of methanol poisoning after drinking homemade alcohol in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.
even hostages, from Italy, Britain, Greece and Lebanon, were murdered by Ansaru, a terrorist group aligned to al-Qa’eda, after being captured in February during a raid on a construction site in the northern Nigerian state of Bauchi. A group of 21 Filipino UN peacekeepers were released three days after being captured by the Martyrs of Yarmouk brigade on the Golan Heights. Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was arrested in Jordan and taken to the United States for trial. President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran inaugurated a gas pipeline linking the two countries. Mr Ahmadinejad was rebuked at home for ‘sinful’ behaviour in embracing the bereaved 78-year-old mother of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
nemployment in France reached 10.6 per cent, its highest since 1999. A ban on the sale of cosmetics developed through animal testing, no matter where they were made, came into effect throughout the European Union; in China, animal testing remained mandatory for some cosmetics. A New York City law banning the sale in food outlets of sugary drinks of more than 16oz was blocked by a judge who called it ‘arbitrary and capricious’. Police in Brazil said they had arrested a doctor near Sao Paulo in possession of six fake fingers with the fingerprints of colleagues whose absence she had concealed by hoodwinking a biometric machine. CSH 7
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he week starts with a bang — literally — when my 1986 Land-Rover explodes, mid-gear change: CLANK and the exhaust pipe burps blue smoke. The old girl rolls to a halt. All we lack is the tinkle of a dislodged hubcap. I feel like Peter Cook’s Maj Digby Dawlish in the 1969 film Monte Carlo or Bust after coming a cropper. Daughter Honor, ten, will be late for school so I palm her off on a passing car. Its driver seems friendly. I suppose Social Services would want me to have had her CRB-checked. The AA tows me to our mechanic in Ledbury. Lewis has a poke under the bonnet. His oily head emerges, teeth twinkling in his gums. ‘She’s well an’ truly knackerrrrred,’ grins Lewis. It made his day, though not mine.
he media insist David Cameron is well an’ truly knackerrrrred, too. Not that Cam ever had much support — far less than Kinnock in 1992. That ‘unfairness’ by Fleet Street 21 years ago led us, by way of Alastair Campbell and Wapping, to Brother Leveson’s door. Anti-Cameron viciousness on the loony right, which is as untrainable as a Patterdale terrier, was expected. Shrillness by centre-left voices against a PM who has promoted gay rights and high public-spending is less logical. It destroys any claim of editors at the Guardian, Independent, the BBC et al that they are interested in policy, not personality. These tribalists attack David simply because he is a Tory. Lord Ashcroft, still called a ‘Tory donor’ though he stopped funding the national party yonks ago, is more elastic. He is reportedly consorting with Labour, whose spin chief Tom Baldwin is his old enemy. Baldwin is the poor girl’s Ally Campbell. Lobby hacks laugh at him stomping down their corridor. They do business instead with Miliband’s no. 2 spinner, ex-Mirror gumshoe Bob Roberts. It goes almost unreported that at PMQs most Wednesdays Cameron eases past Ed Miliband. It goes unremarked that Labour is vacating the centre ground for the left. Through all his vicissitudes, David Cameron remains amazingly cheerful. There are no tales of Nokias splintering against the walls of No. 10.
If this is wrong, as it surely is, will Morgan be hauled before the libel beak? Six of the best from Max Mosley! Allow me for once to put in a word for Gordon. Some say he is Parliament’s least visible MP. Not true. Shaun Woodward (Lab, St Helens S) has made just as few speeches this session. Morgan’s watchable play is rotten history. Harold Wilson arrives for his first royal audience as PM in 1964 and has a class-war argument with HM, as though never before having met her. Hang on.
eter Morgan’s play The Audience, at the Gielgud, suggests that Gordon Brown took ‘stuff’ for depression in office. the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
hatcherites will like a new ginger group called 4th Agenda, which has strong views on tax and foreign aid. Its website attacks today’s politicians for lacking principles. It has been started by a likeable wine merchant called Graham Mitchell. You may have heard of his brother Andrew, cyclist and MP.
oger Scruton’s golden book Our
Spectator (125x59mm)_Layout 1 01/03/2013 14:32 Church, which praises the Book of
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Wilson was President of the Board of Trade in 1947. He must have had numerous dealings with the Windsors. Wilson’s 836-page book about the 196470 government, a cure for most bouts of insomnia, describes that trip to the palace on Friday 16 October 1964. It mentions that he declined to wear a morning coat but notes that the Queen ‘simply asked me if I could form an administration’. The only thing that surprised him was that there was no formal kissing of hands. ‘It was taken as read.’
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Common Prayer, receives a predictably snippy Church Times review from Lord Harries, ex-Bishop of Oxford and crossbench peer (few are fooled by that flag of convenience). In the week of Justin Welby’s disappointing remarks about welfare reform, Harries proves that no one is more snobbish than an egalitarian bishop. He argues that hoi polloi can no longer be expected to comprehend Cranmer. ‘The Church has a duty to convey its message in the vernacular of our time as Cranmer did in his,’ drones Harries. Cranmer in fact used language already mannered for his day — slightly sham antique. ‘With this ring I thee wed’ says his marriage service, six words rhythmically balanced to reflect the two people before the altar. In plastic modern liturgy this becomes ‘I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage’. Do young brides really prefer that?
am flirting with Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny in the mornings. Radio 4’s Today has been wrecked by Evan Davis’s obsession with Twitter, his sticky, Peter Pan giggles (Davis is in his sixth decade). At 7.58a.m. the other day he mewed to the weather forecaster: ‘Ta for that, Tom.’ Ta? No thangyew. Quentin Letts writes for the Daily Mail. 9
Quietly, David Cameron is drawing up his own Budget plan
t was the night that the Conservatives’ dream of a majority died. The first televised election debate in British history was meant to be the moment that David Cameron moved decisively ahead in the polls. Cameron and his camp had arrived at the Granada Studios in confident mood on 15 April 2010. But the evening didn’t go according to plan. Only 26 per cent of those who watched thought Cameron had won, compared to 43 per cent for Nick Clegg. When those numbers flashed up on the screen in the media centre after the debate, the room drained of Conservatives. The politicians and spin doctors, who had been busy briefing away, beat a retreat. But George Osborne came back and kept on going until the last laptop was powered down. It was a reminder that despite his swift rise to the top of British politics, Osborne is a fighter. This toughness has been essential in his current job. As Chancellor, he has had to contend with disappointment after disappointment. The economy remains stagnant, the nation’s triple-A credit rating has gone and his own political reputation took a battering with last year’s Budget. But as one Cabinet colleague puts it, reflecting on the aftermath of the Budget, ‘like a medieval knight, he took each of the arrows out of his limbs and carried on fighting. They might have been selfinflicted. But these were wounds that had to be dealt with—and he did.’ Last year’s troubles and the state of the economy mean that the stakes are high before the Budget on 20 March. Even some Conservative MPs, who aren’t plotting to replace either Osborne or Cameron, have told the Chancellor to his face that they’ll struggle to carry on supporting the coalition if it isn’t radical, while in the Commons tea room, ‘no change, no chance’ — the perennial motto of the Tory disaffected — is on the lips of a surprisingly large number of backbenchers. It is tempting, easy and justified to rail against the coalition from time to time. At a moment of national crisis, government by committee is particularly unsatisfying. One can see why so Tory MPs yearn for more command and less compromise. To be fair though, Osborne has voiced some of this impatience inside government. He has pushed hard for this country to build more runways in the south-east. But he has been blocked by Cameron’s own pledges and the environmental concerns of the Liberal Democrats. Osborne has been an advocate of cheap energy, scrap10
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ping green subsidies and advocating fracking. Again, his progress on this has been limited by coalition. He’s also keen on liberalising a planning system that is one of the remaining legacies of the post-war Attlee government. Here, though, he has been thwarted by the efforts of the National Trust and a disappointingly large number of Tory MPs. Where Osborne parts company with those who want to go faster is on the subject of tax. He is scornful of the idea of a ‘tax shock’ to get the economy moving again. Even in the boom years, Osborne was a sceptic of the argument that tax cuts should come first. Those waiting with bated breath for him to slash taxes are going to be disappointed.
Like a medieval knight, Osborne ‘took each of the arrows out of his limbs and carried on fighting’ Osborne doesn’t think a ‘tax shock’ is needed. At the Treasury’s pre-Budget meeting at Dorneywood, he was much taken by presentations which suggested that a normal recovery would start in the summer. Those close to Osborne also cite Treasury numbers which indicate that the economy is in better shape than the headline numbers suggest. If you strip out North Sea oil and gas and financial services, there was no doubledip recession. Indeed, with these two sectors taken out, the economy has being growing at between 1 and 2 per cent for the past two years. These numbers have helped persuade the Chancellor that all he needs is time and a more benign global environment. He’ll try to gain this time in the Budget. Osborne’s brief apprenticeship in the whips office had a deep effect on him. Ahead of 20 March, those around him have divided Conservatives MPs into three groups. There is the cost of living caucus, whose main concern is the squeeze on household budgets. Then there are those whose primary worry is this country’s long-term competitiveness. Finally, there are the revolutionaries who want a whole new approach. Osborne knows he can’t satisfy this last group. But he thinks that if he can please the first two, he’ll be all right. Next week will see the long-awaited announcement of the coalition’s childcare tax break. I understand that this will be considerably more generous than expected. The cost of living caucus will also be buoyed by the scrapping of the fuel duty rise scheduled
for the autumn. To boost the Budget’s appeal to the second of these groups, it will contain some movement on tax reform. Once Budget day is done, Osborne will have to turn his attention to the 2015-16 spending review. He’s set a deadline of 26 June this year for its completion. But ministers in non-protected departments are in open revolt about his demand for 8 per cent cuts. The Tory branch of the National Union of Ministers is saying it won’t consider this request until the welfare settlement has been reopened. The Liberal Democrat branch is busy resisting welfare cuts and pushing for more spending in its own favoured areas. The Treasury is adamant that a deal will still be done. It stresses that the sums involved are relatively small. Those close to Osborne also point out, sotto voce, that this review will almost certainly be reopened by whoever is governing after the next election so it is not worth going to the mat over. But some in No. 10 are not so convinced that agreement will be reached. One source remarks, with a note of irritation, that the words ‘“It’ll all work out in the end” should be carved in stone above the entrance to the Treasury. It’s their answer to everything at the moment.’ I understand that No. 10 is sufficiently concerned that the numbers won’t add up that the departing head of the policy unit Paul Kirby has sketched out an alternative spending review. Rather than simply looking at departmental budgets for savings, it takes a more fundamental view. It looks at how the government could raise money by moving things into the private sector. The Kirby review (whose existence is not a matter of public record) raises the prospect of privatisations to generate revenue, which would mitigate the need for deep reductions in the Home Office and Ministry of Defence budgets. In No. 10, key figures are seized with the importance of not going into the next election committed to cutting those Tory staples of the police and the armed forces. There is, though, one consoling thought for Osborne. The fact that his battles have been internecine, rather than with the opposition, shows that Labour isn’t gaining traction in the economic debate. As long as that’s the case, Osborne and the Conservatives are in with a fighting chance. SPECTATOR.CO.UK/COFFEEHOUSE
For the latest on the Budget
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
n Washington last week, I encountered amazement that the Bank of England is about to be run by a foreigner. This was not because of any contempt for Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, who will soon succeed Sir Mervyn King, but because Americans could not imagine how a job so pivotal in the national psyche could be bestowed on someone with a different allegiance. The Fed, though far from popular in a country constitutionally suspicious of central power, does have a mythic, incorruptible status. As a result, the chairman, Ben Bernanke, has a tiny (by banking standards) salary. Last year, he was paid $199,700. This is markedly less than the housing allowance of £250,000 a year that will be paid to Mr Carney, let alone the more than £600,000 a year which he will receive in salary. Does this vast difference in pay tell us something?
s mentioned in this column before [see Notes, 1 December], Mr Carney’s nationality is not much of a problem in Britain, since we do not regard Canadians as full-blooded foreigners, but I do think there is another issue. It is that, because of the ‘independence’ of central banks nowadays and the introduction of quantitative easing, they have become huge political players. The very fact that they are at arm’s length means that they can conduct economic policies which governments want without the markets taking fright. QE is the Chancellor’s biggest single weapon, yet one which he can claim he does not control. The trend, both here and in America, is for the central bank to get more and more involved in economic management. In the eurozone, the ECB virtually dictates to errant countries. When he arrives in London, Mr Carney will be expected by the government to invest in private sector assets to get the economy moving, but the decision will be his, not its. There will then, rightly, be demands to make the Governor more politically accountable. And here the high salary and housing allowance give a clue to the problem. Mr Carney is contracted to be with us for only five years, so he is taking more money now, and no pension. People who know him say he wants to be the Liberal
Prime Minister of Canada. If that is true, is it right that he should use the British economy as the guinea-pig for his policies and the springboard for the culmination of his career? Now that even a Pope can step down, virtually every job in the world has become something that the holder can put on his CV for the next one. Mervyn King is often criticised, but he has preserved a high reputation for the Bank by clearly acting without a political motive. If that reputation does not survive him, what will markets do then?
minor consequence of Pope Benedict’s retirement is that the Catholic Church threatens to upstage the Church of England’s big day. Justin Welby will be enthroned as Archbishop in Canterbury next Thursday. Whatever he says will be knocked off the news by white smoke from the Vatican and even, if the election has just taken place, by the aftermath. This has been pointed out to the Curia, which is said to remain unmoved. The Archbishop himself, however, will not mind. He is that interesting modern phenomenon — a strong evangelical who is pro-Catholic. He spent last weekend in Switzerland with Nicolas Buttet, a Catholic lawyer turned hermit turned priest who founded the Eucharistein Community, which adores the sacrament and rescues addicts. Buttet is the Archbishop’s spiritual director. Even 30 years ago, this would have been considered so dangerously un-Protestant as to disqualify him for office. Today, it is a mark of a questing spirituality which does not compromise Anglicanism at all.
n a typically adroit column in this paper last week, Matthew Parris made the point, apropos of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, that those who most strenuously condemn homosexuality are often those who feel self-
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hatred because they have homosexual inclinations themselves. If this is true, does the equivalent rule apply to those who most fiercely denounce religion? Listening to Richard Dawkins, I often feel that the violence of his anathemas must reflect some temptation to faith which he is struggling to resist. Even the far more temperate Parris sometimes bursts out. In the same column, for example, he said that the singing of treble voices in Anglican choirs ‘makes me spit’. He protests too much. The first and most famous example of love for Jesus repressed by the proud will and then conquering in the end is that of St Paul. I wouldn’t be wholly surprised one day to find Matthew Parris sprawled on the road to Damascus, dazed by the light of truth.
he longer my career in the media, the more I sympathise with public dislike of my trade. We behave like a pack while telling ourselves how independent we are. Last week, I happened to watch Channel 4 News as it reported from the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Brighton. The premise of the long report — as of most press coverage — was that the Liberals were in utter disarray because of Chris Huhne and Lord Rennard. The camera therefore jumped out at leaders and delegates, shoving itself at unflattering angles under their chins or chasing them up stairways as they sought to flee. Nick Clegg was presented as a stammering weakling incompetently half-covering up a scandal. Yet the reality was that, despite everything we could throw at them, the Lib Dems had won the Eastleigh by-election. The true story was that they were doing surprisingly well in tricky circumstances. There was little else to say, but we the media only bellowed all the more.
nother cultural incomprehension in Washington: is it really true, a bright young journalist asked me, that in the House of Commons there are bars serving alcohol to MPs? I confirmed that it was. She could scarcely believe it. I felt exactly the reverse incredulity. Were there really no bars on the premises in Congress? How could politics possibly be carried on? 11
Retreat into danger The withdrawal from Afghanistan will be one of the most daunting challenges ever undertaken by the British army CoN CoUGhlIN
etreating from Afghanistan has never been a task at which the British military has excelled. Our first incursion in 1839 resulted in the wholesale massacre of an entire division, save for an army doctor by the name of Dr William Brydon, who was spared only so he could tell the tale. Troops fighting the Second Afghan War of the early 1880s only avoided a similar fate through the exertions of General Frederick ‘Bob’ Roberts, who rescued a British force on the outskirts of Kandahar as it was on the point of being overrun. Now we are about to attempt this tricky business for a third time. Not that you’d know it from listening to David Cameron — whose attention has moved on to Mali and Syria — but the attempt to extricate our army from Afghanistan will be one of the most daunting challenges ever undertaken by the British military. Retreat is often the most dangerous part of a deployment, especially when the military falls below the critical mass required to protect itself. Our plan depends on trusting Afghan troops who have already shown a worrying ability to switch sides. No wonder army wives have begun to pass around copies of Florentia Sale’s hair-raising account about the first retreat from Kabul — and shudder. The first great danger for all troops was exemplified horrifically this week. Two American soldiers were killed on Monday when their Afghan ‘trainee’ turned his gun on them during a morning meeting. The US military denounced the attack as a ‘betrayal’, but it fits a trend of ‘green on blue’ killings over the past few months. As the allied forces grow thinner, far more British and American lives will depend on the soldiers of the country we are leaving — having failed to reach a political settlement with the Taleban, far less defeat them. We have been here before, of course, during our ignominious retreat from Basra during the Iraq conflict, when Gordon Brown’s unilateral decision to halve the strength of the British contingent left it at the mercy of the Mahdi Army militias. To save our own skins we abandoned Basra to the death squads, with the result that the Americans 12
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had to retake the city. This sent a message: the Brits have no staying power. When Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith led Britain’s Helmand taskforce five years ago, he told The Spectator that ‘this is a task which one measures in decades’. In Washington and London, they decided differently and a 2014 withdrawal deadline was set two years ago. Few of our senior military officers have much enthusiasm for the manner of our departure from Afghanistan. They mutter darkly about the Obama administration
having pulled the rug from under what was a perfectly well-conceived counter-insurgency campaign, and fear all the gains and sacrifices of recent years will be for nothing. Even if we could rest assured that the Afghan troops would cover our backs, the logistics of withdrawal are mindboggling. The scale of Britain’s military investment in Afghanistan has grown beyond all recognition from the modest base at Camp Bastion I first visited six years ago. Then, the beleaguered garrison was overseen by Brigadier Ed Butler and comprised a few air-conditioned containers and tents. Today Camp Bastion, which is situated to the northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, is a vast, sprawling complex, four miles long by two miles wide. It accommodates around 28,000 people. It’s the sheer volume of material that needs to be shifted that makes things so
tricky. Britain has an estimated £4 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan, including 3,000 armoured vehicles. And what can safely be left behind? In their euphoria over the Soviets’ defeat in Afghanistan in 1989 (where 15,000 Russians were killed), Washington paid insufficient attention to recovering all the equipment, such as shoulder-fired Stinger missiles, which had been supplied to the mujahedin. Consequently the CIA was obliged to spend much of the next decade desperately trying to retrieve the weapons to ensure they did not fall into the hands of al-Qa’eda militants to be used in attacks against civilian aircraft. Defence officials in London poohpooh the suggestion that we might make similar mistakes, and the laborious task has already begun of extracting high-value equipment, such as the latest generation of armoured vehicles and communications equipment, (which is being flown out in the RAF’s giant C-17 transporter aircraft). But more basic equipment, such as large stockpiles of military tyres or the air-conditioning units that have been in such great demand in the sweltering heat of Helmand, will be abandoned. And the rest of the kit must be brought out overland. This brings us to another difficulty. In 2006, Pakistan provided the main supply route. Equipment unloaded at the port of Karachi was then transported overland through the forbidding mountain passes leading to Afghanistan. But the deterioration in relations between Washington and Islamabad caused by the bin Laden assassination mission two years ago means that Pakistan is being far less co-operative. In the time-honoured tradition of frontier politics, the Pakistanis have demanded the payment of hefty bribes to guarantee the safe passage of Nato men and equipment — although Americans already make a $2 billion contribution into the pension pot of the Pakistani military. And even if we roll over and let ourselves be blackmailed by Pakistan, there is still no real guarantee of safe transit. Withdrawal has only just begun, and the Taleban has already made targeting Nato convoys one of its main priorities. Then there is the Pakistani corruption factor to be considered: Canadian officials esti-
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
mate around a quarter of their equipment went missing while in transit through Pakistan when they withdrew in 2011. All of this explains why British and American officials have turned their attention to the north, where the landlocked republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have suddenly become every western diplomat’s favourite watering hole. The dictatorial regimes of these countries’ respective leaders, Islam Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbayev, may not top an international good governance poll but they do offer the prospect of a safe and uninterrupted passage out of Afghanistan. The hunt for safe passage is already shaping government policy. Philip Hammond, the cost-conscious defence secretary, has become a regular visitor to Tashkent and Astana, where he has negotiated deals whereby the British military can make good use of the Northern Dis-
Army wives have begun to pass around Florentia Sale’s account of our first withdrawal – and shudder tribution Network, a modern-day version of the Silk Route, which is currently used to ship supplies into Afghanistan. Large quantities of British equipment will soon be shipped 4,000 miles overland to the Baltic port of Riga, where it will then be shipped back to Britain. When Britain withdrew from Iraq, the government did so under the cover of a necessary fiction: that Basra had been pacified and we were handing over to local police. This time, fewer claims are being made about pacified Afghanistan. The opium industry is back with a vengeance: recent reports indicate that cultivation rose by a fifth last year. The Taleban has long been running its own parallel government structures, in preparation for the withdrawal. Karzai, feeling abandoned, has gone so far as to suggest this week that the US and the Taleban have a common goal in destabilising his country. If this is the way our supposed Afghan allies view our exit strategy, then Britain’s attempt to undertake a dignified retreat from Kabul has all the makings of yet another Afghan disaster. Con Coughlin discusses the Afghan retreat in this week’s podcast, The View From 22 www.spectator.co.uk/podcast
‘This film contains strong language from the outset, soon giving way to mealy-mouthed euphemism.’ the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Getting out gracefully What Gorbachev can teach us about how to exit the country Sherard Cowper-Coles
istory doesn’t show us only mistakes to avoid. It also gives us examples of success to be emulated. We would do well to study the way in which the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. Like Barack Obama in 2009, in 1985 the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev was faced with the challenge of how most elegantly to extract his country from Afghanistan. Unlike Obama, Gorbachev was being told by his military advisers — who had mostly been doubtful about the whole campaign from the start — that the war was unwinnable. Unlike Obama, he decided that the right course was to follow the playbook for countering insurgencies. The first task was to ensure that an essentially tactical military campaign was enfolded in a coherent political strategy. Ironically, the principles of that strategy are to be found in the fruit of General Petraeus’s year at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: the outstanding Counterinsurgency Field Manual of the United States Army. It explains that counter-insurgency is mostly politics, and that insurgents must somehow be cut off from the sanctuaries into which they withdraw under military pressure. Knowing that they were going to leave, the Russians moved quickly to replace a weak Afghan leader with a credible Pashtun strongman. They advised that leader — a former secret police chief — to abandon socialism, embrace Islam and work with the tribes. And that is exactly what Dr Najibullah did. Red turned green. Out went the hammer and sickle, in came the crescent moon. A Marxist who had seldom darkened the doors of a mosque was there all the time, praying. And, most importantly, he reached out to the tribes and their leaders: it was they, not the army or police, who were going to secure and govern post-Soviet Afghanistan. The Russians knew that Afghanistan could never be secure without the active consent of the countries which surround it, each of whom has a dog or two in the fight. So they asked the neighbours for help in securing stability. In this, they were only partially successful. But what was known as the Six plus Two process
did at least acknowledge that the Afghan conflict had a regional dimension — a dimension which needed to be addressed through serious sustained collective diplomatic engagement. The result of all this was that when the last soldier of the Soviet 40th Army marched back into the Soviet Union across the friendship bridge over the River Oxus on 20 February 1989, the Russians left behind a regime, in Kabul and Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad, which not only survived but also succeeded in defeating the insurgency which the Americans and British were continuing to support. It collapsed only when, in 1992, the Soviet Union itself collapsed, ending the external subsidy
The Russians moved quickly to replace a weak Afghan leader with a credible Pashtun strongman on which every Afghan government in modern times has depended. A quarter of a century later, in 2014, we may not be so lucky. I don’t believe that Afghanistan will immediately plunge back into full-scale civil war. But many of the gains we have made, in terms of better governance, improved health and education, and fairer treatment of women, will erode. Great areas of the south and east — the parts of the Pashtun Belt which British, American and allied troops have fought so bravely and so long to secure — will gradually revert to a state of Afghan nature. At this late or indeed any other stage, it is of course far from certain that a serious double-decker political process, which pursued a new settlement within Afghanistan and across the region, would succeed. But without such a strategy or even an attempt at one, the end of the latest foreign irruption into Afghanistan will create a vacuum unlikely to be filled by wholly benign forces. We must hope that Secretaries Kerry and Hagel do their job, here as in so many other parts of the world. Sherard Cowper-Coles was the British ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. His book Ever the Diplomat is published by HarperPress. 13
Hitch fight Why is Christopher Hitchens’s old publisher turning on him? NICK COHEN
efore the crash of 2007, as aid agencies were asking the governments of what we once called ‘the rich world’ to wipe out poor countries’ debts, Christopher Hitchens received a begging letter from his publishers. Verso, if you have never come across it, boasts that it is ‘the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world’. Its old stagers are Tariq Ali and Perry Anderson, Marxist-Leninists of the upper class, who had been Hitchens’s comrades on the soixante-huitard left. Hitchens told me that along with aristocratic style of their fine offices in London and New York went the classic capitalist desire to expropriate the fruits of the workers’ labour. As ‘debt forgiveness’ was in the air, Verso had said to him, would he forgive the debts of his publishers by allowing them to keep his royalties? ‘They think,’ said Hitchens, his eyes shining with incredulous glee, ‘that I’m the equivalent of the World Bank and that they’re the equivalent of a banana republic.’ Verso looks like a tin-pot dictatorship now. The publishing house has done something I have not seen since the passing of communism: denounced its dead author for his ideological deviations. It recruited one Richard Seymour, a Marxist Leninist hack, to produce Unhitched. (Geddit?) Among his many, many other sins, Seymour accuses his Verso colleague of being a ‘terrible liar’, ‘career-minded’, a ‘power fetishist’, ‘a cliché’ an ‘ouvrierist’ and, worst of all, an apostate who abandoned ‘the left’ to support the West’s wars against al-Qa’eda and Saddam Hussein. As that ‘ouvrierist’ suggests, nature did not intend Mr Seymour to write. Whatever you think of Hitchens’s arguments, he loved the English language, and it loved him back. Seymour read the collected works of that compelling stylist and still produced sentences such as, ‘Turns to the right among the intelligentsia were drawn out processes punctuated by miniwaves and with distinct temporalities.’ People write this badly when they have something to hide. Seymour and Verso’s secret is that when they say ‘the left’ they mean the far left, which in our age is also an 14
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ally of the far right: the 21st-century equivalent of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Verso publishes the speeches of Osama bin Laden. Without irony or self-awareness, Seymour denounces Hitchens’s support for Salman Rushdie and opposition to Ayatollah Khomeini. This is a world where any enemy of the West, even a clerical and reactionary enemy that executes leftists, must be supported; where Seymour can say ‘the ascendant form of resistant politics had become one or other variant of Islamism’ and mean ‘resistant’ as a compliment. The trouble is that the heretic-hunter fears that the reader may see through his
The practised calumniator knows there is only one killer charge to level in these circumstances double standards. It is therefore not enough for him to criticise his target’s ideas, he seems to want to destroy his target’s character too. But how? He can say he was a bad man in private. Intelligent readers will just separate the writer from the work, the gossip from the gist, and shrug. The practised calumniator knows there is only one killer charge to level in these circumstances: plagiarism. Everything about the writer becomes fraudulent then, because ‘the work’ becomes stolen goods. Deplorably, Seymour levels it at Hitch-
‘I love the horror genre.’
ens. Seymour writes that ‘a great deal of his work on Bill Clinton’s betrayal on health care’ in No One Left to Lie To, Hitchens’s polemic on the Clinton administration, was ‘lifted’ from another journalist. Shocking behaviour, I am sure you agree. But Seymour does not say that the section on health filled a modest part of the book. And in the endnotes he concedes, ‘In fairness, Hitchens credited [the journalist’s] work in the chapter in the paperback edition.’ In other words, Seymour is a critic who makes an allegation in the daylight of the main text and withdraws it in the gloom of the small print. His most sensational charge is that Hitchens’s The Missionary Position, a celebrated assault on Mother Teresa, was straight theft. Verso said when it published in the 1990s that Hitchens had based it on a documentary, Hell’s Angel, that he had presented on Channel 4. Hitchens certainly made the programme, you can still see it on YouTube. But Seymour says an Indian author ‘produced most of the original research’ for the book. Verso thought the manuscript needed rewriting. Its editors passed it to Hitchens, who then won fame and notoriety by passing it off as his own work. ‘Who was the Indian author?’ I asked a Verso press spokeswoman. She did not know. ‘Why didn’t Verso insist on crediting him or her on the dust jacket?’ Ah, came the reply, the mysterious Indian ‘didn’t mind’ Hitchens’s theft. He must be the most easygoing writer in human history, I thought, but went along with the spin and asked, ‘Well why didn’t Seymour say that?’ The spokeswoman did not know; but the true answer is that ‘the left’ detests Hitchens’s ‘betrayal’ and cannot grant him the smallest concession. One of Hitchens’s stock of quotes was a warning against allowing hatred to so grip your mind that you no longer cared what you said. ‘The man who thinks any stick will do will pick up a boomerang.’ I think it is from Chesterton, but cannot find the source, but I am certain that if Richard Seymour and Tariq Ali look up they will see a boomerang whirling through the air to smack them in the face. While I had the Verso PR woman on the line, I remembered that it had published my own book Cruel Britannia in 2000. ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw a royalty statement,’ I said. ‘Ah well, we have been upgrading our royalty department for a couple of years,’ she replied. Years, I thought. It takes years for a small publisher to ‘upgrade’? ‘I want any money I am owed now,’ I said, and hung up. Young lefties beware. If you can write, or even, as in the case of Seymour, you cannot, Verso will offer to publish you. Stay away. The record shows that it will try to take your money if you toe the party line, and trash your reputation if you do not.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Let’s sue Hollywood for portraying us as sexually repressed colonialist idiots
think we should all support the Iranian government in its legal action against the Hollywood actor and director Ben Affleck, for misrepresenting their lovely country in the film Argo. They have a serious legal team lined up to counter the suggestion raised in Argo that Iran is full of half-witted, bearded, brutal Islamist maniacs, all spying on each other and shouting very loudly in the streets and markets etc. It always occurred to me that this was precisely what Iran was like but, having never been to the place, one should keep an open mind. The Iranians insist that it is a perfectly pleasant country and that Affleck’s film, which is a fictionalised account of the CIA operation to free a bunch of US hostages from Tehran back in 1980, is simply American propaganda. It is the principle of the thing which interests me. If the Iranians are successful, then so might we be if we sue for having been represented by Hollywood, in 100 years of film, as sexually repressed colonialist imbeciles with bad teeth who would not today exist were it not for the bravery and generosity of the USA; a pale and epicene race of rather aloof and arrogant people who are happy only when sipping a cup of tea or being beastly to the Irish. I am sure there is more to us than Hollywood lets on. Britain gets it in the neck from both right-wing and left-wing US film-makers; whatever we do, we cannot win. So let’s sue. I’d chip into a legal fund if there was the hope of preventing Sean Penn, say, from ever opening his thin little mouth in public again. The Iranians are right that Hollywood’s calumnies have an effect; they lodge in the public mind and create an impression. But I never thought we could do very much about it. Of course we might well be hampered in court when the defence points out that British film-makers tend to depict their own country in precisely the same way these days. We might not have a leg to stand on once the judge has been shown works from the canon of Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Terence Davies, Neil Jordan and so on. The defence could
even play excerpts from BBC Radio 4 and, in particular, contributions from the network’s in-house ‘comedian’, Jeremy Hardy, to establish for once and for all that the view of Britain as shown by Hollywood is as nothing to the contempt poured upon it from our own state broadcaster. Mr Hardy is in the news this week because of a show, Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, which has been described by some listeners as unmitigated, dour, metro-left-wing drivel. The woman who commissioned it, Caroline Raphael, seemed to
The problem with Jeremy Hardy is not that he is left-wing but that he hasn’t said anything funny in 20 years agree. Or at least she said that there was great difficulty in finding comedians who were not left-wing, so the BBC was forced to employ the likes of Hardy. This is not the point, in my opinion. The problem with Hardy is not so much that he is left-wing and a comedian, it is that he is left-wing but has never said anything remotely funny in 20 years — a very long fallow period for a comedian, longer even than the fallow period which has afflicted Woody Allen and Martin Amis — during which time he has been employed continually, and almost exclusively, by Radio 4.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Nobody else, anywhere, wishes to hear him, or see him — except for the most important speech radio network in the country. Nobody from TV has swooped down, as they swooped down for Chris Morris and Steve Coogan and Stewart Lee. All of those three are leftish, and so is another former Radio 4 contributor, Armando Iannucci. But the big difference is that they had something more beyond their politics: i.e., they were funny. There’s a decent case for saying that Iannucci and Morris are the two cleverest and funniest comedians of their generation. But here’s where the bias lies: Radio 4 thinks it is enough that Hardy has agreeable political sensibilities, so it doesn’t matter that he is about as funny as a dinner à deux with Vicky Pryce. I could name you a hundred comics right now who would be wittier, sharper and cleverer at doing some rantto-the-nation broadcast, i.e. the wonderful open-goal format gifted to Hardy. And most of them would be leftish — but you wouldn’t mind, you might not even notice, because they were funny. Hardy is a little like another Radio 4 staple in this — Sandy Toksvig, who has also been criticised for uppity leftish opinions. Can anyone tell me of a single occasion upon which Toksvig has said something funny? And yet Radio 4 — alone — employs the woman, presumably because her liberal opinions accord with those of the people who run the station. It is true that there are not many rightwing comedians around. Alexander Armstrong (of Armstrong and Miller) is one, sort of, and he’d be a lot funnier than Hardy. But then a convocation of insurance loss adjusters would be funnier than Hardy. Like most of the best comedians, David Mitchell does not let his politics get in the way of his humour, whatever his politics might be. The same is true of Frankie Boyle, although I suppose that in other ways he might not suit the Radio 4 demographic. But then nor, really, does Jeremy Hardy. SPECTATOR.CO.UK/Rodliddle
‘And the winner is… Nigel Farage.’
The argument continues online.
The insulting cult of the gay animal
The Queen signed a new Commonwealth charter denouncing ‘discrimination of all kinds’, leading campaigners to suggest that she was supporting gay marriage. Peter Tatchell asserted that 6 per cent of the population are gay. What other estimates are there? — 37% by Dr Alfred Kinsey in 1953 (strictly an estimate of men who achieved orgasm with another male at some point) — 21% by a Gallup survey in 2002 — 10% according to Kinsey in 1948 — 6.1% in a scientific paper by A.M. Johnson et al published in Nature, 1992 (used by HM Treasury and DTI in a study of the effects of the Civil Partnerships Act) — 4% by the Williams Institute (US) 2011 — 1% from the Ofﬁce of National Statistics’ Integrated Household Survey in 2010
Equal terms Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce were both jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice. What else could earn you an eight-month jail sentence? — Verbally abusing passengers, kicking and spitting at cabin crew on a flight to the Dominican Republic (Christopher Rose, 2008) — Looting jewellery and cigarettes in riots (Anthony Lloyd, 2011) — Working illegally as a cleaner for Baroness Scotland (Loloahi Tapui, 2010) — Burglary and dangerous driving (Wayne Bishop, 2011, though he served only one month before being released on the grounds that his children have a right to family life) — Defrauding the Boris bike scheme by issuing £42,000 worth of false refunds to accomplices (Nana Boateng and Jose Dias, 2012)
An enormous yes Falkland Islanders voted 99.8% in favour of remaining British. Some other one-sided referendums: — 99.7%* for Austrian Anschluss with Germany, 1938 — 99.6% for secession of South Sudan, 2011 — 97% for constitutional reforms, including limiting president to two terms in office, Equatorial Guinea, 2011 — 88% for constitutional assembly proposed by Hugo Chávez, Veneuela, 1999 — 87.5% for impeachment of Romanian president Traian Basescu, 2012. Mr Basescu escaped because turnout, at 46.1%, fell short of the 50% required for the vote to be valid. * coercion involved 18
Brendan ONeill, Barometer, AnM_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
ast week, at the select committee on the same-sex marriage bill, a lawyer for the Christian Institute revealed that a teacher had been disciplined for refusing to read to her charges a book about gay penguins. It is par for the course to teach kids about adult stuff through animal tales. So it makes sense that an educational establishment that wants to imbue children with respect for gay lifestyles would foist gay animals upon them. But what is striking today is how seriously adults take, or are expected to take, the idea that penguins and all other beasts can be properly gay. In February an academic at the University of East Anglia made waves when he upbraided David Attenborough for focusing too much on hetero humping in the animal kingdom and failing to feature gay animal sex. Many gay rights activists and gay-friendly scientists seem positively obsessed. The belief is that if they can photograph two male penguins fornicating, or document the life of lesbian dogs, then they might finally prove that homosexuality is natural and put an end to all those nasty moral condemnations of gay humans. How sad. How defensive. And how insulting. Do these anthropomorphic activists never stop to think how degrading it is to gay people that their lives and loving bonds are being compared with the instinctual shagging of puzzled birds and dogs? The hunt for evidence of beastly homosexuality has become a serious intellectual pursuit in recent years. In America, scientists have overseen something called the Sheep Experiment Station, where basically — there’s no nice way to put this — a ram is put in a pen with two ewes in heat and two others rams while scientists watch to see which one it chooses as a mate. Apparently some rams opted for ‘ram-on-ram action’, as one columnist described it, which was held up as proof not that these rams were a bit bamboozled but that they were gay. As in, they consciously thought to themselves, ‘I am going to turn down this lady sheep in favour of that hunk of a ram lurking in the corner over there. Hello big boy...’ Scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Centre in California claim to have observed squids acting gay. Apparently, the Octopoteuthis deletron, a deep-sea squid, indiscriminately shoots sperm at both
male and female squids that swim by. But is this gayness? I know lots of gay humans and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them stands around on street corners shooting their sperm at passers-by. There’s nothing in that squid’s behaviour that we recognise as ‘gay’; it looks more like your typical beast’s determination to breed, manifesting itself as a desperate flinging of sperm at any floating object that looks to be of the same species. Some even campaign for the right of animals to have gay sex. In 2011, when Toronto Zoo split up its ‘gay’ penguins Buddy and Pedro, a group calling itself the Canadian Society for Gay Animals bombarded the zoo with angry phone calls. A gay online magazine called Queerty said the de-gaying of Buddy and Pedro was an attack on ‘queendom’. When, in the late 2000s, scientists in Oregon experimented with making allegedly gay sheep straight, there was outrage. Gay tennis player Martina Navratilova wrote to the scientists demanding that they ‘pull the plug on this appalling research’. The idea that humanity should work out what is morally OK, and should look for a justification for human homosexuality, through observing the behaviour of beasts is seriously warped. After all, some animals are known to engage in necrophilia (again, probably as a result of confusion rather than fetishism), but surely no one would say, ‘I saw a penguin canoodling with its dead buddy and therefore I think we should throw open morgues and allow humans to engage in this natural behaviour, too.’ The search for gay beasts is intimately bound up with the search for a ‘gay gene’, for evidence that gayness is a genetic trait and thus society should not judge harshly those who possess it. The idea that homosexuality is genetic emerged in the late 1980s, at the end of a depressing decade for gay people. Following the Aids crisis and a new outburst of anti-gay moralism in political circles
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
in the West, gay people were keen to find an easy, uncontroversial route to acceptance. Enter the ‘gay gene’. In the words of the Californian neurobiologist Simon LeVay, who in 1991 became the first scientist to claim he’d found proof that homosexuality was biological, the aim of proving that homosexuality is hardwired is to bring about a ‘rejection of homophobia based on religious or moral arguments’. That is, it’s about circumventing taxing moral debates in favour of effectively saying: ‘Gays can’t help the way they are.’ This embrace of homosexuality as biology represents a stunning about-face in gay politics. In the past, gay campaigners railed against the idea that they had a biological condition. In fact, it was those who were anti-gay who depicted homosexuality as biological. So in 1955, the British Christian theologian Derrick Sherwin Bailey described gayness as ‘an inherent condition’ with ‘biological, psychological or genetic causes’. Other 20th-century moralists talked about a ‘gay germ’. Now the talk is about a ‘gene’ rather than a ‘germ’. But the retreat from morality to biology speaks to a serious crisis of confidence in the modern gay movement. The truth is that homosexuality isn’t natural; it is so much more than that. It is a uniquely human bond, born, like all of our bonds, from a mixture of desire, choice, love, and a yearning for companionship.
ancient and modern
Greek justice and Vicky Pryce Every ancient Greek juror would have warmed to their descendant Vicky Pryce, when she admitted in court that she wanted revenge on her faithless husband. Revenge, in other words, did not just happen in Greek myth. It was a splendid reason for going to law. In Plato’s Republic, ‘justice’ was defined as ‘rendering to every man what he was owed’, taken to mean ‘doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies’. This was a principle of conduct said to have been ‘laid down’ and ‘prescribed’ by one orator, and so common that Xenophon could say that true manliness was to ‘excel friends in benefaction and enemies in harm’. It was endlessly touted as justification for a case in Greek courts. As a result, upper-class society could wage feuds of
provocation and retaliation in the courts for years. In about 340 BC, the wealthy politician Apollodoros opened a case against his rival Stephanos by stating that his family was demanding vengeance for the political harm Stephanos had done them over a long period of time. He clearly expected the jury of 501 Athenians-on-the-Sounionomnibus to applaud him for it; where such feuding went down the generations, revenge would be a motive taken for granted by the courts. To a Greek, revenge was
simply a way of claiming the right to assert your interests against someone who had successfully asserted his in defiance of yours. Restoring that balance of rights would count as ‘justice’; but to do that to someone who had not treated you in that way would restore no balance, and count as ‘injustice’. But while Greeks found revenge highly enjoyable, they also recognised that ignoring a wrong had its virtues. Thucydides commented that revenge could result in men repealing the laws of humanity, instead of remembering that they too might, at some time, need their protection. But though Miss Pryce’s desire for revenge led to her conviction too, she might still judge it worth every penny to have wrecked her miserable husband’s career. — Peter Jones
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19 11/3/13 10:16:25
ROYAL NOTEBOOK Robert Hardman
ince many people are barely aware of its existence, I was pleased to see Commonwealth Day enjoying a splash of media attention this week. It was, of course, because the Queen was back on parade for the first time since her recent illness — and endorsing the Prince of Wales as next Head of the Commonwealth. In recent years, the post-imperial cousinhood has faded from view. When Tony Blair abandoned one Commonwealth summit to watch football on telly, some wondered when, not if, the FCO would simply drop the C. But ‘the club’ is now enjoying a modest resurgence. The three latest recruits have not even been ex-British colonies but, respectively, ex-French, ex-Portuguese and ex-Belgian, and there is a waiting list. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is much keener on ‘the Family of Nations’ than his predecessors. Hence a new plan to share some diplomatic missions with Canada. It might offend EU diplomatic sensibilities. But who cares? From Vimy Ridge to Juno Beach to the funding of the new Bomber Command memorial, we know who our true allies are. And, of course, we share a head of state. The Queen’s love for the Commonwealth is not mere sentimentality. It is her baby — her Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, her Prince’s Trust. She inherited the Forces, the Church, the palaces, the estates and the Crown Jewels. Not so the modern Commonwealth. She’s embraced and shaped it to such an extent that it might have vanished without her. When she took over, it had eight members. Today, it has 54 — and rising.
ow has the Queen got on with her 12 prime ministers? It’s the central theme of The Audience, the new Helen Mirren play at London’s Gielgud Theatre, in which HM plays HM. It’s a magnificent turn by an Oscar-winning
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we find an electric heater. The Queen doesn’t expect a roaring log fire except in communal spaces. In one scene, as she waits for David Cameron to arrive at Buckingham Palace, she observes that her electric fire is out of place. Without blinking, she places a well-shod foot into the grate and gives it a kick.
national treasure but, dare one say it, Mirren’s Queen is more remote — more stereotypically regal, perhaps — than the real monarch of my experience. For the past year, I have been part of a production team following the Queen through her Diamond Jubilee and beyond for this Sunday’s ITV documentary Our Queen. The director, Michael Waldman, and I witnessed many Sovereign/PM moments, including prime ministerial audiences. My favourite was watching the Queen come to Downing Street for lunch with all her surviving prime ministers (minus a frail Lady Thatcher). It’s a poignant moment as David Cameron escorts the longest-lived monarch in British history up the stairs (she won’t take the lift) past the photographs of all her PMs. ‘Now, I think you remember all this lot,’ says Mr Cameron, introducing the Queen to Sir John Major and Messrs Blair and Brown. They all grin like naughty schoolboys and she responds with a knowing smile. She is the only person alive who knows what all ‘this lot’ genuinely think of each other, and they all know it.
ne thing which may surprise viewers is the Queen’s functional approach to heating. Her sitting rooms at both Balmoral and Buckingham Palace have elegant marble fireplaces. Yet, in both,
he Queen has had more than 12 prime ministers, of course. Start totting them up from Canada, New Zealand and so on and the total exceeds 150. I’m not sure anyone — let alone Helen Mirren — could bear a play exploring the royal rapport with all 150 of them. But there must be dramatic potential in that 1993 audience at Balmoral where Australia’s Paul Keating turned up with his blueprint for an Australian republic. We don’t know the details but we do know the Queen’s first words afterwards: ‘I really do need a very large drink.’
ew will have been more dismayed by the Queen’s recent illness than her fellow head of state, President Napolitano of Italy. Last week, the former Communist should have been welcoming her and Prince Philip to the Quirinale palace for a couple of days. After the shock of the papal abdication and an Italian election which has left him presiding over an ‘ungovernable’ nation, he could at least look forward to a chat with one dependable world leader. But even the Queen had to let him down. He should not despair. The Queen always tries to make amends. In 2006, with two hours to go, a bad back forced her to cancel the formal opening of Arsenal’s new Emirates Stadium. A few months later, the entire squad was summoned to the Palace for a private tour — and tea with the Queen. Our Queen is published by Arrow and Hutchinson. Robert Hardman writes for the Daily Mail. the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Election season in the bush It’s a time of hope for machine-gun-toting criminals — and, ultimately, for me AIDAN HARTLEY
Laikipia, Kenya he bandit opened fire at me from a distance of about six feet. He rose out of darkness and pumped three bullets into my car as I drove slowly through my neighbour’s farmstead gate in time for supper. The shots were loud but what I remember most is the muzzle flashes showering sparks across the windscreen. I assumed that my guest from London, who was sitting in the passenger seat closest to the ambush, must be dead — until he asked calmly, ‘Are you all right?’ I floored the accelerator and as we sped away the attacker fired eight more shots at us — we later counted the bullet casings — failing to make any more direct hits though ricochets splashed off trees or walls along the garden drive and fragments peppered my car flanks and burst a tyre. A mist of black oil spurted from the engine. Outside the house I halted and we jumped out of the vehicle. Fresh shots were crackling all around us. There were two more gunmen, but since it was dark I could not see where they were. The lights were off in my neighbours’ house and I considered they might already be dead. Leading my astonished guest by the arm, we ran into the African bush and I found a wild caper tree for us to crouch under. As my eyes adjusted to the moonlit night, I heard my neighbour’s vehicle arrive. More gunfire erupted and then I heard a woman crying. ‘She’s being raped,’ said my London guest. ‘No,’ I whispered. ‘Somebody’s dead.’ It later turned out that, in this raid, nobody was killed. The woman was the farmer’s wife, who when she saw the oil pouring from my bullet-riddled car in the semi-darkness had taken it for pints of spilled blood. After about 30 minutes the gunfire died down and I led my guest to the farmhouse, where we discovered all the lights on and music playing on the stereo. Our attackers were Samburu livestock rustlers taking advantage of Kenya’s election time. This happens every five years. Elections should be times of solemnity and even joy, when people get the chance to contribute to change. But I dread elections. Our ambush occurred two days before
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Kenya went to the polls. Armed rustlers had already attacked our place and robbed cattle on two previous nights. I rang all the senior officials responsible for security in my home district north of Mount Kenya to ask for help. They all said the same thing. All police and other security officers were deployed to the polling stations to prevent a repeat of the violence that followed the elections in 2007, when more than a thousand people were butchered. One official said he could neither protect our properties nor pursue the rustlers — whose tracks we followed so efficiently that we even knew where they lived and where our stock might be hidden. The official’s exact words were, ‘Do it your-
I floored the accelerator and as we sped away the attacker fired eight more shots at us self… Protect yourselves. There is nothing we can do.’ In the run-up to the elections, one of my neighbours’ farm was attacked four times over three nights by bandits carrying AK47, G3 and M16 rifles. Some 19 cattle and 125 sheep and goats were rustled. A man on a third farm had his foot blown off. From beyond the plains, reports arrived on the dry season winds of other raids between ethnic groups: three people wounded here, a man allegedly decapitated there, four bandits shot, dozens of stock rustled.
None of this reached the newspapers, which were desperate to avoid causing alarm that might trigger a repeat of last election’s panic. Kenyan social media lampooned foreign correspondents who dared suggest that the country faced any danger at all. Far from the twittersphere, our dusty valley took on a gothic reality. As night set in, my neighbours and I loaded our 12-bore shotguns, waiting for the next assault, which might involve up to 20 bandits at a time. My workers slept in the bush, afraid they would be slaughtered in their beds. Election day came around and despite days and nights of tracking, of bullets and alarms, our company staff steadfastly demanded to exercise their democratic right to cast their votes. Off they drove to queue for hours in the hot sun. The foreign hacks in carefully worded tweets and bulletins praised Kenyans for behaving peacefully, using words like ‘noble’ and ‘dignified’. I was in a sulk until I walked into a polling station and saw the multitude of ordinary people — impoverished, beaten down by decades of misrule, but here in their crowds and crowds. I thought of all the elections I have witnessed in Kenya. I felt the scar on my head from pro-democracy riots in 1990 when I was a young journalist and a policeman beat me on the head with a club in a prison cell. Days later the results came in — and it took days because as usual things didn’t quite work as they should in Kenya, which had invested in very expensive voting technology that broke down, so the votes had to be counted by hand anyway. Uhuru Kenyatta won with a big lead over his rival Raila Odinga. The British and Americans murmured about there being ‘consequences’, because Mr Kenyatta is standing trial at The Hague later this year, accused of being one of those who orchestrated the postelection violence in early 2008. The election losers and their supporters are unhappy and allege a rig, but they will take it to the courts rather than on to the streets. But as one who lives in Kenya, where everything I love is, my relief that the elections were over was intense. And I can’t be the only one. The Nairobi Stock Exchange, which has already risen 50 per cent in a year, is in super-drive. Property prices are rising faster here than anywhere else in the world. There’s talk of Kenya’s oil discoveries being so huge that we may be ranked 13th in the world. We have a new constitution that nobody can pay for, but Kenya could probably survive without foreign aid even if it was taken away today. As the sun came up on the morning of the election results, I watched an old bull elephant drink at the dam. He splooshed mud over his back and flapped his ears at me. Back at the farm I found a policeman waiting for me. ‘I am sorry for what happened to you,’ he said. ‘But it’s all over now.’
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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Was Iraq worth it? Ten years after the troops went in, the war still divides opinion
Yes Emma Nicholson
More than 20 years ago I stood on the burning sands of Iraq’s southern deserts and watched in horror as tens of thousands of desperate men, women and children struggled, some barefoot, to reach the sanctuary of marshlands in the east. I was there as a British parliamentarian after hearing stories of Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on a Shia revolt. One eight-year-old boy I encountered had lost his entire family. He later underwent more than 20 plastic surgery operations in England; just one appalling story of which there are countless thousands. In the restive north of Iraq, Kurdish families were fleeing the wrath of Saddam’s Anfal campaign. Television news showed biblical scenes of men, women and children taking refuge in snow-covered mountain passes. Despite the passage of time, the dreadful human misery I witnessed all those years ago lives with me even now. Saddam and his wicked henchmen were guilty of war crimes — arguably genocide — and consigning such evil to the dustbin of history along with the likes of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot is, in my opinion, justification enough for the US-led invasion of 2003. But ten years on — and to fully explore the question ‘Was it worth it?’ — we must examine the post-Saddam era. The high quality of the commanders of US forces, including General Peter W. Chiarelli, right up until America’s withdrawal from Iraq last year, was superb, and they achieved amazing results. But generally, the years immediately after 2003 were no credit to governments in either Washington or London. 24
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The US policy of dismantling the Iraqi army and other security forces was misguided, as was expecting the Iraqis to immediately embrace a free market economy after decades of crippling state control. As for British policy, just as our fantastic forces had secured Basra and were beginning to win local hearts and minds, the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, took the unforgivable decision to slash defence budgets, hugely undermining the achievements of our military men and women. But the ‘coalition of the willing’ did get one thing right during these early years: enabling the first post-invasion general election, in January 2005. Voters chose a transitional national assembly whose main job was to draft a constitution. It was approved in a referendum that October, allowing Iraqis to vote for a new parliament in December. For the first time during the region’s 6,000year history Iraqis had gone to the polls in a
True democracy had arrived because Saddam had been toppled free and fair election. True democracy had arrived because Saddam had been toppled. What a stunning triumph for freedom and the human spirit which had for so long been crushed by a madman in Baghdad! Surely gainsayers cannot deny this basic human right and say the invasion was not worth it? Now, turning to recent history, as head of the Iraq Britain Business Council I have been travelling regularly to Iraq for the past four years. I have journeyed by four-wheel drive and by air the length and breadth of the country to hold frequent meetings with high level politicians including the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, deputy prime ministers Shaways and Sharhristani and the president of the Kurdish regional government, Masoud Barzani, as well as other senior figures such as the governor of Basra, Dr Khalaf. I have also taken trade missions to Baghdad, Erbil and Basra and hosted at least four conferences a year in the UK and Iraq. During these extensive visits I have witnessed the rebirth of a nation where at least a trillion US dollars is being spent on reconstruction. Planned or actually under way are thousands of kilometres of new roads, ports,
schools, hospitals and airports. Work has started on at least three million homes. Iconic projects have arisen like the ‘Baghdad Eye’ and a high-speed rail link between Basra and Baghdad. I recently visited the stunning Basra Sports City Stadium, a 65,000-seater colossus where from March 2013 football will be played in a building of world-class standards. And on the corniche in Basra they plan to construct the tallest suspension bridge in the Middle East. I must also mention the amazing revival of Iraq’s oil industry — led by Britain’s BP, whose mega-giant oil field at Rumaila is currently generating more than 40 per cent of federal income. Iraq is now the second biggest oil producer in Opec. One day it will challenge and perhaps surpass Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Anglo-Dutch Shell’s operation at Al Majnoon will soon begin a ground-breaking gas capture programme as Iraq moves to fuel all of its power stations by the end of the decade. Iraq wants and needs foreign investment, and cash from overseas is starting to flood in. Last year it attracted $56 billion from foreign companies, a 40 per cent increase on 2011. China’s stake in the new Iraq was recently valued at more than $3 billion, including Shanghai Electric’s $1 billion power plant deal in Wasit. South Korea is the leading foreign investor at $12 billion. Thanks to the free market which is now beginning to flourish, Iraq’s Central Bank has the biggest reserves in its history at $60 billion and the Iraqi budget for last year was in excess of $100 billion. Meanwhile Iraqi banks generally are awash with cash as wages quadruple from a decade ago when Saddam was in power. There are other signs of a true economic revival: recently the Baghdad Stock Exchange successfully hosted the biggest floatation of a public company in the Middle East since 1988 when the mobile phone giant Asiacell raised $1.3 billion. Rivals Zain will follow suit later this year. All these breathtaking events would never have happened under the previous regime’s fuzzy economic policies and crippling bureaucracy. Meanwhile, democratic Iraq is proving itself as a regional power-broker. It successfully hosted last year’s Arab League summit and also talks on Iran’s nuclear policy. Iraq’s
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foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, must take the credit for this and also his country’s moves to normalise relations with its neighbour Kuwait, once so brutally shattered by Saddam Hussein’s invasion. The Iraqi people deserve the best and a decade from the US-led invasion they are seeking assistance from nations, particularly Britain. I believe it is our duty to ensure that after the dark days under Saddam, the steady light of freedom and democracy burns in Iraq. So was it worth it? Yes, a thousand times yes! Lady Nicholson is a Liberal Democrat peer, and executive chairman of the Iraq Britain Business Council.
No Simon Jenkins
The 2003 Iraq war was an act of state aggression that had no basis in law or national or international security. It not only infringed Iraq’s sovereignty and toppled its government — which had not been its declared intention — it devastated its economy and traumatised its people, in a way from which they have yet to recover. Some 200,000 Iraqis died, as did some 5,000 foreign troops. Staggering sums of money were spent on the fighting and the ham-fisted reconstruction. As from any disaster, a ragbag of ‘good things’ can be said to have resulted, but the conflict did nothing to stabilise the region or suppress terrorism, much the opposite. Iraq was a country brutally led and a mess, though the mess was in part due to western sanctions. A decade later, the streets of Baghdad are reportedly less safe and the civilian death rate higher than before the invasion. Nor has Iraq been reunited with its province of Kurdistan, quite the opposite. The reason for the war was that a belligerent American president, George W. Bush, wanted to imitate and ‘complete’ his father’s victory in Kuwait in 1991. He was desperate to sustain the triumphalism of his post9/11 attack on Afghanistan where, as Donald Rumsfeld said, ‘We had run out of targets to bomb.’ Bush’s excuse for the invasion, implausible even at the time, was an edifice of fabrication about Iraq’s ‘imminent threat’ to the world. The Americans did not need
allies, but found in Tony Blair a man strangely besotted by American power, whose cabinet was too weak to stop him. I do not regard Blair as a war criminal. He persuaded himself, and his craven aides, of a tissue of mendacities about intelligence, but he was hardly the first leader to go to war on a whim. He was dancing to Washington’s tune. He sought to legalise the invasion, but with none of the rigour deployed by Margaret Thatcher before the Falklands. International lawyers are the hired guns of neo-imperialism. They can dredge up a war crime, a terrorist menace or a ‘responsibility to protect’ to justify any aggression. As Bush famously said, ‘International law I leave to lawyers.’ At the time of the assault, Saddam was no threat to anyone except his more dissident citizens, despite the frantic efforts of the CIA and MI6 to prove otherwise. His earlier expansionism had been curbed by the Iran war, the first Gulf war of 1990-91 and Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox in 1998. He had
The world has moved on. But what was done to Iraq was obscene lost control of Kurdistan to a Nato air exclusion zone. Domestically, Saddam was a brutal and sadistic leader. His Sunni tribe ruled the majority Shias ruthlessly. But his Ba’ath party was secularist and a bulwark against simmering Islamist insurgency. He tolerated Christianity and sustained Iraq’s cultural heritage. For more than a decade, the West had regarded him as an ally. By 2003 he was a haunted, besieged leader perpetually at risk of his life. The violence the Pentagon unleashed on Iraq was appalling to any who witnessed the aftermath. It shattered the social structure of the state and its component communities alike. Neighbourhoods became fortified enclaves, plagued by killings, kidnappings and vendettas, with some two million people driving into exile. Few have returned. Professional institutions, such as hospitals, universities, the army and government, have collapsed. An estimated 90 per cent of Iraq’s Christian population, resident in Baghdad for a millennium, were driven to Syria by the resulting internecine strife, and still dare not
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‘Wow! Look at the tax on that — it must be delicious.’
return. Baghdad museum is still not open and archaeological sites are wrecked. Iraqi women are more sheltered and repressed than ever. Militia killings and car bombings continue by the week. Iraq today is staggering back to its feet, victim of a dreadful mugging. Oil output is getting back to its pre-war level. The Shia majority is in power, albeit treating the Sunnis much as they were treated by them. My Iraqi acquaintances are clear. Saddam was bad, but nothing can forgive the violence inflicted on their country by ten years of the ‘coalition of the willing’. As one put it, ‘Then we knew whom to fear, now we do not.’ The country is wide open to the Iranian-backed militias and Islamist militants. What was a tenuous balance of power in the Gulf region is no more. Iraq was one of a long list of world nations whose regimes were unsavoury to the West. The end of the Cold War led America to a rash of attempted regime changes, usually by supporting insurgents. It helped the Taleban to oust Moscow from Kabul, separatists to oust Serbs from much of Yugoslavia and rebels to oust Gaddafi in Libya. The choice was random. Somalians were helped for a while and then left in the lurch. Burmese insurgents were not helped at all, nor was Tibet, nor was Georgia in its spat with Moscow. Syria’s present rebels could be forgiven for wondering what has happened to the 101st Airborne. The national integrity of small states, irrespective of their governments, was long championed by the United Nations and was indeed its reason for existing. Such integrity is now at the mercy of the electoral needs of the White House and Downing Street. Insurgency is a postcode lottery. The historian John Darwin has written that the British empire was a ramshackle congeries of properties united by an attitude of mind. The properties have gone, but the attitude survives, a craving of the Anglo-Saxon peoples to teach the world a lesson. This craving is ironically reborn in an America that was created to fight it. Its continuity is reflected in David Cameron’s fixation with building aircraft carriers and boosting overseas aid. The horrors of the Iraq war more than damaged the West’s moral authority as an intervener. It evoked a neurotic jihadism in the Muslim world and an antagonism to western values that fuels terrorism. That in turn has bred a reactive paranoia which now bloats the American and British security industries. The world has moved on. But what was done to Iraq was obscene. However we dress up the urge to intervene in other peoples’ affairs, it remains dangerous. Iraq was its most demented outbreak. Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist, and a former editor of the Times. 25
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What I learned from my week as a teacher
f those who can do and those who can’t teach, then that must make me a totally useless git for I’ve just had a go at being a schoolmaster and I loved it more than any job I’ve ever done. I did it at my alma mater Malvern College, where I spent most of last week being a ‘writer in residence’, taking everything from a geography class on (what else?) climate change to an English class at the Downs prep school on ‘How to write the next Harry Potter’ to a history class in which we tripped merrily from the Cuban missile crisis to the battle of Salamis to the crapness of the service in former East German restaurants in the years following reunification. Obviously, had I been a full-time teacher I wouldn’t have been able to range so freely. But I don’t think my experience was entirely inauthentic. I got to feel, for example, how utterly absorbing, compelling and demanding it is trying to hold a class’s attention for 50 minutes; and just how incredibly drained it leaves you afterwards. Suddenly I understand why coffee and biscuits in the sanctuary of the staffroom plays such a vital part in teachers’ lives: it’s like the whisky and the Pearl Fishers duet on the gramophone in the dugout where you recover just enough strength to be able to launch yourself over the top once more in periods three and four. One evening, I tried grabbing a pint with one of the masters (though they’re not called that anymore) who’d been at the school since my day. First it was supposed to be at 8 p.m. — after my lecture entitled Sustainability is Unsustainable. Then it had to be moved till 9.20 because he had to referee one of the inter-house basketball matches. But it didn’t actually happen till closer to ten because one of the boys had his arm ripped out of his socket and we had to wait for the ambulance. This is life as a teacher: full-on, all day, most days, including — if it’s a public school — some weekends, from before morning chapel to beyond lights out. You don’t do it for the long holidays and you certainly don’t do it for the money. You do it because it’s more fulfilling than perhaps any job there is.
What I enjoyed most was the collaborative nature of the enterprise. Journalism is mostly just you and your lonely screen. Teaching, on the other hand, is you and perhaps 20 kids bouncing ideas off one another. At its best, it’s like being the conductor of an orchestra: you’re in charge, you decide the direction of travel, but the music that emerges is only as good as the weakest member of your ensemble. Which is to say one or two bad players can ruin it for everyone. God knows how teachers cope in sink comprehensives, where I imagine you’re so busy with crowd management
Suddenly I understand why coffee and biscuits in the sanctuary of the staffroom is so vital in teachers’ lives there’s no time for anything else. Even in a disciplined, structured environment like Malvern College, it’s hard enough: the challenge being not so much the brighter kids, who are likely to pay attention regardless of how dull you are, but the jokers and the slackers who, if you let them, can destroy the whole class. I wouldn’t let them — and this was a side of my character I’d never noticed before. As a parent, I’m perfectly useless at discipline: my kids get away with murder. But in a classroom, I’m a man possessed, like I’m on some kind of holy mission: no one is allowed to daydream or whisper conspiratorially or make
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jokes which aren’t germane to the subject under discussion. We’re in this one together and we’re here to learn. You don’t necessarily have to achieve this by being a martinet, though. What I found — much to my delight — is that the slackers and jokers can be more a help than a hindrance. You need the jokers to keep the energy levels high and to keep everybody entertained; you use the slackers to bounce off, as for example when one of the swots (there are usually two or three and they’ve always got their hands up) says something especially insightful and it’s gone right over half the class’s head. ‘That was a really good point,’ you say to the swot. Then you turn to the slacker girl at the back who’s giggling with her mates. ‘Maybe you’d like to repeat it for us.’ She can’t, of course, because she wasn’t listening. So having good-naturedly chided her for her inattention — you want to win over the slacker kids, not alienate them — you then return to the swot and invite him to repeat his brilliant point. And you don’t move on from that brilliant point till you’re satisfied that everybody, clever clogs and thicko alike, has got it. What worries me about our current education system is that such methods are a luxury only teachers in the private system, the grammar schools, and in one or two free schools like Toby Young’s can afford. They’re only possible with a) a strong academic ethos, b) a firm disciplinary structure and c) commitment from pupils and parents. The first two any school ought, with good leadership, be able to manage whether inside or outside the private sector. But I don’t believe the last will ever be fully possible without a radical shift in the way our schools are financed. With education, as with the NHS, our system of having the service free at point of use means that consumers take it too much for granted. I’m a huge admirer of Michael Gove — by far the cleverest and most capable minister in this government — but if he’s ever truly to reform education in this country, it will only be achieved once all parents, in however small a way, are forced to contribute financially to their children’s schooling. 27
My new uneasiness at some old-fashioned flirting
o I’m outside Finsbury Park tube station, the other morning. There’s a girl in front of me, white, twentysomething, rosy-cheeked, long and ruddy hair bouncing in the brisk spring air. Not that I’m, like, noticing. From behind me, overtaking, comes a tall, handsome black guy, smartly dressed. ‘You’re so lovely,’ he booms, as he draws level. With her, that is. Not with me. Alas. ‘You’ve made my day,’ he says. ‘It’s wonderful just to see you.’ ‘Oh,’ she says, blushing red. ‘Thank you.’ Then he pulls out one — but only one — of his earphones and for a few paces they chat before off he strides. And all around us, people start craning their necks to see who this girl was and come to their own silent judgments about whether she was really as lovely as all that. Not a great story, really. No edge. But I keep thinking about it, because the whole scenario just seemed so… transgressive, somehow. Should it have done? She didn’t seem to mind, but maybe that was the result of a lifetime of conditioning, etc, masking a true horror at being singled out while minding her own business on the way to work, and her looks offered up for contemplation, as though she were a painting, or a vase. Did you see that article Petronella Wyatt wrote the other day? Apparently she didn’t mind being actually groped by Laurence Olivier, Robin Day, Albert Finney, Lord Lambton and virtually every other man she’s ever met. I think briefly spoke to her once, at a Spectator party, but I kept my hands to myself. She must have thought me terribly rude. It all sounds so old-fashioned, that’s the thing. Something is happening to women. They’re manning up. The case is being advanced, persistently and credibly, that a cultural change is only half-made. I’m sure it’s relatively rare these days, at least in the office, for a chap to put hand to bottom, or even eye to chest. There’s a new fight going on, though, and that seems to be to make us grasp exactly why we shouldn’t; forcing men to comprehend that it’s not just a bit annoying for many women, this sort of thing, but culminatively closer to terrifying. A while ago, I started following a Twitter stream 28
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called @EverydaySexism, in which women tally their survival of wandering hands, offcolour remarks and attempts at assault. Individually, often, they don’t seem a big deal. ‘Quit moaning,’ you might say. But Christ, so many of them, one after the other, day in, day out. Like a Chinese water torture. I don’t think I’d have ever sidled up to a stranger and told her she was pretty. Not really my style. It’s only recently, though, that I’ve come to grasp that if I did, it would not be an event in isolation. It would sit alongside the bus driver’s ‘love’ and the eyes of the silent, spooky cashier in the shop where she bought her newspaper, and the man too close on the train, and the boss who asks her to make the coffee, and the husband she’ll one day have who expects her to quit work for the kids. And yet, at the same time, I still don’t know if she minded. And it’s complicated, also, by how very thrilled I know I’d be if a woman — even one who looked like Robin Day — should ever lean in close and say such a thing to me.
Labour’s Eastleigh triumph Regardless of the way they got 9 per cent of the vote and came fourth, I think the Labour
Tarzan of the apps
party might look back upon the Eastleigh by-election as a triumph. Because since then, the right of the Conservative party has gone insane. And with gusto. Sure, a combined Tory/Ukip candidate could have romped home there. But everybody knows most of Britain doesn’t look like Eastleigh. Or don’t they? There’s a selective myopia to it; the Tory right finding an excuse to care more about the things it cares most about already. I’m not going to get shrill about this; you lot do what you like. But shifting the party from the centre will make for one that the people already in it like more, and hardly anybody else likes at all. You’ll see.
The mystery of Bitcoin A while ago, mainly because I was researching an article about how you buy heroin on the internet, I read about an emerging i nternet currency called Bitcoin. I can’t begin to understand the maths of it, but it functions without banks or any central body, in a peer-to-peer fashion. So, if I’m in Britain and you’re in, say, Vietnam, I can theoretically transfer any number of Bitcoins to you instantly, with hardly any transaction fees, and without either of our governments knowing it has happened. Chances are, your tax authorities would only spot it when you downloaded yours into dong. I forgot all about Bitcoins until a couple of weeks ago, until I read an article on an obscure tech blog about the way they’ve rocketed in value lately, by a factor of three since January. So I spent a hundred quid on some, and didn’t spend any of it on heroin at all, and today it’s worth £141. Which is pretty good in a fortnight, right? Some enthusiasts reckon Bitcoin will change the world, others thers are nervous it might turn out to be a Ponzi scheme. I wouldn’t buy any more, because the latter lot are probably right, but I would quite like to know what the hell is going on and I don’t really know who to ask. Can somebody cleverer than me write an article about this please? Much obliged. Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Sir David must stand down
Sir: Reading the reports of Sir David Nicholson’s evidence before the House of Commons Health Committee on 5 March 2013 (Leading article, 9 March), it seems to me inconceivable that he could remain in his post. We are informed by the Prime Minister that in the current circumstances the NHS is unable to do without him. But nobody is indispensable and in any case, to judge by Sir David’s recent performance, he is incompetent, a hopeless leader, has a very poor memory and is more interested in saving his skin than in the wellbeing of NHS patients. While he remains in his post, the anger of the relatives of those people who died in appalling conditions at Stafford NHS Trust will only increase, along with that of others like myself; the morale of NHS staff will continue to deteriorate; and confidence in the NHS as a whole will erode further. This travesty must not be allowed to continue. Brian Thornton Malvern
Sir: You wouldn’t expect a God-believing, liturgy-loving Catholic priest to side with Matthew Parris (9 March), but he was a bundle of tolerant wisdom on the subject of Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Not only are we dealing with a fallible human being who is tempted in various ways, along with the rest of us, but we also need to practise the Gospel of mercy. He has fallen from high and has given up public office, but he now needs consideration as a Christian man. What the details are of his misconduct are not yet clear and I am not interested in speculation, but he must have had an inner struggle for many years, trying to hold together opposing aspects of himself. Parris was very good at understanding all of this rather than going for him as an ‘enemy’. Much of the former Cardinal’s language about gay marriage was joltingly intemperate and many of us felt uneasy with the tone even if we agreed with the principles. We need to speak kindly. However, Parris is bang on when he moans about the vapid niceness of much contemporary church-speak.
Sir: Occasionally the Speccie really hits the jackpot: ‘Jeremy Hunt could have responded to the Mid Staffs crisis, but instead both he and David Cameron have chosen to stand by Sir David Nicholson, chief executive at Doncaster Royal Infirmary’. Never in the field of human endeavour have three people made such fools of themselves. Bruce Shaxson Hindhead, Surrey
Unskilled insults Sir: With regard to Gerald Warner’s article (‘Grow up, girls’, 9 March), I was present at the final at Glasgow University Union on Saturday and saw two fantastic debaters from Edinburgh and Cambridge who debated superbly despite any heckling. Heckling based on gender, race or sexuality has no place in any debate. Such heckling is an insult to the GUU’s proud debating history. It takes no skill to shout offence at someone else. Mr Warner’s views bear no relation to the GUU in which I debate, where there are many skilled and confident female debaters who have regularly destroyed many of my arguments. As I am sure you know, debating brings many great benefits to students, and it is a shame that there are not more female debaters. Sadly, Mr Warner’s attitude will no doubt put off more of them. Callum MacMaster Glasgow University Union Parliamentary Club Champion, 2010-11
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We need to hear honesty, clarity and conviction, rather than a lot of handwringing. There is also a long tradition of those on opposing sides having a grudging respect for each other’s dedication and purpose. Thus Richard and Saladin could confer, first world war aces would salute each other, and Kipling spoke of ‘When two strong men meet’. Amen to that. Fr Kevin O’Donnell Peacehaven, East Sussex Sir: I have no problem with Matthew Parris’s view on the former cardinal, but his condemnation of church music does make me wonder whether he is deaf. Bob Hands Bridport, Dorset
Model mail Sir: Martin Vander Weyer’s account of Royal Mail (Any other business, 23 February) is very much at odds with the positive transformation the company is undergoing. Royal Mail has the highest service specification of any major European country. In most categories, our delivery exceeds the required standard. There has been a very significant turnaround in our financial performance. Just a few years ago we were loss-making; now we are profitable. Stamp price increases last year were necessary to sustain the one-price-goesanywhere, six-days-a-week Universal Service in Britain. Ofcom, our regulator, publicly acknowledged the point. This year we’ve frozen stamp prices and in five of the six weight steps for First Class and Second Class mail, the cost of UK stamps is below the EU average. Shane O’Riordain Royal Mail, London EC4
War of words Sir: I have just listened to the debate between Peter Hitchens and Damian Thompson on your ‘View from 22’ podcast (spectator.co.uk/podcast). Strong stuff! I have to say that it seems to me that these arguments about whether drug addiction is a sickness or not (Thompson says it isn’t), or whether there is no such thing as addiction and it is just another way of describing a weak will (Hitchens’s view of things) are about semantics. As Russell Brand writes in his article (9 March), some people can use drugs and alcohol without harming themselves or others much. Others cannot. In the end, sick or addicted or not, they can probably only help themselves. Kate Henricks London N1
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk Subs2012.indd 1 letters_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
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Any Other Business|Martin Vander Weyer
Do you sincerely believe in overseas aid, Prime Minister? If not, here’s my alternative plan
e have written to David Cameron to applaud his decision to stick to the UK’s commitment to overseas aid to the developing world, despite the tough economic times,’ begins a letter to the Financial Times from the bosses of major companies from BP to Vodafone, with PR maestro Alan Parker of Brunswick at the top of the list. ‘It is both humanitarian and in the interests of this country.’ But that’s not the view of seven out of ten respondents in a recent ITV ComRes poll. They think too much — £6.7 billion this year — is spent on overseas aid; only 7 per cent of them believe the government should abide by its aspiration to bring the Department for International Development’s budget up to 0.7 per cent of GDP, the target set by the G8 at Gleneagles in 2005. Liam Fox is now leading the call to scrap the ringfencing of aid, while many other Tory backbenchers want to see spending switched from aid to defence — and Tony Blair has waded in with his own dossier of answers to ‘aid sceptics’ (perhaps not the intervention Cameron was praying for), including the glib factoid that ‘Aid from the UK alone has in the past two years helped over five million more children go to primary school.’ The CBI, meanwhile, has garnered less attention to its call for a £2.2 billion package to ‘build confidence among businesses and consumers’, chiefly by boosting the construction sector and mortgage guarantee schemes at the expense of ‘efficiencies’ in other areas of public spending — which might of course include aid cuts. But if George Osborne’s Budget speech next week does indeed promise to stick to existing aid commitments in full while offering no comfort to the defence lobby and failing to ease the pain of the wider business community, stand by for an unholy row. The philosophy, mechanisms and results of UK state aid to Africa and elsewhere will come under fierce scrutiny, as will the motives of those who support it. Do Cameron and Osborne really believe in it as a matter of altruistic national duty, or as a mat-
AOB_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
ter of picking off wavering Lib Dem votes — as with gay marriage? Do those letterwriting corporate titans sincerely mean what they say (it seems odd that the chief executive of the Premier League and the ‘country retail manager’ for Ikea UK and Ireland have strong views on the matter) or has Mr Parker of Brunswick persuaded them this is a moment to polish their ‘responsible corporate citizen’ badges? Do any of their companies practise ‘tax-efficient supply chain management’ to minimise tax payments in the developing world by shifting profit into low-tax havens elsewhere? Research quoted in Richard Brooks’s new book The Great Tax Robbery indicates that poor nations lose at least $50 billion a year that way.
Aid starts at home Don’t get me wrong: like most of the guiltridden privileged class, I’m not against aid in principle, though I believe it’s most effectively delivered by specialist charities to which citizens choose to donate. I also subscribe to the view that targeted aid, improving farm livelihoods and diminishing competition for resources, can reduce incidences of conflict and mass migration which have such expensive consequences for the West. I’m attracted by Jeffrey Sachs’s argument that if a single day’s Pentagon spending ($1.7 billion in 2008, when he wrote Common Wealth) were diverted to provide mosquito nets for the whole of Africa for a year, the health benefits would generate a significant uptick in economic stability. But my eye is also caught by the second letter in Monday’s FT, below the heart-onthe-sleeve petition: it’s from the chief economist of the African Development Bank, Mthule Ncubi, who makes the point that, on a variety of development measures including falling disease rates and rising education levels, his continent can now be seen as an ‘aspiring global growth engine’. That doesn’t mean demand for aid will evaporate soon, but it does mean — as intrepid ‘emerging market’ investors know — that the balance
of risk and opportunity is changing in Africa’s favour. So what would I do with the UK aid budget? Stand by existing project commitments, but take on no new ones between now and 2015. Divert the funds released — and perhaps the DfID experts — into development projects for affordable housing, industrial start-ups and alternative farm enterprises in the most depressed parts of Britain. Deliver aid at home first, and we’ll be better placed to fulfil earnest promises abroad.
The missionary’s position To the Latchmere pub-theatre in Battersea to see a play called Compliance. An unpromising name for an evening’s entertainment, you might think, especially if you work in the City, but it turns out to be a gripping parable by a former financial journalist, Lydia Adetunji, of the moral issues associated with manufacturing in the East of luxury goods for the West — in this case, handbags made in China for $50 to be sold in American department stores for $750. The factory manager is suspected of running illicit shifts for the counterfeit market, exploiting female workers and keeping false accounts. But it’s the high-minded British compliance officer, put there by an American importer to ensure the factory doesn’t ‘embarrass the brand’, who’s in the weakest position; everyone seems to be plotting against him. By the end, the manager may or may not have learned a lesson but the only worker brave enough to complain has moved on to a better-paid job recruiting migrant workers to another factory. The message (almost echoing Martin Wolf in his 2004 book Why Globalisation Works) is that this harsh model of capitalism is also, for millions, a vital stepping-stone of economic progress, and is best tempered by consumer awareness rather than missionary moralising. And it’s far more effective in alleviating poverty, we might observe, than any debt-laden western government’s focusgroup-pleasing token aid programme.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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ADVERT - Kelloggs_14-Mar-2013_The Spectator 32
© New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation / Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY
Martin Gayford examines the books that have examined art in the last century Paul Binding is thrilled by most of the new Barbara Vine
‘Winter Twilight from Olana’, c.1871, by Frederic Edwin Church Andrew Lambirth — p49
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Books front_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
Richard Davenport-Hines finds a literary exchange pugnacious, dogmatic and witty Robert Gore-Langton tells the story of how musicals got religion
Michael Tanner wants to see ‘Written on Skin’ again as soon as possible Radhika Kapila is forced by an exhibition at the Hayward to question her assumptions about light 33
BOOKS & ARTS
Human machines As well as having to perform countless heavy chores till all hours, servants were expected to be invisible. Charlotte Moore is fascinated by the daily’s grind
Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain by Lucy Lethbridge Bloomsbury, £19.99, pp. 385, ISBN 9780747590170 The first illustration in this absorbing survey of domestic service in 20th-century Britain is a group photograph of the household servants at Erdigg, the Yorke family home in Wales. Each holds an emblematic item; the housekeeper is defined by her bunch of keys, the butler holds a wine bottle and corkscrew, the footman, in full pantomimic rig down to his buckled shoes, bears a salver for the calling cards that formed an intricate and arcane method of communication amongst the upper orders. The picture was taken in 1912. It is expressive of a system governed by age-old rules and unshakable hierarchies. How unimaginable that only two years later the outbreak of war would initiate the great dismantling of this system. On the last page of illustrations is a photograph taken in 1959, when the dismantling was almost complete. It shows the Duke of Bedford, master of Woburn Abbey, at the Ideal Home Exhibition. His Grace is jacketless, his sleeves rolled up, ready for domestic action — he is unloading crockery from the first Kenwood Fully Automated Dishwasher. The Duke’s grandfather had kept 60 indoor servants; he had specified that all his parlourmaids must be over five foot ten; he had forbidden the workers to look directly at him while they installed electricity at Woburn. Though one doesn’t seriously imagine that the 1959 duke would actually spend much time in the scullery, the two pictures 34
Books_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
nonetheless illustrate the breadth of the chasm between the old order and the new. ‘What the devil does one write about these days if one is a specialist in country houses and butlers, both of which have ceased to exist?’ complained P.G. Wodehouse in 1945. Lucy Lethbridge finds a great deal to write about, all of it fascinating. The inevitable problem with such a mass of material is that enticing avenues open up, to remain only partially explored. I’d love to know more about Dr Barnardo’s model villages for training girls (‘each girl saved from a criminal course is a present to the next generation of a virtuous woman and a valuable servant’), or the ‘Runaway Mop
There were hidden doorways on landings or behind false bookcases so that maids could literally disappear
could be the starting point for a novel. Elizabeth Pratt-Steed was a ‘Disciplinarian. Firm without being brutal. Can converse on physics, spiritualism or foreign missions.’ Hyacinth Plummer was willing to muck in with Snakes and Ladders or Halma, but her necklines were too low — ‘a modesty vest’ would enhance her employability, Gertie felt. Pansy Trubshawe understood cricket and foreign stamps, ‘but not much else’. The Duke of Bedford’s strictures about the height of his parlourmaids might sound like the last rumblings of patrician eccentricity, but the value of servants was calculated according to their physical characteristics, including height. A six-foot Edwardian footman could earn £10 a year more than a shorter one. According to one employer: A parlourmaid must have long arms in order to reach things on the table, and a housemaid should also be tall, else how can she put the linen away on the top shelves and wash the looking-glasses in the drawing room?
Fairs’ where girls were hired on the simple basis of ‘Can you wash, can you bake, can you scrub?’ or the ‘scores’ of deferential post second-world-war workers from St Helena, who travelled to Britain to escape destitution after the closure of the island’s flax mill. They gladly took the menial jobs now scorned by most British workers, until, in 1961, the Union-Castle shipping line cut out passenger calls at St Helena, leaving the islanders ‘as captive as Napoleon’. And then there was the marvellous Gertie Maclean, who founded Universal Aunts (which in turn gave rise to Meals on Wheels) in response to postwar changes in domestic need. Gertie wrote thumbnail sketches of her ‘Aunts’, each of which
Lethbridge is very good at showing how this view of servants as human machines affected individuals. She explores every detail of the physical experience of service, from chapped hands, to degrading uniforms, to living off lard and herrings while propping up roasted rabbits for dinner parties ‘to look as if they were standing on their hind legs with their ears up’, to bad odours in poorly ventilated kitchens. Town kitchens were usually in basements, country kitchens faced north. This kept food cooler in the days before refrigeration, but it meant that the servants who spent 15 hours a day in them were deprived of daylight. Mrs Panton, in Hints for Young House-
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
mary evans picture library
keepers, advised that servants’ bedrooms should be ‘merely places where they lie down to sleep as heavily as they can’; prettiness and comfort were wasted on them. No wonder Joyce Storey, a bright working-class girl, whose hopes of a better life were crushed by 1920s unemployment, ‘swore a terrible oath’ as she scrubbed her employer’s coal cellar: This is the last time in my entire bloody life I will ever be on my knees with my nose to the ground, for I belong up there with my eyes to the light, and walking upright and tall.
In 1911, 800,000 families employed staff. Lethbridge is just as interested in the struggling households with a single skivvy as in establishments like Blenheim, which were beyond parody. Consuelo Vanderbilt, the
American wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough, brought her knitting to the dining table to alleviate the boredom of tête-a-têtes with her silent husband, who insisted that meals be served by a staff of eight and that each course consist of 17 choices.The butler poured all the leftovers into one huge bowl for ‘the Poor’, pudding, bones, soup, all mixed together. In grand establishments, servants entered without knocking because they were ‘invisible’; there were hidden doorways on landings or behind false bookcases so that maids could literally disappear. But Lethbridge is even-handed, and cites examples of servants who loved both their work and their employers. She quotes extensively from the diaries of Alice Osbourn, housekeeper to an upper-
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Books_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
middle-class family. Alice has great fun with ‘Daph’, the young lady of the house, who writes to her as ‘Dear old Onion’ and treats her as an equal — almost. The general mucking-in required by second-world-war deprivations brought employers and servants closer; the fictional Mrs Miniver’s belief that ‘the mechanics of life should not be allowed to interfere with living’ proved unsustainable. Postwar, some found the redrawn social boundaries hard to negotiate. Mont Abbott, an Oxfordshire shepherd, tells of an awkward encounter with his elderly aristocratic employer, who invited him in for ‘whisky from a crystal glass’. ‘She set me next to a posh silver ornament with polished rams’ horns “so you’ll feel at home”.’This had the opposite effect: ‘I were wanting to get back to my flock.’ Lethbridge enables us to hear the voices of her subjects; she skilfully interweaves written and oral testimony. Sometimes she leaves assertions unexamined. It isn’t credible, for instance, that Churchill, with his adventurous soldier past, was ‘unable to dress himself’; if he expected his valet to dress him, it would have been for a reason, and one which it would be interesting to know. When she states that there were as many domestics in London in 2011 as there were in the 19th century, does she mean that the total is numerically the same, or is she talking about the proportion in relation to the rest of the population? This recent rise in demand for servants is an interesting and important subject which she isn’t able to explore in any depth. But this book is empathetic, wide-ranging and well-written; it will enthrall many readers. 35
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The Books that Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss edited by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard Thames & Hudson, £24.95, pp. 264, ISBN 9780500238950
There is a feeling about this publication of the biter bit, or rather, the observer observed. It consists of 16 essays by leading art historians about the most significant books about art published in the 20th century. The illustrations at the start of each section, rather than being of paintings and sculpture, are of scholars — as one might expect, a diffidentlooking, bespectacled crew who look as if they spent more time in the archives than the gym. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject is likely to have at least a few of the books discussed here: E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion (1960) for example, or Nikolaus Pevsner’s Pioneers of the Modern Movement (1936). These are works that have affected the way we look at art for generations (and have been liberally quoted in uncountable quantities of student essays). But the point of this exercise is not to look at art, but at the different ways in which it has been studied and discussed. If that sounds a bit technical, well it sometimes is. One or two contributions are distinctly chewy, from the prose point of view, and the same could be said about the books they are discussing. But other contributions are urbanely approachable. John-Paul Stonard, one of the editors, writes one of the latter group. He has a little entertaining fun with Kenneth Clark’s more fulsome passages: He suggests that we bring to mind ‘the golden hair and swelling bosoms of his [Rubens’s] graces, as we sing harvest songs on a bright Sunday in September’.
(It is interesting to discover that Lord Clark’s hands began to tremble after writing that passage and he had to go for a walk on the sea front to calm down). Clark is ticked off for a complete blindness to sexual politics. Stonard thinks that descriptions such as that of ‘the small, full, manageable body which has always appealed to the average sensualist’, however true, are irredeemable.
But Stonard makes a strong case for The Nude (1956) as a work that can still be read ‘simply for the pleasure of its sentences’. Roger Fry’s Cézanne: A Study of His Development (1927) is certainly another book that deserves praise as literature. Even so, Fry was at his most eloquent when
incompleteness and unreliability of Vasari.’ Elderfield points out that the reviewer, Anthony Blunt, had recent experience of evading interrogation; Barr had failed to get the full facts out of Matisse, but neither had MI5 succeeded in 1952 with Blunt. If it can be tricky studying an artist still living in the south of France, pity the scholar of Jan van Eyck. The pitfall of Erwin Panofsky in his Early Netherlandish Painting (1953), though, was not so much the almost complete lack of written statements by any of the artists he was discussing, as the fact that he was on the wrong side of the Atlantic from most of their pictures and hence obliged to rely on photographs. The result was some unfortunate mistakes about such matters as his interpretation of Melchior Broederlam’s ‘AnnunciaRubens’s ‘Three Graces’ had a disturbingly powerful effect tion’. The Virgin is actually on the art historian Kenneth Clark holding not a piece of purple explaining how hard it is to put into words wool, but a brown taper — and an elaborate what he finds so spellbindingly wonderful theory fell flat. about his subject’s work. ‘I find myself, like There are two morals there. One is: a medieval mystic before the divine real- always look at the original. But the other, ity, reduced to negative terms. I have first drawn by Panofsky himself and underlined to say what it is not.’ That, it almost goes by Susie Nash in her chapter on him, is more without saying, is the true difficulty and general. ‘I am too old’, Panofsky wrote in interest of writing about art. It involves try- 1957 (he was then 65), ‘not to know that ing to explain in words something that is error is just as important a factor in history inherently non-verbal: a visual experience. — and scholarship — as truth.’ Henri Matisse remarked that he who That’s spot on, and applies to art as well would be a painter should first cut out his as history. The Renaissance, for example, tongue. This was advice he did not take him- was based on a creative misunderstanding self, even metaphorically, but he does seem of classical antiquity. A great deal of 19thto have been grudging and evasive when century art derived from an incorrect assessbombarded with questionnaires by Alfred ment of the Middle Ages (and the RenaisH. Barr during the preparation of the sance). Picasso didn’t comprehend the first latter’s huge and groundbreaking mon- thing about the meaning of the African ograph, Matisse: His Art and His Public sculptures he used as source material for (1951). ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’. And so on. This, evaluated sagely and sensitively by It is unlikely that the interpretations of John Elderfield, was the first of a type: the art in terms of social and political history or massive, would-be definitive study of a con- structuralism discussed in the later chapters will prove more than provisional — though Error is just as important a factor in some, such as Michael Baxandall’s Painthistory, art and scholarship as truth ing and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy (1972) are masterpieces of scholarship temporary artist, making use, as Elderfield and literature in their own right. The point puts it, of ‘the big guns of American institu- is more to be interesting than to be correct tional scholarship — with its special access (though it is nice to be that too). to artists, archives galleries collectors and As for artists, they like to be mysterious. teams of researchers’. When Vasari tried to get a closer look at a Despite all that, however, Barr was sub- sculpture Michelangelo was working on, the ject to a serpentine reproof by the review great man dropped the lamp he was holdof the Burlington Magazine: ‘Reading Mr ing, leaving the historian and critic in total Barr makes us more indulgent towards the darkness. It’s often like that.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Books_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
the bridgeman art library
Making the visual verbal Martin Gayford
BOOKS & ARTS
Keeping it in the family Paul Binding The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine Viking, £18.99, pp. 279, ISBN 9780670922208
‘I always know when a novel is going to be a Barbara Vine one,’ Ruth Rendell said to me in 1998. ‘In fact I believe that if I weren’t to write it as Barbara Vine, I wouldn’t be able to write it at all.’ A Barbara Vine — from the first, A Dark-Adapted Eye (1986) onwards — tends to take a specific period, distinct in mores and cultural tensions, and to concentrate on emotionally charged events, invariably climaxing in violent death, which stand in metaphoric relationship to it. In the body of this latest Vine book — the 192-page narrative actually entitled ‘The Child’s Child’ — all these requirements are amply met. Opening in 1929, it takes us to London and the West Country in the throes of the Depression, and thence into the war, with its country-wide dispersal of evacuees. When times are both uncertain and tumultuous, so little food for hope is there that paradoxically people turn in on themselves. The drama of John Goodwin and his younger sister Maud, mostly enacted in a remote Devon village, is convincingly claustrophobic. And how could it be otherwise, when conventional society, starting with their own Bristol-based family, is so narrow in its sympathies, so little inclined (on principle, one fears) to spontaneous generosity? The Goodwins were far from rich but they were ‘comfortable’. John Goodwin had inherited a bookbinding business from his father and it had always done fairly, if not spectacularly, well. He had married a woman he met at chapel.
She has a dowry large enough for them to buy a handsome-sized house in which to bring up their family. Theirs is an upholstered but continuously tense Pharisaism, little affection on display and not much in inner reserve either. Their religion, like their politics, is more a matter of following respectable custom than of private conviction. They have a maid they want to address by her surname but dare not, who serves a high tea that tells its own joyless, anti-sensuous story: ‘cold ham, tongue, a salad of lettuce and tomatoes, beetroot in malt vinegar, and bread and butter, followed by tinned peaches and tinned milk.’ John Goodwin, university graduate and secondary-school science teacher, is fond enough of his parents and three sisters, yet knows — even if the law of the land were 38
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otherwise, an improbability beyond his dreams — that he could never share with them his sexual predilection. He has difficulties accepting it himself. In London he has a male lover, Bertie, a feckless drifter, but decides that he would do best to give this relationship up, and find himself a job in a milieu with fewer sexual opportunities. He therefore accepts a post at Ashburton Grammar School on the edge of Dartmoor. His move there coincides with a family event of such magnitude nobody knows how to handle it. Maud, aged 15, is pregnant by a friend’s brother who cannot be considered her boyfriend. To this dilemma John finds a solution of breathtaking simplicity and boldness. Maud will move with him to Devon as his wife; everybody will think her baby is his. He will live uxoriously, chastely, converting his vice into convention-blessed virtue. His plan is carried out — with surprising initial success. But it doesn’t work. John cannot renounce his sexuality, and Bertie disastrously re-enters his life. Nor can Maud cope with the realities of her enforced situation. All this is Vine/Rendell at her most brilliant and subtle. For what we watch is the deterioration of Maud, from attractive, unfortunate victim into a monster of resentment. And yet no easy judgment is passed. Temperaments unfortunately often fail to develop as we hope: too many hidden factors are at work. Vine has framed ‘The Child’s Child’ — supposedly an unpublished novel by a well-known writer, the late Martin Greenwell — within a first-person narration by university lecturer Grace, working on a PhD about illegitimate women in English literature, and sharing a Hampstead house with her gay brother and his partner. Though we can find interesting parallels between 2011 and the 1930s, including an eruption of vicious homophobia, for me these two outer sections lack the intensity and vitality of the novel proper, and could even deter readers from the main, richly worked excursion into obscure, sympathetically rendered lives.
‘Maybe Madam would like to try something that matches her personality?’
Between a rock and a hard place Peter Parker The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam Faber, £18.99, pp. 401, ISBN 9780571287918
Set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Nadeem Aslam fourth novel begins with two young Pakistani men slipping over the border into Afghanistan. Jeo is a third-year medical student who has secretly volunteered to treat those wounded in the ‘war against terror’, and he is accompanied by his adopted brother Mikal, who works at a gun shop. The action moves back and forth between the bloody chaos of Afghanistan and the small Pakistani town of Heer, where Naheed, who is married to Jeo but in love with Mikal, awaits their return. Trying to do the right thing in impossible circumstances, whether in love or in war, is central to the novel. All wars are savage, but the one depicted in The Blind Man’s Garden is particularly brutal, not only because of the many competing factions in Afghanistan, but also because of the United States policy of paying large bounties for ‘terrorist suspects’ in a desperately poor country. The result is that almost anyone can be captured or kidnapped and sold on to warlords who are guaranteed $5,000 a head for handing them over to American troops. In this way, alongside dangerous jihadists, wholly innocent young men end up in ‘interrogation facilities’, where they are subjected to various forms of torture in an attempt to elicit information they do not possess. Things are scarcely better back in Pakistan, where the law is administered by police who refuse to investigate the disappearance of a family member, only to insist when she turns up again that any woman who has left her home voluntarily ‘must explain to us, as agents of decent society, where she has been’. A school set up with high ideals by Jeo’s father, the blind man of the novel’s title, has been taken over by fundamentalists and now trains young men for jihad; a female vigilante group decides that only men should be allowed to visit cemeteries and attacks bereaved women with metal-tipped canes; mere teenagers plot a horrifying Beslan-like siege of a Christian-run school. At one point, a captured ‘terrorist suspect’ itemises the failings of Pakistan that may explain why his white captor treats him with such derision and contempt. In the early pages of the book, a man asks whether he can set snares for birds in the trees of the blind man’s garden, ‘just enough to hold a wing or neck in delicate,
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BOOKS & ARTS
harmless captivity’. He will then take the captured birds round in a cage and find people who will pay him to release them. ‘I am known as “the bird pardoner”,’ he explains. ‘The freed bird says a prayer on behalf of the one who has bought its freedom.’ The buying and selling of freedom is one of the principle threads in the book: people are released from the crude shackles of warlords, only to find themselves zip-locked, hooded and quite literally caged in American detention centres, and the heavy chains a wandering fakir wraps around his body as ‘penitence for a grave transgression in the past’ are later used to restrain a wounded American serviceman. In contrast to all those who are shackled or imprisoned, a snow-leopard cub given to Mikal as a pet wanders around at will, while in a characteristically startling image, horses hidden underground suddenly burst through the earth. Aslam’s narrative exerts a firm grip, but would be almost unendurable were it not for the sense he gives of a counterbalancing beauty in the world. This is not the indifferent nature of Hardy or Housman, but something that simply coexists with horror: birds in trees ‘looking as though their outlines and markings are drawn with a finer nib than their surroundings’ or ‘moths that look like shavings from a pencil sharpener’. Visiting a town, one character notes shop signs painted with heartbreaking precision and beauty by barely literate men … and women’s clothes hanging in shop windows in sheaths of pure lines and colours, teaching one the meaning of grace in one’s life.
Finding grace is what keeps people human, even in extreme circumstances, and Aslam’s characters — whatever their background or motives, and even as they advance ‘into the crosshairs of history’ — are never emblematic of anything but themselves. This makes his story desolating, but the extraordinary beauty of the writing makes the experience of reading it wholly exhilarating.
Quips, jibes and Jewishness Richard Davenport-Hines Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet by Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein Yale, £20, pp. 335, ISBN 9780300186949
One often hears the caterwaul that the harsh new technology of emails has killed the gentle old craft of letter-writing. Joseph Epstein and Frederic Raphael — septuagenarian pen-pals who have never met, the one based in Chicago and the other dividing his year between South Kensington and Périgord — have set out to prove the doomsayers wrong by publishing their email traffic for the year 2009. Epstein and Raphael start with one disadvantage, perhaps. They have the wit to be great letter-writers, but not the frustration. It is unfulfilled talents or time-wasters, failing to find other means of self-expression,
The Cuckoo Clock for Michael Donaghy, 1954-2004
Parking near St Pancras long before light, it wouldn’t spook if you peered from a shop front or popped from a grille — remembering the night we arranged a rendezvous at the Elephant, you like a meerkat in-and-out of the subways on the traffic island, head cocked but hesitant when I called A Mhíchíl through the sodium haze — who already must have felt in your brain a faint alert above the chug of the Riesenrad… I observed the scared look but never imagined you’d be panicked or with a farcical skip be gone: feral, too soft you were, but glad in your heart as you eyed up the sky, quickened your step of a sudden, and gave me the slip.
—Maurice Riordan 40
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who excel as correspondents. Epstein is an essayist, editor and short-story writer whose earnings from his magazine work, as revealed in his emails, made this reviewer’s eyes goggle with envy. Raphael is the novelist, classicist and Oscar-winning screenwriter from whom superb essays and books are still pouring forth. It is not from men so replete and exuberantly confident that the rueful half-lights of a great letter-writer can be expected. Epstein and Raphael are bruisers, not bruised. Epstein writes of a good friend whose career fell flat: ‘He was unmemorable, I think, because his writing had no fist: no anger, no attack to it; it was too well-mannered, too quiet, too wanting in point of view.’ This could never be said of the pugnacious, dogmatic, loud-spoken exchanges in Distant Intimacy. Puns, quips, jibes and corny Jewish jokes sustain the pen-pals’ gleeful repartee about publishers, editors, celebrity agents, Hollywood producers, phonies and crooks. Epstein’s character-sketch of Alfred Appel, compiler of a volume called The Annotated Lolita, and a champion bore of monumental egotism, is a jewel of portraiture. Epstein, in his coruscating Essays in Biography published last year, gave a mordant account of his quondam friend Saul Bellow. In Distant Intimacy, too, he writes of Bellow with deadly effect — not least as an inveterate womaniser of narcissistic type, who needed affirmation that women were attracted to him but had little interest in sex, and (according to one girlfriend) ‘didn’t seem to know a clitoris from a kneecap’. There are unforgiving reproofs of publicity-conscious writers such as Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag and Richard Dawkins. Both men’s derision of the bombast of Christopher Hitchens is a salutary antidote to his posthumous Dianafication. Their fellow polymaths Isaiah Berlin and George Steiner are equally deplored, but they disagree about Clive James. ‘I do not despise or even dislike him,’ writes Epstein, ‘I merely mistrust his energy and cultural omniscience’; whereas Raphael explains that he has good reason to feel gratitude and affection. It is not all denigration. Roger Federer is a hero to Epstein: ‘the very type of the Apollonian’. Epstein suggests, too, and it is a tenable opinion, that underrated Willa Cather may have been ‘the best of the last century’s American novelists’. Raphael calls his fellow scriptwriter Ronnie Harwood ‘a man of the utmost charm and diligence’. The compliments, when they come, are as valuable as most rarities. There are disarming passages: Epstein’s descriptions of his lunches once a fortnight with a sharp-witted 90-year-old blind expostman called Matt Shanahan; Raphael confessing at the age of 78, ‘I still read and
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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annotate books like a student who just might catch up, if he works at it’, and still trying to write taut sentences that ‘will survive the long haul’. After reading Edward Said’s Reflections on Exile, Raphael concludes that Said is ‘a parody, a mirror-reversed image, of the Jew: argumentative, witless, perpetually rancorous, falsely-forgiving, grievance collecting.’ Distant Intimacy is a very Jewish — though not Judaic — book (Epstein once signs himself, ‘Jewily yours’). ‘What I fear is the elimination of the Jews by assimilation and the lessening of anti-Semitism,’,Epstein declares. ‘I shouldn’t like it if the Jews were like everyone else … Preserve the Jews, I say, in all our brilliant, maddening, infuriating, vulgar, sweet glory.’ He recalls that when he gave a lecture urging his audience not to seek ‘absolute congruence of opinion’ among their friends, lest they narrow their range of friendships, but instead cultivate interesting alternative outlooks, he was afterwards accosted by the Zionist neo-con Irving Kristol, who issued a non-negotiable rider: ‘Except, of course, for Israel-Palestine’. This is a subject on which the pen-pals are intractable. Neither Epstein nor Raphael will mind a jot that some readers will find their testiness, scorching contempt and Israeli sympathies make Distant Intimacy near intolerable. Others will feast on the bright ideas, unflagging wit and word-perfect characterisations. Raphael in one message says that their email traffic ‘resembles Heraclitus and Callimachus, capping and recapping and in a kind of complicity without any purpose other than mutuality’. It does, too.
Worth a row of beans Ysenda Maxtone Graham A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War by Ursula Buchan Hutchinson, £20, pp. 357, ISBN 9780091944155
Here are some statistics about wartime fruitand vegetable-growing in England which this book tells us. In 1942-3, there were 1,750,000 allotments, amounting to 100,000 acres, or an area the size of Rutland. But in a 1944 survey, it was discovered that only 34 per cent of urban gardens were growing fruit and vegetables, and only 10.9 per cent of households cultivated an allotment. The north-west of England turned out the worst figures, with only 28 per cent of households growing vegetables. As Ursula Buchan writes, ‘Picking sun-warmed greenhouse tomatoes to add to a salad is a pleasure; weeding round shotholed brassicas on a windswept allotment
poster of a muddy boot pushing a spade into a heap of soil, made a huge impact and gave British people a sense that they could all do something to help the war effort, even if it was only to plant a row of leeks. A Green and Pleasant Land is elegantly written and rich with horticultural vignettes: potatoes being tended next to the runway at Manchester parachute base; vegetables growing on bomb-sites in Bethnal Green; tomatoes in pots outside gentlemen’s clubs in London; 793 packets of seeds being sent to prisoners and internees in Germany, Italy and France; the undergraduates of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, being goaded into getting out and helping to dig by the clever ploy of inflicting a diet of rice on them — rice, followed by rice pudding — to show them what life would be like if root vegetables really did run out. Buchan celebrates the Female undergraduates were goaded into growing achievement of unsung garvegetables by being threatened with a diet consisting deners such as Miss Beatonly of rice rix Havergal and Miss Avice Saunders, who founded the is not.’ And this was what weary English Waterperry School of Horticulture for householders worked out for themselves, as Women; and Gertrude Denman, who did so the war wore on. much to get the Women’s Institute moveAnother slightly dispiriting statistic: in ment going, as well as directing the Womthe chapter called ‘Fiercely Stirring Caul- en’s Land Army. drons’, about the 4,500 jam-making centres But I did quite a lot of page-measuring run by strong-armed women who heroical- while reading the book: a sure sign that one ly produced 1,670 tons of the stuff in 1941, is not engrossed. (How many pages of notes Buchan tells us that all this effort made less are there at the end? Oh good, quite a few, than 0.5 per cent of the national require- so the book in fact ends on page 300 rathment for rationed jam. er than 357.) I think the main problem is This book is so much about vegetables that it is entirely based on reading research. and fruit — potatoes and brassicas on every There is not (I’m pretty sure) a single interpage, unless it’s damsons or compost — view with a living person — apart from one that I found it hard, immersed in this liter- reference on page 160 to a head-gardenary cornucopia of produce, to work out how er Buchan remembers speaking to in the successful the Dig for Victory campaign 1970s. It would have been greatly enlivened actually was. Cheering statistics like the by some direct quotes. At one point there’s ‘size of Rutland’ one were negated by ‘0.5 a mention of Baroness Trumpington and I per cent of the national requirement’ ones. thought, Oh good — perhaps Buchan went What is certain is that the government to meet her. But it’s just a reference to an understood the steadying effect of gardening interview the Baroness gave to Elizabeth on the British psyche: it was a great ‘release Grice in the Telegraph of 2012. Also, the book tires you out with too Picking sun-warmed greenhouse much information. Do we really need to know the exact opening days of Wisley RHS tomatoes is a pleasure; weeding garden in 1939? Or the fact that vegetable round brassicas on a windswept seed catalogues cost 1d but flower ones allotment is not were free? Or that RHS monographs had to be shelved due to a shortage of paper and valve’ for tension. The expression ‘Dig for ink? Or about the eight sizes of cloche? If Victory’, coined (probably) by Michael Foot some of this had been left out, I might have in an unsigned Evening Standard leader in had more of an appetite for the important September 1939, and used on the ensuing information when it did come.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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BOOKS & ARTS
The past is always present Penelope Lively The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster Chatto, £16.99, pp. 234, ISBN 9780701188054
The power of the past, the directive hand of childhood: the themes of The Unknown Bridesmaid are familiar fictional territory. But Margaret Forster has a deft and idiosyncratic touch in this story of child psychologist Julia, whose young clients reflect the trauma of her own early years. Sessions with Camilla, Precious, Janice, Claire and others are intercut with Julia’s own memories, so that gradually we learn what happened to her after her father’s early death and that of her mother when Julia was a teenager. For the reader, she presents something of a challenge. The memories are candid: her behaviour was insufferable. Taken in by her kindly cousin Iris and husband after her mother’s death, she is horrible to their children; she steals, and does her level best to cause trouble for the amiable husband. And there is the dark cloud of an earlier transgression when she was much younger, which had disastrous and haunting consequences. She feels guilty, indeed, now in adult life, a guilt that seems to be subsumed into her present occupation, trying to discover what is wrong — if, indeed, there is something wrong — with young girls who have behavioural problems. The challenge for the reader is that Julia is unlikable. That she comes across as solipsistic is inevitable — a novel whose protagonist is examining her own life is bound to feature solipsism. But there is something almost complacent about her, and a sense of a person so immersed in what has hap-
pened to her as to have lost the capacity for relationships. A failed marriage; few friends, it would seem. But — the saving grace — a shrewd and sympathetic eye and ear for troubled children. The various children wind in and out of Julia’s own story — truanting, beating up their siblings and thieving. Not infrequently Julia spots that the trouble is not the child but the mother. This intercutting is a neat device, diverting attention from Julia’s own history and postponing any kind of conclusion, while pointing up analogies with Julia’s own situation: jealousies, resentments and difficulties with mothers. It could perhaps be seen as too neat, but that would be to sidestep the essential nature of Julia’s career choice — she is a child psychologist, it seems, because she knows what is is to have been herself a child defined as difficult. So Julia’s behaviour was not her fault? And her patients’ behaviour is not theirs? I can imagine the kind of discussion that The Unknown Bridesmaid will provoke. But I don’t know where the author stands, which is to her credit. It is not a case of the novel as psychological parable, though there is a whiff of this. The imaginative structure and the energy of the story give it a greater distinction and make you entirely interested in Julia, even if you don’t much care for her, while her child patients are nicely varied, and for the most part persuasive, with just the occasional turn of phrase that sounds too adult for a nine- or ten-year-old. A twist at the end shines new light on past events, but makes no difference to what had happened, and Julia remained, for me, sombre and distinctly humourless. ‘Everything, in every person’s life, led back to childhood, a truism which she’d found could not be stressed enough’: her own thought. For book-group discussion: truism or escapist mantra?
‘I feel terrible. I drank too much last night.’ 44
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A heavy knapsack to bear Wynn Wheldon I Know You’re Going to be Happy: A Story of Love and Betrayal by Rupert Christiansen Short Books, £12.99, pp.175, ISBN 9781780721248
This is an unsettling book. On the face of it a memoir by the opera critic of the Daily Telegraph, it veers from social history to intimate confessional, from objective understanding to subjective contempt, with strong elements of hatefulness. In the summer of 1959 the author’s father, a prominent journalist and son of Arthur Christiansen, Beaverbrook’s great editor of the Daily Express, left the family to live with (and eventually to marry and have a family with) his secretary. What Christiansen describes in his book is the fall
Using Medea and Macbeth as analogies for his parents’ story suggests a melodramatic strain in the author’s make-up out from this act of betrayal. The subtitle includes ‘love’, which must refer to the son’s love for his mother. Time’s arrow, travelling in the one direction, means that sons have the advantage over their fathers (when was the last noholds-barred memoir by a father of his son?) and, as a rule, generally being dead, fathers have no right to reply. Here, so strong is the son’s sympathy for his mother and contempt for his father that the reader longs to hear the other side of the story. But after his parents’ divorce Christiansen never saw his father, and did not attempt to make contact in later life (Michael Christiansen died in 1984). It makes for the odd silence at the heart of the book. ‘It is as though I have locked a granite door,’ writes Christiansen in the midst of a rich paragraph of similes and metaphors emphasising the fact. At the same time it is the picture of an eccentric, engaging man that emerges through the words of the father’s contemporaries. As editor of the Daily Mirror he hired John Pilger, tireless apologist for any enemy of the West, on the grounds that he was Australian and likely to be a useful spin bowler. While maintaining that he did not seek his father out because he ‘didn’t care’, it is obvious that Christiansen has been burdened all his life (‘a knapsack of unfinished business’) by the mystery of why his father left so apparently wonderful a wife as Kathryn Lyon. And although he does his objective best to qualify his passion for this undoubtedly characterful woman, he sees no grey area, no possibility that his
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
father’s actions may have been understandable if not forgivable. Towards the end of the book he writes: ‘I don’t know of anyone in comparable middle-class peace-time circumstances who did what my father did.’ Although leaving your wife with a baby and a four-yearold child is undoubtedly deplorable and rare, this is a shade hyperbolic and rather unworldly. There is hyperbole, too, in the use of Medea and Macbeth as analogies for his parents’ story, which suggests a melodramatic strain in the author’s make-up. Too much opera perhaps? It is cruel to be flip, however, because quite clearly this knapsack has weighed a ton, and this book’s failure to unpack it (admitted by the author) leaves the reader saddened on Christiansen’s behalf, hopeful that he can shed his load and indeed ‘move on’. I Know You’re Going to be Happy is a love song to the author’s mother. He blames his father (and the conformists of the muchloathed Petts Wood, the model 1920s garden suburb in which Christiansen was brought up) for the miseries of his mother’s subsequent life. Christiansen believes she died in something like despair, and this book, which, given its brevity, takes a long time to deliver, does, in the end, make his heartbreak evident. Nonetheless, the unsettling feeling remains that this is an opera short of one important aria.
A most uncivil war Stig Abell The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor HarperCollins. £14.99, pp. 474, ISBN 9780007213511
Raymond Chandler once said that ‘the detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels.’ This holds true for genre writing generally. Historical fictions, like murder mysteries, can often be dismissed as the thoughtless product of the hack, not the artist. For every ‘good specimen’ (and one might nominate Gore Vidal and Hilary Mantel as practitioners of this art), there are shelves groaning with the mediocre, the outright bad, and even the so-bad-it-is-good (Dennis Wheatley). Andrew Taylor, an expert in the realm of murder and mystery fiction (he reviews crime novels for this magazine), must know the potential pitfalls. The Scent of Death is a triumph of genre plotting: a detective story, and a piece of period writing that excites and surprises in equal measure. The success of historical detective fiction rests largely on the choice of period
and detective. Taylor has been wise in both respects. His story begins in New York on 2 August 1778, during the ‘strange and unnecessary’ American War of Independence. Fresh off the boat from England to a city effectively under siege by ‘rebels’ is Edward Savill, a civil servant from the American Department, whose brief — to ‘report on the administration of justice in the city in all its aspects’ — places him in a convenient position to investigate any suspicious murders that might occur during his stay. He is presented with a case immediately: the murder of a man connected to his host’s family (the ancient Judge Wintour, his come-hither daughter-in-law Arabella, and her flighty husband Jack), who may hold the secret to a mystery embodied in a ‘box of curiosities’ that everyone seems keen to
A mysterious box leads us to buried treasure, a burned-out slave plantation and a family quarrel get their hands on. This box is what Alfred Hitchcock called a ‘MacGuffin’, a helpful plot device that gives something dramatic for each character to chase. It leads us to buried treasure, a burned-out slave plantation and a family squabble over castration and miscegenation. This is all set against the backdrop of a civil war that has turned New York and its environs into an apocalyptic wasteland. Many passages are shocking in their depiction of ‘a scene that might have come from the last days of the world’. Outside the city centre is the ‘Debatable Ground’ (an area that could have been imagined by J.G. Ballard, fought over by roving gangs), and inside there is the ‘heaving, shouting, stinking mass of humanity’ of a crammed, starving population who lived ‘like wild animals, without rights, without shelter and, worst of all, without hope’. It will be clear that Taylor is not afraid of unsubtle phrasing. Some of the novel’s momentum comes from the old Victorian trick of ‘curtain lines’ which end each chapter with something enticing (‘I admitted the truth to myself: I was in love with Mrs Arabella Wintour’), and brief chapter openings that impel one onward (‘I took out the axe. The edge of the blade glinted in the moonlight’). There is something admirably professional about this sort of writing. And not only because of the pains taken to get the period right. Taylor also recognises that successful page-turners — those true specimens of Chandler’s art — come from the author removing himself from view and simply concentrating on telling a story that keeps readers interested to the end. In this respect, The Scent of Death undoubtedly and thrillingly succeeds.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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All is not lost
Phyllida Law has a delightfully natural style, a gift for anecdote and the knack of seeing the funny side of pretty much everything. She’s a good actor: she’s obviously a fine cook, too, if the recipes in How Many Camels Are There in Holland? Dementia, Ma and Me (Fourth Estate, £12.99) are anything to go by. Also included are a series of her lovely watercolour sketches, of Tuscan villas, Christmas stockings, her mother asleep. Is there nothing the woman can’t do? Someone so accomplished could write a book about their weekly trip to the supermarket and make it highly amusing. A volume about her mother’s decline into dementia is hardly a more promising proposition, yet this is a funny, brave and heartening volume. Concealed within its whimsy is much sadness and also an important truth: that the people we love can still be very fully themselves, even when memory and recognition and language fail. Law’s mother is slightly monstrous, secretive, sometimes commanding, often exasperating. She is also plucky, resourceful, hilarious and full of brio. In other words, Alzheimer’s can’t knock the character out of her. As more and more of us encounter this ghastly affliction, we need guide books. If Oliver James’s excellent Contented Dementia is the Michelin, then this is a useful companion volume. Neither of these books present doom and gloom. Law quotes Alice Thomas Ellis: ‘I make it my business to be happy. Life is bloody awful enough without being unhappy.’ — Cressida Connolly 45
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Ugandan discussions: Gavin Creel (Elder Price) and Jared Gertner (Elder Cuningham) in ‘The Book of Mormon’
Unholy alliance Robert Gore-Langton on putting God into musicals
itchhiking through Salt Lake City as a student in 1976, I asked a local man, who was out shopping, directions to the nearest Salvation Army hostel. Rightly assuming I was down on my uppers, the man gave me his huge bag of groceries and walked off with a ‘bless you’. Say what you like about them, Mormons in my book are lovely. In several days spent in the most boring city on earth, I never met a nasty one. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now the subject of the much-hyped The Book of Mormon, which is finally about to open in the West End after a year of total triumph on Broadway. Its creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are the men behind South Park, the scatological, cynical, badly drawn but addictively funny TV cartoon series that has been polluting young viewers’ minds since the Nineties. Their musical is about missionaries — Elders — in Uganda. New York critics have been dribbling with pleasure at a show that rips the Michael out of both Mormons and Disney’s blithely happy The Lion King. In this new show the cast of missionised Africans sing ‘We haven’t had rain for several days/80 per cent of us have Aids’ and their big number is ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ which — to the Elders’ horror — translates as ‘Fuck you, God’.
There is apparently nothing modern about the score. The writers have stated that they wanted to deliver a good old-fashioned musical in the Broadway tradition and fully acknowledge their debt to Rodgers and Hammerstein, the duo that paved the way for the Bible (if not Mormonism) in their 1945 musical Carousel, which is partly set in heaven’s waiting-room, run by bossy angelic officials. Whatever you think of the twinkly heavenly bits, the music in Carousel is legendary. Irving Berlin said that ‘You’ll Never
Hair’s combination of pacifism and pubes caused outrage at the time Walk Alone’ (Liverpool FC’s anthem) had the same spiritual effect on him as the 23rd Psalm. A specifically Christian faith — albeit coated in marzipan — looms much larger in The Sound of Music with its crooning nuns, cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels. But as I far as I know nobody thought of putting Jesus himself into a musical until the Sixties. It had to happen. Jesus was everywhere back then, a hippie guru for the age. Every other band covered the song ‘Jesus Is Just Alright’ and Simon and Garfunkel’s number ‘Mrs Robinson’ — ‘Jesus loves you
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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more than you will know wo wo wo’ — was the late Sixties distilled. The summer of love in 1967 bequeathed us the musical Hair, the show that ushered in the ‘Age of Aquarius’ and called itself ‘a tribal love rock be-in’. It featured a famous nude scene and surely the best original rock score ever produced for the theatre. Its combination of pacifism and pubes caused outrage at the time. But a London revival three years ago seemed to me discernibly religious — in a Native American sky spirit sort of way. Its cast were bickering disciples who rejoiced in a mood that was as pro-peace and love as it was anti-shampoo: ‘My hair like Jesus wore it, hallelujah I adore it’ as the title song goes. But in Britain, the Bible as a source of musical hits has prep-school origins. Fortyfive years ago this month, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was staged to parents and boys at Colet Court, Hammersmith. That 15-minute gig by the young Rice and Lloyd Webber (the latter’s brother Julian was still at the school) went down so well that it was repeated at Westminster Central Hall where Bill Lloyd Webber, the composer’s dad, was organist. It became an album and then a show. When the pair devised a different New Testament musical, no one would stage it. 47
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So they released the record of Jesus Christ Superstar. Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan sang the part of Jesus in an orgy of screeching vocal fabulousness. The double LP was massive in the States and the biggest selling album of 1971, beating Led Zeppelin IV, Sticky Fingers and Imagine. Bible rock was well and truly born. But its cast of longhaired scruffs was too much for the Beeb, which declared it ‘sacrilegious’ (a word it would now use only in defence of Islam), seemingly unaware of the show’s sincere, unmocking tone in depicting the last week of Christ’s life. The story goes that Dmitri Shostakovich went to see the show while in London for the première of his 15th symphony. He was so excited he went back the next night and confessed that if it hadn’t been for Stalin he’d have had a crack at something similar. Jesus Christ Commissar? Godspell, an American phenomenon, was another huge musical hit, played in London by David Essex in big braces and a Superman logo on his shirt. It was advertised as being based on the Gospel According to St Matthew, which was true. ‘Day by Day’ was the show’s home-grown hymn (the songs were by Stephen Schwartz, who later went on to write the flop Bible show Children of Eden) and it overlapped in the West End with Jesus Christ Superstar. As a schoolboy I was taken by a dutiful godfather and can remember David Essex (Jesus) but not Jeremy Irons, also in the cast. Looking back, the show was a gift to godparents and trendy vicars alike. It had a touch of the Cliff Richards and I now wish my godfather had taken me to JC Superstar instead. It was by far the cooler event. By the time Godspell was an established West End hit, the rock bus had left it way behind. In 1972 at least two dozen of the best albums in the history of music came out. The Godspell cast album wasn’t one of them. As a satirical show, The Book of Mormon has supplied itself with a barn door of a target, although its creators claim it is a love letter as much as anything else. They certainly hate the neo-atheist Richard Dawkins, who was once derided in South Park as a snooty intellectual whinger. As Matt Stone puts it in a book published to go with his show: ‘I’m not convinced that truth is the most important thing in the world. Humans tell stories — that’s what happens. I don’t get Dawkins’s trip.’ The Mormon Church seems to have taken the mockery of its most sacred text on the chin, typically regarding it as an evangelising opportunity, taking ads out in theatre programmes: ‘You’ve seen The Book of Mormon, now read the real thing!’ As I said, Mormons are nothing if not a positive and smiley lot. The Book of Mormon is currently previewing at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London. 48
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Music Guiding light Damian Thompson I’ve just been reunited with a man whose pungent and patronising views on great composers have haunted me for more than 30 years. His name is Gervase Hughes, and I’ve discovered from Wikipedia that he was an upmarket travel agent who died in 1984. I had no idea, because I knew him only through his book Fifty Famous Composers, published as a Pan paperback in 1972, which mentions his short career as an opera conductor but not his main source of income, which was apparently ‘offering European tours in Rolls-Royce cars’. I lent Fifty Famous Composers (an expanded edition of The Pan Book of Great Composers, 1964) to a friend when I was at university, explaining that it was the wittiest and wisest introduction to the classical canon ever written. He promptly lost it. I was cross, but in a sense it didn’t matter. As a teenager I’d read and reread Hughes’s 50 penportraits of composers so often that I knew his judgments by heart. I’m sure I passed some of them off as my own, too, since Fifty Famous Composers is a magnificent bluffer’s guide. That’s no bad thing. Young people rushing to learn about a subject need readymade opinions to serve up in a hurry. And, my goodness, Gervase Hughes had some beauties in his collection. Thanks to AbeBooks.co.uk, miraculous reuniters of lost titles with their owners, I now possess a copy of Fifty Famous Composers again and can quote the exact words. Here’s an observation on late Beethoven: Harsh music remains harsh no matter who put his name to it. Rather therefore than pay the customary lip-service to these extraordinary works (for their mysterious profundity, ethereal grandeur, inspired anticipation of the methods of Béla Bartók, etc.) let us recognise and accept that they are in parts roughedged and excuse it by recalling that they were put to paper at a time when Beethoven had become stone-deaf: it is significant that alongside passages of almost divine beauty are some which in theory ought to sound well but in practice don’t . . .
Looks better on the stave than it sounds to the ear — what a clever snippet to produce, Stephen Potter Oneupmanship-style, should the subject of Beethoven crop up at a dinner party. On reflection, I don’t agree with Hughes: Beethoven knew just how harsh the dissonances of the vivace movement of his last string quartet Op. 135 would sound. But I’d read Fifty Famous Composers long before I heard the music. So much of my early listening involved testing Hughes’s verdicts — and, more often than not, he nails it. On Mendelssohn, for example: The attempts to evoke atmosphere à la Weber usually have a touch of artificiality about them — not that they are necessarily for that reason any less effective in their context. The fairy music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is captivating, but it suggests not so much fairies as a well-drilled troupe of dainty ballerinas.
Some of Hughes’s little asides have the quality of ear-worms: ‘Camille Saint-Saëns complained of Franck’s Prelude, chorale and fugue that the chorale wasn’t a chorale and the fugue wasn’t a fugue. He could hardly deny him the right to call his first movement a prelude.’ The gentle defence of composers such as Franck, who were dismissed by musical sophisticates in the middle of the 20th century, is one of the delights of Fifty Famous Composers. In the case of Bruckner, the defence is more than gentle — it’s magnificent: Ill-wishers chose to make out that this most worthy fellow was little better than a village idiot, but village idiots do not write symphonies which posterity acclaims as masterpieces, and so the unworldly Bruckner has the last laugh over spiteful sniggerers.
Before I read that, I’d been got at by a music teacher who was definitely a sniggerer. Hughes persuaded me to listen with open ears — and, since Bruckner is now my favourite symphonist, changed my life. On the other hand, as I said earlier, some of his judgments are patronising — but that doesn’t make them wrong. Grieg was ‘par excellence a composer for middlebrows’, he writes; in Liszt the flame of genius, ‘though often flickering, nevertheless shone brightly enough to light the stairway to the mastermusicians’ gallery’. So far as I know, there is no beginners’ guide to great composers currently in print that matches Gervase Hughes for frankness, nuance and elegance of writing: if there were, perhaps Britain wouldn’t suffer from astonishing levels of musical illiteracy even among young musicians. I’ve just checked AbeBooks.co.uk: they have ten copies of Fifty Famous Composers in stock and eight of The Pan Book of Great Composers. Grab one if you possibly can. the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Musée Bonnat-Helleu, Bayonne © RMN-Grand Palais / Daniel Arnaudet
Exhibitions Master of process Andrew Lambirth Barocci: Brilliance and Grace National Gallery, until 19 May Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch National Gallery, until 28 April
The press release blithely informs us that Federico Barocci (1535–1612) is ‘beloved by artists and art historians throughout the ages’, but I must beg to differ. Not by me, nor by any of my considerable range of friends and acquaintances in both fields, has he been loved or even much known. Barocci is one of those artists who has slipped under the general radar, partly, I suspect, because his work often looks like a sweet and sentimentalised version of Raphael. Raphael is a great genius, but there are a number of paintings by him I find hard to take, particularly when he descends to sickly emotionalism. Barocci seems to take this path quite a few steps further, which is probably why my eye has slid quickly across his work, and silently edited him out of my personal pantheon. But this is clearly a mistake, as this substantial exhibition, supported by the Joseph F. McCrindle Foundation, demonstrates. I still don’t like many of his paintings, but the drawings and studies are an absolute revelation. Barocci was a master of process, not only drawing in pastel and chalk, ink and wash, but also pioneering the oil sketch long before it became an accepted artistic practice. There are more than 65 preparatory drawings and studies in this show, and in nearly every case they outshine the finished works. Room 1 in this Sainsbury Wing exhibition is dominated by a painting of the Immaculate Conception (1574–5) that is certainly full of life and movement but which is too saccharine in colour for my taste. More interesting are the nude studies of the girl modelling for the Virgin Mary, which Barocci made to get the body to look right beneath the robes. He took enormous pains and was nothing if not thorough in his researches. Compare the compositional studies for the ‘Madonna of the Cat’, also in this first room. There’s a dynamic ink and chalk study and then a more finished one in red and black chalk made after the painting was finished, to be sent to Cornelis Cort in Rome as a scale model for an engraving. (A copy of Cort’s print hangs next to it.) The opportunities for comparison afforded by this exhibition are extensive. When I first stepped into Room 2, I thought ‘The Entombment’ altarpiece (1579-82) was less interesting than the wealth of studies for it (the oil sketches of the heads are truly remarkable), but look-
‘Head Study for Mary Magdalen’ by Federico Barocci ing at the sketches brought me back to the painting with renewed appreciation. And as I sat in front of it, I began to recognise its striking originality. Barocci was adept at suggesting movement in his compositions (in this he anticipated the Baroque painters of the following century), while in the figure of the sorrowing Magdalene he created a character of great and compelling humanity.
He pioneered the oil sketch long before it became an accepted artistic practice His portrayal of her is almost oblique: she is depicted from the side and back, but she is the anchor, formally and emotionally, of this most affecting painting. Room 3, apart from an affectionate red and black chalk drawing of a cat, left me unmoved, and the big paintings in the main gallery, Room 4, don’t convince me either. More intriguing is the experimental distemper painting of ‘St Francis Receiving the Stigmata’, ethereal and mysterious, halfway
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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between painting and drawing. The double display of drawings and studies down the centre of the room is infinitely preferable to the finished canvases. These capture both the eye and the heart, particularly a study in pen and brown ink with grey and black oil paint for the ‘Institution of the Eucharist’. Here, too, is a marvellously drawn ‘Head of Anchises’ in chalk and pastel on blue paper. Room 5 contains one painting and a dozen drawings and again I recommend concentrating on the drawings, especially the two oil studies for the head of St Joseph. Room 6 contains three exquisite mixed-media drawings of trees, which anticipate Rubens, and which seem to have been made for the fun of it, rather than as preparatory studies for a painting. The portraits here are disappointing, except for a small unsparing self-portrait that is hauntingly melancholic. Barocci was clearly a man in advance of his time, technically fascinating, who united colour and drawing in original ways. Meanwhile in Room 1 of the NG’s main 49
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building, is a superb display (admission free) that celebrates the oil sketch in its own right. Many of you will I hope remember the breathtakingly beautiful exhibition at the Tate back in 2002, called American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States. One of the stars of that show was Frederic Church (1826–1900), renowned for his vast panoramas of wild country, intriguingly lit and dramatically composed. Now we have a small but intense show of Church’s oil sketches. The 19th century was the great age of the plein-air oil sketch and Church, who made hundreds of such studies, is one of the form’s acknowledged masters. A great traveller and compulsive draughtsman, he almost never used watercolour but excelled at the swift oil notation in front of nature. Some were vigorously abbreviated and for his own use, while others were worked up for public exhibition. Many depicted his favourite moments of twilight and sunset
The real joy is the directness of the paint handling and its lasting freshness in the oil sketches and touched upon the numinous: Church achieved a remarkable range of expression without forfeiting spontaneity. Perhaps the most ambitious of the Hudson River School of landscape painters, Church is represented here by 27 small studies and one large painting — the only big oil by him in Britain: ‘Niagara Falls, from the American Side’ (1867), on loan from the Scottish National Gallery. Next to this impressive painting hangs a painted-over photograph of Niagara, a very modern-looking image, and quite a contrast to the other depictions of the Falls here. The real joy of this exhibition is the directness of the paint handling and its lasting freshness in the oil sketches. Look at the vibrant handling of snow in ‘Winter Twilight from Olana’ or the lovely free paintmarks and rose light in ‘Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl at Sunset’. The paint can be luscious or subtle (note the brilliant detail in ‘Obersee, Germany’), but the subject is rarely without drama. The trio of iceberg studies is particularly good: the central painting with golden light on its topmost tip is magical. And there are a couple of studies of Jamaica that really need to be seen. Every landscape painter in the country should visit this show — and anyone else who glories in the free and evocative use of oil paint. With this exhibition joining Lichtenstein at the Tate and George Bellows at the Royal Academy, it might with justification be said that we are in for an American Spring — and no bad thing too. Andrew Lambirth’s A is a Critic: writings from The Spectator, published by Unicorn Press, is available from www.spectator. co.uk/lambirth at the special price of £9.99 (plus p&p).
Modesty intact: ‘Gypsy’, 1911, by Kees van Dongen
Free spirits Laura Gascoigne Bohemian Lights: Artists, Gypsies and the Definitition of the Modern World Fundación MAPFRE Madrid, until 5 May
‘Gypsies seem to have been born into the world for the sole purpose of being thieves,’ Cervantes begins his story of The Little Gypsy Girl. ‘They are born of thieving parents, they are brought up with thieves, they study in order to be thieves, and they end up as past masters in the art of thieving.’ But despite their thieving reputation, the bands of gypsy travellers who appeared in western Europe in the 1420s — from Egypt thought the English, from Bohemia thought the French — were a source of fascination. They came and went like the wind, they predicted the future and their costumes and dancing were the definition of exotic. Their appeal to artists was irresistible. They were painted by Caravaggio, Hals and de la Tour, and in 1621 Jacques Callot — who, legend had it, ran away aged 12 with a band of gypsies to Florence — recorded their free and easy lifestyle
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in a series of prints, warning, ‘You who take pleasure in their words, watch out for your linen, your silver and your pistols.’ Callot’s etchings are the earliest images in Bohemian Lights, the Spanish edition of an exhibition that recently arrived at the MAPFRE Foundation in Madrid from the Grand Palais in Paris. The show’s argument is an appealing one: that the modern myth of the artist as bohemian genius evolved out of the romantic idea of the gypsy as free spirit. In the 18th century, we see French and English painters still treating gypsies as exotic outsiders: fortune-tellers to fashionable ladies in the case of Watteau, picturesque wanderers on the earth in the case of Gainsborough. The revolution in perception comes with Courbet, who proclaims in 1853: ‘In our overcivilised society, I must lead the life of a savage . . . the great, wandering, and independent life of the gypsy.’ His largerthan-life ‘Gypsy Woman and her Children’, painted that year, foreshadows socialist realism: heroic figures burdened with bundles and babies, so close to the picture plane they’re almost in the room. A few years earlier, the writer Henri Murger had crystallised the urban myth of 51
BOOKS & ARTS Musee d’Orsay, Paris
Theatre Magnificent Mirren Lloyd Evans
‘The Caravans, Gypsy Camp near Arles’, 1888, by Vincent van Gogh
The Audience Gielgud, until 15 June Making Dickie Happy Tristan Bates, until 30 March
bohemian Paris in his semi-autobiographical Scènes de la vie de bohème. But Murger (who died in penury aged 39) also cultivated the rural myth of a return to nature, settling in the 1850s in the artist’s colony of Barbizon, where painters like Corot were busy projecting a Shakespearean vision of Arden on to the forest of Fontainebleau. By the time Corot painted his ‘Gypsy with a Tambourine’ (c.1865) — looking more like a resting Bacchante in her Roman tunic and circlet of leaves — Barbizon was a tourist destination for Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie. For authentic gypsy life, artists had to travel to Spain. Manet, who made the pilgrimage in 1865, painted a grubby-fingered Murilloesque urchin drinking from a pitcher (he claimed only to like Murillo’s urchins when they were ‘lousy’). Sargent escaped the ‘pimp’s profession’ of portraiture to Seville, where the nocturnal glamour of his ‘Spanish Dance’ (1879–80) contrasts with the dayto-day reality of his ‘Gypsy Encampment’ (1912–13), with its woman weaving a basket while her man opens a mule’s mouth to inspect its teeth. Gypsy men, for obvious reasons, get less attention from artists than gypsy women. Courbet’s so-called ‘Gypsy in Reflection’ (1869) is a raven-haired temptress with half a nipple peeping out from her slipping chemise. Henri Regnault — who spent 1869 with a gypsy family, telling his brother, ‘I’ve finally found a people that understands me’ — has his dancer stripped to the waist for flamenco practice. Kees van Dongen’s ‘Gypsy’ (1911) keeps her modesty and her mystique behind a door held tantalisingly ajar with long red nails. In matters of gypsy dress, the Spaniards lead. Goya set a trend by painting himself in the embroidered jacket and black hat of a majo dandy, but Hermenegil52
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do Anglada-Camarasa’s posturing ‘Andares Gitanos’ (1902) in their sumptuous flamenco costumes — Klimt crossed with Lautrec — look strangely like drag queens. By the standards of the Spanish gypsy woman, the plumage of the Parisian bohemian male is disappointingly drab. The artist heroes of the second half of the show lead sartorially colourless lives in dingy garrets. Santiago Rusiñol’s Ramón Canudas worships at an open woodburner with a blanket on his knees; Degas’s Desboutin scratches away at an etching plate in semi-darkness with a dead pigeon on the table behind. Dinner or subject? Possibly both. Less gifted artists push the stereotype to the brink of absurdity, as Louis Gallait’s ‘Art & Lib-
By the standards of the Spanish gypsy woman, the plumage of the Parisian bohemian male is disappointingly drab erty’ (1849) descends into Jules Blin’s ‘Art, Misery, Desperation, Madness’ (1880). The comic potential, meanwhile, is exploited by Daumier in a series of satirical lithographs. One captioned ‘Wood is expensive and the arts aren’t going well’ shows two artists jitterbugging in a studio to fend off frostbite — flamenco it ain’t. In a Spanish coda to the exhibition, we see the Montmartre model being exported to Barcelona by the young Picasso, his brilliant draughtsmanship surviving on scraps of paper with large bites taken out of them, either by rats or starving artists. Picasso completed the modernisation of the artist’s image begun by Goya. As to the modernisation of art, visitors to MAPFRE can follow that development in a parallel exhibition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay.
Peter Morgan has extracted more cash from the royal ‘brand’ than the Buckingham Palace giftshop. He’s at it again with The Audience, a fictional dramatisation of the weekly conversations between the Queen and her first ministers. This is a smart idea carried off with intelligence and plenty of style. Morgan dispenses with a linear parade of PMs and leaps to and fro across the decades. A youthful Harold Wilson bustles in full of self-confidence and jokes. The Queen takes to him immediately. Barely ten years later, the Yorkshireman has dwindled into a broken figure and his legendary memory is fading fast. But as he shrinks, the bond of affection between himself and the monarch grows. It’s one of the play’s few attempts at emotional depth. Elsewhere, Morgan prefers to lay on crowd-pleasing gags, at the cost of authenticity. It’s hard to believe that Her Majesty would tittle-tattle about the Blairs arriving at Balmoral in ‘spanking new tweeds’, with the price tags still attached. Haydn Gwynne, as a coldly sinuous Mrs Thatcher, rages a little too stridently about political leaks that suggest royal disapproval of her social reforms. Nathaniel Parker gives us the comic-book Gordon Brown, fidgeting and picking obsessively at the rind of his fingernails. It’s hardly subtle but it strikes a tremendous chord. The excellent Michael Elwyn offers an unexpected snapshot of a distracted, pillpopping Anthony Eden. And Paul Ritter’s cringing, self-pitying John Major breaks into tears as he confesses his feeble tally of O-levels to the Queen. ‘What fine hands the country is in,’ she says tartly. Helen Mirren’s assurance and tranquillity throw some light on the Queen’s inner resilience and on the loneliness of the monarch’s job. The on-stage costume changes remind us that she’s obliged to keep the act going even when, technically, she’s in her own sitting-room. A captivating performance from Mirren can’t entirely banish the suspicion that this is a glittering array of high-quality political sketches. It’s the Mike Yarwood show with Oscar-level talent. A great night out, certainly. A hit, undoubtedly. But a drama? Not quite. More royal impersonations at the Tristan Bates. Jeremy Kingston’s comedy, Making Dickie Happy, is set in the 1920s on Burgh Island in south Devon where Noël Coward, Agatha Christie and Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten are ensconced in the same hotel.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Win tickets to see the National Theatre’s West End production of Untold Stories
Damned by Despair
e are giving away one pair of tickets to see Untold Stories in the West End!
The National Theatre production of Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories, featuring the two autobiographical recollections Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, transfers to the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End from 22 March 2013. Hailed as a ‘delectable double bill of short autobiographical pieces’, Untold Stories is a funny and touching portrait of Alan Bennett and the life he’s led. Hymn is an exquisite, beautifully written memoir of music in childhood, directed by Nadia Fall and with an evocative score by George Fenton, performed by a string quartet. Cocktail Sticks, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is Alan Bennett’s funny and tender reflection on his parents’ desire for a different life. Featuring a cast of 10 actors and musicians, lead by Olivier-Award winning Alex Jennings. National Theatre Associate Alex Jennings’ many appearances at the National include Collaborators, The Habit of Art, Present Laughter, The Alchemist, Stuff Happens, His Girl Friday, The Relapse and The Winter’s Tale (for which two roles he won the 2001 Evening Standard Award for Best Actor), Albert Speer and My Fair Lady at Drury Lane (Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical). For your chance to win a pair of tickets to Untold Stories, simply email your name, address and phone number, by 25 March 2013, to: firstname.lastname@example.org with Untold Stories in the ‘Subject’ line. Untold Stories runs from Friday 22 March until Saturday 15 June 2013. To book tickets or for more information please visit: untoldstorieswestend.co.uk Box Office Tel: 020 7452 3000 Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, London WC2 Terms and conditions: 1. The prize is as stated and there is no cash alternative to the prizes. 2. The prize is non-transferable and non-refundable. 3. The prize is a pair of tickets to see Untold Stories at the Duchess Theatre. 4. Proof of sending an email entry will not be deemed as proof of receipt. 5. All entries must be received by 25 March 2013. 6. The winners will be selected at random from all the entries received. 7. Prize draw only open to entrants aged 18 years and over. 8. Normal Spectator rules apply at all times. 9. No purchase necessary. 10. The judge’s decision is final in all matters. 11. The winner will be notified by 26 March 2013. 12. By entering the prize draw you consent to receiving communications from The Spectator (1828) Ltd. 13. Tickets valid for Monday – Thursday performances until 30 April 2013, subject to availability. 14. Winning tickets will be reserved for collection at theatre box office. 15. The promoter (AKA) reserves the right to substitute prize for that of equal or greater value if necessary. 16. This offer is at the discretion of the promoter (AKA) and can be withdrawn at any time. 17. Travel, accommodation and expenses not included.
BOOKS & ARTS johan persson
ed as sexual rivals. During an early conversation with Agatha Christie he advises her to ‘take a stroll along the cliff-edge in a high wind’. No hint of selfreproach tempers this lacerating putdown. Kingston’s script has little narrative momentum or development. A deliberate choice. His witty, acerbic drawing-room chatter moves around in languid, naturalistic circles. This allows his expert portraiture to shine through, bright and sharp. Dickie is a particular triumph. A cold, anxious charmer, Dickie was obsessed with his royal pedigree. And he’d vowed to correct the injustice done to his father who, in 1914, had been dismissed as First Sea Lord for the crime of sporting a German surname. He was also terrified of marryOscar-level talent: Helen Mirren as the Queen ing the sexually voracious Edwina. ‘Never mind the first-night reviews,’ drawls Elements of the story are true. Dickie Coward unhelpfully, ‘she’ll expect a long suggested to Agatha Christie the final twist run.’ This unsympathetic sketch of the parin The Murder of Roger Ackroyd where the anoid Dickie is done with calculated flair storyteller turns out to be the killer. This by James Phelips. And Helen Duff brings snippet of documentary realism is the start- shrewdness and a sexy inscrutability to ing point for a vivid, intriguing portrait of Agatha Christie. She’s one to watch. upper-class homosexuality before the second world war. Kingston’s drama suggests that Dickie, and his friend the future Edward VIII, belonged to an international colony of in-the-closet gay men whom dynastic duty, rather than lust, propelled up the aisle on the arm of their heir-conditioned brides. Noël Coward existed at the fringes of this camp crew and his beguiling personality Written on Skin dominates the action. The snag with play- Royal Opera House, in rep until 22 March ing Coward is that every actor can ‘do’ Noël. Those clipped, flinty tones (developed in Tosca childhood to penetrate his mother’s dysfunc- Royal Opera House, in rep until 26 March tional hearing) are a staple of the backstage repertoire. So a full-scale impersonation of George Benjamin’s Written on Skin is a the Master is fraught with danger. Too much work of compelling fascination, all the more ‘Noël’ and it becomes tedious, grating and so in that it is elusive and possibly wilfully shallow. Too little and it cuts against your puzzling. I want to see it again as soon as possible, and of how many new operas can expectations. A smart young actor called Phineas Pett that be said? Actually, of three that have (yes, that’s his real name) manages to avoid been premièred at the Royal Opera in the the pitfalls and to give a well-rounded and past decade — Adès’s The Tempest, Birtwisnon-irritating portrait of the exuberant wag. tle’s The Minotaur and now this, though it He bears a handy resemblance to the real has already been performed in Europe. thing too. He gets Coward’s charm, his ver- Three apparent masterpieces of opera from bal inventiveness and his almost extra-ter- England in a decade is impressive, indeed restrial self-confidence. And he sprinkles unprecedented. And they are all quite difthe confection with magical touches of com- ferent, with Skin being the most opaque, edy. Nor does he stint on Coward’s blatant though the experience of sitting through it, hostility towards women whom he regard- just over an hour and a half, mercifully with-
Opera Sins of the flesh Michael Tanner
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out an interval, may be the most intense. The text by Martin Crimp should be read first, not because the words aren’t easy to hear — Benjamin makes sure in his orchestration of that — but because, although the language is lucid, there is so much going on. The action takes place eight centuries ago, but it is told from the point of view of the present, and the characters, primarily the Boy, the Protector and his wife Agnès, frequently include the narrative device of ‘says the Boy’, etc., though I am not completely convinced that this adds to the piece as much as it confuses. The Boy is recruited to write for the Protector a celebration of his (the Protector’s) greatness, on skin; but things get complicated, and Agnès, intrigued with the Boy’s work, becomes more intrigued by the Boy, and they have a brief, extremely intense sexual relationship, the upshot of which is that the Protector murders the Boy and forces Agnès to eat his cooked heart, which she is delighted to do. That is the bare skeleton, if that, of the story. The performance is musically ideal, the composer conducting and the five singers all perfectly suited to their roles. The staging is more problematic. Vicki Mortimer’s designs were presumably worked out in collaboration with the director Katie Mitchell, who we know has a taste for elaboration. The set is divided into four parts on two levels. The left of the stage is some ghastly contemporary archive, with white strip lighting, where the chief characters get dressed and undressed, while archivists walk extremely slowly back and forth. After a bit I decided to devote my whole attention to the other side of the stage, a modest living-room of almost any period, and for Part 2 (of the three) a wood. Angels play a more decisive role than I have indicated, but their function here is even less clear than in Rilke’s poetry. What makes the experience of Skin so much more involving and thrilling than I have indicated is the quality of the music. For anyone who doesn’t know Benjamin’s music, I can only say that it is unlike anyone else’s, but that his admiration for Debussy’s Pelléas and Berg’s Wozzeck is clear, to Pelléas in the conversational intimacy of most of the singing, to Berg in the rare but immense and disturbing eruptions, when the world seems blown apart. Christopher Purves, one of the great operatic artists of the present, is the complicated and dangerous Protector; Barbara Hannigan is the unbelievably pure-voiced Agnès, though she manages still to convey the intensity and maturity of her feelings; and Bejun Mehta, for me the finest living counter-tenor, is the Boy, consummate in his acting and capable of expressing vocally a vast range of feeling. The two other Angels, who briefly double as the Protector’s in-laws, are on the same level, though there isn’t a lot for them to do: Victoria Simmonds and Allan Clayton. Anyone with the least interest in contemporary opera of other
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
than infantile minimalist varieties needs to see this while the chance is there. Puccini’s Tosca, which alternates with Skin in the Royal Opera’s current period, has been called very many things, often sharply hostile; but ‘dull’ has never been among them, until now. The blame resides mainly with Maurizio Benini, the conductor. He has managed to retain the sleazy lushness of Pappano’s brilliant conducting last summer, but has lost the momentum, so that what is usually the almost intolerable thrust of Act II is replaced by a series of discrete episodes, while Act I just disintegrates. The cast is not distinguished apart from the vile Scarpia of Michael Volle, which in a more exciting account of the score would rank with the most terrifying. He is so seedy that you can see the oil dripping from his filthy locks, and he has a superb voice for conveying all shades of menace. Amanda Echalaz, who has impressed me previously, was breathy and underpowered, her desperation in her scenes with Scarpia indistinguishable from her jealous tantrums with Cavaradossi. Not that this Cavaradossi would be worth wasting much adrenaline over. Though reasonably elegant of figure, Massimo Giordani is the generic Italian tenor, and no more. For once, the Royal Opera has let a revival lapse into routine.
Cinema Get a life Deborah Ross Welcome to the Punch 15, Nationwide
Welcome to the Punch is a British crime action thriller and here is why you may wish to see it: it is set in a night-time London so magnificently lit even I wanted to visit, and I live there. And now, ten reasons you can skip it, get on with your life and save 99 minutes, whether those minutes are precious or not. My time isn’t particularly precious, but it may be different for you. Here you are. 1. Although it has a top, top cast (James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough, David Morrissey) it only goes to prove the following old saying: the best cast in the world cannot save a poor script/story, try as they might. The fact I’ve just made up this old saying doesn’t make it any less true, for now or all time. 2. The basic plot: when criminal Jacob Sternwood (Strong) is forced to return to London because his son is involved in a heist gone wrong, a grimly determined detective, Max Lewinsky (McAvoy), sees it as the chance to nab the man who escaped his
Too sweet: James McAvoy as Lewinsky clutches three years earlier, and shot him in the leg. Max, whose leg sometimes plays up and sometimes doesn’t, depending on how much scenery he has to jump over, is one of those go-it-alone maverick cops as available, off the peg, from the Go It Alone Maverick
A CritiC’s ChoiCe 1950 – 2000 20 March – 19 April 2013
Monday - Friday 10.00-5.30 Saturday 11.00-2.00
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk Browse_spec_16.03.13_2.indd 1
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John Hoyland (1934 – 2011), Untitled, 10.8.76, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 30 inches
Selected by Andrew Lambirth
Browse & Darby 19 Cork Street London W1S 3LP Tel: 020 7734 7984
55 11/3/13 16:15:13
BOOKS & ARTS
Cop Shop (Oxford Street, just behind John Lewis). 3. Andrea Riseborough plays fellow cop, Sarah, who is also a Go It Alone Maverick Cop, perhaps because the Go It Alone Maverick Cop Shop sometimes does two-for-one offers. Beyond that, her role is limited, to say the least, and exists solely to serve the boys and all the macho action crap you’ve seen 45 billion times before. 4. A typical line from the script: ‘Bring him down this time, and bring him down hard.’ Another typical line from the script: ‘You disobeyed orders, now pay the price.’ It would not be unreasonable to decide against this film solely on those two typical lines from the script. 5. The action sequences in the film — motorbike chases, car chases, chases on foot — neither enhance nor drive forward the narrative and therefore, as well-directed, assured and slick as they may be, they are never any more than what they are: the chasey bits. 6. Set in the context of a Home Office and police force (as headed by Morrissey) intent on removing guns from London’s streets, the main characters actually manage to make guns look essential. And sexy. If the writer of this (Eran Creevy, who also directed) ever came to tea, I would have to ask him: what part of you could not understand that you can’t deplore gun violence on the one hand while bigging up guns as a brilliant way to maim and kill people on the other? As I don’t hold grudges, I would then offer cake. (Homemade, probably. I have the time.) 7. The basic story spins off into a complex, convoluted tale taking in police corruption and a gun-running operation yet lacks such clarity that, just moments before the end, during a rooftop shoot-out scene, McAvoy is forced to deliver a big chunk of exposition. He’s in a kill or be killed situation, so you’d think he’d have other things on his mind, but there you have it. 8. It’s all a bit of a walk in the park for Mark Strong, whose Sternwood doesn’t actually do very much, and doesn’t add up to much. He is simply one of those bad guys who turns out to have his own warped moral code, as available off the peg from The Bad Guy With The Warped Moral Code Shop, which is also on Oxford Street, but the other end, just past Selfridges, before you get to Marble Arch. 9. Why make famous non-Cockney actors like McAvoy, Riseborough and Morrissey talk all Cockney? Just what is the point? (I would possibly also raise this with Creevy, but after cake, so he’s had a bit of a break.) 10. As a rule, I love James McAvoy with all my heart, but he just isn’t cut out to be a scowling, hardened action hero. Too sweet, too downy, never sufficiently unreconstructed enough. I always want to pet him. But if you wish to see a beautifully lit London at night-time? Go for it. 56
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Television Good impressions Clarissa Tan What would you do if you had a quite extraordinary talent in impersonating everyone, from Al Pacino to Barack Obama to just any random Irish bloke? In TV land, you are probably rather baffled by it all, and unsure what to do about it as you languish in an unfulfilling half-life, until a Series of Events comes along to show you what a gift you have. This is what happens to The Mimic’s Martin Hurdle, whom we first encounter in his car stuck in traffic, entertaining himself by putting on the voice of Terry Wogan, true to it in texture and timbre, if not in spirit (‘It’s mornings like this, that I wish I was back in Phuket, bouncing a ladyboy on each knee!’). Martin, played in Channel 4’s new series (Wednesday) by impersonator Terry Mynott, works as a maintenance man in a dead-end job, and has been doing so for seven years. But all this is about to change, because Martin has been contacted by his 18-year-old half-black son Steven, whom he has never met. Steven is the product of a five-month relationship with Dionne, but Dionne never saw fit to tell Martin about his child, because she learnt about her pregnancy only after they had broken up. In the first three halfhour episodes, we see how Steven gradually convinces his newfound dad that his talent for mimicry can lead to better things and more money. In a sense, The Mimic works in the tradition of shows like the American series Monk, or any other programme where the main character has a notable or quirky trait (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, mathematical genius, etc.) which he uses for his own good and that of others. But The Mimic is not a crime-solving drama, it is a gentle comedy, which means it doesn’t have the natural drive or sense of resolution afforded by a whodunnit. The plot in the first two episodes moves on apace, what with Martin and Steven going for a DNA test and us being introduced to the various elements of the mimic’s sorry, charming world. But there are signs of flag-
‘Don’t the stars make you feel small.’
ging by the third. Martin’s set pieces hang in a kind of limbo, neither propelling the story nor being particularly funny. There’s a scene where he pretends to be David Attenborough and leads a blind woman around the zoo, trying to describe to her what the various animals look like; there’s another where he’s Ian McKellen, ordering a shop assistant via the phone to stand up on his table and take off his top. Neither is hilarious. Mynott can mimic really well, but in a comedy series the amusement value also depends on context. So can Mynott, who starred in Channel 4’s impressionist showcase Very Important People, act? How does the mimic fare in creating a character from scratch? Pretty well, as it turns out. Mynott’s Martin is doleful, wistful, self-effacing. The impression he most wants to make is a good one on his son. He is a lovable loser. There are occasions where Martin’s moments of mimicry are almost too sharp and robust for his character, but perhaps that’ll be ironed out in time. BBC Four’s Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places (Thursday) has presenter Ifor ap Glyn taking the plunge at St Winifred’s Well, the healing pool in Wales. The site is said to be the source of many miracles, and Glyn even interviews a woman who says she was healed from a serious illness almost instantaneously on dipping herself in the sacred waters. This is in the second episode, which focuses on water; the first episode, on ruins, was less compelling. Britain’s most famous cathedral and church ruins were presented from mainly an architectural, political, even literary point of view. But there was little sense as to whether the ruin of a religious building captures the public’s imagination in a different way from, say, the ruins of Roman baths or English castles. It was the final episode of the first season of ITV’s Mr Selfridge on Sunday, and it did all a finale is supposed to do. No less a person than King Edward visits the store in Oxford Street, and there’s some action involving Harry Selfridge and the French window-dresser Henri Leclair, but of course this is a series all about women, at a time when they were coming into their own politically and financially. Each woman is cast as a certain female archetype whose role is often framed by her relationship to shopping. The sweet but unhappy Rose Selfridge is materially provided for by her retail magnate husband — who lends similar support to his string of mistresses. Expert eyebrow-archer Lady Mae, who came into money through sex and marriage, pours cash into the Selfridges enterprise and wants a say in its running. Agnes Towler, the in-house ingénue, fingers the silk scarves at the counter in wide-eyed awe, eventually able to afford a few for herself through hard work. The suffragettes hold protests across London, smashing shop windows. The show does deliver the goods.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
The drums roll, hollow and ominously persistent. Then come the trumpets, in a minor key, sepulchral, eerie, penetrating. ‘Just imagine,’ interrupts Donald Macleod, ‘the sense of shock mingled with a kind of disbelieving horror of those who performed that music in November 1695.’ Macleod was introducing his Composer of the Week, which as part of Radio 3’s Baroque Spring has been Purcell. It was a startling way to begin. Purcell was only 36 when he died, very suddenly, the cause unknown and variously suggested as TB, flu, or food poisoning — perhaps after eating some tainted chocolate. He had composed the music that was played at his funeral only eight months earlier, for the funeral of Queen Mary, which took place in the same venue, Westminster Abbey. The bathetic splendour of these ‘Funeral Sentences’ still commands our attention. To have five distinct hours dedicated to solid Purcell, as the epitome of English Baroque, is a treat only Radio 3 can offer. It’s taken years to perfect that fusion of conversation and music, creating programmes that get us thinking about the music, where the sound comes from, how it was written, when it was written, what was going on at the time. It’s like attending a mini-masterclass, but listening at home, as we chop the vegetables, our ears attuned, our minds taken elsewhere, and into Westminster Abbey as Purcell’s cortège was solemnly carried through the nave. By beginning with the end of his life, Macleod gave us a blast of pure Purcell, the full sensurround experience, before exploring in the rest of the week the key elements that make up his fabulous musical accomplishment — from that solemn, deeply moving religious music to the bawdiest of Restoration songs. Such versatility now seems astonishing. It would be as if Andrew Lloyd Webber could also come up with the resonating spirituality of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. Somehow in the west in the intervening three and a bit centuries we have lost the ability to take in the sacred and the secular at the same time, to be both intensely serious and extremely light-hearted, even rude, without loss of genius in either form. Perhaps this is something to do with the intensity of the moment. Purcell, explained Macleod, was writing music in very unstable times, as William and Mary took over the English throne (from the Catholic James II) and made certain of the Protestant ascendancy. This political, religious and social upheaval makes our current political tensions and social dilemmas seem like infant tantrums. It’s as if in his music, and whatever the
genre, Purcell had to make sure that everything was in its right place and that every note should count. There was also no division in his mind between writing for the Church, as part of his job (as organist of Westminster Abbey), and writing for the theatre, for the Court, or for his own amusement. His music is multilayered, embracing all these contrasts and confusions, yet it’s set within a framework that ensures balance, and harmonic equilibrium. You feel restored by what you hear, and enhanced to become more than yourself. Which is more, much more, than can be said after listening to the latest episodes of The Archers. If you’ve been lucky enough to miss out on the latest drama, there’s been yet another dramatic rush to intensive care. This time it was to Felpersham General, and, most alarmingly, by air ambulance, the sound of the chopper’s rotors echoing across the valley of the Am. No wonder the NHS is in such crisis: it’s being overworked by the natives of Ambridge. This time it’s Chris the blacksmith who’s fallen victim to the whims of the scriptwriters’ conference. He foolishly married outside his class, has been doomed ever since, and is now facing almost certain death after being hit in the chest by a feckless horse. As I write, though, Chris still lies suspended between soap heaven and hell while the rest of the Archer clan twiddles in disbelief. Will he, won’t he survive? It’s just not good for the blood pressure. You knew something bad was coming. Heavy hints were dropped. Chris and his wife Alice were quarrelling. She flies off to Canada looking for a job. He drives recklessly (which turns out to be a cruel feint). He goes to the Bull to get drunk. His Dad advises him to stop. The resident joker, Jazzer, takes him home and puts him to bed. He goes to work the next day, hammer and anvil at the ready. You keep on listening in awful anticipation, and gasp with horror when the inevitable happens, like your worst fears are being realised. If it is the end of Chris (as seems likely — it would be such a convenient way for Alice to get rid of him and to get back on track as an Archer), then it’s definitely all over with me. No more Archers. Absolutely no more. I only came back because of misplaced loyalty and a sense of responsibility to this column. But I’ve been advised I should abandon Ambridge if these extreme high-pressure dramas continue — for medical reasons.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Arts_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
‘You heard of the “Tiger Who Came to Tea”? That was me, too.’
A room filled with glowing fog; shadowy figures among glittering LEDs and warm ‘breathing’ columns of light. Welcome to the trip that is Light Show (until 28 April), the Hayward Gallery’s latest exhibition exploring how artists have used the medium of artificial light over the past five decades. With side effects of disorientation, slight panic and hallucinatory visions, this exhibition is an intoxicating sensory cocktail, plunging visitors into a world that is recognisable and unfathomable at the same time. With sculptures and installations that visitors can step into, Light Show is a fitting title for something that is, in many ways, more spectacle than ‘exhibition’. This art is entertainment; children stared hypnotised at the winking lights of Jim Campbell’s ‘Exploded View (Commuters)’, 2011, above, while couples held on to each other in the fragmented darkness of Anthony McCall’s ‘You and I, Horizontal’. However, this twinkling spectacle has a dark undercurrent. Light also creates shade, as Conrad Shawcross’s ‘Slow Arc Inside a Cube’ shows, trapping visitors in a cage of shadows. Walking through ‘Chromosaturation’, a three-room installation swamped in coloured light by Carlos Cruz-Diez, I found my foot inches away from a man lying on his back in the middle of the floor. Stepping over him, I heard him say to a friend, ‘It’s red . . . but it’s too red to be red. Do you know what I mean?’ No, actually. No one knows what you mean. But he had a point. This exhibition forces us to question what we know about artificial light. We trust it; it illuminates our reality. Light Show destabilises this implicit trust. — Radhika Kapila
© the artist/spruth magers berlin london
Radio Pure Purcell Kate Chisholm
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‘What is the point of all this IT wizardry if people must still spend hours commuting to jobs they could do at home?’ — Rory Sutherland, p69
High life Taki
It felt like a stiletto jab in my liver, a pain so sharp it will take half a century to forget. Jessica Raine — aka Nurse Jenny in Call the Midwife — has shacked up with a married man, an actor and a redhead to boot. It is as if I had heard that my mother had run off with an Albanian gigolo, or Russell Brand. Nurse Jenny is the kind of girl one takes home to mother. Just as Natalia Vodianova is the type one takes to Marcel Proust’s salon. (That’s the frog writer, not a hairdresser.) My fiancée Lindsay Lohan one takes to a motel. Sure, love to most people is a frail little fantasy to be smashed by pride and jealousy, but I’m way above that. No one suffers like I do when that roly-poly cupid takes target practice on my already wounded heart. The first time I saw Call the Midwife I was a goner. My jets were somewhat cooled when Ms Raine was given The Spectator diary slot and wrote about me with such caution I suspect she had an ambulance chaser standing over her shoulder. Now, one year later, gossip columnists are making fun of me pining away in my chalet while she’s romping around with some dumb redhead. Oy veh! Sex and attraction defy Cartesian analysis and are actually a pain in the you-knowwhat. I used to think that once old age set in the demons that drove me to chase women non-stop would go the way of my backhand. On the contrary. As the backhand got stronger — I stopped hitting top spin and began to slice, saving energy and making it safer — so did my appetite for the fairer sex. This past winter in Gstaad I stayed home every Sunday night and watched Nurse Jenny looking angelic and innocent while delivering babies that looked anything but. Then I read the bad news just before the series came to an end. And decided to throw in the towel. This is it, finita, la commedia! Even Taki has a breaking point, and seeing a photograph of her walking with a redhead who was not Simon Heffer made my blood boil. Perhaps we’ll get together in the next life.
And things got worse. For years I’d been banging into glass doors until an eye test discovered cataracts and glaucoma, the result of getting hit around the eyes and of old age. I went to a specialist in the Bagel and walked out immediately. Two Russian secretaries straight out of the Gulag shoved paperwork at me and made me sit between two smelly men. A Chinese woman kept coughing without covering her mouth. I walked out, twice. The second time the waiting-room was even worse. Anyway, in Lausanne, in Clinique Montchoisi, I found the best eye doctor in the world and the best eye clinic, with nurses straight out of Call the Midwife. I had both eyes operated on and now I can’t see a thing but I am told my sight will return better than ever if I stand still for a week or so. (My friends Clive and Ann Gibson recommended it and I am eternally grateful.) As I couldn’t read or watch the idiot box, I listened to music. And what music! It was as good as Mozart and Schubert, but a bit more modern: boogie-woogie. Boogiewoogie emerged from the blues, at a much faster clip. Pinetop Perkins, Little Red Clay, and the greatest of them all, Jerry Lee Lewis, to whom I could listen play ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ non-stop for the rest of my life. Jerry Lee got a bum rap from those dogooders who are trying to run our lives when he married his 13-year-old cousin back in the Fifties. These same do-gooders say nothing when a rich 80-year-old Saudi slob marries an 11-year-old girl whose family has sold her to him. (Not an unusual practice on the sandy peninsula.) Jerry Lee Lewis is my hero and his piano playing makes today’s untalented, cacophonous bunch who pass as pop stars look like the cheap conmen that they are.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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‘Here comes the world’s largest super-jumbo airbus...’
And speaking of conmen and sandy hellholes, what about these Qatari and Saudi bums who are buying up Europe with us Europeans grovelling before them, starting with Sandhurst, which replaced the name of Mons with Hamad of Bahrain for its main hall. (Is the Parthenon next? Perhaps, if it was British.) These Arabs are buying up everything in case the sleepy ones ever wake up and kick them out. They also know that the Europeans will fight for them if the Islamists decide they’d like a share of the high life too. Europe is weak and bribable, and starting with the Brits and the French, it will sell shamelessly its very soul for Arab ill-gotten gains. And we will never learn. Instead of backing Assad to the hilt, we’re making noises against him so the Islamist extremists can take over in future. William Hague must be taking a dive. No one could be that stupid after what happened in Libya, with the great political expert Taki having led the charge against Gaddafi. My excuse is that I’m a fool. What’s Hague’s?
Low life Jeremy Clarke
On the wall at home is a framed photograph of T.E. Lawrence taken in his chunky forties. The photo, a postcard advertising an exhibition of historical artefacts, is a close-up of his face. Knowing what we do about his pathological aversion to most human contact, the camera’s nearness is startling. And the thing is, in spite of all those biographies telling us what a sensitive aesthete Lawrence was, the face confronting the onlooker is that of a thug. The Desperate Dan-sized chin, the eyes too close together, the cruel mouth: it’s the kind of face one saw frequently in the away ends of football grounds in the 1970s, especially among the police. The impression of thuggishness is here emphasised by a surly gaze. He’d shoot you as soon as look at you. The photo makes me laugh inwardly every time I notice it. I remember attending a lecture 20 years ago, during which a few sensitive souls ostentatiously walked out in protest because the 61
lecturer casually referred to the San people’s buttocks as being distinctive. Racism, apparently. One no longer notices biological or physical difference. Poor San people! I thought. Extermination isn’t enough. Now we must even turn a blind eye to their marvellous buttocks. But as the Enlightenment flame burns ever brighter, doubtless the practice of inferring character from the facial features of individuals is now also due for a mopping-up operation by the thought police, after which there will be more talk of ‘strong’ chins, ‘sensuous’ mouths or — heaven forbid — ‘coarse’ faces. On my mother’s side of the family, we have an inherited nose, a monstrous great thing, known as ‘the Brice bugle’. I would argue that the Brice bugle is similar to a San person’s buttocks, in that it in no way delineates racial or individual character. It is not, for example, as so many people imagine, a precursor to the famous Sir Alex Ferguson drinker’s raspberry, and therefore a sign of a weak or obsessive personality. It is a purely genetic inheritance, providing the advantage, perhaps, if looked at from an evolutionary biology perspective, that we are more easily able to spot one another if we are separated while shopping in Asda on Saturday morning. I look forward to the day when the ancient science of physiognomy has been proscribed by European law and I can start suing. But I do think that the physiognomy must contain at least a grain of truth, and here’s why. I once had my face read by a professional face-reader. Before we got down to business, I handed her a postcard portrait of the Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton. Now here was a man who wouldn’t have had any truck with today’s political correctness. When asked by a fellow guest at a dinner party whether it was true that he had once killed a man, he thundered back, ‘Sir, I have committed every sin in the Decalogue.’ In the postcard portrait I handed her, Burton’s face, as portrayed by the artist, is a marriage of Satan and Count Dracula. ‘What did he do for a living, then?’ I said. The professional face reader was a highly sensitive American lady of marked New Age outlook. She was previously unacquainted with our celebrated linguist, who first achieved notice with his official and painstaking survey of the homosexual brothels of Karachi. She studied the image closely, and with quickening interest. Then she said that she couldn’t be certain, of course, but was this man an explorer perhaps? Blow me down, I said. It was the ears, apparently. Sir Richard Burton had very marked explorer’s lugholes. The outside rim of the one visible was vertical and perfectly straight. This is typical. They’ve all got them. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, if he has any vestiges of ear left at all, once had this straight, vertical edge. The ear had been the first clue. Add to those explorer’s ears, she said, those high and protruding ‘adventurous’ cheekbones, and those flaring ‘self-reliant’ nostrils, 62
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and there you have it. The poor man could hardly have been anything else. She proceeded to cover my face intricately with thin chalk dividing lines; symmetry and proportion of the whole are as tell-tale as the characteristics of the parts. I’ve lost her report. I remember her drawing attention to my large hooter, a very ‘powerful’ one, she said. Otherwise my face, and the character it described, was neither one thing nor the other. If she had to put a label on what my face told her, it would be ‘methodical’, she said. Afterwards I went ten stops on the Jubilee line before I realised why it was that people were looking at me as though I was mad. My face was still covered by her chalk lines, Maori style, which I’d forgotten she’d put there.
Real life Melissa Kite
‘Have you been flossing?’ The four most terrifying words in the English language. The dental hygienist peers down at me through her scary goggles and speaks in a strange, muffled voice through her mouth mask. Despite all the face furniture I can see that she is arching her eyebrows. ‘Have you been flossing?’ I’m more inclined to lie in answer to that question than in response to any other situation, no matter how intimidating. The time the banker boyfriend had me cornered in his swanky mews house and was throwing a wobbly about my phone ringing late at night was a doddle in comparison. I’d rather account to an irate City boy screaming
‘It looked different in the brochure.’
‘Who was that on the phone?’ than a dental hygienist asking ‘Have you been flossing?’ any day of the week. After owning up that it was my ex-boyfriend who still called me sometimes when he was drunk, I was thrown out on to the street in my pyjamas. But I fancy that is a breeze compared with what will happen if I answer honestly the question: ‘Have you been flossing?’ Either the flossing police are going to take me away; or the association of dental practitioners will rescind my dental insurance; or the hygienist will start slapping me around the face yelling, ‘How dare you come in here with your filthy, unflossed teeth, you loser, you make me sick, your sixth form teacher Mrs Lloyd was right, you are never going to amount to anything…’ So why don’t I just floss? Surely that would be easier. Why is flossing the thing I am second least likely to do after telling the truth about not flossing? Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror after I’ve brushed my teeth saying: Go on, do it. Tear off an arm-length strip of floss as demonstrated to you by the hygienist and start sawing around your teeth. But I can’t. It is the most absurd, tedious, squeamish-making thing to do in the world. So given that I can’t bring myself to do it you would think I would bring myself to tell the hygienist that I can’t do it. For those are my options, clearly. Floss, or face up to telling the truth about not flossing. I should say: ‘No, of course I haven’t been flossing. I can’t
Floss, or face up to telling the truth about not flossing be bothered, and it gives me the creeps, like a fork on a squeaky plate.’ But I’ve been lying about flossing for so long now that I would need a flossing truth and reconciliation commission in order to come clean. Until the dental practice offers some sort of flossing amnesty I am never going to be able to set the record straight. So I lie there squirming in the reclining chair as the goggle-eyed hygienist makes me put on goggles too and then starts with the ‘Have you been flossing?’ She knows. She knows I haven’t been flossing. At her mercy as she pokes around, I say: ‘U-huh, ’ay ’ave ’in ’oshing ’esh.’ She straightens up, takes her implements out of my mouth and says: ‘What have you been using?’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘What sort of floss? Tape or normal?’ It’s a trap, of course. But I’m ready. ‘Actually,’ I say, ‘I got myself one of those flossing machines.’ That’s not a lie. I did buy one for £39.99 in Boots. I used it once every couple of weeks for about three months until the battery ran out.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
‘Hmm. Open.’ ‘Yah, ich rarree gurr…’ ‘Really?’ she says, switching on the screechy thing and starting to chip. ‘There’s a bit of build-up here…’ ‘Wah I rarree har ’een ’eying haarr…’ ‘Have you?’ she shouts above the din. ‘Can you remember what model this flossing machine of yours is? Is it the Braun Oxyjet? Or the Oral B Triumph 5000?’ ‘Arrrrrr ah hhink itsh ar ’aaaun…’ Please god, let me spit. She won’t let me spit. I’m going to choke. She’s going to let me choke to death unless I tell her the truth. The suction pipe gurgles, the pneumatic tartar-chipping machine screams, the water sprays, the pieces of rock-hard tartar fly out of my mouth and round the room at 150 mph, my jaws lock, my eyes stream, the goggles fog up and at the very second I am convinced of my imminent death by scale and polish, she barks, ‘Rinse!’ and I collapse on to the plastic cup of green-tinted water gasping for breath. This is what always happens. And so on the morning of my latest appointment I ring and say I am feeling sick so must cancel. It is not a lie. I am a fugitive from flossing on the run from dental justice. It is not an easy life, and many people would choose to turn themselves in. But for now, at least, I live to not floss another day.
Long life Alexander Chancellor
It is usually a mistake to return to places one has known as a child. I have only once been back to the large, white-stuccoed, early-Victorian manor house in Hertfordshire where I was born and brought up, and it was a dispiriting experience. Although the house was near to the town of Ware, less than an hour’s drive from central London, it was set in unspoiled country alongside a village in which the names of some of the inhabitants had been there in the Domesday Book. Apart from a small row of bleak pre-war council houses on the edge of the village, there was nothing there to offend the eye or to suggest proximity to a great city. My parents, finding the house too expensive to run, sold it in 1959, when I was 19 years old, and I didn’t go back for some 20 years after that. But when I did, I found that everything had changed dramatically for the worse.
The walled kitchen garden had had maybe a dozen houses built in it, and there were more new houses along the short drive to the house, which itself had become some kind of grim residential institution. I may have idealised my childhood somewhat, but I didn’t want my memories of it ruined for ever. So I rushed away, vowing never to return. Last weekend I took another risk by visiting the prep school, Pinewood near Shrivenham in Wiltshire, where I had boarded for five years from the age of eight and which I had not revisited during the subsequent 60 years. An invitation had arrived out of the blue from the present headmaster, Philip Hoyland, to a lunch ‘for the Old Pinewoodians 1930–1959’, referring to the years in which we had left the school. To have left in 1930 one would now have to be nearly 100 years old, so it wasn’t surprising that there was nobody there of that vintage. The oldest person present had left in 1940, making him presumably in his late eighties. I left in 1953. The school had changed, of course. The gravel drive from which we schoolboys were once made to sweep the leaves in autumn had become a tarmacked one with speed bumps. Modern extensions had sprouted from the side of the main building (a rather dreary neo-Jacobean manor house) as the school expanded to include not only girls as well as boys, and non-boarders as well as boarders,
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but also pre-prep pupils as young as three. But basically it seemed much the same. The main house didn’t feel smaller, as childhood places are supposed to when you grow up, but seemed the size that I remembered it; as did the playing fields where I once made daisy chains while fielding at cricket and earned the one-sentence rugby report: ‘Chancellor prefers to avoid the ball.’ The assembly room looked much as it had looked in 1952 when the headmaster called us together to announce the death of King George VI, and we all blubbed. And rather to my surprise, I didn’t feel sad. On the whole, schools depress me. But a school full of old, retired people is much less depressing than one full of children (Pinewood’s students had all somehow vanished for the day). And it’s a strange and rather exciting experience to meet again men you knew only as children but who have now retired from long and fulfilling careers. It is as if you have known them only before and after their lives. As for my contemporaries, there were ones whom I remembered but who didn’t remember me, and the other way round. There was a boy called Odling-Smee, whose name had made a great impression on me and who once explained it by saying that ‘a Smee had married an Odling and added Odling to his name because the Odlings were posher than the Smees’, but he hadn’t a clue who I was. I had accepted the invitation with some trepidation because I had written about Pinewood in The Spectator once before, suggesting that its admired headmaster of my day, G.R. Wakeham, was a closet paedophile. But only one fellow guest reproached me for it, and he in a good-natured way. I did, however, raise the issue with other veterans of that era, and nobody would confirm it or deny it or discuss it. There was clearly much reluctance to join in any possible besmirchment of the school’s reputation, and maybe also to permit any sulliment of the Old Pinewoodians’ own memories. For even then Pinewood was, as I recall, quite a happy school, and today, I suspect, it is happier still. For the warmth of the welcome we received, the generosity of the arrangements (good food, much wine), and the apparent lack of any ulterior motive in giving us has-beens a jolly day out suggested a pretty confident and contented institution.
The turf Attitude and energy Robin Oakley The first time I met the jockey Andrew Thornton, at a hotel dinner, he had a pair of ladies tights sticking out of his pocket. No, he hadn’t just been interrupted in an amorous encounter in the car park. Nor does he have an eyebrow-raising secret taste in underwear. The tights were part of the equipment he had brought along to demonstrate to the audience we were both addressing that night just what a jockey’s life involves. Tough as the saddle gladiators look, those all-enveloping lightweight garments are essential under their breeches to help keep out the cold as they coax and coerce half a ton of horseflesh for two or three miles over fences and hurdles in every kind of weather. Andrew talks as well as he rides and there can be few better guides to the racing life. Jump jockeys, statistically, should expect a fall every 14 rides and only a true lover
The cattle-ranch positioning didn’t make Thornton the prettiest rider of the sport would go on flogging his body round the nation’s racetracks for as long as he has done. He rode his first winner Wrekin Hill for the legendary W.A. Stephenson at Sedgefield in 1991 and won the amateur riders’ championship in 1992–3. Since then, ‘Lenzio’, as a weighing-room colleague dubbed him on account of his contact lenses, has taken his total of winners into the 900s. Those winners have included some classy performers. Andrew won the Gold Cup on Cool Dawn for Robert Alner and the King George on See More Business for Paul Nicholls. He won the Hennessy (on a disqualification) and the Scottish National on my old favourite Gingembre for Lavinia Taylor and scored many victories on Ferdy Murphy’s ill-fated French Holly. It wasn’t always easy. When, after Stephenson’s death, he came south to join Kim Bailey as the stable conditional, the tall Thornton shortened his leathers to look more fashionable and his riding suffered. ‘I’d fallen off a few and at Christmas-time 1995
‘Around here somewhere they have an English quarter.’ 64
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Kim tried to sack me. I said, “You can’t sack me because I’m not going. I’ll change your mind.”’ And so he did. Thornton listened to his father and girlfriend, went to jumping guru Yogi Breisner and dropped his irons a few pegs. ‘I’m 5ft 11 and I was trying to do something impossible.’ He remembered, too, W.A.’s advice: ‘If you’ve got legs, use them,’ and made a virtue of riding longer by using his leg strength to drive horses home. The cattle-ranch positioning didn’t make Andrew Thornton the prettiest rider on the circuit — he has long endured the John Wayne jokes — but he proved his point to Kim Bailey and was given his better horses to ride again before heading off to join Robert Alner. Andy shrugs aside, too, the jokes about his eyesight: no, he doesn’t ride with a white whip. There have been days when he has forgotten his contact lenses and ridden without them. ‘I got a double at Towcester one day without them and I won on Lancastrian Jet for Henry Daly without them too. But I didn’t tell him until after the race.’ Now Andrew jokes, ‘As long as there are white running rails, I’ll be OK.’ The only subject on which Andrew is a touch sensitive, as an elder statesman of the weighing room, is that of his age. The trainer Venetia Williams, asked for hers one day, refused to say, citing the writer who had declared, ‘A woman who would tell you her age would tell you anything.’ Andrew contents himself with emphasising, ‘I’m not much older than A.P. McCoy,’ and I happily agreed to be non-specific because, like TV commentators, jockeys tend to be mentally ‘retired’ by potential employers if too much stress is laid on anno domini. What matters is attitude and energy, and Andrew Thornton remains not only one of the fittest in his trade, running four or five times a week, but crucially one of the happiest, too. Look at the owner/trainer groups in the parade ring. If Andy is there, they will be smiling. So will he, because he is still in love not just with his florist girlfriend in the north but with the racing life. He rides less now for the multi-horsepower Saturday winner yards and more for the less fashionable though equally effective Caroline Bailey and Seamus Mullins, but Andrew remains determined to reach the target total of 1,000 lifetime winners. He had 450 rides last season, he says, and he still enjoys it as much as ever. The evidence supports him. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen in the sporting press the headline ‘Thornton due to return from injury next week’. There have been broken legs, broken arms and collarbones, a broken jaw and a badly dislocated shoulder, but every time he comes back. As he said to me at Newbury the other day, ‘As soon as you have an injury, what you want to know (from the medics) is the target date for getting back. The day when I have a fall and don’t set a return date is when I will draw stumps.’
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Spectator mini-bar SIMON HOGGART
Bridge Susanna Gross A friend asked me recently whether there are any rules against ‘unethical hesitations’ in bridge: one of his opponents had paused before following low in a suit; as a result, my friend had assumed he held the ace, and put up dummy’s king . . . whereupon the other opponent won the trick. It’s a murky area: a pronounced hesitation, for no good reason, is clearly unethical. But many hesitations are ambiguous, or hard to prove. In my view, if you accidentally fumble for even a moment, you should declare that you have ‘nothing to think about’. One of my favourite stories about unethical behaviour concerns the late American player Alvin Roth (who invented weak twos and the unusual no trump). ‘Al’ couldn’t abide any form of cheating. Once, during a game of high-stake rubber bridge, he found himself defending 7NT. The contract depended on a two-way finesse: when declarer led the jack in the suit, Al’s partner paused, as though wondering whether to cover, before playing low. Declarer let the jack ride, and Roth, who really did hold the queen, also played low! The contract made. ‘Why on earth didn’t you take your queen?’ spluttered Al’s partner. ‘I thought you had it,’ Al replied. As it happens, a few hands later, Al played a queen in a situation where many other players wouldn’t even think of it — but this time he did it to help, not punish, his partner: Dealer WestN/S vulnerable
♠ K j 5 3 ♥ J 9 4 2 ◆ 7 5 4 ♣ A J ♠ A 10 9 6 2 ♥ 5 ◆ K J 3 ♣ K Q 10 9
N W E S
dam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow says this offer contains two of the least expensive fine wines in the world. He’s probably right. We are offering both, plus a couple of less pricey wines for parties, restoring the tissues, or any occasion. Prices are reduced, and there is the Brett-Smith Indulgence, whereby you can knock £6 a case off an order of three cases, or two within the M25. Hurry before the falling pound really begins to hurt. The very classy white is the Mâcon-Verzé from Domaines Leflaive 2008 (3). This is made from grapes grown in the Mâcon by Anne-Claude Leflaive, scioness (is there such a word?) of arguably the greatest dry white wine estate in the world. The wine is actually made at the family HQ in PulignyMontrachet; it has style and panache. It’s not as majestic as the stuff labelled PulignyMontrachet, but it costs half to one-third as much, and is gorgeous, combining flintiness, peaches, a touch of honey, a hint of spices. It is beautifully balanced, sophisticated, and entirely biodynamic. They even fret about the phases of the moon, since its gravitational pull helps remove tiny particles that might cloud the wine. Mâcon quality is rising fast, and I have had many inferior wines
at higher prices from the Côte d’Or. A £2.25 discount takes it to £16.50. Now a Danish wine, but made in northern Spain by Denmark’s Peter Sisseck, who set himself the task of making the finest possible red. His leading wine, Domaine de Pingus, sells for hundreds of pounds a bottle, but this Psi 2009 (6), his third wine, is reduced by a generous £4.70 to bring it in at just £18.80. This is is an amazing bargain. The wine is subtle, sinuous, perfumed and velvety. Give it an hour in a decanter and it will be luscious. The less expensive white is a Domaine Les Escasses 2012 (2) from the celebrated Plaimont Co-op. Fresh, zesty, lemony, crisp – perfect to drink into spring, and just £6.89. Our cheaper red is Corney &Barrow’s superlative house claret 2009 (5), at £8.08 — incredible because it is every bit as good as some classed growths. Adam went to Sichel in Bordeaux with his brief, and they suggested various blends. After much fiddling with test tubes and jars they came up with this juicy, cedary, aromatic beauty. A joyful wine. You can also beef up your order with Corney & Barrow’s excellent house wines. Delivery is free, and there is a sample case containing three each of the wines described.
ORDER FORM Spectator Wine Offer
♠ Q 8 4 ♥ 3 ◆ A 9 8 2 ♣ 8 7 5 4 3
♠ 7 ♥ A K q 10 8 7 6 ◆ Q 10 6 ♣ 6 2 West
2♠ 3♥ All Pass
West led the ♠A. It’s not easy to find the diamond shift: West is more likely to switch to club. If that happens, declarer can pitch a club on the ♠K and ruff a spade to establish dummy’s ♠J for a diamond discard. Al, sitting East, had a simple solution: he dropped his ♠Q on partner’s ♠A: a clear suit preference signal. His partner duly played a diamond and declarer went down. Crafty, yes — but perfectly ethical. the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Bridge and Minibar_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
www.spectator.co.uk/wine-club Corney & Barrow, 1 Thomas More Street, London E1W 1YZ Tel: 020 7265 2470; Fax: 020 7265 2540; Email: email@example.com Price No. White 1 Corney & Barrow house white £76.92 2 Dme Les Escasses, Côtes de Gascogne 2012 £82.68 3 Mâcon-Verzé Domaines Leflaive 2008 £198.00 Red 4 Corney & Barrow house red £76.92 5 Corney & Barrow house claret 2009 £96.96 6 Psi, Peter Sisseck, Ribera del Duero 2009 £225.60 Mixed 7 Sample case, three each of 2, 3, 5 and 6 £151.89 Total
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Chess Ponziani scheme Raymond Keene The world championship qualifier, known as the Candidates’ tournament, should now be underway in London. (For details see the website worldchess.com/candidates.) The favourite is Magnus Carlsen, who has identified Lev Aronian of Armenia as his most dangerous rival according to an interview in the Guardian with Stephen Moss. If Magnus fails to rise to the occasion, I favour Vladimir Kramnik, who usually plays well in London, where he was crowned world champion in 2000 when he defeated Kasparov. One of Carlsen’s great strengths is his ability to adopt seemingly harmless openings and then manoeuvre endlessly until the opponent cracks. A case in point was his victory with the antediluvian Ponziani Opening, which he used to great effect at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. Carlsen-Harikrishna: Wijk aan Zee 2013;
Ponziani Opening 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 c3 Nf6 4 d4 d5 Here I would be inclined to play the sharp 4 ... Nxe4 5 d5 Bc5 6 dxc6 Bxf2+ 7 Ke2 bxc6 with distinct compensation for the piece. When Carlsen found himself on the black side, Hou Yifan-Carlsen, Wijk aan Zee 2013, he tried 4 ... exd4 5 e5 Nd5 6 Bc4 Nb6 7 Bb3 d5 8 cxd4 Bg4 9 Be3 f6 10 0-0 Qd7 with a balanced position. 5 Bb5 exd4 5 ... Nxe4 was seen in an old game also played in London: 6 Nxe5 Bd7 7 Qb3 Nxe5 8 Qxd5 Qe7 9 Qxb7 Bxb5 10 Qxa8+ Kd7 11 dxe5?? (correct is 11 Qd5+, keeping the advantage) 11 ... Qxe5 12 Be3 Bc5 (sacrificing the second rook) 13 Qxh8 Nxf2 14 Kd2 Bxe3+ 15 Kc2 Qe4+ 16 Kb3 Qa4 with a spectacular mate (Wayte-Ranken, London 1890). 6 e5 Ne4 7
Nxd4 Bd7 8 Bxc6 bxc6 9 0-0 Be7 10 Be3 0‑0 11 Nd2 Nc5 12 b4 Nb7 13 f4 a5 (see diagram 1) 14 f5 One might have expected the
solid 14 a3. Instead, Carlsen flings caution to the winds, sacrifices his entire queenside and aims directly at the black king. 14 ... axb4 15 cxb4
Competition It’s all relative Lucy Vickery Diagram 1
rDW1W4kD Dn0bgp0p WDpDWDWD 0WDp)WDW W)WHW)WD DW)WGWDW PDWHWDP) $WDQDRIW Diagram 2
WDRDW4Wi DWDWDW0W WDb1P0WD DWDNDPDp WDW!WDWD DWDWDWDP WDWDWDPD DWDWDWDK defending his weak doubled pawns and coping with the passed white pawn on e6. 27 ... Ne4 is a better try when the situation would remain obscure. 28 Nd4 Rxc5 29 Rxc5 Ne4 30 Nxc6 Nxf2 31 Kxf2 Qa2+ 32 Kg3 Re8 33 h3 Qa6 34 Qc3 Be2 35 Rxd5 Bb5 36 Nb4 Qb7 37 Qc5 Ba4 38 Rd7 Qe4 39 Rxc7 h5 40 Kh2 Kh7 41 Qf2 Rg8 42 Na6 Be8 43 Rc5 Qd3 44 Nb4 Qd6+ 45 Kh1 Qd1+ 46 Qg1 Qd6 47 Nd5 Rf8 48 Qd4 Kh8 49 Rc8 Bc6 and Black resigned (see diagram 2) ...
Bxb4 16 Qg4 Bc3 17 Rac1 Bxd4 18 Bxd4 Rxa2 19 e6 f6 If White now plays 20 exd7 Rxd2 is fine for Black. 20 Nb3 Be8 21 Nc5 Nd6 22 Qf3 Qe7 23 Rf2 Ra5 Normally when material
without waiting to see the ingenious 50 Nxf6! which wins at once as 50 ... Qxd4 51 Rxf8 is mate.
ahead one should trade pieces but there is nothing wrong with the text. 24 Nb3 Rb5 25 Bc5 Bh5 If now 26 Qxh5 Rxb3. 26 Qc3 Qe8 27 Qe3 Qa8 Black begins to crack under the pressure of
Last Saturday would have been Bobby Fischer’s 70th birthday. This week’s puzzle is a tribute to one of the greats of chess.
puzzle no. 257 White to play. This position is from FischerBenko, US Championship 1963. One of Fischer’s classic attacking finishes. What is the winning move? Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday 19 March or via email to victoria@ spectator.co.uk or by fax on 020 7681 3773. The winner will be the first correct answer out of a hat, and each week I shall be offering a prize of £20. Please include a postal address and allow six weeks for prize delivery.
Last week’s solution 1 Qd8+ Last week’s winner Richard England, London W3 66
comps_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
rDWDq4Wi 0pDWDpgp WDphWDWD DWDWDWDQ WDW0PDWD DWHBDWDP P)PDWDPD $WDWDRIW
In Competition No. 2788 you were invited to submit a poem about a relative. A popular one, this, and long lines mean there is space only to award the winners £25 each and the bonus fiver to Bill Greenwell. Commendations go to Dorothy Pope and Jayne Osborn. Till seventeen, I didn’t know of Nell (two miles or nearer) — a great-aunt, who was seen aslant. A class thing. In that era, the nicest people were ignored because the rules were firmed. My mother said she’d not been wed when she’d seen Nell. I squirmed, and off we drove (my Dad asleep) to see her. Mum knew where. Nell, ninety, had just baked a cake. She didn’t turn a hair. She set aside the hymns she played, though twenty years had missed her: The protocols were fol-de-rols. She was my grandad’s sister. Bill Greenwell My cousin Clive, no sluggard he, Was fond of ladies’ lingerie, Discovered at the age of nine Robbing a neighbour’s washing line. We marched the nipper to a shrink Who said, ‘This is a common kink. Believe me, I’ve seen many worse. He’ll straighten out. Please pay the nurse.’ We took his word, but snakes alive, There was no cure for naughty Clive. He grew up with a single aim That drowned the family in shame. At thirty-five he got his kicks From stealing thongs in Harvey Nicks And drew a stretch in Wormwood Scrubs, But that’s the way the gusset rubs. G.M. Davis A soldier stood on the doorstep: ‘Sunny Jim’s in?’ ‘He’s down the shed’ — another time and other lives — Retired from teaching half the C stream boys in Lynn, Ex–pupils came in droves to show him cars or wives. Mocked for his efforts to inspire, he taught first aid And tennis to rough lads who’d given up, who’d failed, Whose efforts and self-confidence had been betrayed; Steadfast, his atheistic love for them prevailed. At home he had to knuckle under: She was boss; Adoring him, She called him ‘sap’, ‘a right disgrace’. A note walked out of his back pocket: ten bob loss! When sent to do the weekly shop at Windsor Place.
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Life ‘Make my money right, Jimmy!’ Oh what luck! I had Enough to bail him out. Years after, in the gloom Of early morning, half asleep, I hear it, Dad: Your joyful laughter echo from another room. Anne Du Croz In Cornwall my cousin, dear Daisy, did dwell, Sing Summer-slow, barleymow, indigo haze! And as soon as we met I was under her spell, Charmed and disarmed by her gaze. Bonny and buxom and cuddlesome too She hinted we might, and we did, as you do When familial fondling is novel and new In those Summer-slow, long-ago days. Though, duly, my cousin to Cornwall returned, Sing water-flow, tidal-tow, fire-glow blaze! Still sweet are those relative values I learned In a novice’s innocent ways; We frolicked for only a weekend, and yet For family ties I shall never forget Dear Daisy’s the cousin I’m glad to have met In those fire-glow, long-ago days. Alan Millard Uncle Kenneth, past his zenith, chose a Home for his retirement With a warden but no garden, so he got him an allotment. He grew veges round the edges; flowers though, were far from fine: His azaleas were all failures — soil pH too alkaline. His aubretia, brought from Esher, had a scent like dear knows what, I’ve seen grander oleander in a tiny plastic pot. His nepeta lured a cheetah from a nearby circus tent Which then ate his best clematis and his liliums of Lent. His dwarf asters were disasters and his digitalis too, It was no go for plumbago and his phormium turned blue. Smells of sewer from manure that he spread around his phlox Made him compromise with ox-eyes in a little win dow box. Things went better when he met a charming lady resident And together with his Heather Ken finds passion’s not all spent. Alanna Blake Uncle Ted, home from the Pit, In his old tin bath would sit With his ferret and his whippet And a pint of ale to sip. It Was the normal aftermath That Auntie found around the bath, A scum of thick, malodorous greases Washed from Ted’s less savoury pieces. Poor Auntie used to frown and say, ‘If tha wants ecky-thump today I beg you, when you’ve had your fill And rise from your congealing swill, Please follow the politer path Of always cleaning round the bath — An act of which your dog and ferret Have begged me to extol the merit.’ Martin Parker
Crossword 2104: Shock treatment by Lavatch Five unclued lights make up a six-word quotation (verifiable in ODQ) by an author whose name must be highlighted in the grid. Remaining unclued lights, all real words in Chambers, each begin with a word suggested by the first two words of the quotation. Ignore two accents and one apostrophe. Across 1 Medieval soldier’s old injury’s wrapped with skill (8) 12 Island lacking sun in arctic fashion (5) 13 What CEO wants is for Siemens to keep strong (7) 15 Catholic service admitting old failures (6, hyphened) 17 Spots developing round tiny fruit tree (8) 21 Prisoners of French bearing south (8) 25 Weaving now taken from Norway, perhaps (3) 26 Base clergyman’s sin (3) 29 Part of Japanese capital, area by city, conceals onset of critical situation (8) 34 Stop twirling leg and relax (8) 36 Works on endlessly for each pound (6) 38 Mistakes from schoolchildren revolting head of school (7, hyphened) 39 Pair from Rome about to damage porcelain (5) 40 Workers keeping new order popular – they are committed to order (12) 41 Wall Street type rejected socialist realism? (6) 42 Character stops to catch bird in Indian foliage (8, two words) Down 1 Structure is dampish in part of vessel (9) 3 Like ex-PM getting sent up in an inactive state (6)
No. 2791: another country
You are invited to submit a poem in praise of a country other than the United Kingdom (16 lines max.). Please email entries to lucy@ spectator.co.uk by midday on 27 March. the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
comps_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
4 Compiler turned to editor to get some relief (6) 5 Parts of curves of leg featuring in opening of Spenser’s verses (8) 6 Sartre’s convulsive seizures (7) 7 Prince skirts very noisy plebs (5) 8 Vienna sets out to show local quality (10) 9 Part of August is risky time of year (5) 11 Seeing red after cultivating grain (9, two words) 14 Twisted ring with ruby donned by German woman (7) 18 Bag last of silverware and nick something on restaurant table (10, two words) 19 Gold turned up on cliff in Chinese mountain (9) 20 Doctor with university holding horse down (7) 22 Order messy site, and so do this? (9) 24 Thoughtless English wilt after excursion (8) 30 Priest directed church parade (6) 32 Leave Sweden, needing rather to go outside (5) 33 Judge mimicked and mocked (5) 37 Liberal king put in charge (4)
first prize of £30 for the first A correct solution opened on 1 April. There are two runnersup prizes of £20 (or, for UK solvers, the latest edition of The Chambers Dictionary — ring the word ‘Dictionary’). Entries to: Crossword 2104, The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP. Please allow six weeks for prize delivery.
Solution to 2101: hewn vaguely The works were novels by Evelyn Waugh: Put Out More Flags (anagram of 1A/35), Black Mischief (16/23), The Loved One (17/7D) and Vile Bodies (21A/31). First prize Miriam Moran, Pangbourne, Berks Runners-up Mrs R.J.C. Shapland, Ilkeston, Derbyshire; John Light, Addlestone, Surrey
Status Anxiety Vicky Pryce’s new career Toby Young
ust before Vicky Pryce was sentenced on Monday, her QC made a plea for clemency on the grounds that the case had already ‘undermined her professional position considerably’. In other words, she’d been punished enough and to send her to prison would be excessive. But had the judge felt sympathy for Pryce on account of her loss of status, that would have been a good reason to send her to prison, not to give her a suspended sentence. What her QC overlooked is that, for people of a certain class, a spell in jail is actually a good career move, particularly after a public scandal has ended their existing career. Pryce’s chances of being re-employed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are now quite slim, but after a few months in Holloway, a cornucopia of new opportunities will open up to her. Take Jonathan Aitken. Like Pryce, he was found guilty of perverting the course of justice, a conviction that ended his political career. However, after serving a grand total of seven months, he relaunched himself as a professional upper-middle-class ex-jailbird, writing not one but two books about the experience. He now makes regular media appearances to talk about such subjects as finding serenity in the Slough of Despond,
After prison, Vicky Pryce will be fêted by her friends and neighbours like never before
particularly when another MP is publicly disgraced. No shortage of work, then. I actually met Aitken when we both appeared on a reality show, a frequent source of employment for posh ex-cons. Lord Brocket, who served two and a half years for insurance fraud in 1996, made it to the final four on series three of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. With good behaviour, Vicky Pryce will be out in time to appear in series 13 this December. I have absolutely no doubt she’ll be asked to do it, and she might well be tempted by the six-figure sum. Not bad for three weeks’ work. Of course, not every old lag embraces the role as enthusiastically as Aitken and Brocket. It probably helps that they’re ex-public schoolboys and therefore didn’t find the experience of being in jail too much of a shock. As Evelyn Waugh writes in Decline and Fall: ‘Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is only the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums… who find prison so soul-destroying.’ But even if Vicky Pryce has a tough time in prison, she’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the attention she receives as a result of her conviction. Far from being socially ostracised, she’ll be fêted by her friends and neighbours like never before. Tom Wolfe makes this point in Bonfire of the Vanities. The central character Sherman McCoy is considered a bit of a bore by his wife’s fashionable Park Avenue set, but that all changes when he’s arrested for hitand-run. Shortly after the scandal breaks in the press, McCoy goes to
a dinner party at his wife’s insistence and assumes he’ll be shunned by the other guests. In fact, they hang on his every word. ‘It’s perverse, isn’t it?’ he tells his wife afterwards. ‘Two weeks ago … these same people froze me out. Now I’m smeared — smeared! — across every newspaper and they can’t get enough of me.’ These days, the notoriety of being a defendant in a high-profile court case trumps the ignominy of being found guilty and sent to jail. Indeed, because the prison sentence adds to the notoriety, it’s actually a benefit rather than a cost. I’ve no doubt Pryce intends to write a book about the whole affair, come what may. Even Rosie Johnston, the Oxford student jailed for possession of heroin in 1986, wrote a book about her ordeal. Pryce now has a much better ending than she would have had if she’d received a suspended sentence — and she’s that much more famous. As a result, her agent will be able to sell the book for twice the amount. It’s one of the great ironies of our publicity-crazed age that being sent to prison is actually less calamitous for members of the ruling class than it is for those at the bottom of our society. Precisely because Pryce’s fall from grace is so great — because it’s such a ‘tragedy’, to use the cliché favoured by the broadsheet press — it’s actually not disastrous at all. On the contrary, it’s a cracking good yarn and I have no doubt that a clever and industrious woman like Vicky Pryce will make an absolute mint out of it. Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
Dave Michael Heath
toby and dave_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
The Wiki Man Yahoo and the big-city paradox Rory Sutherland
n interesting furore erupted this month following an order from the new chief executive of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, that employees accustomed to working from home would henceforth have to turn up at the office. The edict, unexceptional in many industries, scandalised many tech workers, for whom the freedom to work anywhere is an article of faith. You can see why. Since the chief use of information technology is to free us from the constraints of place and time, what is the point of all this wizardry if people must still spend hours commuting to jobs they could do at home? At the risk of sounding Marxist, I do think it is time for technology to benefit labour as well as capital. Research suggests that a typical employee works for an extra ten hours a month for no extra pay when given a work Blackberry (this is one of the reasons for the declining sales of newspapers — the time commuters once devoted to reading the paper is now spent sending emails). There has to be a trade-off somewhere, surely? But at one level Yahoo is right.
The wealth created by knowledge increasingly concentrates in just a few centres
Nothing fully replaces face-to-face contact. And many of the most important interactions between employees are serendipitous. Electronic contact needs to be interspersed with personal contact. For this reason I strongly suspect the wider adoption of technologies such as videoconferencing will not diminish the demand for air travel, as many opponents of airport expansion suggest, but will in fact increase it. Videoconferencing and air travel should not be seen as mutually exclusive alternatives but as complementary goods. Once it becomes easy to do daily business with people everywhere, the need to visit those people will grow. Predicting future work and travel patterns is of great importance to cities such as London. The problem with knowledge industries is that they are insanely centripetal. Unlike wealth derived from agriculture or manufacturing, say, which tends to be geographically dispersed, the wealth created by knowledge increasingly concentrates in just a few centres (think of Hollywood, Silicon Valley or the Square Mile). This concentration exacerbates inequality and puts rising pressure on infrastructure and rents. Two-income households have boosted this network effect: when both partners in a marriage work in a knowledge industry, the odds of both finding satisfactory new employment simultaneously outside a major centre becomes tiny — so the pull of the meg-
alopolis grows stronger still. Migration patterns show the same effect. We talk of UK immigration, but it is often London immigration. Part-time teleworking could relieve congestion; longer commutes might be tolerable if Londoners were allowed to work at home on one or two days a week. We shall need to do something, because the ‘big cities get even bigger’ effect isn’t going to go away. What is ironic about this is that it is another case of technology having the opposite effect to that which we predicted. Fifteen years ago everyone thought electronic networks would reduce the magnetic pull of cities — and that everyone would end up living and working by a lake. Instead the opposite has happened. The same surprise effect happened with the contraceptive pill. People confidently predicted this would end single-parenthood and out-of-wedlock births. Instead, both rocketed. As the economist George Akerlof proposed, the pill allowed men to see pregnancy as a female choice and removed the idea of paternal obligation. This is a complex world, full of unintended consequences, and we don’t really understand it. The problems arise when we think we do. As the great Charlie Munger advises, ‘Always invert.’ Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.
dear mary your problems solved
A. Chemotherapy patients often report that they much prefer it when two people come to keep them company during the ordeal rather than one. The two visitors can then chat across the bed and the patient can enjoy the company and the chat without having to be drained by joining in. Suggest that, in future, your mother requests that her guests come in pairs.
Q. My mother has had a minor physical setback which means it is currently too difficult for her to go out and see people. People consequently come to her, which is wonderful, but because she is so popular, they come in their hordes. It is not so much the provision of food and drinks which is the problem for her as a host, but the need to be ‘good value’ conversationally — sometimes up to four times a day for an hour at a time. What do you suggest, Mary? — Name and address withheld
Q. For the past three years my family has taken a house with another family for a week in the summer. We all still get on really well but we have decided that this year we feel like doing something different. The problem is how to tell the other family so they don’t take it badly (they are a bit insecure and needy). It is coming up to the moment when we plan the
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
Wiki Man and Dear Mary_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
holiday, so suggestions would be welcome. — Name and address withheld A. It is important not to feed this family’s insecurity by patronising them or being overly reassuring. Next time you are chatting, casually enquire what weeks in the summer they are free as if it was no big deal. Make a careful note of the weeks they definitely cannot do. There are bound to be some. Then ring back and say ‘Disaster! We looked at our calendar and those weeks — which are the only ones you can’t do — are the only ones we can do. Let’s go for a long weekend instead.’ Q. How do you force people to RSVP to party invitations? Because so few people replied to my last invitation I didn’t know how many were coming, so failed
to ask my B list. The result was a rather small party with lots of people offended they hadn’t been asked. (I see Nicky Haslam has put on his latest invitation ‘RSVP essential’. Do you think that would work?) — Name and address withheld A. There is an epidemic of discourtesy about RSVPs and it is time party-goers were disciplined. As usual Nicky Haslam — whose most overlooked quality is kindness, incidentally — is ahead of the game. By insisting on an RSVP to the launch for Folly de Grandeur, Nicky can force an answer from those people who he may have suspected would be abroad on the night anyway, or undergoing surgical procedures, and expand his guest list to maximum potential. Other hosts (and guests) take note. 69
Drink A lord’s prayer Bruce Anderson
here was a splendid old fellow called Ian Winterbottom, successively a Yorkshire businessman, a Labour MP and a junior defence minister in the Lords (he later joined the SDP). He was the sort of Labour supporter who dismays Tories, because his politics were based on social generosity. It would have been impossible to dismiss him as an extremist. He was universally popular in the Lords, though sometimes his private office could have crowned him. When he was due to answer questions, the office staff always gave him a full briefing; they were good at predicting awkward questions and supplying emollient answers. All the minister had to do was read out his crib. But dear old Ian often decided to strike out on his own. He would return to safety by saying that he would write to the Noble Lord; and his office would have to draft a letter. Apart from that, he was the easiest boss imaginable. Until the crisis. The government was closing a shore-based naval establishment: a name like HMS Primrose. Some peer was bound to raise the
A lot was drunk. Financial caution floated away down the Cherwell
question of redundancies; they were inevitable. But there was no reason for Ian to sound callous. The draft was as follows: ‘I am grateful to the Noble Lord for raising that point and I can assure him that my Rt Hon. friend the Secretary of State will keep the matter under close review.’ Instead, when asked whether he could assure the House that there would be no redundancies, Ian replied: ‘Yes, my Lords, I am happy to give that assurance.’ Consternation. Before Ian had sat down, his private secretary had sprinted up the back stairs to plead with the Hansard writers. They were obdurate; they could not change ‘yes’ into ‘no’. There was only one hope. The distressed official went to beg mercy from Lord Denham, the Tory chief whip. If the answer stood, Lord Winterbottom would have to resign. ‘We can’t have that,’ said Bertie Denham. ‘We’re all very fond of Ian.’ So a Tory chief whip rode to the rescue of a Labour minister. According to Hansard, Lord Winterbottom said: ‘No, my Lords, I regret that I cannot give such an assurance.’ In Ian’s presence, I was once guilty of a failure of journalistic persistence. He had just come back from a trip to Japan. As a peer and a minister, he was well entertained. At one dinner, there was not only a geisha girl to charm him at the table. There was a girl available
‘That? That’s the smoking area.’
for later on. Ian knew the score. On their expenses, his hosts could claim for the level of entertainment he had enjoyed, but no more. If he went off with a girl, they could do likewise, on the company. Otherwise, they had to pay for their own. ‘Quite a dilemma,’ Ian twinkled. I failed to ask how he resolved it. Ian has an equally impressive son, Dudley Winterbottom. He used to run the Cherwell Boathouse in Oxford: simple food, excellent wine. The first time I dined chez Dudley, I ordered a bottle which he had not tried. ‘D’you mind if I have a glass?’ He then brought a different, equally interesting bottle. So it went on all evening. A lot was drunk. Financial caution floated away down the Cherwell. I was bracing myself for a stonker of a bill, and when it arrived, I did complain. ‘This is ridiculous, Dudley. It can’t cover the historic cost of what my lot have polished off, never mind the food. We did eat something, between glasses.’ Dudley went on to be secretary of the Chelsea Arts Club, a raffish compromise between St James’s and Bohemia. I was there the other day, to learn about Argentine wines. My friend Anthony Foster, MW, produced a bottle of 1982 Rafael, a Cabernet Sauvignon. It was delicious. He had come across two bottles, long-forgotten survivors, and opened one at Christmas to use as mulled wine. He tasted it to ensure that it was still drinkable, and realised from the nose alone that it was far too good for mulling. The fruits of my further Argentine researches will await another occasion. Suffice for now: that benighted nation is far, far better at viniculture than politics.
mind your language
Austerity ‘Remember snoek?’ asked my husband, as if I were old enough to be his mother. In 1947, ten million tins of this distinctivetasting fish, Thyrsites atun, were imported from South Africa to take the place of sardines. The Conservatives complained in Parliament that the Labour administration’s austerity diet was damaging the health of British people. It was more likely that people simply felt put upon, developing a dislike of the very name snoek, which had been favoured officially as preferable to the alternative snake mackerel. We tend to identify austerity with Attlee (1945-51), though the 70
Drink and Dot_16 Mar 2013_The Spectator_
word as a political ideal had been introduced under the coalition during the second world war. Austerity had a counterpart in utility, the designation for clothes and furniture made in accordance with official allowances of materials. ‘Frankly, Meadows, can you see me in a utility suit?’ ran the caption to an Osbert Lancaster cartoon in 1942. We were brought back to the consideration of state-sponsored austerity last week by the Office
for Budget Responsibility’s complaint about being dragged into David Cameron’s justification of public-spending cuts. But it seems to me very different in the streets of Britain today from the state of things in the 1940s. If we are invited to think we are experiencing austerity, despite the heaps of cheap clothes in Primark or of expensive food in Waitrose, then it is Mr Cameron’s doing. In April 2009, not so long ago, at the Conservative spring conference (that needless enterprise) he promised an ‘age of austerity’. In the same speech he promised a ‘People’s Right To
Know’, a plan under which ‘Every item of government spending over £25,000, nationally and locally, will have to be published online.’ No doubt it is, somewhere, though it is no more use to me than the cones hotline. Austerity was a good honest label to popularise in the 1940s. In ancient Greek austeros meant the quality of making the tongue dry and rough. As a metaphor, austerity was used in the English of the Middle Ages to signify the sternness of justice, as at the Last Judgment. Mr Cameron’s tongue may been forked rather than rough, but he has not yet come to judgment. — Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 16 march 2013 | www.spectator.co.uk
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