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The Spectator - 30 September 2017

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Spectator Money: A 21-page special section with Louise Cooper, Matthew Lynn & Jonathan Davis
30 september 2017 [ £4.25 [ est. 1828
Corbyn’s big chance
James Forsyth on the Tories’ fatal paralysis
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It’s time to talk trade
hirty years ago, the Conservatives
would have had no problem countering what Jeremy Corbyn had
to offer in Brighton. But as they gather in
Manchester for their own conference, they
know they are going to have to find a new
way of appealing to a generation born after
the fall of Soviet communism, which has no
memory of (or interest in) the 1970s, with
its industrial strife and moribund state-run
Socialism, as we found out in June, is this
year’s surprise hit. For younger voters struggling to find a way on to the property ladder, a bigger, all-embracing state may seem
to be the answer. As for financial crises, the
only one they have witnessed in their adult
lives was one blamed on reckless banks. It is
harder for them to appreciate the economic
consequences of collectivisation, in spite of
the admission by shadow chancellor John
McDonnell that his policies might cause a
run on the pound. He promises disruption,
and there is a market for that. A great many
young people have experienced stagnant
wages and seen soaring house prices, and
feel any other way must be a better way.
The Conservatives find themselves struggling to find a language which connects with
voters born after 1973, most of whom opted
for Labour at the last election. Indeed, they
are struggling to find an agenda more broadly. But there is no shortage of issues to discuss. Labour’s decision not to debate Brexit
at its conference showed that the party is
mute on the single most important issue of
the day. There is an opportunity here, if the
Tories have the wit to seize it.
Most of those who voted for Remain now
think the result of the referendum ought to
be respected; slowly the divisions are starting to heal. The Conservatives ought to focus
on this reconciliation, rather than pose as a
group of crowing Brexiteers. The main concern among those who opposed Brexit is that
Britain was turning in on itself, that nativism and populism were in the ascendant.
This seemed to chime with the Prime Minister’s often harsh tone, notoriously referring to the ‘citizens of nowhere’ and, to her
shame, refusing to offer immediate assurances to EU nationals, something even Ukip
advocated. She has had depressingly few
warm words for our European allies, perhaps thinking that a combative stance would
serve her well in a general election.
She sought to change the tone in her
Florence speech, but far more needs to be
Free trade is the most effective way to
encourage poverty reduction, social
cohesion and conflict prevention
done. She needs to talk about the opportunities of Brexit, specifically on opening up
Britain’s economies in ways that the EU
has struggled to do. She should return to the
theme of her Davos speech — that in a world
where protectionism is on the rise, Britain
stands ready to be the world champion of
free trade. And she should make the moral
case for this: free trade lowers prices at home
and strengthens friendships abroad. It is the
most effective way to encourage poverty
reduction, social cohesion and conflict prevention. And it can soon be the cornerstone
of British foreign policy.
This is the message of the Institute for
Free Trade, which launched recently at a
Foreign Office reception hosted by Boris
Johnson. Its emergence, and its close relationship with the Foreign Secretary, is an
encouraging development. At times, it
seems as if the Tories have forgotten how to
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
talk about trade — the subject has, after all,
been off the political agenda since we joined
the EU four decades ago. A change of conversation is needed.
Brexit was not about walking away from
Europe but about finding a better way of
engaging with it, based on mutual respect
and national sovereignty. This point is not
filtering down into the Conservatives’ conversation with the electorate — in spite of its
obvious appeal to a generation which takes
for granted the freedom to travel the globe
and to shop across borders. It is also a generation that cannot understand, for example,
why we have an immigration system that
openly discriminates against people from the
United States and India simply because they
are not in the European Union. So this ought
to be the new Tory creed: an internationalism that strikes new alliances while respecting national borders — and recognises that
there is no contradiction between the two.
The appeal of free trade, backed by this
magazine since its inception in 1828, has as
much relevance now as then. There should be
a very clear message from Downing Street:
we want to do business with the EU, we want
goods and services to flow across the Channel — and the Irish land border — just as
they do now. But we also want free trade with
the rest of the world. We can hope that the
EU chooses co-operation, but if it erects barriers then we can speed up and redouble our
efforts with nations beyond Europe.
Like the EU, the Conservative party has
sometimes had a schizoid attitude towards
free trade — for example, tearing itself apart
over the Corn Laws. But if the Conservatives
want to present the younger section of the
electorate with an inspiring vision, there is
no doubt which of its instincts must now be
allowed to prevail.
Honest Abe, p14
Railway cathedrals, p56
Dancing to the music
of Powell, p54
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary Squabbling terns, crazy world
Susan Hill
11 The Spectator’s Notes
The grand EU folly; hunting and the
National Trust; dietary requirements
Charles Moore
17 Rod Liddle TV’s poison dwarves
21 Matthew Parris The subversion of
Brexit is under way at last
22 Barometer Gender pay gaps; who
drives for Uber; the first postcard
23 From the archive Enemy nerves
25 Mary Wakefield The mess we’re in
27 Letters Leave must fight again;
Corbyn’s popularity; why we are fat
28 Any other business Uber cleared
the way — others will follow
Martin Vander Weyer
Deborah Ross is away.
12 Corbyn’s clear run
Tory divisions have brought the
hard left dangerously close to power
James Forsyth
13 His first 100 days
What to expect if Labour wins
Ross Clark
54 Philip Hensher
Anthony Powell, by Hilary Spurling
56 Andrew Taylor
After the Fire, by Henning Mankell
Christian Wolmar
Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations,
by Simon Jenkins
14 Abe’s big gamble
Japan’s PM calls a snap election
Gary Dexter
57 Katrina Gulliver
The Future of War: A History,
by Lawrence Freedman
16 May will stay
Damian Green talks up his boss
James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson
58 A.N. Wilson
Priest of Nature, by Rob Iliffe
18 Not children, not refugees
Asylum system failures
Harriet Sergeant
59 Victoria Schofield
Travels in a Dervish Cloak,
by Isambard Wilkinson
20 Movie notebook
No, my Stalin film is not about Trump
Armando Iannucci
60 Andy Miller
The Cake and the Rain,
by Jimmy Webb
22 Life in the e-lane
How DIY everything slows us down
Mary Dejevsky
61 Alex Peake-Tomkinson
Sugar Money by Jane Harris
29 Spectator Money
A 21-page section featuring
Elliot Wilson, Laura Whitcombe,
Ross Clark, Matthew Lynn,
Freddy Gray and others
62 Paul Levy
Coming to My Senses,
by Alice Waters
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Phil Disley, RGJ, Grizelda, Bernie, Nick Newman, Paul Wood, Geoff Thompson, Steve Way, Roger Latham. Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: editor@spectator. (editorial); (for publication); (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0222 Subscription and delivery
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020 7681 3773, Email:; Distributor Marketforce, 161 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9AP. Tel. 0203 787 9001. Vol 335; no 9866
© 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
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Switching to fibre optics,
Money, p42
Bohemian capital, p74
Snaps by Degas, p64
62 James Delingpole
The hilarity and horror of
Curb Your Enthusiasm
64 Exhibitions
Laura Freeman
77 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
79 Real life Melissa Kite
80 The turf Robin Oakley
Bridge Janet de Botton
65 Music
This is Rattle; It’s All True
Igor Toronyi-Lalic
66 Design
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?
Stephen Bayley
68 Cinema
Goodbye Christopher Robin
Jasper Rees
70 Theatre
Boudica; Ramona Tells Jim
Lloyd Evans
81 Wine club Jonathan Ray
74 Notes on… Prague
Guy Dammann
82 Chess Raymond Keene
83 Competition
Crossword Doc
84 Status anxiety
Toby Young
Battle for Britain
Michael Heath
71 Box sets
Black Sabbath vs David Bowie
Michael Hann
85 Sport Roger Alton
72 Radio
Kate Chisholm
86 Food Tanya Gold
Your problems solved
There’s no way anyone could have
predicted the election of America’s
first balloon-animal-inflated-bypotato-gas as President
Armando Iannucci, p20
To my unpaid responsibilities as
border guard, hotel clerk, coffeemaker, fast-food assistant and
checkout girl, it would now
appear I must add meter reader
Mary Dejevsky, p22
I once planned to publish my diary,
but found passages in it that were
dishonest, written in the heat of
the moment, most likely under
the influence, and the result was a
bum-clenching embarrassment
Taki, p77
Mary Killen
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
Susan Hill’s The Woman in
Black has run longer than any
other West End play, with the
exception of The Mousetrap.
She is the author of 60 books
— and this week’s diary on p9.
Harriet Sergeant’s last
book, Among the Hoods, was
about her three-year friendship
with a south London gang. She
writes about ‘child’ refugees
and the care system on p18.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Katrina Gulliver is a
journalist and historian who
is co-editing a new series of
books on the Pacific islands.
She looks at the future of
war on p57.
Christian Wolmar, who
explores railway stations on
p56, is the author of Blood,
Iron and Gold: How the
Railways Transformed the
World, among other books.
Victoria Schofield is
the author of an acclaimed
biography of Field Marshal
Wavell and several books on
Afghanistan and Kashmir. On
p59, she writes about Pakistan.
Heathrow is Britain’s biggest port by value for global markets outside the EU and
Switzerland, handling over 30% of the UK’s exports. Expansion will double our cargo
capacity and create new domestic and international trading routes, helping more
businesses across Britain reach out and trade with the world.
Heathrow expansion is part of the plan to strengthen Britain’s future.
That’s why we are getting on with delivering Britain’s new runway.
If you are attending Conservative conference, please register for Heathrow
Lounge access at
Building for the future
eremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, told
the party conference that Labour was
‘on the threshold of power’. The party had
been ‘war-game-type scenario-planning’
for things like ‘a run on the pound’, John
McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said
at a fringe meeting. Mr McDonnell had
delighted conference-goers by denouncing
Private Finance Initiatives: ‘We will bring
existing PFI contracts back in-house.
We’re bringing them back! We’re bringing
them back!’ But next day, Jon Ashworth,
the shadow health spokesman, said: ‘It’s
only a handful which are causing hospital
trusts across the country a significant
problem.’ Mr McDonnell also promised
to renationalise rail, water, energy and the
Royal Mail. At a fringe event, speakers
called for the Jewish Labour Movement
and Labour Friends of Israel to be ‘kicked
out’ of the party. Tony Booth, father of
Cherie Blair and best known for playing
the son-in-law of Alf Garnett, who called
him a ‘blasphemious Scouse git’, in Till
Death Us Do Part, died aged 85.
Mrs May had proposed ‘an implementation
period of around two years’ after March
2019, during which Britain would abide by
EU rules, including the jurisdiction of the
European Court of Justice, and continue to
allow free movement. ‘The UK will honour
commitments it has made,’ she said, being
understood to mean a payment of about
£18 billion. McVitie’s reduced the number
of Jaffa Cakes in a box from 12 to 10.
ara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive
of Uber, the private-hire system
used by 40,000 cab drivers and 3.5 million
customers in London, said it would appeal
against a decision by Transport for London
to deny it a new operating licence. Six
men arrested over the Parsons Green
Underground bomb were released and one
was charged with attempted murder. The
US Department of Commerce proposed
a 220 per cent import tariff on jets made
by Bombardier, one of Northern Ireland’s
biggest employers. The Dowager Countess
of Lucan, whose husband disappeared in
1974 after their nanny was murdered, died
aged 80. Fifa lifted its ban on footballers
wearing remembrance poppies.
onald Tusk, the president of the
European Council, visited Theresa
May, the Prime Minister, in Downing
Street. He said that her speech in Florence
four days earlier had shown that ‘the
philosophy of having a cake and eating
it is finally at an end. At least I hope so’.
But he added that the European Union
would discuss its relations with the United
Kingdom ‘once there is so-called sufficient
progress’, but ‘there is no sufficient
progress yet’. In her 5,357-word speech,
resident Donald Trump of the United
States tweeted: ‘Just heard Foreign
Minister of North Korea speak at UN. If
he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man
[Kim Jong-un], they won’t be around much
longer!’ Ri Yong-ho responded that ‘it
was the US who first declared war on our
country’. US bombers were flown close
to North Korea’s east coast. Iran said it
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
had successfully tested a missile with a
range of 1,242 miles (enough to reach
Israel), a week after Mr Trump had said
at the UN that the nuclear agreement in
2015 between Iran and six world powers
was an ‘embarrassment’ to America. Jake
LaMotta, the former world middleweight
boxing champion, died aged 95.
hancellor Angela Merkel of Germany
gained a fourth term in office but saw
her CDU-CSU alliance get the lowest
vote since 1949, 33 per cent. The far-right
Alternative für Deutschland became
the third-largest party with 94 seats and
12.6 per cent, with a leading position in
Saxony, with 27 per cent. Any coalition will
take months to agree. President Emmanuel
Macron of France called for a joint EU
defence force. A couple in Krasnodar,
Russia, were reported to have admitted
murdering up to 30 people; a photograph
dated 1999 showed a human head on a
serving plate with fruit.
n defiance of the Iraqi government, Kurds
voted for independence in a referendum
held in the territory they control, with a
turnout of 72 per cent. Catalonia prepared
for a referendum on 1 October that it called
binding, asking: ‘Do you want Catalonia to
become an independent state in the form of
a republic?’ Spain made arrests, declaring
it illegal. King Salman of Saudi Arabia
issued a decree allowing women to drive
from next June. A 1,111-carat diamond, the
size of a tennis ball, found in Botswana in
2015, was sold to Laurence Graff, a London
jeweller, for £39.5 million.
here is a saying, never more
appropriate than in Recycle Week,
that none of us can ever really throw
anything away. There is no ‘away’ where
we can throw it.
The first principle for Coca-Cola is
that used packaging is not waste – with
the right investment, it can become a
resource, to be used again. As a topical
example, a plastic Coca-Cola bottle now
contains only half the amount of plastic
it did in the 1990s, and around 25 per
cent of it is made up of recycled plastic.
Coca-Cola Great Britain recently made
an ambitious commitment to raise this
to 50 per cent by 2020, meaning the
drive to support efficient collection for
reprocessing and recycling has never
been greater.
In 2009, Coca-Cola also pioneered
the use of plastic bottles made partly
from material manufactured from plant
sources rather than fossil fuels. When you
pick up a Smartwater or Honest bottle,
you’re drinking from one made of both
renewable and recycled materials, with
a lower carbon footprint than a regular
virgin plastic bottle.
Technological advancements in
packaging mean that the soft drinks
industry can and should go much further.
With the vision of its packaging as a
valuable resource, Coca-Cola has invested
in research and development to ensure
all its bottles and cans have been 100 per
cent recyclable since 2012. Yet in practice
only 57 per cent of all plastic bottles are
collected and recycled. Recycling rates,
which increased rapidly during the first
decade of this century, have stalled in
Great Britain, with many bottles not being
disposed of properly, leading to waste and
Something must change. The company
believes that now is the time to trial a welldesigned Deposit Return Scheme (DRS),
where consumers are given a small financial
incentive to return empty bottles. It is
a modern reinvention of an idea which
existed until the 1970s, where buyers of
drinks were charged a small deposit on glass
bottles, which was paid back to them when
they returned the empty bottle to the shop.
Internationally such schemes operate
in 20 countries, and they have provided
insights as to how a good DRS should be
designed. It is time for the industry to try
something new, to see what impact could be
made on litter and recycling rates.
As one of the country’s largest producers
of soft drinks and users of packaging,
Coca-Cola Great Britain takes its
responsibilities seriously and is focused
on reducing its environmental impact
with an aim to collect all of its packaging
so more is recycled and none of it ends up
as litter. Food packaging only makes up 2.5
per cent of total waste produced in Britain,
and drinks bottles and cans constitute just
1.5 per cent. The soft drinks industry can
play an important role in reducing litter
and cleaning up the environment and
Coca-Cola Great Britain is committed to
continuing to lead the way, to get more of
its packaging back and to help ensure the
throwaway society is itself finally discarded.
To find out more visit:
Susan Hill
don’t know why party conferences no
longer take place in Scarborough. As a
child, I saw many an important politician
strolling to the Spa Hall, including
Winston Churchill. I am a Conservative
party member but I have never been to
conference. What would I do? Standing
ovate, I suppose. But this year? Hm.
Theresa May messed up bigger time
than she may ever realise. My local
association saw the writing on the wall
before the polls closed. A panic email
came in. ‘It’s going to be very tight.’
Tight indeed.
ow, the government seems entirely
focused on Brexit, and of course
it is important, but there are many
other matters to sort out and I don’t
mean internecine squabbles. Poverty.
Housing. Schools. Holes in the road. I
understand why many young people are
turning away from us. But not why some
older ones who should have more sense
are Corbynistas. I met some people in
their sixties, higher-educated, cultured,
thoughtful, intelligent and quite wellheeled, who actually said that not only
Jeremy Corbyn but his far-left allies
were a good thing. They have lived long
enough to know how it actually pans out
for ordinary citizens in Marxist countries,
and the way their economies always tank,
yet still promote a government of the
far left here. One such refused to help
me with a good cause, saying, ‘I won’t,
because this is what the government
should pay for and if I give they have an
excuse not to.’ Meanwhile, the homeless
continue to be homeless. I don’t know
how I held back from smacking him.
world to worry about, but the hirundines
touch my heart and I miss them.
y 60th book will be published next
week. How strange. When the first
was accepted by Hutchinson, I was taken
out to lunch by my first editor, Dorothy
Tomlinson. Very few people will remember
her, though I know that the distinguished
travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron
olden days. Leaves drifting down,
the sun dancing on the North Sea
this morning. The autumn equinox.
The house martins were more plentiful
this year than they have ever been —
nine nests, all full. Those beneath the
bathroom window were still feeding
their late second brood two days ago.
One afternoon, I leaned out of the
window and several small faces looked
up at me from the nest. Next morning
they had all gone. Which will survive the
journey to Africa, which will return next
April? There are bigger things in the
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
does, because he was working as her
assistant when I was starting out, and
before he went off to Ulan Bator on
foot. We both benefited so much from
her expert eye, wide-ranging taste and
firm but kindly way with the black pen.
Her father, H.M. Tomlinson, was also a
travel writer and novelist of distinction
in his day. He was of the school of Joseph
Conrad, and his books bear reading,
especially The Sea and the Jungle and
London River, if you can track copies
down. He died just before his daughter
took on my book, and she talked about
him with enormous pride and fondness
at that first lunch. We went to Brown’s
Hotel, and she ordered hors d’oeuvres,
which came on a trolley whose trays
went up and round, revealing the
delights of devilled eggs, rollmops, olives
and gherkins, none of which I had ever
tasted. I was frozen with embarrassment,
which Dorothy sensed, and so chose
for me. She happened to mention that
her father had been a friend of Thomas
Hardy, whose The Return of the Native I
had just done for A-level. He sometimes
went to their house for tea. To think that
my own publisher had handed scones to
a contemporary of Charles Dickens, and
one of the greatest English novelists.
he first geese are back, though I
have yet to see long skeins forging
across the sky overhead, making such a
clatter that their wings might be made
of wood. Yet it was warm enough on the
first day of autumn to sit on the beach
in the sun. A few people crunched along
the shingle. A fishing boat came in. One
brave soul swam. Dogs plunged crazily
into the water, sending up sheets of
spray. But there were miles of emptiness
under a vast blue sky. Two terns dived
for mackerel and caught one. They
fought over it as they flew up, so angrily
that they dropped the fish back into
the sea. They didn’t notice, just went on
fighting over nothing. It reminded me of
Handel’s great chorus from the Messiah.
‘Why do the nations so furiously rage
together?’ Something else for our
government to worry about.
Susan Hill’s new book is called
The Travelling Bag (Profile Books).
Charles Moore
ou can see why Theresa May said
in Florence that the British wished
the European Union well in its plans
for greater integration, while choosing
a different path ourselves. There is no
point in causing antagonism over what
we cannot prevent. But in fact greater
European integration will do great harm
to all Europeans, including us. The rise
of AfD in the German elections was
caused almost entirely by Mrs Merkel’s
extraordinary decision to admit a
million Middle Eastern migrants in a
year. The spread of the Schengen area
— proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker
— combined with recrudescent migrant
pressure can only confirm freedom of
movement as the impossible issue of our
time. The attempt to support the euro
with banking union and pan-eurozone
economic government will continue
to penalise the poorer members, while
ultimately enraging German voters who
have to take on everyone else’s debts.
Yes, we have an interest in EU stability.
But no, it will not be achieved by the
Merkel/Macron/Juncker visions.
elebrities urge National Trust to
ban fox hunting’, was the strange
headline in Monday’s Times. Strange,
because fox hunting is already banned
by the law of the land. What the antihunting lobbies are trying to stop is
trail-hunting on the Trust’s 600,000
acres, which is, of course, legal, and will
remain so unless and until we are so mad
that we forbid all ownership of hounds.
There will be a vote on the matter at the
National Trust’s AGM in Swindon on
21 October. All National Trust members
wishing to attend, or vote postally, have
to register by 15 October. There is quite
a history of attempted coups of this sort
at the Trust. In 1990, an extreme-left
Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn by name,
sponsored a resolution to ban all hunting
(which was then legal) on Trust land. It
failed. In 1997, on the recommendation
of Professor Patrick Bateson’s report,
the Trust hastily banned stag-hunting
without consulting the interested parties.
Today, the Trust, naive in reaction to
a social media storm, has again been
thoughtless. It put forward new licensing
plans without consulting the Countryside
Alliance. These propose that future meets
should be publicised in advance — a nice
idea, but one which takes no account of the
sad fact that trail hunts are often attacked
by extremists. The Trust is also in danger
of riding roughshod over its tenantry:
unless its leases specifically reserve trailhunting rights, it has no power over legal
activities on tenanted land. By the way, in
the 12 years of the ban, there have been no
convictions for illegal hunting on Trust land.
ady (Mary) Fairfax has died. She
was, extremely briefly, the grande
dame of The Spectator. Early in 1985, the
Australian Fairfax group bought the paper.
Michael Heath commemorated the event
with a cartoon, which we published, of
The Spectator in the pouch of a kangaroo.
The Fairfax era did us power of good. In
1987, however, young Warwick Fairfax, son
of Mary, bought out the group, with heavy
‘leverage’. His offer enriched but enraged
his family, expelling his half-brother
and cousins. Mary Fairfax was a famous,
commanding and noisy figure in Australian
life, completely unlike all the other quiet,
respectable Fairfaxes. She was the third
wife of the patriarch, Sir Warwick — who
died shortly before all this. She once gave
a party of which the chef d’oeuvre was a
gigantic ice kangaroo, its pouch stuffed not
with The Spectator, but with caviare. Lady
Fairfax was widely considered to be the
power behind young Warwick. When she
came to see me in our office in Doughty
Street, her first words were: ‘They say I
married my late husband for his money.
That’s not true. I am a very wealthy woman
in my own right.’ Then she said, ‘You know,
I’m so lucky. I have a very dear friend who
has the only stretch Rolls-Royce in London
and he lent it to me to get here today.’ For
want of anything else to say, I ventured
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
that this must make it difficult to get
round corners. ‘I don’t know,’ glared
Lady Fairfax, ‘I’m not driving.’ Then
she told me about her son, our new
proprietor: ‘He’s a very Christian young
man. He lives in a little community.
Every Sunday he cooks the dinner, and
every Wednesday he cleans the bath.’
I got the sense that Warwick’s grip on
Fairfax might not be secure. Besides, the
dire effects of the crash of October 1987
sent all his borrowings awry. I did what I
could to steer The Spectator towards the
Telegraph group, which had expressed
interest. It bought the paper in the spring
of 1988 and has owned it ever since.
Warwick lost control of Fairfax in 1990.
or some time now, people inviting
one to corporate or governmental
meals have enquired whether one
has any ‘dietary requirements’. I have
always considered this polite, since it
gives guests the chance to state any need
without having to raise it. As someone,
however, with no dietary requirements
— except food and plenty of it — I
sometimes fail to answer the diet
question, assuming that silence indicates
assent to whatever is offered. Recently,
I notice, this is not considered good
enough. Emails come back insisting one
state one’s preferences. Why? I imagine
that, like so many things in modern life,
this is a semi-legal precaution. Suppose
a guest does not say that he is allergic
to, say, nuts, is then served something
with nuts in it, and falls gravely ill. Might
he sue his hosts? It is important, some
lawyer will have advised them, to have
a ‘paper trail’. Is there no principle of
caveat edens?
eaders may remember this column’s
campaign to restore the reputation
of George Bell, courageous wartime
Bishop of Chichester, posthumously
condemned, on paltry evidence, of child
abuse. This weekend, Lord Carlile QC
will hand in to the church authorities
his report on the processes they used to
condemn Bell. It will be public in a few
weeks. In the meantime, a service will
commemorate Bell at 5 p.m. at St Martin
within Ludgate, London, on Wednesday
4 October. All welcome.
A clear run for Corbyn
Paralysed by Brexit divisions, the Tories risk handing Britain to the hard left
eremy Corbyn, Prime Minister. This
used to be one of the Tories’ favourite
lines. They thought that just to say it
out loud was to expose its absurdity. The
strategic debate within the Tory party was
over whether to attack Corbyn himself, or
to use him to contaminate the whole Labour
brand. But Corbyn has transformed that
brand, not damaged it. He has successfully
fused together a Social Democratic party
with a radical left one.
Labour conference this week was
the gathering of a movement that
thinks it is close to power; just look
at the disciplined way delegates justified the decision not to debate Brexit,
on the grounds that it would just have
created divisions. Having polled 40 per
cent in June and seen its share of the
vote soar, Labour thinks it will win
next time. Party activists draw strength
from the fact that they can outgun the
Conservatives on the ground almost
everywhere. As one Tory MP lamented
to me, they think they are doing well if
they can cajole a few dozen souls out
for a day’s campaigning. Labour can
get hundreds of activists out without
even breaking sweat.
Corbyn is now the bookies’ favourite to be the next prime minister. He
has Theresa May to thank for this
change in his fortunes. It was her
decision to call an early election that
allowed him to turn things around. Up
to this point, Corbyn — for all his grassroots
adulation — had been a bit of a Westminster joke: 172 of his own MPs had previously declared that they had no confidence in
him. But his internal critics, who wanted to
ensure there was no stab-in-the-back narrative, stayed silent this time. Corbyn was free
to fight a campaign where low expectations
worked in his favour.
Helped by Tory divisions, Corbyn has
consolidated his position since the election.
Voters have hardly recoiled on realising how
close to power he is. Instead, Labour is still
polling at 40 per cent or above.
Yet some Conservatives confidently
claim that we have already passed ‘Peak
Corbyn’. One of those who ran the Tory
campaign argues that next time, voters will
take the prospect of him winning more seri12
ously. So they’ll be far more worried about
what he would mean for their family finances, the risk of a run on the pound and all the
other chaos that he could bring. They also
argue that at the last election, people felt
it was safe to vote Labour to back a local
candidate, or to stick two fingers up at the
Tories, as there was so little chance of Corbyn reaching No. 10. That too will be different next time. How many of the 39 per
cent of Financial Times readers who voted
Labour at the last election really want John
McDonnell in charge of the economy?
But the real danger is that the Tories
might have vaccinated Corbyn. By botching their attacks, they may have given him
immunity. When they point to all his hardleft positions, his dodgy economics and his
sympathy for various terrorist groups, voters might just shrug and say: ‘We’ve heard it
all before.’ At the same time, Corbyn sounds
very different to how he did two years ago.
Voters tuning into him for the first time
will find his agenda presented in a far more
seductive and less sectarian way.
What make this all so alarming is that it
would be hard to think of a worse moment
in Britain’s history to have a far-left prime
minister. It’s often forgotten that what matters far more than Britain’s Brexit deal is
what we do afterwards. If we go down the
Corbyn route, foreign investors will not stick
around. This country’s strengths as an open,
dynamic economy with a flexible labour
market will vanish and a new generation
of Tories will begin to understand why so
many on the centre-right in the 1970s and
1980s were prepared to trade sovereignty as
a hedge against Bennite economics.
Liberated from the constraints of the single market, John McDonnell would have a
freer hand than any Labour chancellor
in decades. He could subsidise industries and renationalise companies in
ways that would reverse the whole
Thatcher/Blair settlement. Taking the
railways back into state control, for
instance, would inevitably be challenged under EU law if Britain were
still in the single market. One of the
reasons Tony Benn was so opposed
to the European project and Corbyn
has such a solidly Eurosceptic voting
record is that they saw it all as a capitalist conspiracy that would stop socialism at home.
It is not just Brexit that makes this
such a bad time to have a far-left government. We are living in an era of
technological disruption and a Corbyn
government would certainly not be on
the side of the consumer. Look at how
even the moderate Labour Mayor of
London, Sadiq Khan, has backed TfL’s
ban on the taxi service Uber. Britain’s
future as one of the technology capitals of
the world would disappear.
Given such high stakes, why can’t the
Tories unite? With the country facing an
existential crisis and Corbyn the most likely
successor to May, you’d have thought the
party could pull itself together. But there are
structural reasons preventing this.
Even after Theresa May’s speech in Florence, we don’t know what she wants the final
relationship between Britain and the EU to
be. So the cabinet battle continues. To the
Brexiteers led by Boris Johnson, it is obvious that there is no point in leaving the EU
only to cling to it as closely as possible. But
to Philip Hammond and the Treasury, the
imperative is to maintain current arrangements for as long as possible.
It is hard to see how these two sides can
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
be reconciled. May must be prepared to disappoint one of them. And because Hammond’s side of the argument is backed by
Whitehall’s two most powerful institutions,
the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, the
Brexiteers believe that they have to create
outside pressure to win these battles. Thus
arguments are likely to play out in public
more often than No. 10 would like — and
voters do not reward divided parties.
Even on areas of domestic policy where
the cabinet agree, there is little sense of
urgency. The Tories risk repeating their
manifesto mistake of acknowledging problems, then coming up with solutions that are
clearly inadequate to their scale.
It is past time for proper radicalism
on housing. As Noel Skelton identified in
these pages back in 1923, the concept of a
‘property-owning democracy’ is the best
bulwark against socialism. This means that
the Tories need to be reversing the fall in
home ownership before the next election.
The only sure way to do that is for the state
to grant itself planning permission on land
it already owns and get the houses built.
But there is no sign yet of the Tories being
prepared to embrace this kind of thinking.
It would be hard to think of a
worse moment in Britain’s history
to have a far-left prime minister
Then there is the leadership question.
When Tory MPs returned from their summer break, consensus had broken out. Mrs
May would continue until Brexit was done,
and then go. But that truce is breaking down.
As May’s senior cabinet ally, Damian Green,
makes clear on page 16, the Mayites really do
think she can fight and win the next election.
If she won’t step down, Tory MPs will have
to remove their leader — always a messy
business and rarely popular with the public.
The more profound problem is that there
is no obvious choice to replace her. The cabinet split over Brexit makes it hard to see
who among its ranks could reconcile the two
sides. And it is hard to see how a party in
government could present the public with a
prime minister who had not even served as
a secretary of state. It is also clear that while
Tory members are prepared to contemplate
a less experienced leader, MPs are not convinced that this would be a wise strategy.
Yet something must change. For if the
Tories stay as they are, Jeremy Corbyn will
seize the moment and it will be the hard left
that determines the future of Brexit Britain.
His first 100 days
What would happen with Corbyn at the helm
Many assume that if an election were held
soon, Jeremy Corbyn would win. But
what if, say, the government fell in 2020
and Labour won a working majority?
t 71, Corbyn becomes Britain’s
oldest prime minister since
Churchill, and at first is one of its most
popular. His appeal grows as he takes on
some of the country’s favourite demons.
Few listen to the protests of water and
electricity shareholders as their stakes
are seized — most are focused on their
own bills, which surely will come down
now. There are cheers at Victoria Station
as the news flashes across screens that
Southern Railway is to be nationalised.
At hospitals, medical staff are filmed
applauding as PFI contracts are
terminated and taken on by the NHS.
Stock markets show an upwards
blip. They have, after all, already pricedin the expected Corbyn victory, while
the clear result means that the endless
political horse-trading of the past few
years is over. Sterling bounds upwards
— for a few days. A Corbyn victory
seems to indicate that Britain will
finally leave the EU, rather than the
half-in, half-out arrangement which has
persisted as Downing Street tried to
placate warring Conservative factions. It
means that Britain should gain distance
from the troubled eurozone, still reeling
from its most recent crisis.
But then social media starts to light
up with snaps of sheepish-looking
celebrities — a number of whom have
previously given warm support to
Corbyn — boarding planes to the US,
Canada or Australia. A week later the
national mood remains positive, in spite
of grumblings when a Commons bill
forces coffee-shop chains with more
than 500 UK outlets to buy their beans
exclusively from fair-trade growers in
Venezuela, which is to get £100 million
in UK aid to help diversify its economy.
Starbucks closes some shops and says
it will put no more investment into the
UK to avoid the inflated prices.
But it isn’t until week three, when
Chancellor John McDonnell delivers his
emergency budget, that the honeymoon
ends. People who earn more than
£80,000 a year have braced themselves
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
for higher taxes; not so the middle
managers with pension funds valued at
more than £250,000, which will now be
subject to a new ‘wealth tax’ of 1 per
cent per year. There is fury that public
sector pensions will be exempt. There
is also a new social care levy of 2 per
cent on the value of any home worth
£500,000-plus. Critics start likening it to
Theresa May’s ‘dementia tax’.
In the melee, a rise in corporation
tax to 50 per cent for company profits
over £10 million goes almost unnoticed.
The extra revenue is all needed, says
McDonnell, to ‘invest’ in an extra
£100 billion of public spending a
year, including abolition of tuition
fees and the government’s ambitious
nationalisation programme. The
Conservatives’ plan to move the budget
back into surplus (currently pencilled in
for the year 2026-27) is abandoned.
There are still willing investors for
the next auction of government debt
a week later, but they have started
to demand higher interest rates. The
pound starts to slide. It is just a slight
adjustment, maintains McDonnell —
until he is back to deliver his second
emergency budget six weeks later.
Corporate tax receipts, it turns out, have
nosedived due to company relocations.
The wealth tax is doubled to 2 per cent
and will now apply to all personal assets
worth over £100,000.
Interest rates continue to rise as
investors begin to worry whether the
UK will be able to honour its future
debts. Could the nationalisation
programme be halted? There is some
hope when the European Court of
Justice rules that parts of it could be
illegal under competition law. With
Britain’s exit from the EU finally
scheduled for 12 August, marking the
Corbyn government’s 100th day in
office, Boris Johnson, frontrunner for
the Tory leadership, makes a passionate
speech demanding that withdrawal be
delayed at least until the question of
nationalisation can be resolved.
Charges of hypocrisy abound —
none, though, more ironic than those
levelled by Russell Brand, the star of
Corbyn’s election broadcasts, speaking
from the side of his LA swimming pool.
Abe’s challenge
Is his rival Yuriko Koike behind the Japanese PM’s
decision to call a snap election?
s the only nation to have suffered
mass casualties from a nuclear
bomb, Japan has been understandably nervous about Kim Jong-un’s missile
tests. Sales of domestic nuclear bunkers and
gas masks have soared and nationally aired
TV ads with a chilling ‘Protect and Survive’
flavour urge residents to hunker behind
washing machines in basements and stay
away from windows. This is one reason why
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s long-standing Prime
Minister, felt confident enough to surprise
the world this week and call a snap election.
In the light of Theresa May’s recent disaster, it seemed to many like a rash move.
Here, on the face of it, is a Prime Minister in
a very similar position to the one May held
in June: seeking to consolidate support at a
moment when the opposition is in disarray,
predictions of a landslide… But Abe is bullish. If he doesn’t win an outright majority, he
says, he will resign. And there are reasons to
think he is a far safer bet than May ever was.
There’s the fact that he’s about as seasoned a politician as it is possible to imagine.
He has already had three terms as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) prime minister
(there is no limit on the number of terms a
Japanese prime minister may hold), and as
his people know, he really is the man to face
down any threat from crazy Kim Jong-un.
Abe is known as a tough operator over
North Korea. He is admired in Japan for getting one over on Kim Jong-il in 2002, when
he helped negotiate a deal for Japanese
abductees in North Korea to visit Japan —
though once in Japan the abductees refused
to go back. Abe says that ‘talk for talk’s sake’
between Japan, the US and North Korea has
achieved nothing. He now wants to take a
different tack and bolster Japan’s ability to
take a more active war-fighting stance, cur-
All this tough talk has led
critics to claim he is exploiting
public fears for political gain
rently restricted under the post-war pacifist
constitution. In April this year he even raised
the spectre of sarin-tipped North Korean
missiles, evoking one of Japan’s most painful
memories, the Tokyo sarin gas attacks of 1995.
All this tough talk has led critics to claim
that he is exploiting public fears for political
gain — and they have a point. But those fears
could be well-founded.
The same is true in the economic sphere.
Abe promises a turbocharging of so-called
‘Abenomics’. Tax increases are planned for
2019 to pay off the national debt, but in a
new twist Abe has promised that around
40 per cent of the amount raised (¥2 trillion out of a total of ¥5 trillion) will be ringfenced to pay for ‘the challenge of breaking
the greatest wall — a declining birthrate and
an ageing population’.
If this sounds pedestrian, it isn’t. Again,
it taps into Japanese fears that the nation’s
demography is out of control, that women
are not having enough children and soon
there will be no one to push everyone else’s
wheelchairs. Again, the people have a point.
But there’s another reason that Abe
might think it important to press home his
advantage, and that reason is Abe’s Jeremy
Corbyn, Yuriko Koike, the first-ever female
governor of Tokyo. Koike is an almost equally
seasoned politician. She’s been environment
minister and Japan’s first female minister of
defence under Abe, but left the LDP in May
this year. Last week she founded the ‘Hope
Party’ (Kibou no Tou), an attempt to appeal
to Japanese voters who are tired of politicsas-usual and Japan’s old male-dominated
society and want something unconventional.
Koike is almost professionally unconventional. When she was a young girl, so her
story goes, her father told her: ‘It’s shameful
to do what everybody does.’ So she studied at
the American University in Cairo, then used
her Arabic to get into TV, where she made
her mark as a news commentator taking on
the male host. Because she takes on the old
guard, Koike has a great following of young
Japanese who attend her rallies waving broccoli in honour of her green credentials. One
of her stranger pitches to the young when
running for governor was to promise that
the whole of Tokyo would be turned into an
‘I am raising my flag for real,’ Ms Koike
said at a press conference this week. ‘Japan is
facing a difficult time considering the situation in North Korea. Economically, the world
is making a big move while Japan’s presence
is gradually declining. Can we continue letting the establishment handle politics?’
There’s no doubt that Koike’s appeal
played a part in Abe’s decision. Even she
might find it hard to work up enough antiestablishment feeling to snatch victory from
Abe in just three weeks, though stranger
things have happened.
The election is perhaps also timed to
allow Abe to ride out his own version of the
Whitewater scandal, involving the allegedly
corrupt sale of building land. Calling the election now will necessitate the immediate dissolution of the lower house in preparation for
elections on 22 October, which in turn means
that his opponents will be unable to ask any
more inconvenient questions in the Diet.
Abe may feel that he will never be more
popular than he is now. But the danger in his
situation is pointed out by Aiji Tanaka, Professor of Political Science at Waseda University: ‘The situation looks so in favour of the
LDP that some of its casual supporters may
skip the voting because they think the LDP
will win anyway, regardless of whether they
go to vote,’ he says. If Abe then does badly,
‘this could fuel calls within the party for his
To the British voter, this might sound
spookily familiar.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
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The lady’s not for quitting
May’s right-hand man Damian Green on her survival plan
ven Damian Green seems to find it
odd that he’s the second most important person in the government. When
asked, the First Secretary of State plays
down his influence — in fact, he plays down
most things. When David Cameron wanted
the Tories’ immigration policies out of the
spotlight, he put Green in charge of them.
And when Theresa May wanted someone
she could trust to be her deputy after the
disastrous general election, she chose one of
the few people in the cabinet whom she can
call a friend.
The pair have known each other since
Oxford, and now talk face-to-face every
day. When we meet in his magisterial cabinet office headquarters, he talks about her
with enthusiasm. ‘She’s warm, has a sense of
humour, she’s good company and she is, as
has been observed, fantastically hardworking and conscientious,’ he says. ‘The more
people see that, the better she will do politically.’ And if she hasn’t been doing very
well politically, he says, that’s because people haven’t seen the real Theresa May. He
thinks they will now.
Most of the cabinet regard the Prime
Minister as a caretaker. They think she is
staying on from a sense of duty, to get Brexit
done and prevent a leadership contest from
being dominated by this most divisive of
Tory issues. But does she see it that way?
On a recent trip to Japan, she was asked if
she’d fight the next election in five years’
time and replied: ‘Yes.’ Mr Green says that
she was quite serious — and if there is any
doubt about that, he’d like it settled.
‘She is a fighter, and she’s got an agenda for the country that she’s passionate
about. She wants to put that into practice,’
he says. ‘By 2022, she will have a big record
of achievement to show. I’m optimistic that
we’ll have a good Brexit deal, and we’re
determined to pursue a domestic agenda
that will show people who may not previously have benefited from Conservative successes that they can do so. Different types
of people, in different parts of the country. I
think people will see that as a success.’
Strong words, and ones that will shock
many Tory MPs and members of the cabinet.
They thought there was a tacit understanding that May would see Brexit through, and
would elegantly avoid questions about 2022.
But she has a new agenda now: that she will
fight on, fight to win. And fight for at least
another five years. Those who want her gone
will have to remove her.
In a sign of how seriously the May inner
circle is taking her survival plan, Green even
sets out the electoral calculations that will
underpin the campaign. ‘We will see more
of Jeremy Corbyn’s and particularly John
McDonnell’s economic policies. If people
Green’s making sure that messages
flow back: mainly, that May is
all set to stay and she has a plan
actually think they are going to be put into
practice, they will start searching for alternatives. Now, I’d obviously hope that they
will come to us. But it seems at least possible that they’ll go to the Liberal Democrats,
or the Greens.’ So is he saying that a resurgent Vince Cable might save the Tories? ‘Yes,
that’s right.’
Watching Labour’s buzzing conference in Brighton, many on the centre-right
are starting to fear that we have reached
a 1979 moment in reverse — that is to say,
that there has been a sea change and it is
for Mr Corbyn. But Green is confident that
this is not the case. Or as he puts it, ‘We’re
not in 1979, we’re in 1974. And if the Labour
‘The talks are not going well.’
government had done different things, they
might have changed things.’ Mrs May’s policies on housing, industrial strategy and social
justice, he says, will prove to those who have
‘seized on Jeremy Corbyn as the solution’
that the Conservative party has the answers.
‘That’s precisely what Theresa identified
when she first became Prime Minister.’
But if she is the right leader with the
right policies, why did she lose the Tories
their majority? ‘It boils down to having a
manifesto that clearly didn’t work,’ he says
— a dig at Nick Timothy, her now-departed
chief of staff, who took personal charge of
the document. He complains that it ‘didn’t
mesh with a campaign that was essentially
“safety first” at a time when a lot of people
were saying “we need change here”’. This is
another dig — at the Tory campaign guru
Lynton Crosby.
In truth, the next election is likely to be
determined by Brexit. The Tories will have
little chance of winning unless they deliver
on it, and in an orderly fashion. Green,
who was on the board of Stronger In, is
still smarting at Corbyn’s failure to pull his
weight in the referendum. ‘He didn’t lift a
finger, actively refused to talk to Alan Johnson, who was heading the Labour In campaign. He pulled out of radio interviews on
the morning and behaved very, very badly as
a Remain campaigner.’
He’s also unhappy with Boris Johnson’s
very public interventions on Brexit. He
remarks archly that, ‘There are views to be
expressed on all issues and I would prefer
them to be expressed in private rather than in
public.’ When we jokingly ask if there are too
many former journalists in the cabinet, he says
pointedly, ‘I’m not a journalist any more, I am
now a government minister, and therefore I
have needed to develop a different skill-set
and a different attitude to the world.’
It’s odd to think of Green as a journalist:
he worked for the BBC and the Times, but
now seems to be in the business of making
stories go away. Which, given the current
climate, is useful for a Tory party beset by
too many stories. One of his fellow cabinet
members says the team works much better
now that they have, in Green, a conduit to
the Prime Minister, rather than her old special advisers. He says his job now means
‘making sure that not just cabinet members
but backbenchers as well have someone else
they can talk to, an elected politician who is
at the centre and can make sure that ideas
and complaints can flow through’.
And he’s also making sure that messages
flow back: mainly, that May is all set to stay
and she has a plan. That, in spite of the past
few months, there’s no one better to lead her
party into the next decade. ‘At the election,
the wrong impression took hold,’ he says.
‘But the more people get to know her, the
more they will see the huge qualities she
brings to the job.’ The next few months will
show whether his party agrees.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
The dwarves of death who control your TV
y own fault, I suppose, for turning
on the television. Not an action I
undertake very regularly these
days, because I am trying to be a nicer person. Some time ago, Charles Moore wrote in
his Spectator diary about a hitherto ghastly,
bitter old woman who had suddenly become
much more pleasant to everybody. What
had effected this change? ‘I have stopped
reading the Daily Mail,’ she explained.
So it is with me and the idiot box. I
become so enraged at being clubbed over
the head by the politically correct dwarves
of death who inhabit that poxed machine in
the corner that I stamp around and make
everybody miserable with my ranting. Not
just the news programmes, either, although
they’re the worst. Every programme these
days has those dwarves hammering away
with cudgels at your head, frantic to get their
fatuous agenda fastened deep inside your
skull. There is never an alternative view.
So all I watch (very occasionally) is a
programme called How It’s Made, which
explains, factually, how things like cotton
buds and motorbikes and dog collars are
manufactured. The dwarves haven’t caught
up with this forgotten late-night half-hour
yet. But they will, they will. Sooner or later
I’ll turn on and the announcer will say: ‘This
week on How It’s Made — the patriarchy,
racism and slavery.’
Anyway, my wife wanted to watch a new
series on ITV called Liar and, being nothing
if not uxorious, I agreed to enjoy it with her.
Big mistake. It’s a six-part series in which, at
the outset, a woman accuses a man of rape
after a night out. The man denies it. Hence
the title — the drama resides in guessing
who is telling the porky.
Except it doesn’t, does it? Because as
many TV reviewers noted, it has to be the
man lying. Because women don’t lie, not
even in fiction these days. They are not
allowed to lie. One reviewer said that it
would be ‘irresponsible’ for the series to
conclude that the woman had lied.
This is how efficient the dwarves of death
have been with their cudgels. Bang, bang,
bang they go on our heads, until we are
unable to contemplate the possibility that a
woman might tell a lie. It would be irresponsible, the reviewer (and several others) con-
tended — because almost no rape cases come
to court and women are never believed. Au
contraire. More and more rape cases come
to court — the number rises every year. And
more than one in three men (42.1 per cent,
fact fans) who are charged with rape are
later proven to be innocent. There have been
numerous high-profile cases recently.
So in fact a decent drama could have
been constructed out of this scenario if the
dwarves hadn’t got to us. But the writers
of the series actually agreed that it would
be irresponsible to suggest that it was
the woman who had lied, such was their
determination to stay on-message.
So where’s the drama, where’s the mystery? Man rapes woman, like they always do,
Women don’t lie about rape in fiction.
It would be ‘irresponsible’ for a TV
series to say that a woman had lied
and then lies about it, like they always do.
Everybody knew the denouement before
the opening credits of episode one were over.
And, indeed, by the end of the third episode
the man was proven to be the liar, the rapist.
Where does it go from here? Up its own
bottom, I suspect. An explanation of how
the sexist criminal justice system always fails
women and allows men to get away with
everything, including probably murder. Or
white men, at least. Not black men: they are
victims too, kind of on a par with the white
women. Because everything else in this
vapid, stupid series was predictable. There
are of course black and ethnic minority
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
‘Well, Jeff gave his opinion the loudest,
so let’s go with his idea.’
people in it, which there must be, by law, or
ITV gets done for being racist. And all of
them, the black and ethnic minority people,
are Good — that’s the law, too. There are
white men in it and all of them are Bad. And
there are white women in it and they are all
Good and transgressed by the white men.
So in this detective crime drama, you
know the answers as soon as someone
appears on screen. If they’re black or Asian
they’re OK, if they’re female they’re OK,
if they’re white and male they’re evil. So
there is no drama at all, no mystery. It’s just
a kind of Orwellian hate week, a chance for
the TV people to stick it to the fount of all
human misery, the white male. The principal
African-Caribbean character, by the way, is
an egregiously transgressed, gentle, stay-athome dad.
And so you ask the question. If the
writers can stretch their imagination to
include a doting, stay-at-home black dad,
why can’t they stretch their imaginations to
envisage the possibility that a woman might
possibly lie? The answer, of course, is that
one stretch of the imagination is patrolled,
with great vigilance, by the dwarves of death
with their cudgels. The other, meanwhile, is
gently encouraged by the dwarves of death
with their cudgels.
If this were a one-off, it would not matter. Indeed, if it were a one-off it would work
as a drama. It is the monoculture of television which is really to blame, I suppose:
only one view of the world is permitted.
And it is the stunting of the imagination by
political diktat which so appals. The liberal
middle classes who run the whole show are
so absolutely certain in their opinions that
anything which deviates from them is irresponsible, or unthinkable.
I hope the writers of Liar come home
tomorrow night to find their homes ablaze,
their treasured possessions reduced to ash
and embers, borne on the winds across north
and west London. I would happily roast
chestnuts on the conflagration. You see?
That’s what happens. Turn on the TV and
I become a bad person. Although no worse
than the dwarves think I am already.
The argument continues online.
Not refugees, not children
It’s time to fix our broken asylum system
was interviewing ten foster parents in west
London for a report on children in care.
Foster parents are in great demand, so I
was startled to discover that only one of the
sets of parents was looking after the sort of
vulnerable children you imagine to be in the
care system. The others were looking after
unaccompanied asylum-seeker children.
They made an alarming claim: three of
these seemed to be adults passing themselves off as boys. ‘The first thing they ask for
is a razor,’ said one foster parent, ‘They’ve
got these big beards.’ A woman admitted she
found it embarrassing having a grown man
posing as a 17-year-old. But the authorities
appeared uninterested. ‘Our concerns are
just fobbed off,’ said another.
A counter-extremism expert told me:
‘There is nothing in the system to stop a
26-year-old Isis fighter coming here, stating
he is 17 and claiming asylum.’
Anyone forced to flee his or her country with a well-founded fear of persecution
can claim asylum. An orphan under 18 has
special rights. They receive the same benefits as a child taken into care. This includes
help with funding for university education
and a place up the top of the housing list. No
one would begrudge a genuine child refugee
these privileges. The problem is the system is
open to abuse, and the latest terrorist attack
in Parsons Green raises further questions.
Ahmed Hassan is an 18-year-old unaccompanied asylum seeker who is alleged to have
built the bomb in his foster parents’ kitchen.
We do not know how he came here or what
could have led him to do what he is accused
of. But it is time, surely, to question our asylum system for refugee children. Yet raise
concerns and you risk Gary Lineker labelling
you ‘hideously racist and utterly heartless’.
The problem is sorting myth from fact.
The first myth, emphasised over and over
again, is that these are vulnerable children.
The word conjures up images of small boys
and girls. Our hearts break for them. The
reality is somewhat different.
Only 8 per cent of unaccompanied
minors who arrived in the UK in 2015 were,
in fact, under 14. This is according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European
Union. Instead, over half were aged 16-17.
Nor was there a balance of boys and girls.
Some 91 per cent were male. Save the Children admits, ‘Many come across as being
self-reliant and not in need of support’, but it
urges that they are often ‘extremely vulnerable and in need of reassurance and care’.
Why are the majority of refugee children in fact teenage boys? Here we come
up against another myth: that refugees
somehow find their own way to the UK.
The truth is, nobody arrives in this country without the help of a people trafficker.
This means it is the people traffickers who
control our immigration system — not the
Home Office. It is they who dictate who
comes here. Refugees who cannot afford to
pay never make it. If we really want to help
the vulnerable, we should be taking children
directly from refugee camps.
The truth is that nobody arrives
in this country without
the help of people traffickers
The central role of people traffickers
means that every young person arriving
here represents a considerable investment
by their family or community back home.
This explains why they are nearly all young
men. They come from cultures in which men
have greater earning power.
As one immigration officer at a busy UK
airport with 20 years’ experience of dealing
with refugee children explained to me: ‘Ninety per cent of them are not orphans. Their
coming here is very well worked out. Their
families have paid the people traffickers to
bring them here. The intention is for the families to follow shortly after. These are cashrich young people.’ For the most part, in his
opinion, ‘They are not fleeing for their lives.’
In other words, they are economic migrants
and therefore not entitled to asylum.
His view is backed up by the actions of
‘I’m confused — are we against debt,
or enthusiastically for it?’
the traffickers themselves. As Save the Children warns, the agent will instruct the young
person to lie about their nationality and age
and destroy all identity documents. Some
gangs even provide a pack with information on claiming asylum, fake documents,
a ready-made asylum story and a pair of
scissors. The only reason for doing this is
because they know their clients are economic migrants.
The third myth is that every child refugee is speaking the truth. Actually we have
no way of knowing. The lack of documentation means that the most basic facts about a
young person cannot be checked: their age,
for example, their nationality or even their
real name. When I sat in on interviews of
adult asylum seekers by determining officers, I was amazed at the vagueness. One
man could not remember how long he had
been in prison: ‘Maybe one month, maybe
one year, maybe many more.’ The tactic is
a deliberate ploy promoted by the gangs,
whom asylum seekers fear more than the
Immigration and Naturalisation Service.
The immigration officer explained: ‘For
years now we have had adult Pakistani
males arriving in this country maintaining
they are Afghan teenagers. They tell me they
are 13 or 14, but they are clearly over 20,
well developed and with good facial hair.’
In 2015 the second largest number of claimants came from Afghanistan.
The co-operation between traffickers
and extremists is a new and alarming threat
to our national security, points out Rosalind
Ereira of Solidarity with Refugees. Some
migrants sign up to support Isis in exchange
for their travel; the money paid by others
to the smugglers ‘helps fund Islamic State
activities’. A report from Quilliam, a leading counter-extremism think-tank, warns:
‘There is no question that militant groups
target refugee youth for recruitment.’
The immigration officer is frustrated
because he knows by sight many of the
‘facilitators’ or people traffickers. These are
often young men on benefits who appear
mysteriously able to travel ten times a year
to Dubai and Africa. They charge a high
price for a personalised service in which
they accompany the young migrants on the
plane before leaving them at the terminal.
But the traffickers have British or EU passports. ‘I have no power to stop a British citi-
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
zen longer than five minutes otherwise my
bosses upstairs will kick off. I can do nothing
without the traffickers’ permission. Nothing
— and they know that.’
Despite the security threat, few in
authority appear willing to tackle the problem. When a Conservative MP suggested
checking the age of young asylum seekers
with dental or X-ray tests of the hand to
measure bone density, he was accused of ‘vilifying’ refugees. Ruth Allen, chief executive
of the British Association of Social Workers,
said medical tests would be ‘very intrusive
and could be re-traumatising’.
When Norway insisted on a dental examination of arriving refugee children, they discovered nine out of ten were, in fact, over 18.
As a social worker, Allen must know
the dangers of introducing grown men into
schools and foster families. Paul Chadwick of Croydon borough council warned a
House of Lords Committee last year of sexual exploitation in schools ‘by adults claiming to be children and placed in a school’.
A worker in a residential home in Kent for
children in care said that half of the children
there are unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children. In her estimation, more than half
the migrants are not children at all, but in
their twenties.
‘They can be quite frightening at times,’
she said. ‘They are aggressive and have an
‘No, we haven’t misspelt “wi-fi” —
this is my wifey.’
attitude problem. Many have no respect for
women because of their culture. No one is
giving consideration to the risks they pose,
not just to staff but to the other children in
the home. Because they are older, they have
a lot of influence on the youngsters, who are
very vulnerable. They introduce the children
to alcohol and get them into crime like street
robberies. It is a serious problem, which
those in authority are not tackling.’
There is another issue. Our most vulnerable children are in competition with these
asylum-seeking young people for a limited
number of foster parents, a limited number
of places in care homes and, above all, a limited amount of money.
Explaining who is losing out, a social
worker says the system has ‘moved away’
from providing a service to the British kids
in its care: ‘Instead we are dealing with problems particular to young asylum seekers —
their legal status, visits to the Home Office
and so on.’ She went on angrily: ‘This at the
expense of our own 16- to 17-year-old care
leavers who need a lot of support and are
not getting it.’
The investment made by their families
means the majority of the young migrants
are, as the heads of various social services confirmed, ‘very motivated, see it as an
opportunity and do very well. They are
largely middle-class, male and expect to go
to university,’ said one.
What a contrast to the care leavers I
interviewed. At the age of ten, Trevon came
home to find his crack-addict mother hanging dead in the kitchen. The lives of these
kids are desperate. But Lily Allen does not
cry for them on camera and it is almost
impossible to get them the help they need.
It is time to overhaul a system that is corrupt, dangerous and fails to help the most
deserving. But don’t hold your breath that
anything will change, despite a vulnerable
child trying to blow us up. The immigration officer summed up the general frustration: ‘You try and apply the rules only to be
hauled up from on high and told “to deal
with it”. I get bitter and twisted about it,’ he
said. ‘We are heading into desperate times.’
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Armando Iannucci
’m currently dwelling on
past times. I have a film
coming out based on the
crazy events that took place
in 1953 when Stalin died.
(He lay having a stroke on
his rug and in his urine for
hours since everyone was
too scared to knock and see
if he was all right.) We shot
the film last summer. Then
Trump happened. Now,
journalists grill me as if the
movie was an intentional
response to that bloated
troll’s election victory. Films
take years to finance and
write, and another year to
shoot and edit; in that time,
there’s no way anyone could
have predicted the election
of America’s first balloon-animalinflated-by-potato-gas as President.
ocial media makes us take
immediacy for granted. Anyone who
writes a letter these days starts looking
like they’re living in black and white.
So it seems weird working in a medium
that takes forever to get finished. I’d
say the average film is four or five years
from conception to release. Books are
far worse, though. I’ve just published a
book on classical music, Hear Me Out,
that’s a response to a lifetime of listening
to music and about a decade or so of
writing on it. With unerring precision, the
book and the movie seem to be coming
out at the same time, even though both
were started years ago, when film was
in its infancy and Gutenberg was still
staring at a wooden mangle and trying to
think what else it could be used for.
his means that I’m on two breathless
promotional tours simultaneously,
hopping in between book and film
festivals. The most abrupt jump
happens next week, when I spend one
day discussing The Death of Stalin at
justified it. It comes when
someone starts an email ‘I
know you’re busy, but…’ As
if by merely acknowledging
your busyness, they have
somehow bought immunity
from it. That’s no strategy.
Try going up to a stranger
and saying, ‘I know you hate
being stabbed, but I just
wondered if you’d be up for
being stabbed now and me
running off with your purse?’
New York’s Comic Con, then head home
next morning for the literary festival in
Ilkley. I’m not sure how many planes fly
direct from JFK Airport to Ilkley, but I’m
sure my two publicists are conspiring to
persuade an airline to charter one now.
These publicists now hold my confused life
entirely in their four hands, but I haven’t
felt anxious for a second. The reason: in
among the mayhem I remember their
names, which are Faith and Grace.
K politics is in a swirl and by the time
you read this, we may well be about to
have our very own thatched balloon animal
as PM in the shape of Boris Johnson.
Theresa May recently downplayed the
challenge with a casual ‘Boris is Boris’. It
was a ploy reminiscent of her triumphant
election message ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and
her sage response to terrorism, ‘Enough is
enough.’ When is the collective mass media
going to confront her with this habit, and
shout ‘Repetition is just repetition’?
heresa May is doing in hyperconcentrated form what a lot of us
have been guilty of for years: assuming
that just by stating something, we have
’ve just landed in Texas
for another screening of
the film. The devastating
hurricane damage here and
across the Caribbean should
be alerting our leaders to
the warnings from science
on climate change. Alas, not only is
denial big business in these parts, but a
recent scientific paper gave the deniers
encouragement. What it said was that
we may have a tiny bit more time to get
our carbon emissions down than first
thought. Deniers have seized on this as
one more example of climate scientists
being nothing but confused liars.
he problem is we’ve always sold
science as fixed and incontrovertible
truth. It’s not. The Scientific Method
is about coming up with a model that
best explains the facts. When a piece of
new information doesn’t fit, we refine
or replace that model with a better
one. Newton’s theory explained gravity
just fine, until Einstein showed how it
didn’t quite and replaced it with his own.
That doesn’t mean all we previously
believed about gravity is false. We know
the sun comes up every day, but I can
only 99.9999999 per cent predict it will
come up tomorrow. Deniers would tell
us that 0.0000001 per cent difference
means the whole sun thing’s a fraud. If
you subscribe to that logic, I’m almost
certain you’re an idiot.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
At last! The subversion of Brexit has begun
he Brexit crowd are right to smell
a rat. In any great national debate
a columnist may feel tempted to go
beyond openly rooting for one side. Rooting
for one side is acceptable, of course. Though
some Brexiteer readers do struggle with the
idea it could be legitimate for a columnist to
disagree with the verdict of a referendum, I
will merrily insist that the word ‘Comment’
at the top of a page allows for the expression
of an opinion.
But what if the columnist detects a possible conspiracy to help his own side win?
And, further, suspects that for the plan to
work, it would be better not to write about
it for the time being? Am I (if I am that journalist) on the side of the general reader who
wants to know what’s happening, or the side
of those I may agree with but whose interests lie in silence?
I prefer the simple view that we should
tell it as it is. So, with apologies to fellow
Remainers who may accuse me of letting
the cat out of the bag, I must tell you that
this business of a ‘transitional’ or ‘implementation’ period after Britain has formally left the EU — the plan that Theresa May
endorsed in Florence last week — strikes me
as carrying a secret threat to Leavers’ hopes:
a threat Remainers should not disclose yet.
Were I a Machiavellian Remainer I
would be telling fellow Remainers (quietly,
lest we be overheard) something like this:
‘Guys, each of the steps on our journey
must look like common sense when taken in
isolation. Theresa has just taken the first: she
has made a case it’s really very hard to resist,
arguing that (1) more time is needed for the
final terms of Brexit to be shaped (obviously true). Therefore (2) because British business and industry need to plan ahead, let’s
leave the EU on schedule, but have a few
years’ breathing space in which until further
notice we carry on as we are. Two years (at
the very minimum) can be used to shape the
final terms of our departure.
‘This, guys, sounds pretty obvious common sense too.
‘But guys, it’s important to leave it at that,
for the moment. Important to give this sensible-sounding proposal time to bed down.
Important to lace our speeches with assurances that the “transition” is simply the
bridge. “Time to adjust”, “buy a bit more
time”, etc. Brexit is on course, but running
a bit late: that’s the song we should all sing.
‘If we succeed (as we surely can) in making this argument so persuasive as to put
the proposal beyond serious dispute, then
we shall in due course be ready for the next
step. But we’re not there yet.
‘The next step will be as follows. Imagine the March 2019 deadline for departure approaches. Imagine (though it can’t
be assumed) that our 27 EU partners look
ready to offer us these two years of transition. Remind yourselves of that offer. That
we pay into the EU budget for another two
years; accept the rules of the single market
for another two years; accept continuing,
‘As it happens, there’s a name for this
suggested improved idea. It’s called
being in the European Union’
uncontrolled EU immigration for another
two years; but with immediate effect are
thrown out of the governing councils and
committees of the Union, kicked out of the
European Parliament and lose our right for
British nominees to sit on the European
Commission and for British judges to sit on
the European Court of Justice.
‘In short, guys, we are regulated, adjudicated and taxed as before but — unlike
before — without a voice, without representation, without influence. Is that optimal? Is
that fair? Indeed, is that even necessary?
How about demanding a continuing say in
EU decision-making for so long as we’re
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
‘We’re making a bomb!’
paying in, and playing by their regulatory
rules? No taxation without representation.
‘And as it happens, guys, there’s a name
for this suggested improved idea. It’s called
being in the European Union. In what possible respect can taking their rules and meeting their tax demands, but without having
any say, be a better situation than getting a
say too? Guys, our argument, when we come
to make it, is going to be hard to resist.
‘But (you may ask) are the other 27 going
to offer us such an option?
‘Well why not? If our fellow members
of the European club are content for us
to carry on using the club’s facilities for
two years even though we’ve formally
relinquished our membership, why
shouldn’t they agree to a simpler option:
that we simply postpone leaving at all, until
we’re ready? Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, governing a country’s departure from the
EU, specifically permits such a stay of execution, so long as the remaining members
all agree.
‘But guys, not a word about this yet.
You know how touchy Brexit headbangers
are. You know how insecure they feel, how
fearful that somehow it’s all going to be
snatched away from them before Britain
signs on the dotted line. What they’ll fear is
that until we’re right out of that door and
no longer EU members, there will always be
the danger that Brexit fever may abate, the
electorate will move on, and other, bigger,
more pressing events will intercede.
‘What (Brexiteers fret) if, four or five
years on from the 2016 referendum but
still a part of the EU, Britain should start
to wonder if it’s really all that bad after all?
So serious headbangers are desperate that
momentum should not be lost. And remember: their supporters are much older than
ours. They’re dying faster. Every year there
are few hundred thousand fewer. And a
Labour government could bring in votes for
16-year-olds. Logic may whisper that staying
until we’ve agreed our leaving terms makes
sense rationally; but some inner hunch, some
nameless dread, whispers to them that it’s
better to burn those bridges fast.
‘So guys, not a word about where this
proposal for a transition period must logically lead. Not yet.’
Life in the e-lane
Lost in the post
Why do I have to do everything myself?
Postcard maker J. Salmon is to close after
almost 140 years, because holidaymakers
now send phone selfies rather than cards.
— What is believed to be the very first
postcard was a selfie of sorts. It was a
caricature of postal workers that practical
joker Theodore Hook sent to himself in
Fulham using a penny black stamp in 1840,
the year the penny post was introduced.
— It was another 30 years before postcards
were officially accepted by the Royal Mail,
and the now standard design of a picture on
the front, address and message on the back
was established only in 1902.
— Mr Hook’s card was sold at auction in
2002 for £31,750.
Pay walls
Which countries have the largest pay gaps
between men and women, in a survey of
33 countries? The figures below give female
earnings as a percentage of male. (Only in
three countries, Egypt, Nigeria and UAE,
are women paid more than men overall.)
overall same job & employer
Mexico ...............-31 ................................-2.9
Brazil ..................-30 ............................... -1.6
UK .......................-29 ............................... -0.8
Netherlands ... -25 ............................... -1.0
Egypt .................+34 .............................. +0.1
Nigeria ............+7.3 .............................. +0.4
UAE ...................+0.7 .............................. +2.1
Romania ..........-9.3 ............................... -1.9
Source: Korn Ferry Hay Group
Steering group
Transport for London refused to renew
Uber’s licence to operate cabs. In a survey
of 20 American cities, Uber drivers were:
Male...................... 86% White ......... 37%
Aged 18-29........... 19% Black ......... 18%
30-39 ..................... 30% Hispanic .... 16%
40-49 ..................... 26% Asian ......... 15%
50+ ........................ 24% Married ..... 50%
Have degrees ....... 48% Parents ...... 46%
Source: Uber
Wordless protest
Some players in America’s National
Football League are refusing to stand for
their national anthem in a racism protest
and in defiance of President Donald Trump.
But would they even know the words?
Percentage of citizens who know the first
verse of their national anthems:
Australia ............................................. 71%
(figure for second verse, 2014 poll by Jack Daniel’s)
UK ......................................................... 68%
(YouGov 2014)
Switzerland ....................................... 56%
(DemoSCOPE 2011)
USA ....................................................... 39%
(ABC 2004)
he plane landed a fraction early, at
just after 9 p.m. Hope flickered that
passport control would be as deserted
as the echoing arrivals terminal. But no.
By the time we reached sight of what is
now labelled in enormous letters the ‘UK
Border’, we had joined a mass of humanity
in a single corridor to be decanted in batches
into ‘the maze’.
This is the point where, at most UK airports, the great segregation occurs, between
UK/EU passports and the rest, and then
between regular channels and ‘e-passports’.
Often, they try to chivvy you into e-passports. Tonight, though, these lanes were
taped off. After the long shuffle to the control desk, I had the nerve to ask why.
I dare say that this was a question British Airways might have asked when it
complained recently about interminable
late-evening queues at Heathrow, because
the answer offered part of an explanation.
E-passport channels, apparently, are invariably closed after 10 p.m. because the shift
changes and there are not enough staff. My
watch showed the time to be 10.03.
My first thought was to regret that my
plane had not been that bit earlier. My
second was more to the point. Hang on a
moment: wasn’t the whole reason for e-passports that machines (and passengers) did
the work? So why wasn’t Heathrow opening, rather than closing, its e-passport channels when the evening shift went home?
Well, dear reader, dear fellow passenger,
deep down you already know why. Because
some large piece of machinery that was
installed to improve efficiency has ended
up costing time — staff time and, more
particularly, yours and mine. Anyone still
puzzled by the Great British productivity
conundrum (we lag stubbornly way behind
even France) has part of the answer right
here. E-passports only work if there are
real, human staff around to instruct the passengers how to use them, let them out when
they become trapped in this miniature noman’s-land, and inspect their IDs manually
when the machine fails.
What is more, everyone knows this. They
recently introduced e-passports at St Pancras Eurostar departures — but only for hoi
polloi. ‘Fast-tracked’ passengers hand their
passports to a human in a booth; of course
they do, it’s quicker. E-passports are one of
the more egregious examples of do-it-yourself Britain imposing costs on you and me
— but only one.
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that
you extricated yourself from the airport by
midnight and successfully negotiated the
after-hours e-check-in at your hotel. Let
us assume, too, that the machine spat out a
cardboard room key which admitted you,
after several abortive tries, to a vacant room
(and not, as has happened to me, to a room
where a naked man was surprised from his
sleep). Your work is by no means done.
Fast-tracked passengers hand their
passports to a human in a booth;
of course they do, it’s quicker
The breakfast buffet has long been a test
of every guest’s hunter-gathering expertise. But it is the multiple-choice coffee
machine, now standard at hotels and conferences, that really frustrates me. How
long does it take to make and then pour a
half-decent mug of coffee from a glass jug
on a hotplate? A few seconds. How long
does it take to extract some splash of indeterminate liquid from a machine when you
first have to put on your glasses to read the
options, figure out where to place the cup,
wait while the mechanical innards click and
whirr — or don’t, because it has invisibly
run out of some ingredient? For ever, as the
queue ahead and behind you testifies. But
the time and effort squandered is all yours,
‘Phwoar, that Theresa May’s a bit of all right.’
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
so the largely absentee management would
appear content with the economics.
Come lunchtime, you turn your back on
the buffet in favour of some fresh air and
some fast, or faster, food. My own weakness
is for a milkshake, about three times (yes,
honestly) a year. But this occasional indulgence may be over.
You will know, if you have patronised
one particular fast-food outlet (McDonald’s) recently, that what used to be a brief
but productive interaction with a human
is now discouraged. Staff now urge you to
order from an enormous touch-screen, pay
by card, extract a receipt, then wait for your
number to come up. It reminds me of nothing so much as the double-queueing system
in what passed for shops in the defunct
Soviet Union. Then as now, much could
go wrong.
You will find rapturous reviews of this
so-called ‘kiosk’ system on social media —
viewed, if you read carefully, almost exclusively from the company’s perspective and
lauded as the shape of the future. On the
other hand, if you actually observe (and
time for observation will be ample, while
they are boxing up ten Happy Meals before
pressing the button on your one milkshake),
you will see kitchen staff hanging around
idle, would-be customers having to be ‘led
through’ the self-ordering, and frazzled par-
The nerves of the enemy
From ‘The progress in Flanders’,
29 September 1917: The fighting has
reached a degree of intensity never before
known. There is no leisure or rest for any
one. The instruments of destruction which
fly through the air by day and night are
more numerous and more various than
before… The strain to which the enemy,
even more than ourselves, is subjected is
terrific beyond words. We imagine that
for one shell that the Germans send over
we throw across four, five, or perhaps six.
There is also what may be called a kind
of camouflage in artillery work, when
the drum-fire which the Germans regard
as the sure herald of a coming attack
culminates in no attack. The nerves of the
enemy are, in fact, kept at the breakingpoint the whole time.
ents trying to make representations about
mix-ups. The company, though, can joyfully
wash its hands. Any mistake must, of course,
be yours; after all, you entered the order.
The time, money and effort it takes — why,
they are all yours.
And so, at the end of a long afternoon, to
the supermarket to assemble the ingredients
for an evening meal. It should be instructive that, while coffee and ticket and hotel
check-in machines have started to make
inroads abroad, putting in extra hours as
your very own supermarket checkout assistant remains a largely British privilege. Elsewhere, it seems accepted that a professional
will generally be better at the job than an
amateur, but we actually have to queue to
do it ourselves. Then again, as it’s our time
and effort as we search for the barcodes,
faff about with the bag, insert the banknote
the wrong way and have to call someone
over for the wine, who’s counting? If the
food supply is to be automated, give me a
Japanese slot machine any time.
Two weeks ago the gas company called,
demanding (not requesting) a meter reading. The cabinet is outside and locked. With
great difficulty I finally managed to reach a
real person to suggest that they might have
to send someone to read the meter. Three
weeks later, an envelope arrived from British Gas; it contained a key.
To my unpaid responsibilities as border
guard, hotel clerk, coffee-maker, fast-food
assistant and checkout girl, it would now
appear I must add meter reader. How much
more of other people’s time and money, I
wonder, will I be recruited to save by being
volunteered, in effect, to donate my own?
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doing work that
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Ten steps to promote trade and increase exports:
Establish a UK Ports and
Logistics Brexit Task Force
comprising representatives
from Government and
industry to develop (or
enhance) arrangements to
help minimise the impact
of potential intermittent or
ongoing disruption at certain
ports resulting from the
UK's exit from the EU.
Introduce or reinforce
mechanisms to make sure
future policies and decisions
remain aligned with the aim
of encouraging trade and
increasing exports.
Review the strategic and
public benefits of reducing
the UK’s dependency on
the Port of Dover for the
movement of UK-EU trade
in goods over the long term.
Remove the EU Port Services
Regulation from UK law at
the earliest opportunity.
Amend the Government’s
approach to transport
investment appraisal by: (a)
including explicit recognition
that encouraging trade
and exports is a strategic
priority; and (b) capturing
the full economic benefits of
increased trade and deficit
reduction. (An approach
which should also be adopted
by Government-funded
bodies such as Network Rail
and Highways England).
Work with the sector to make
sure UK ports and logistics
lead the world in maximising
the efficient use of transport
infrastructure and optimising
global supply chains.
Establish an overarching
‘Trade First Review’ to align
wider Government policy with
the aim of encouraging trade
and increasing exports.
Develop a Free Port policy
to strengthen the UK’s ability
to attract investment in new
manufacturing as part of
the Government’s Industrial
Strategy and combine Free
Ports with Enterprise Zones
to create Super Enterprise
Zones at or near UK ports
where appropriate.
Use the ‘Trade First Review’
to provide a framework for
determining which pieces
of EU law it would be
desirable to retain, amend
or remove following the
enactment of the European
Union ( Withdrawal) Bill.
Work proactively to market
development sites at or near
UK ports to potential inward
investors overseas.
Gentrification is far from our biggest problem
he late afternoon sun fell on the anomalous pine trees of Gillett Square,
London N16, and on the wooden
decking below, giving it a fleeting look of
lunch in the Alps. To the east, just visible at the
far end of Gillett Street, the Kingsland Road
ran its usual choppy course: hipsters and the
homeless, Jamaicans and Turks, Vietnamese
up from the Shoreditch end and the odd
Haredi Jew heading north to Stamford Hill.
Gillett Square is Hackney’s great regeneration project. Once a disused car park full
of drunks and dealers, after 25 years of funding drives and architects, bulldozing, building
and PR, it’s now Dalston’s ‘town square’. In
the beginning, it was the first of Ken Livingstone’s ‘100 new public spaces’ and a model
for future development. Its proud parent, Hackney Co-operative Developments
(HCD), calls it: ‘A place to walk through; a
place to sit; a place to share; a place to meet;
a place to see, hear, feel, smell, taste and
discover wonderful and incredible things.’
HCD puts on events almost every day:
on Monday you can play ‘giant chess’. On
Thursdays through the summer it’s a ‘popup playground’. ‘Durable and intriguingly
shaped equipment transforms the square
into an adventure wonderland for children
to discover, create and enjoy’, says HCD.
The sun fell on the pine trees, on the platform, on the multicultural food stalls and,
that Thursday, on what looked like a scene
from a zombie movie. My small son and I
approached from Mildmay to the east. As
we arrived, a man lurched out of the doorway of the Vortex jazz club and into the path
of the pushchair. He had a tin of Foster’s in
one hand and a scarf wrapped right up from
his neck to his hairline. To get the can to his
mouth he had to push it up under the scarf,
which he did.
Behind him, an Irishman stood, shouting and swaying. He had a bottle of Corona
in one hand and a pram in the other. On a
bench beside him sat a box of 24 Corona
Extra and two women, one with a baby, the
other with a blue plastic bag of Stella.
There was a pop-up playground, though
it had not transformed the square into an
adventure wonderland. Some grubby foam
shapes had been scattered on the ground,
but over the long summer the HCD events
team have lost heart. A small boy ran in
circles, crying and chasing two older girls
who’d nicked his bike. The Irishman lunged
at the girls as they passed: ‘Come here. I’ll
spank ya!’
Cedd and I headed for the pines to
regroup. On the wooden platform a black
guy stood with a can of Stella beside a toddler in a pushchair. If only HCD had scheduled a bring-a-bottle-and-a-baby party, they
could have counted it a success.
Along the square’s undeveloped side, a
long bench of West Indian men and women
sat and smoked weed with great concentration and intensity. Drifts of sweet smoke
floated over the prams, the kids, and a gang
of seven- or eight-year-old boys who’d
On a bench sat a box of 24 Corona
Extra and two women, one with a
baby, the other with a bag full of Stella
turned up to play table football and, to be
fair to Gillett Square, did look as if they
were having fun.
If you build it they will come, I suppose
— especially if they’re already there. And
that’s what wasn’t clear to me when I first
walked into the square, and what HCD are
so keen to ignore: for all the cash poured
into it, this place belongs to the down-andouts. It always has. In 2012, six years after
the square’s official opening, a musician
and photographer called Roland Ramanan
began to take photos of the regulars. It’s a
beautiful, terrible, touching series of men
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
and women on the very edge: in the square,
passed out on mattresses in collapsing council flats. In an interview for Vice, Ramanan
said: ‘Many of the residents… have roots
going back to that spot for a very long time.
They were there long before the square, long
before it was a car park, and they have fond
memories of sitting there with their brazier
in the winter to keep them warm, helping
people with their shopping.’
The HCD team dreamt of a future for
the square full of diverse thirtysomethings
enjoying an evening with Kate Tempest
under the pines; of inter-generational games
of Carrom — and they’ve succeeded in part.
Those things do go on, and will for as long as
there’s the money and the will to keep putting out the pop-up playgrounds. But what
they’ve made for the long term, when the
Lottery money runs out, is a refuge for the
very people they pushed out — those most
bewildered by the pace of change.
Since that day, I’ve been back to Gillett
Square to sit and take stock. This is Corbyn
country — or near as dammit. When we
passed the scarf-headed man on the west
side of the square, we crossed over from
Corbyn’s constituency to the next. The cry
of the Corbynistas is always against gentrification, but the irony is that gentrified Gillett Square has become a showcase for the
UK’s real problems: alcoholism, addiction,
poverty, babies born to drunks with their
lives already shredded. Not long after Gillett
Square’s grand opening, it had to be designated a Controlled Drinking Area — meaning the police can confiscate cans at will.
A few years ago, the gang kids with their
foot-long knives arrived and began to pick
on the poor drunks. A new public consultation into how to solve the antisocial behaviour closed this week.
It’s not just Gillett Square, or Dalston, or
even London. We’re a mess. If, for instance,
you list the world’s countries by how much
mothers drink in pregnancy, Britain comes
fourth. We’re worse than Russia, but better
perhaps at not facing these things. When I
crossed the square that Thursday, I avoided
looking into the Irishman’s pram. I didn’t
want to meet that baby’s eye.
Easier, by far, to march against the opening of another Starbucks.
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Fight and fight again
Sir: In her Florence speech, Theresa May
yet again declared that: ‘No deal is better
than a bad deal.’ Yet in his piece ‘Brexit
Wars’ (23 September), James Forsyth claims
that minimal planning is being made for
a ‘no deal’ under WTO rules. If true, this
is insulting to the electorate as it means
that the Prime Minister is being neither
serious nor truthful. It is inexcusable for
our civil service not to prepare for an event
that is a clear possibility when it would be
catastrophic if we had no plan. Couldn’t
the 80 MPs in the Tory Research Group
start preparing for a WTO deal? They could
liaise with Eurosceptic groups plus friendly
economists and other experts, to produce
a viable exit plan. I am sure Leavers would
donate money to employ the necessary
specialists to produce reports.
Now that May has delayed Brexit in all
but name, I see the EU making ever more
outrageous demands as the Remain camp
gleefully applaud. The Leave campaign
must be reinstated to fight again.
Gill Chant
Handsworth, Birmingham
friends indeed do see capitalism as a way of
‘stealing’ from the poor and have difficulty
in accepting the wealth creation aspect of it.
They have a point. The so-called
financial industry creates no primary
wealth and often seeks to cream
off as much as possible for a greedy
minority. Thatcher’s rush to privatise the
nationalised industries did not create
anything better than, for example, the
Central Electricity Generating Board.
Today we must go cap in hand to the
French or Chinese to get a decent nuclear
power station — at an astronomical cost.
I did an engineering apprenticeship
with AEI, later taken over by GEC, run
by Arnold Weinstock. He was a modest
man and ran his company as a model of
capitalism: solid management, good labour
relations and true wealth creation. We
cannot bring Weinstock back but, if we
want capitalism to succeed, I wish we could.
Nick O’Hear
Schoonhoven, The Netherlands
Kitchen think
Sir: It simply won’t wash that the reason
people choose to eat sugar and fat-laden
Class war
Sir: Toby Young’s article (‘The mystery of
socialism’s enduring appeal’, 23 September)
raises some interesting explanations for
the phenomenon of socialism’s enduring
appeal. But strangely, he has missed one of
the most glaring: that the underlying reason
lies within our education system.
From the mid-1960s onwards, the
majority of our children have been
educated by an increasingly left-wing
cohort of teachers who are more interested
in the espousal of ‘equality’ than delivering
well-rounded individuals into the world.
Toby is right to suggest that the left
are better educated than the right, but
educated in what? The young are easy
targets for educational propaganda, which
has made an immense contribution to the
malaise we are suffering. And the more
or ‘better’ you have been educated, the
more you will have felt the influence of this
heavily left-wing education bias.
Unless this problem is confronted and
some balance re-introduced, the future of
the capitalist state looks bleak.
Bob Holder
Folkestone, Kent
Capital fellow
Sir: Toby Young’s article gives rise to
reflection. I am no apologist for Jeremy
Corbyn — at best, I can accept that his
intentions are good. But my socialist
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
foods is a lack of proper education, as
Prue Leith and others have suggested
(‘Fat Britannia’, 9 September). In the
1950s, when we were all apparently at peak
leanness, the Famous Five were gorging
on ginger beer and chocolate biscuits.
Now we are hectored daily about how bad
sugar is for us.
The thing which has changed since
the 1950s is that women, who then were
expected to turn out a home-cooked meal
at 7 p.m. every day, are now free to pursue
other more interesting careers.
I returned to work a couple of years
ago after a break to have children. There
is very little I would like to do less when I
get home from a busy day than to pick up
the potato peeler. Home-cooked food is a
luxury that few have time for these days.
I love my job, and would be offended if
anybody should suggest that I give it up
and get back in the kitchen. But if I’m not
there, there’s nobody there.
You can’t have it both ways. If we want
strong, independent, educated women
in the workplace, then somebody else is
going to have to do the cooking. Hands
up, gentlemen? I thought not. Time to
dial for a pizza.
Harriet Snow
London N5
True Norse
Sir: The age of King Cnut was certainly
a high-water mark for Norse influence
in these islands (‘Demonised by history’,
23 September), but Thomas W. Hodgkinson
is quite wrong to call Cnut a ruler of
Britain. His realm on this side of the North
Sea comprised England alone.
David Sanders
London N16
Sir: Rory Sutherland’s irritation with
customs procedures (‘Make life easier
and all else will follow’, 23 September)
chimes with my own. I recently ordered a
pair of wire strippers from the USA at a
cost of £14.07. Two weeks later I received
a demand for £3.90 duty and VAT, plus a
Royal Mail ‘handling fee’ of £8. The latter
struck me as an awful lot of handling for a
small tool. Thank you, Royal Mail, but no.
You may now enjoy handling the item all
the way back to America, at your own cost.
Mark Ribbands
Tibenham, Norfolk
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street,
London SW1H 9HP
Uber was the ugly snowplough that cleared
the path but its dominance is bound to fade
n Uber insider tells me not to write
off the ride-hailing giant too soon,
because it’s a very smart company
for all its faults — and because the numbers
of drivers and users for whom it is part of
daily life will make it difficult for Transport
for London to uphold its licence withdrawal
on appeal, so long as Uber makes gestures
of humility. But the moral of the story, says
my source, is that as a ‘tech disrupter’ invading a regulated sector, the company created
by Travis Kalanick ‘relished the fight with
governments and entrenched interests far
more than was normal or reasonable’, rather
than seeking to be part of the urban fabric
through collaboration or partnership.
Barriers to entry in ride-hailing are not
high, because the software required is not
so hard to replicate and there are always
plenty of willing drivers. It took an ugly
Uber to break through, like a snowplough
on steroids, but over time its market share
is bound to shrink. The next winners in the
ride-hailing game will be those (more like
its Californian rival Lyft, now reportedly
talking to TfL) that promote themselves as
better and kindlier citizens. Beyond that,
however, science fiction beckons…
Driverless future
My man in the motor trade was enjoying
the hospitality at the Frankfurt Motor Show
when Uber’s news broke, and rang from a
table-dancing club to give me his views.
He says the buzz at the show is no longer
about sleek models like the plug-in BMW i8
sports hybrid he came home with a couple
of years ago, but about advancing technology in driverless navigation and battery
power. He reckons that between five and ten
years hence, the winners of the third stage
of the ride-hailing race — whether Uber is
among them, and whatever their marketing
image — will be dehumanised operators of
app-controlled fleets of driverless electric
vehicles. Banks and investors will jump in
as owners or lessors of the fleets, no doubt
through impenetrable pyramids of offshore
companies. And one day it will all come to
grief in a driverless financial crash.
Rugged revival
While we’re on this motoring theme, I
wave my hat to billionaire industrialist Jim
Ratcliffe, who has announced that he’s about
to invest £600 million in the development of
a British-built all-terrain vehicle to succeed
the Land Rover Defender, which ceased
production last year — and compete with
the Toyota Land Cruiser, now the favoured
transport of warlords and aid workers in
inaccessible territories.
Lancashire-born Ratcliffe built a privately owned petrochemical conglomerate,
Ineos, by buying unwanted subsidiaries from
BP and other industrial groups. Latterly he
spends more time in Switzerland and on his
yachts than in Britain, where his willingness
to confront unions at Ineos’s Grangemouth
refinery made him a bogeyman for the left
while his Eurosceptic bluntness put him out
of tune with the business establishment. Now
— unless Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover
fights back to stop him — he sees his car
venture as a route to creating 10,000 jobs,
helping arrest the decline in UK manufacturing and creating a rugged new symbol of
British self-sufficiency around the world. So
far the project is called ‘Grenadier’, after the
London pub where it was conceived, but the
model itself lacks a name: ‘Brexiteer’ seems
the obvious choice.
When shadow chancellor John McDonnell
talks of capping credit card debt to stop card
companies charging excessive interest, and
of Labour’s ambition to wipe off student
loans that are unlikely ever to be repaid, you
might think he has common sense on his side.
When he talks of renationalising utilities and
rail companies by forcing investors to accept
bonds worth less than the previous market
value of their shares, you might think he is
aiming to right some of the fat-cat wrongs
of privatisation. But what he’s really doing
is encouraging Labour’s tribe to believe that
concepts such as debt and shareholder rights
are not fixed pillars of a free society but
nuisances that can be shapeshifted at will by
politicians. ‘Generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism’ is the recreation he has
long declared in Who’s Who, and bizarrely
it’s not beyond possibility that voters will
one day give him the chance to try.
‘Credit agencies don’t know any more about
government budgets than the guy in the
street,’ was a remark by David Wyss, a former
chief economist of one such agency, Standard
& Poor’s, with regard to their performance
before the 2008 financial crisis, when they
awarded the highest ‘AAA’ rating to many
US mortgage-backed securities that turned
out toxic. My own summation in 2011 was: ‘If
there were ratings for ratings agencies, they’d
all be junk by now.’ So I’m not particularly
concerned — and neither were markets — by
news that within hours of the prime minister’s Florence speech, Moody’s downgraded UK sovereign debt from ‘Aa1’ to ‘Aa2’
to reflect concerns about weakening public
finances and the impact of Brexit. Gilt yields
barely flickered, the pound traded down on
Friday and back up on Monday; life went on.
But let’s not be entirely complacent. The
UK used to rank AAA with both Moody’s
and Standard & Poor’s and AA+ with the
third name in this game, Fitch. Since 2013 all
three have downgraded us — so that having
long stood proud as a top-table safe haven
for international investors, we’re now outranked by a dozen nations including Finland
and Austria, and just one notch above Chile,
Macau and Qatar. Is that really how we want
the world to see us? Small consolation that
Moody’s also moved us from its ‘negative
outlook’ category to ‘stable’, indicating no
further downgrade is imminent; but a longterm Brexit success test will be whether we
ever climb back to AAA, even in the estimation of agencies we don’t much respect.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
31 The Tigers awaken
Southeast Asia is back in fashion for investors
Elliot Wilson
35 Pensions and the gender gap
Mothers pay the price when it comes to saving
Laura Whitcombe
39 Golden groves of academe
Are professors’ big fat pensions under threat?
Jonathan Davis
42 The ultra-fast broadband race
Four UK companies you need to watch
Robin Andrews
44 Scrap this stamp duty spiral
Bring back lower levies on house sales
Matthew Lynn
46 Gold is still the safest haven
Miners can offer better returns than bullion
Robin Andrews
49 Whiskies galore!
Sound investments for spirits connoisseurs
Henry Jeffreys
33 Reality check US shares are ripe for a fall
Louise Cooper
45 Property The next housing scandal
Ross Clark
47 The Speculator Crypto-currency is worth a punt
Freddy Gray
At Octopus we love
all types of questions
Because when you question
things, you can start to
make them better
The Tigers reawaken
Southeast Asia is a region of young consumers, ambitious
governments and opportunities for investors, says Elliot Wilson
ast your mind back 20 years,
to a very different world. It’s
1997: Bill Clinton is in his second term, Tony Blair has the keys to
No. 10 and Britain has just won the
Eurovision Song Contest for the fifth
(and very possibly last) time. The
West in general is enjoying an era of
genuine, golden growth.
Life was also improving in more
exotic places. Take Southeast Asia,
which spent the 1990s transforming
itself from a backpackers’ paradise
to an investor’s dream. The region’s
‘Tiger’ economies, led by Malaysia,
Thailand and Vietnam, had everything a risk-loving stockpicker needed: oodles of growth, soaring retail
spending and (a special boon for
investment bankers) companies and
governments that were loading up on
debt, much of it in US dollars.
Then it all came crashing down.
On 2 July 1997, Thailand floated
its currency, the baht, triggering
the Asian financial crisis. All those
expensive borrowings had effectively bankrupted Thailand, and
when the baht collapsed, contagion
spread across the region. Stock prices
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
Asia has
crept back on
to investors’
slumped and international investors
fled, reassigning their capital to the
next big thing: dotcom stocks back
at home. When fund managers next
turned their attention to Asia, several years later, it was to gaze at another marvel of growth creation: China.
Recently though, Southeast Asia
(also known as Asean, acronym of
the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations) has begun to creep back on
to investors’ radars for good reason;
few parts of the world come close
to competing with its growth rates.
Indonesia’s economy expanded by
5 per cent in 2016, according to the
World Bank; in Vietnam, growth
was 6.2 per cent; in the Philippines,
6.9 per cent.
And the demographics are startling, too. The average age of Vietnam’s 92 million population is 30,
according to the ever-informative
CIA World Factbook. In the Philippines (103 million), it’s just 23.4 years.
Compare that with the UK (40.5),
or creaky old Germany and Japan
Construction of
the Nam Tha 1
hydroelectric dam
in Laos
Previous page:
Thailand’s tallest
(a shade under 47). This matters,
because the region is not just young,
but hungry for wealth. Vietnam, buzzing after decades of war and economic turbulence, is home to the world’s
fastest-growing middle class, projected by the World Bank to make up 33
per cent of the population in 2020,
from 20 per cent last year.
It’s a great economy to sell into
and to manufacture from, with wage
rates half the level of China. ‘There’s
nowhere like Vietnam: it’s the last
great untapped emerging market,’
says Mike Lynch, head of international sales at Saigon Securities, the
country’s largest retail brokerage.
True, investing in Vietnam can
be tricky. The market is opening
up fast, but the two main bourses,
in Ho Chi Minh City and the capital Hanoi, are thinly traded even by
regional standards. Get it right, however, and there’s money to be made.
The Vietnam Opportunity Fund, a
London-listed fund run by VinaCapital, which invests in large-cap stocks
such as Vinamilk and carrier VietJet
Air, is up 10.8 per cent since the start
of this year, and more than 35 per
cent over the past 12 months.
‘India has great growth, and China
is still robust, but the changes you’re
going to see here… over the next
five years, are going to be dramatic,’
says Christopher Fitzwilliam-Lay,
managing director at VinaCapital. A
key moment should come next year,
when the index provider MSCI is
likely to include Vietnam for the first
time on its Emerging Markets Index
watch list, ahead of full inclusion by
2020. When that happens, notes one
local banker, ‘investment capital will
really start to flow in’.
The Philippines is another interesting case study. Its populist president Rodrigo Duterte certainly isn’t
everyone’s cup of tea. But his decision to leave the running of the economy to the experts (notably finance
minister Carlos Dominguez) is bearing fruit. A tax-reform bill and infrastructure package aims to boost
income across the board, lifting all
boats. Growth is tipped by the IMF
to come in at 6.8 per cent this year,
rising to 7 per cent by 2022.
Brook Tellwright manages the
Waverton Southeast Asian Fund, a
$300 million-plus stock-picking fund
based in Bangkok that is up 10 per
cent in 12 months and almost 55 per
cent over the past five years. He says
he likes listed companies that are
directly plugged into the region’s
highly specific growth story. He highlights three of the fund’s biggest
holdings: Indonesia’s Bank Tabungan Pensiunan Nasional, which offers
basic current and savings accounts to
young savers, Singapore-listed Thai
Beverage and Bangkok-listed Siam
City Cement — the latter two catering to a young population thirsty
for better infrastructure, affordable
housing, and beer. ‘It’s all about what
people want when they emerge into
the middle class,’ Tellwright says.
It’s not hard to find Aseanfocused funds that will help you
profit from this growth story. JPMorgan’s US dollar Asean fund is up 13
per cent year-to-date, and 55 per cent
over the past five years, according to
Chicago-based investment research
firm Morningstar, while Baring’s
euro-denominated Asean Frontiers
Fund has gained 11 per cent this year,
and 48 per cent over five years.
Sterling-denominated funds look
even better over a long time horizon. Smith & Williamson’s Oriental
Growth Fund is up 98.5 per cent over
five years, the Cavendish Asia Pacific
Fund 74 per cent and Aviva’s Investors Apac Equity Fund 72 per cent.
On a shorter view, this year’s best
performer is Old Mutual’s sterlingdenominated Asia Pacific Fund, up
32 per cent by early September.
To be sure, the effects of the 1997
crisis still reverberate. Thailand’s
currency never regained its former
strength: the baht is weaker against
nations like
Vietnam, filled
with young
are pushing for
full emergingmarket status
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
the US dollar than it was 20 years
ago. Like generals always fighting
the last war, regional governments
have for too long focused on shoring up foreign exchange reserves
(a major cause of the earlier emergency) while doing too little to
boost incomes and consumption,
or improve infrastructure.
And for all of Asean’s manifest potential and positive attributes, this can still be a thoroughly
frustrating region in which to work.
The Philippines welcomes foreign
investment capital with open arms.
So, too, in the main does Vietnam.
But elsewhere, the picture is mixed.
Indonesia remains a tough
place to do business, while Thailand’s political instability is perpetual. A 2014 coup there stymied
growth, and the subsequent military-led regime’s inability to
decide when or whether to call an
election has probably held back
the Thai stock market, whose performance has been comparable to
the FTSE250’s rise so far this year,
but not as hot as the Bursa Malaysia (up 15 per cent) or the Ho Chi
Minh City Stock Index (up more
than 20 per cent).
That aside, there is genuine reason to like Southeast Asia. Frontier nations like Vietnam, filled
with young and hungry consumers,
are pushing for full emerging-market status. And from behind the
haunches of the renascent Tigers
peek the cub nations of Cambodia,
Laos and Myanmar. Of the three,
the latter — larger and blessed
with ample resources — probably has the most potential. But all
stand to benefit from governments
that are committed to deregulation
and desperate to suck in as much
private and public development
capital as possible. A portfolio of
big-ticket infrastructure projects,
notably a high-speed rail line linking Singapore with southern China
via Bangkok by 2030, add to the
sense that this region of 636 million
citizens is being stitched together.
‘I look across Asean, and I see
a place that is starting to do the
right things: making good decisions, generating its own demand,’
says Brook Tellwright of Waverton.
‘Back in 1997, much of the instability came from the fact that these
were export-led economies and little else. They still export, that’s not
going to change. But they are far
more balanced now: there’s plenty
of investing, and consumption, and
governance is improving. These are
sound reasons to invest here.’
US shares are
ripe for a fall
igns are growing that the
US bull market is running
out of steam. If you invested
$100 at the low in 2009, when
the S&P500 index was around
800, you would now be sitting
on $300, with the index
currently just above 2500. This
has been the second-best US
stock market rally ever. But
is it coming to an end?
Year-to-date, the S&P500
is up around 10 per cent:
better than the indices for
Europe, the UK, China and
Japan. However, much of
that performance has been
driven by a handful of tech
stocks. Just five companies —
Facebook, Amazon, Apple,
Microsoft and Alphabet
(parent of Google) — added
more than $600 billion to the
valuation of the US stock
market in the first half of the
year, accounting for a third of
the uplift in the S&P500.
Looking at the much
broader Russell 3000 index,
a benchmark of the entire
US stock market, the story is
much the same. By the end of
August, the Russell 3000 was
up 9 per cent year-to-date but
almost half of its constituent
shares were actually trading
lower than at the beginning
of the year — the rise was
concentrated in the other
half. And this narrowness
of the equity rally is causing
investors’ concern.
It could also be argued that
US dollar weakness — down
14 per cent against the euro so
far this year, 6 per cent against
the yen, 5 per cent against
sterling — is increasing US
corporate profits as overseas
earnings are boosted when
converted back, so artificially
boosting share prices. And
there’s another reason to
think that US stocks may be
peaking: executives at many
of the companies appear to
think so, and have significantly
reduced share buybacks —
that is, using spare corporate
cash to buy in their company’s
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
shares, which is generally
done when executives feel
the shares are undervalued.
Bloomberg says share
repurchases are 20 per cent
lower this year than last, and
back to 2012 levels.
Those share buybacks have
been an enormous prop to the
US bull market: Citi estimates
that US companies bought
back nearly $3 trillion of their
own shares between 2010 and
2016. That was a lot of buying,
and it’s now in decline.
And it’s not just the
executives running the
companies who worry the
shares are fully valued. The
world’s most successful
investor, Warren Buffett, is
Investors are
backing shortselling trades that
bet on the US
market falling
currently sitting on almost
$100 billion of cash, waiting
for investment opportunities
at the right price.
US corporate profit
margins have never been
higher, which would generally
suggest they are likely to fall.
And many commentators feel
the market’s price-earnings
ratios look stretched.
US value fund manager
GMO said in a recent research
note: ‘This is the third most
expensive market in history.
The only times we have
seen more expensive US
equity markets were 1929
and 1999 [just before great
stock market crashes, that is].
Strangely enough, we do not
hear many exhortations to buy
US equities because it is just
like 1929 or 1999.’
Increasingly, investors are
backing ‘short-selling’ trades
that bet on the US market
falling. As Bloomberg noted
on 30 August: ‘Short interest
is up in 2017. As a proportion
of total shares available for
trading, it has climbed by 0.4
per cent points to 4 per cent.’
And there are plenty of
other risks in play. Investors’
faith in Donald Trump
has been declining as his
behaviour has become
increasingly unpresidential.
There has been no legislation
to fertilise the boost to US
economic growth that he
promised on the campaign
trail. There is little optimism
that he’ll drive significant tax
reform any time soon. And
although Congress agreed
a slight increase to the US
debt ceiling to help victims
of Hurricane Irma, this is just
a temporary sticking plaster.
In December, the new higher
debt ceiling is expected to be
breached, potentially resulting
in a partial government shutdown. Republicans control
Congress under a supposedly
Republican President, but
they face the same political
gridlock as Obama.
And that’s before we get
to the geopolitical risks, with
North Korea top of the list.
Add on a central bank that is
tightening monetary policy,
albeit at a snail’s pace, and
there’s plenty to worry about.
Having said all of this, there
are still plenty of bulls out
there. Interest rates globally
are barely above zero, forcing
investors away from bonds
and into equities. And it’s also
all but impossible to pick the
top of a bull market. Almost
all research points out that it
is better for investors to stay
invested for the long term and
not try to time the markets.
Not even legendary US Fed
chairman Alan Greenspan
was smart enough to call
the top: he rightly warned of
‘irrational exuberance’ and
‘escalating asset values’ —
but in 1996, four years early
for the dotcom crash of 19992000. Nevertheless, right now
I have a bad feeling about
US equities.
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Pensions: the gender gap
Motherhood and family life can limit women’s ability to save –
we need to start getting smart now, says Laura Whitcombe
t’s a fact of life that women save
less for their old age than men do
— and it’s the facts of life, biologically speaking, that are at the root of
the problem.
The average woman has £24,900
tucked away at retirement, but the
average man has almost three times
more at £73,600, according to the
pension company Aegon. Data from
Scottish Widows says women save
£50 a month less than men, at £128
and £178 respectively, but almost a
quarter do not save anything at all.
And the result is that women very
often have to live on lower incomes
in their later years.
The chief reason for this shortfall
in retirement saving is, of course, that
women are also mothers and — predominantly — caregivers. As such,
they are more likely to have taken
time out from formal employment
to raise children and look after ill or
elderly family members. Many sacrifice pay and career progression in
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
typically live
longer than
men – and
save less
the process, to the detriment of their
long-term prosperity.
Maike Currie, investment director for personal investing at Fidelity
International, says: ‘Women typically
live longer than men, so if a longer
life with less money than your male
counterparts doesn’t sound like the
kind of retirement you dreamed of,
it’s prudent to examine each of the
three typical sources of retirement
income — the state pension, a workplace pension, any other private savings — and address any glaring gaps.’
The state pension, currently
£159.55 a week, may not provide
enough for comfortable retirement,
but it is still an important element of
overall retirement planning. Many
retirees rely on this guaranteed
income to cover basic living expenses,
so it’s important to understand how
it works.
Currie explains: ‘Your income
from this pot will depend on the
number of National Insurance contributions (or credits) you clock up
over your career. Under the new
single-tier state pension system, you
need a minimum of ten years of contributions to qualify for any state pension benefit and 35 years’ worth of NI
credits to qualify for a full basic state
pension; it used to be 30 under the old
system.’ She says it’s critical to check
your NI record, particularly if you
have taken career breaks. You can
do this by visiting
Workplace pensions are effectively free money, since your employer also contributes to your retirement
savings and in some cases matches
any contributions you make. However, because many workplace pensions
invest in standardised funds designed
to cater for a wide spectrum of needs,
it’s important to check how yours is
invested and whether it’s appropriate for you. You might want to consider switching to a fund more likely
to help you reach your retirement
goals, but you’ll need expert financial
advice to do so.
As for private savings, ‘every
woman should have her own savings pot, separate from her partner’s
or family’s savings,’ says Currie. ‘It’s
important for women to invest and
save in their own right.’
Even if you stop working, you can
still save into a pension. You can pay
in up to £2,880 a year, which tax relief
can boost to £3,600.
There are also certain life events
when it becomes particularly important for a woman to consider retirement planning — especially becoming
a mother. Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon, says: ‘Whether you
are a stay-at-home, single, working,
part-time working, self-employed,
married, divorced, widowed mum
— there are many combinations —
one thing is for sure: whatever your
age, your pension savings are likely
to stall as a consequence of motherhood. Gaps in pension savings history
can leave you worse off in retirement
— but for most women this is unavoidable. For example, taking a full
year off work on maternity leave and
stopping or reducing pension contributions to a workplace pension could
leave you needing to work longer to
make up the shortfall.’
Before you start maternity leave,
Smith suggests finding out how
much you have saved in your pension, what your state pension age will
be, and whether your employer provides maternity pay higher than the
statutory level. If you can, consider
increasing your pension contributions before your maternity leave,
particularly if your employer matches
your contributions.
Smith advises against leaving your
workplace pension scheme while on
maternity leave. You only need to
make contributions based on your
actual earnings, which will help make
them more affordable. And when you
return to work, you should consider
paying additional contributions to
compensate for the period when your
contributions were lower. Overall, it’s
wise to review your pension contributions when you return to work, and to
do so again when your children reach
school age if you no longer need to
pay nursery fees.
Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service,
adds that when your child turns three,
you may be eligible for government
help through free childcare hours. ‘If
this gives you some extra money, it’s
a good opportunity to put some of it
into pension savings.’
And if you give up work to look
after children, it’s important that you
register for Child Benefit even if your
partner’s earnings are such that you
opt not to take the benefit. The January 2013 introduction of the ‘High
Income Child Benefit Tax Charge’
Divorced and
women tend
to set aside
far less than
women do
means couples in which one partner
earns more than £60,000 per year
have the value of their Child Benefit
wiped out by tax. As a result, growing
numbers of mothers in higher-income
households who started a family after
January 2013 have declined to claim
Child Benefit at all — meaning they
miss out on NI credits towards their
state pension. ‘Each year missed
could cost 1/35 of the value of the
state pension, around £231 per year,’
according to a Scottish Widows
research report.
It’s also worth remembering that
grandparents caring for grandchildren under the age of 12 could qualify for National Insurance credits that
can top up their state pension.
Divorce also often has an impact
of women’s retirement savings.
Divorced and separated women tend
to set aside far less than married
women do.
‘Pensions, just like other assets,
such as houses and ISAs, can be
taken into account for financial settlements,’ explains Kate Smith. ‘It’s
common for women with school-age
children to keep the family home, and
in return their ex keeps his pension
intact. If that happens you will lose
the right to any spouse’s pension.
Although this may work well in the
shorter term, it could limit your plans
for retirement, if you don’t take pension saving into your own hands as
soon as possible. The value of a pension should not be underestimated
when going through a divorce.’
In summary, to boost your retirement income, the experts recommend a simple course of action for
all women. Set your retirement goals
and work out what level of income
you require. Maximise your pension contributions and fill in any NI
gaps to get the most out of the state
pension. Eliminate any debt. And regularly review how your pension pot
is invested.
he retirement prospects of more than
two million women have been damaged
by a faster-than-expected rise in the official
state pension age. The age at which the
weekly pension could first be collected was
set in 1948 at 60 for women and 65 for men;
legislation passed in 1995 aimed to bring the
two into line at 65, through phased changes
during the current decade. But the coalition
government decided in 2011 to speed up the
transition, so that women’s state pension
age would be 63 by April 2016 and 65 by
November 2018. And the pension age for
both sexes would rise to 66 from 2020 — all
blamed on increasing life expectancy and the
rising cost of pensions to the public purse.
The campaign group Women Against
State Pension Inequality, or WASPI, claims
the changes could cost the women affected
(those born in the 1950s) £40,000 in state
pension foregone — and that many were
given little or no notice of the deferral.
WASPI is calling for a non-means-tested
‘bridging’ pension to provide extra income
until the new state pension age is reached,
and compensation for the losses suffered
by women who have already reached what
they had long expected to be their pension
start-date. Former pensions minister
Baroness Ros Altmann says: ‘Many of the
women waiting longer for their state pension
have been pushed into poverty.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests
that one in five women aged 60 to 62 was in
income poverty when the state pension age
was increased to 63. It’s clear from this new
research that as long as women can keep
working, they can mitigate the impact of
delayed state pension receipt, but those who
cannot work either through illness, caring
duties, unemployment or workplace age
discrimination are left struggling.’
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
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Golden groves of academe
Never mind how much vice-chancellors are paid;
it’s the pensions promised to 390,000 university staff
that are seriously unaffordable, says Jonathan Davis
tudents, here is your starter for
ten. What is the current funding deficit of the Universities
Superannuation Scheme (USS), the
largest pension scheme in the country? Is it (a) £17.5 billion (terrible);
(b) £12.6 billion (bad); (c) £5 billion
(OK-ish); or (d) None of the above?
You don’t know? Well join a very erudite and professionally qualified club.
Whether the national university
pension scheme is securely funded
or not critically depends on which of
these numbers you want to believe.
For some 390,000 professors, lecturers and senior employees at UK
universities and educational institutions, the answer to this question is
anything but academic, as it speaks
directly to the cost and security of
their future pension entitlements. It
also has implications for the financial
health of the university system, whose
budgets are already under pressure,
amid growing controversy over student fees and vice-chancellors’ pay.
The £17.5 billion figure is the one
generated by an accounting standard
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
budgets are
already under
pressure amid
over student
fee levels
called FRS 102, which all public companies are now required to use. On
this measure, the pension scheme’s
assets (£60 billion) fall more than 20
per cent short of its liabilities, those
liabilities being the generous future
pension commitments it has made to
its members. The university scheme is
now bigger than any public company’s pension fund.
The second figure, of £12.6 billion, is the one that appears in the
USS’s 2016-17 report and accounts,
published in July. It is calculated by
adjusting the value of the scheme’s
future liabilities on a formula linked
to the change in index-linked gilts
yields since the last formal actuarial
valuation in 2014, which gave a figure
of £5 billion for the shortfall between
assets and liabilities.
So is that the right figure? Er, no
— or not if you believe the managers
and trustees who oversee the pension
scheme. USS says that on the basis
of its latest three-yearly actuarial
review, just completed, the scheme’s
funding deficit is still only £5 billion,
unchanged from three years ago. The
in-house experts and outside professional advisers have used a new set
of assumptions which (conveniently, some may think) produce a less
alarming result than the one included
in the report and accounts just two
months earlier.
Historically, university academics (like civil servants) have enjoyed
gold-plated index-linked pension
benefits. Those benefits are now
under threat. Two years ago, after the
last round of negotiations, the universities reached an agreement with the
unions to start whittling away some of
the scheme’s benefits, including introducing a £55,000 salary cap above
which contributions go to a less valuable ‘defined contribution’ scheme,
switching those still working to a less
favourable regime, and raising both
employer and employee contribution
rates to help fix the deficit.
But a lot more needs to be done.
Unlike public-sector pensions, the
university scheme is not guaranteed
by the government, but is the ‘joint
and several’ responsibility of the
350 universities and institutions that
make up its membership. Collectively
these bodies — now heavily dependent on student fees for their income
— pay £2 billion a year to fund the
pension scheme.
And that cost is going only one
way: upwards. To meet all its current pension promises, the USS says,
would require the combined employer and employee contribution rate to
rise from 26 per cent of salary to 33
per cent. If that happened in one go,
universities and academics between
them would have to find £700 million
more a year, equivalent to 8 per cent
of the universities’ annual income.
Given the already toxic issue of
student fees, not to mention the furore over vice-chancellors’ salaries, the
question of who might pay this bill is
the hottest of political hot potatoes.
Universities and unions are scheduled to open a new round of negotiations over pensions this autumn.
Political sensitivity may explain why
the management’s latest lowball
assessment of the fund’s deficit raises
as many questions as it answers.
How can it be saying that the deficit is stable (on its own self-selected
figures) but that it also needs a huge
increase in contribution rates unless
changes are made? Intriguingly, the
USS is now run by Bill Galvin, who
was previously the pensions industry regulator. In that job he oversaw
a system that required all pension
funds to publish standardised funding deficit figures. Yet his team have
chosen not to use those figures.
John Ralfe, an independent pensions consultant, says bluntly that
USS has ‘a huge deficit and is in a
mess. But the mess is made much,
much worse because USS is creating a
smokescreen to try to hide the deficit,
rather than addressing it properly’.
He blames the scheme’s past investment policy — betting too much
on higher-risk shares in the hope of
investing its way back into balance.
That may not be entirely fair. The
scheme’s investment activities have
not been unsuccessful recently: it has
made a compound return of 12 per
cent per annum over the past five
years. The real problem is that the
yield on index-linked government
bonds (the standard instrument that
pension funds use to match future
inflation-proofed benefits) remains
stubbornly negative. This has been
a major headache for all pension
schemes, not just the university one.
The in-house investment team,
which is incentivised to beat a passive
liability-matching benchmark, has
paid a price for deciding last year not
to match its index-linked liabilities
in full, and betting instead that interest rates would rise. As well as having
half its assets in equities, it preferred
to invest in other types of assets,
including non-indexed bonds and
infrastructure projects. In the past
year that bet has not paid off, though
it may still do so in future years.
Forecasting long-term liabilities accurately is no easy task: small
changes in assumptions produce very
different results. The USS makes
some good points in defence of its
numbers. Yet to the disinterested
A protest in
against rising
student debt
Previous page:
A senior Oxbridge
academic can
look forward to a
gold-plated, indexlinked pension
rates will have
to rise and
benefits will
have to be
observer it seems obvious that, just as
almost every private-sector company
faced with lower yields and greater life expectancy has had to close
its defined benefit pensions scheme
on grounds of cost, so contribution
rates for university academics are
going to have to rise and their indexlinked benefits will have to be further
reduced. It is only a question of how
much and by when.
That is a political, not an actuarial,
issue. Yet the truth is that, with real
interest rates so low and unlikely to
rise materially for many years, the
scheme as currently constituted is
unaffordable. How do we know that?
Well, at current market rates, if the
universities asked an insurance company to run the scheme as currently
constituted, it would cost them well
over £100 billion, a figure that makes
even the gloomiest current deficit
projection pale into insignificance.
But identifying a problem and
dealing with it are rarely the same
thing. A man called Upton Sinclair
once observed that, ‘It is difficult to
get a man to understand something
when his salary depends on his not
understanding it.’
Resolving the universities’ pension challenges is going to test how
vigorously the academic sector is
capable of confronting the reality of
today’s investment landscape.
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
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The ultra-fast broadband race
Robin Andrews picks potential winners in fibre optics
as the UK tries to catch up with the rest of the world
elecommunications’ is not
the perfect name for the
transmission of data at
speeds that the late Mr Alexander
Graham Bell of Edinburgh would
simply disbelieve. Nowadays —
though some of us may still hanker
after older, slower ways of keeping in
touch — this is a technology sphere
that is about so much more than telephone calls.
The ability to alter the wavelength
of light — and the development of
optical fibres that permit light’s transmission without distortion from magnetic fields and other factors — has
changed everything. In addition, computer power has permitted sound and
visual images to be digitised into electronic pulses that can be transmitted
at speed and in volumes (or bandwidths) that have ushered in a world
of potentially instantaneous communication. This is the new world of
ultra-fast broadband.
For the non-specialist, it is a world
of perplexing abbreviations, such as
FTTP, FTTC and FTTT, meaning
fibre to the premises, the cabinet or
the terminal. In effect, we are in the
midst of a data-transmission revolution, from copper-wire networks to
optical fibre ones, that is already giving significant commercial advantages to those who have the latter. Cisco,
the world’s biggest Internet Protocol Provider (IPP), estimates that
internet traffic will be growing at an
annual compound rate of more than
22 per cent between 2015 and 2020.
Only optical fibre can cope with this
growth, never mind the speed of its
Last year the UK regulator for
the sector, Ofcom, published its Digital Communications Review. In it we
read that of the 30 countries analysed
for ‘fibre coverage to premises’, Spain
leads the world with 79 per cent,
Canada, France and the US have
achieved around 25 per cent penetration, but the UK figure is only 2 per
cent, leaving us trailing shamefully at
29th in the table.
Lack of optical fibre cable to
premises simply means that businesses and retail customers cannot
receive the volumes or speeds of data
The UK is
now well
behind many
in terms of
data speeds
that most of our trading competitors
now enjoy. Governments worldwide
now realise that they are in a race
to invest in the infrastructure that
will permit their economies to stay
competitive in a world where almost
instantaneous data-sharing is vital.
Put simply, physical networks need
to be built that incorporate trenches, towers and vital connections from
cabinets to individual premises.
The UK, once a leader in mobile
communications, is now well behind
many competitors in terms of availability of data at speeds of anything
much more than 15 megabits per second. Speeds of over 100 megabits
are now commonplace from South
Korea to Sweden. The Gigabit City
(1,000 megabits per second), a concept much talked about in the US, is,
technically at least, within reach.
BT has been and is the UK’s
monopoly provider of copper-wire
telecommunications. The problem for
the UK has largely been that it has
not suited BT, or been financially possible, to scrap its largely copper-wire
network and replace it with optical
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
carbon fibre ducts and all the associated kit. Now under pressure from
government and with rivals snapping
at its heels, there is a consultative
process taking place that will set the
rules for a massive roll-out of optical
fibre. As well as Ofcom, others at the
table will be Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin
Media, and the listed companies mentioned here (see box, right). Sharing
of both optical fibre and copper-wire
networks and a range of related technology issues are all on the agenda.
In November 2016 the last government pledged £1.1 billion to help
with the roll-out of fibre and 5G
infrastructure, and £500 million has
already been made available to invest
alongside the private sector. This has
had immediate success insofar as at
least another £500 million has been
invested by private companies and
local authorities — particularly in
the south and south-west, where two
private companies, Gigaclear and
TrueSpeed, have identified rural communities wealthy and willing enough
to pay up for faster speeds.
Now to the point: reducing such
a technically complex and regulated
business to a few investment ideas is
fraught with difficulty, but made a bit
easier by the fact that there are few
public companies to choose from.
Indeed Macquarie, the infrastructure investment bank, reckons that at
the moment there are only two pure
optical fibre players, BT and CityFibre. However, there are others whose
business models will involve offering
enhanced broadband speeds. These
include Manx Telecom and KCOM,
also featured here.
As with any large infrastructure
investment programme (possibly
£30 billion or more to be spent in the
next 15 years), there will be many
opportunities for entrepreneurs to
provide timely products to the larger
players. But most of these are and will
probably remain private or in private
equity funds.
In particular, many technical
advances in switches, capacitors,
amplifiers and electronic circuits
already exist. These components of
the ‘boxes’ or ‘cabinets’ take signals
from the optical cables and change
them to the visual or audible messages we understand. This ‘last yard’ at
the ends of the networks is the area
in which transformational changes
lie further ahead, and perhaps great
opportunities for investors.
But for the time being, here are
four companies poised to benefit
from government-backed initiatives
to help the UK catch up with the rest
of the world.
Share price £2.82;
Market cap £28bn
The share price of this
monolithic business suggests
to me it may be on the verge of
recovery from well-publicised
problems of recent years:
in two years, it has declined
from £5 to £2.82. It will always
be difficult turning around
such a huge company, but the
urgency of delivering faster
broadband to many more
households is the stimulus
that’s needed to make changes
in management and structure,
and negotiate a less stultifying
regulatory environment.
Already Openreach, BT’s
broadband division, has a
board independent of BT,
which will allow it to initiate
private talks with competitors
and industry partners.
Openreach is working with
government and industry
partners to find a middle way
that can use existing copper
networks but improve ‘last
yard’ connections. Not every
household will be willing to
pay for ultra-fast services but
a fibre optic infrastructure
is the endgame and BT/
Openreach will be exploring
ways of getting there, probably
via joint ventures: there were
recent reports of talks with
Vodafone, whose broadband
experience in Spain and
Portugal could be valuable.
What’s certain is that BT
isn’t going out of business:
it’s far too dominant in the
UK telecoms industry for this
to happen, and has technical
expertise second to none as
well as a vast customer base
that might be wooed into
paying more for better service.
So this is the safe horse to ride
and it carries a 5 per cent yield.
95p; £491m
As befits the 2017 City
of Culture, Hull and its
hinterland are well ahead
of the rest of the UK in
penetration of fibre to
premises. This is largely due
to far-seeing Hull councillors,
who, in 1902, received a
licence to set up their own
telephone network, which
in 1987 became Kingston
Communications. The
company went public in
1999, when the city council
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
sold its controlling interest.
Now called KCOM, it started
installing fibre optic cable
to premises as early as 2012.
A series of disposals and
acquisitions has created a
company with a solid earnings
base well placed to continue
investing in fibre optic cable,
and not just in East Yorkshire.
KCOM has created an IT
division, Enterprise, which
offers services in such areas as
Cloud technology, and advises
on private communications
systems for clients such as
HMRC. In a recent excellent
research report on the
telecoms industry, broker Peel
Hunt describes KCOM as a
company of two halves with
a 6 per cent yield. It gives a
target price for the shares of
£1.50 and I don’t disagree with
their view.
45p; £286m
Since its formation in 2011,
CityFibre has grown both by
acquisition and internally: a
key acquisition in 2016 was
1,350 miles of optical fibre
from KCOM for £90 million.
Recently the company
raised £210 million at 55p a
share, essentially doubling
its size. As the prospectus
says: ‘CityFibre provides
fibre connectivity services
through designing, building
and operating fibre optic
network infrastructure. Today
it owns and operates more
than 2,000 miles of optical
fibre and has a presence in 42
towns and cities in the UK,
providing infrastructure that
is an alternative to Openreach
(BT).’ Its services and
assets are available to other
telecom companies such as
Sky, TalkTalk, and Vodafone,
as well as TV and film
content providers The recent
fundraising will allow more
debt to be raised, quickening
the pace of expansion. The
new funds have also been
used to buy a company called
Entanet, which specialises in
‘connectivity’ services, i.e. the
bit of the communication train
that connects the end user
to all signals that use mobile,
cloud, optical fibre or indeed
old-fashioned copper. This
acquisition signals CityFibre
expanding from its traditional
role as wholesale provider of
optical fibre networks towards
new ventures and marketing
This is a sector that is
growing exponentially so the
game (as with the likes of
Amazon and Facebook) is
less about quick profitability
than running fast to secure
market share. How businesses
such as CityFibre should be
valued is a puzzle. For the
time being, investors can
be comforted that they are
buying at a discount to the
recent institutional placing.
Macquarie, a broker to the
recent issue, has a target
price of 100p. This should
be regarded as a long-term
investment but prepare for
excitements in the short term
as market participants jostle,
acquire and perhaps merge.
£1.97; £222m
There’s something comforting
about investing in a monopoly
— and that’s certainly what
Manx Telecom has on the
Isle of Man. On the other
hand, as BT investors know,
monopolies attract regulation
that can stultify performance.
It was once part of BT, but
after several owner changes it
floated free by an IPO in 2014.
Manx benefits from
providing telecoms and
services to a loyal community
on its low-tax island. It has
invested in recent years in
fibre-to-cabinet infrastructure
but announced recently
that it will be offering fibreto-premises for about 80
businesses and locations. The
company should benefit from
wealthy Isle of Man residents
who can afford to pay for this
enhanced service. It has also
launched a small investment
business, Vannin Ventures, that
will look for opportunities
as the broadband revolution
gathers pace. There is no
reason why Manx cannot
expand quickly on its solid
domestic earnings base, and
the balance sheet seems stable
with debt of £69 million and
available cash of £10 million.
Earnings before depreciation
and tax are a comfortable
£27 million so the dividend
yielding 6 per cent is well
covered. Peel Hunt has
a target price of £2.50.
(All prices as at 22 September).
Scrap this stamp duty spiral
What we need is a return to the era of low, simple and
stable levies on house sales, argues Matthew Lynn
n balance, history will be
kind to George Osborne’s
six years as Chancellor. He
stabilised an economy that was in
dire straits when he took over. He
brought the deficit under control
while avoiding a serious recession, a
trick that is far easier in economics
textbooks than it is in the real world.
He pumped money and time into
reviving the north, and he played a
key campaign role in delivering the
first majority Conservative government in three decades.
If he made one massive mistake,
however, it was this. He took a housing market that was already dysfunctional, and, by introducing a raft of
changes to stamp duty, he achieved
the almost unimaginable feat of
making it even worse. His policies
turned it into a huge money-spinner
for the Treasury but slowed down
the number of house sales, reduced
labour mobility and laid waste to
the once-booming buy-to-let sector.
If you were searching for a laboratory experiment in why governments
are almost invariably best advised to
keep out of markets, you could hardly
find a better one.
Re-wind the clock a couple of
decades, and stamp duty was a minor
item on the tax menu. Stamp duties
have in fact been around since the
1600s, but the current system of tax44
ing home sales dates from the 1950s.
For a long time, tweaks were mercifully infrequent. All through Margaret Thatcher’s reign, for example,
you paid nothing on a purchase price
of up to £30,000 (in those days you
could still buy a house for less than
that, although admittedly not in Chelsea) and 1 per cent above it. In 1993,
the threshold was doubled to £60,000
to reflect higher house prices. For
many years, that was about it. Stamp
duty was a simple and stable levy consonant with the established principle
that the state should collect a modest
and painless slice whenever significant assets change hands.
The rot set in — surprise, surprise
— with Gordon Brown. As Chancellor, he couldn’t look at a tax without wanting to find a fiddly way of
increasing it, preferably by stealth.
A single stamp-duty rate suddenly became four rates, from zero per
cent up to £60,000 to 2 per cent over
£500,000. There were more changes in 1998, 1999 and 2000 — Brown
knew how to enjoy himself — until
the top rate reached 4 per cent. He
and his successor as Chancellor,
Alistair Darling, carried on tinkering
with the rates until Darling’s parting
shot before Labour left office in 2010,
which introduced five levels of duty
with a top rate of 5 per cent on houses
over £1 million.
The duty rates
older people
to stay in big
homes they no
longer need
Simplicity and stability were
a thing of the past. But if Brown
started the rot, it was Osborne who
really focused on stamp duty as an
instrument of economic engineering, introducing punitive rates that
hit the top end of the market hardest. In 2012, the Tory Chancellor
brought in a new rate of 7 per cent
for any transaction worth more than
£2 million. Then in 2014, he overhauled the system again, introducing
tiered rates, so you paid percentages of each chunk of the price. Over
£925,000, the rate went up to 10 per
cent and over £1.5 million it was now
12 per cent.
These changes were even more
dramatic for the growing army of
buy-to-let landlords, or anyone buying a second home, unless they did
so through a company. From £40,000
upwards they started paying extra
stamp duty, rising to 13 per cent over
£925,000 and 15 per cent over £1.5
million. The transformation of a tax
that used to be a minor expense, on
a par with the solicitor’s fees and the
cost of the removal van, was now
complete. People buying houses in
London and the south-east now routinely pay a year’s salary or more in
stamp duty.
The impact has been huge. According to an analysis by Nationwide,
the amount collected has soared.
The Treasury now rakes in close on
£13 billion a year from stamp duty,
more than twice the amount from
inheritance tax. But the number of
transactions has tumbled to the lowest in a decade.
In London, where these stratospheric rates of duty are biting hardest, the market has virtually frozen.
Sales have all but ground to a halt.
In Wandsworth, for example, there
were just 105 sales in February this
year compared with 270 in February
2016, according to Land Registry figures. Westminster saw only 55 sales.
Overall, the figures are the lowest on
record. Meanwhile, prices have fallen
by more than 15 per cent in boroughs
such as Kensington and Westminster,
with a 6.6 per cent overall fall across
the capital in the past year.
The impact on the buy-to-let market has been even more dramatic.
The number of buy-to-let mortgages
available, a good indicator of the level
of interest in the sector, has fallen to
its lowest level since the immediate
aftermath of the financial crash of
2009. The Council of Mortgage Lenders reports that around 6,000 new
purchases a month are being made
with buy-to-let mortgages, compared
with a peak of up to 11,000 in 2015.
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
There are ways around the new
taxes. Lots of landlords are setting up
companies, but that is expensive, and
only really worthwhile if you have
three or four properties; plus you
can’t transfer existing assets into a
company without paying stamp duty
and capital gains tax. Couples might
find they can get around the secondhome rate by getting divorced. But
that’s a pretty extreme way of sidestepping a tax, and probably not the
best preparation for buying that idyllic cottage in Cornwall you’ve always
talked about. In reality, stamp duty is
a very hard tax to avoid, and the new
system has been well designed to stop
loopholes emerging.
That does not mean it is a success,
however. Brown saw it as an easy
way of raising money, while Osborne
saw it as a way of being seen to tax
the rich while also curbing buy-tolet landlords, who, as he saw it, were
driving up house prices. In fairness,
it has raised a lot of money for the
Treasury. But it is also distorting the
housing market. There are three big
problems. First, for many people it
makes moving prohibitively expensive. Anyone swapping a £1 million
home for another one in a different
part of the country — because of a
change of job, say — will have to pay
£43,750 of duty. And yet mobility is
obviously good for the economy.
Next, the duty rates encourage
older people to stay in big homes
they no longer really need. It would
often be better for all concerned if
they down-sized and sold the family
house, but buyers may now be few
and far between. Finally, it has deliberately hammered landlords. But an
economy with a flexible labour market plus lots of immigrants and lots
of students, also needs lots of rental
properties. As buy-to-let is discouraged, rents must go up — and that
won’t help anyone.
In reality, the housing market is
already creaking under the weight
of manipulation by the government.
From planning restrictions to rules on
borrowing to subsidies for first-time
buyers and these hefty taxes on purchases, the state is meddling all over
the place. The result? Far too few new
homes are being built, too few people
can afford to get on the ladder, and
moving costs are soaring out of control. The stamp duty spiral has taken
a mess and made a fiasco. The best
thing we could do now would be to
go back to a 1 per cent rate on every
transaction, and leave that in place
for a couple of decades. It couldn’t be
any worse than what we have now –
and might well be a lot better.
Ground rents are the
next housing scandal
henever I hear someone
bemoan the fact that
their home has become
‘worthless’, I know someone
else is about to make a killing.
Properties do sometimes
become genuinely worthless
— if they sit on a crumbling
clifftop, for example. But more
often than not a property
that has become blighted
is not valueless at all, but
merely harder to sell. There’s
still value in it for anyone
prepared to look beyond the
blight and realise it.
So it is for leasehold houses
with doubling ground rents.
The scandal that has erupted
in the past few months is likely
to be followed by a second
scandal, in which homeowners
with hard-to-sell properties
are persuaded to sell them at
fire-sale prices to speculators
who then sell them on at a big
It’s never easy to see where
the next financial scandal
is going to hit. A few years
ago the big problem with
leasehold properties was
soaring service charges. Few
leaseholders bothered about
ground rent; many were barely
aware of it.
Ground rent arises because
when you buy a leasehold
property you are not really
buying a physical asset at
all: you are buying a rental
contract of up to 999 years,
with most of the rent levied
up-front in the purchase
price. But there’s usually an
annual ground rent, too, and
often it amounts to so little
(a ‘peppercorn’) that the
freeholder doesn’t bother to
collect it. In other cases the
ground rent is £100 to £300
a year, and some leases have
provision for it to rise over
time, in line with inflation.
Trouble is, if you’re writing
a lease for a millennium, it’s
difficult to link ground rent
to any official measure of
inflation: slim chance that in
the year 3016 there will still
be an Office for National
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
Statistics publishing a monthly
Retail Price Index. So leases
resort instead to clauses
stating that, every so often, the
ground rent simply doubles.
My wife owns a small flat
with a doubling ground rent,
but I did the sums when she
bought it and decided it was
not onerous. The £300 rent will
double every 20 years for the
first 100 years of the lease, and
remain flat thereafter. In 100
years’ time, therefore, the rent
will be £9,600, which sounds
a lot but is highly likely to
have been eaten by inflation.
A 20-year doubling ground
rent will retain its real value
if inflation averages 3.5 per
cent. At the Bank of England’s
owners with doubling
rents find their homes
have been blighted
target of 2 per cent inflation,
our £300-a-year ground rent
will hit a peak real value
of £1,325 before declining.
That would still be less than
the service charge on most
London flats.
But some developers
slipped a nasty trick into new
leases. Instead of doubling
every 20 years, they made
them double every ten years.
The difference is colossal.
After 100 years, a £300-a-year
ground rent reaches £307,200.
At 2 per cent inflation, that
would be the equivalent of
£42,000 today. Developers
also started building leasehold
houses, either holding on to
the freehold to enjoy a return
from rising ground rent, or
selling it to an income investor.
Little wonder there’s such
anger over these leases. In
July, Communities Secretary
Sajid Javid responded by
announcing a ban on the
sale of houses on leaseholds
(except where the developer
had itself bought the land
on a lease, such as from the
Crown Estate). New leasehold
properties will have to have
fixed peppercorn ground rents.
But where does that leave
people who have already
bought leaseholds on tenyear doubling rents? Sensing
the reputational damage, one
developer, Taylor Wimpey, in
April set aside £130 million
to compensate buyers of
leasehold houses. Countryside
Properties, too, has said it will
buy back some freeholds.
But what of the rest?
Unsurprisingly, owners with
doubling rents find their
homes have been blighted.
Many mortgage-lenders refuse
to lend against them, making
them very difficult to sell.
But does it really mean that
the properties have become
worthless? No. Anyone who
has owned a leasehold for
two years has the right to buy
the freehold, or ‘enfranchise’.
That might be beyond the
means of leaseholders quoted
prices of £30,000 or more. But
they shouldn’t despair. First,
there is a formula recognised
in law to work out how much
a leaseholder should pay for
a freehold. Those who have
been quoted exaggerated
sums will find the price
reduced once they employ a
surveyor with knowledge in
this field. And if you still can’t
afford the freehold? The value
of your home will not drop
to zero. If it would be worth
£250,000 as a freehold and the
cost of buying the freehold is
£20,000, its value should not
drop below £230,000.
Someone will already
have worked out that there
are profits to be made from
buying leaseholds from
overly pessimistic owners at
distressed prices, holding them
for a couple of years and then
enfranchising. I don’t think
we have heard the end of the
scandal of leasehold houses
yet. Rather, we are about to
see one set of opportunists
replaced with another.
Gold is still the safest haven
The biggest producers are just
too big for their shares to do much
more that marginally outperform
bullion itself. Of course, perception
of South Africa’s ‘country risk’ might
change for the better, which would
make AngloGold Ashanti an obvious investment. The same would be
true of Shanta in Tanzania. In the
meantime, the likes of Canada’s
Yamana and IAM Gold, and Australia’s Northern Star, will serve the riskaverse well over the long term. But
be aware that their share prices have
already improved this year, reflecting
the rising bullion price.
Risk and potential reward rises as
we go down the list. The market is currently apprehensive about Russian
production, hence lower valuations
for Kinross, Polymetal and Petropavlosk. The latter produces much the
same number of ounces as one of
London’s favourites, Centamin,
based in Egypt, which is valued more
than seven times higher. But this has
less to do with relative country risk
than the fact that Petropavlosk is
Gold mining shares can offer better returns than
bullion itself, says Robin Andrews
n times as alarming as these —
with Kim Jong Un and Donald
Trump waving nuclear weapons
at each other — gold has traditionally
been a refuge for investors. Nowadays
there’s an alternative haven in the
crypto-currencies that Freddy Gray
writes about on the opposite page;
their volatile performance this year
has made gold look comparatively prosaic, up a mere 12 per cent so
far. But there are good reasons to
stay with the traditional insurance of
gold rather than run with the Bitcoin
pack— and for those looking for a
better return than bullion itself, gold-
mining shares are the way to go. What
follows is a non-comprehensive list of
major gold producers, as well as a few
of the hundreds of smaller exploration and development ventures — and
half a dozen ‘Buy’ recommendations.
The table is ranked by scale of production but, as you can easily see,
the valuations do not mirror this. A
more complete comparison must
take account of debt levels, reserves,
ore processing costs and, of course,
political risks. This really is a sector
in which private investors need to do
their own research and build up their
general knowledge before diving in.
(as at 22 Sept)
million ounces P.A
US, Africa, Australia, S.America
Anglogold Ashanti
S.Africa, US, West Africa
Canada, US, S.America
US, Russia, Africa
Australia, PNG, Indonesia
Agnico Eagle
Canada, Finland, Mexico
Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia
Rand Mines
Mali, Congo
Yamana Gold
Canada, S.America
IAM Gold
Canada, West Africa
Centerra Gold
Canada, Kyrgyzstan
Northern Star
Royal Gold
S.America, Canada
Eldorado Gold
Europe, S.America
Highland Gold
Rye Patch
Georgian Mining*
Kenadyr Mining*
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
slowly paying off huge loans; when it
has finished doing so, this poor swan
could fly — and even approach the
valuation of debt-free Centamin.
As every seasoned investor knows,
the fun and games in the mining sector are to be found in smaller exploration ventures — and the key is to
make sure you join the fun when
the company has plenty of money
to carry out its exploration drilling. But if the company gets lucky,
the investor will be confronted with
a double-or-quits dilemma: more
financing will be needed to reach the
point at which reserves are defined,
and more still when production is
about to commence. Centamin was
a good example: the investor who
held his nerve over four years as production came closer was ultimately
rewarded four times over.
I’m hoping for a similar experience, or even better, with Kenadyr and
Georgian, two of the more interesting
smaller explorers. I hold the stocks
marked with a * — not a conservative
portfolio, you will note!
Crypto-currency: risky
as hell but worth a punt
’m up 430 per cent,’ said
my friend Mash, boasting
about his investments in
Bitcoin. I should have known
then that crypto-currencies
were about to crash.
Sure enough, in the first
week of September, the
value of digital coins took a
large dive. Bitcoin, always
the crypto leader, fell by
17 per cent; Ethereum, the
second most valuable cryptocurrency, dropped by 20 per
cent. Analysts have long been
predicting a correction in this
market, which has rocketed in
2017. Warren Buffett called it
all a ‘mirage’ a few years ago.
On other hand, John McAfee,
the software entrepreneur and
political activist, promised to
‘eat his own dick on national
television’ if one Bitcoin was
not worth $500,000 within
three years. You never know.
What’s certain is that the
amateur online investor is at
a disadvantage. Most people
who invest in Bitcoin have
little or no understanding
of what they are buying. We
can blather all we like about
chains of code, ledger systems
and mining, and that’s fun,
but nobody is quite willing
to admit that digital stores of
value remain a mystery to all
but the geekiest.
Thousands of currencies
with all sorts of funny names
have sprouted up since
Bitcoin emerged, and many
are highly dubious. The 41st
most valuable crypto-currency,
for instance, is Bitcoin Dark
(shady name, shady coin),
but if you go to Bitcoindark.
com, you see a red warning
sign on the home page
saying ‘developers moved to
Komodo Coin … Komodo is
the future!’ Komodo is the
22nd most valuable currency,
it turns out, with a market cap
of $371,253,359.
Another is called Useless
Coin, started as a joke about
the sheer vapidity of digital
money, but it still has a market
cap of about $64,000.
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
Then again, all money is
mystery, au fond, and you
can go mad thinking too hard
about it. And despite the
recent tumble, there is a very
good argument to carry on
investing in crypto-currencies.
It starts with the fact that a
£100 Bitcoin investment made
seven years ago could have
made you a multi-millionaire.
The latest dip has provided
a good excuse to get into the
market late— indeed, prices
are already creeping back
up as I write. In 2011, when
Bitcoin first achieved parity
with the dollar, its bubble
appeared to have burst: the
price fell by 68 per cent. It
A £100 Bitcoin
investment made
seven years ago could
have made you a
fell again in 2012 and 2013
but just kept coming back
There will be further
dips as crypto-currencies
increasingly bump into the
reality of ‘fiat’ or state-backed
money. The reason for the
latest plummet is that China,
the source of much optimism
about digital currencies, just
banned Initial Coin Offerings.
I’m still not sure I entirely
understand this, but ICOs are
a bit like IPOs; businesses
can use them to raise capital.
Investors use Bitcoin or
other digi-dosh to buy
‘crypto tokens’ – essentially
shares, which can then be
redeemed. It sounds scammy,
yet ICOs have raised close
to $2 billion worldwide just
this year. Chinese companies
reportedly raised $383 million
through these vehicles, which
led to much wild speculation
about how blockchain
currencies would eventually
replace the dollar as the
global reserve currency.
economists have long
speculated that the internet
would come up with a way of
usurping the central banks
they despise: and Bitcoin’s
surge this year seemed to
be proving them right. But
then China is a state-run
economy, remember, and the
top brass in Beijing don’t for
now appear eager to upend
the way the world works,
hence the ban. In a statement,
China’s central bank said
that ICOs have ‘seriously
disrupted the economic and
financial order’.
But analysts are not
convinced China’s reluctance
will keep ICOs in check for
long, and there is more than
enough money washing
around the crypto-markets
to make them a very risky
but potentially still very
lucrative investment. The
more fundamental driver
of the price of Bitcoin is the
lack of trust in governmentbacked money since the
financial crash; quantative
easing by central banks may
have just about propped up
the world economy but it
has dangerously undermined
faith in leading currencies,
and more and more investors
are drawn — perhaps
subconsciously — towards the
new digital currency markets,
even if they are risky as hell.
It’s easy to be ripped off
by crypto-currency. ICO
investments vanish all the
time in the blink of a screen,
and many a speculator has
tried to reap his rewards
only to find that his or her
investment has disappeared.
You might not trust Mark
Carney or the Federal Reserve,
but you have legal recourse if
your pounds and dollars vanish.
The crypto sphere relies on the
trust of its kooky community,
and it’s a haven for cybercowboys. Widows and orphans
should steer clear then, but
there’s a lot of money to be
made in this digital Wild West.
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Henry Jeffreys says a rare
Scotch can be a better
investment bet than
first-growth claret
his summer I did some work
for a family who have been
in the whisky business for 200
years. They showed me a treasure
from their collection, a bottle of
50-year-old Macallan with a receipt
to show how much they paid for it in
1985: £40 including VAT (which they
managed to claim back). Recently,
an identical bottle sold at auction in
New York for $25,000.
The world has gone whisky mad.
In its annual report, a brokerage firm
called Rare Whisky 101 shows that if
you’d invested in a vertical (a series
of bottlings from successive years) of
Macallan 18-year old vintage whiskies in 2015, they would have cost
you £19,000. At the end of last year
they were worth £46,000, up 142 per
cent. That makes Macallan a far better bet than first-growth claret. Much
of the demand comes, inevitably, from
China. Previously the Chinese were
buying Macallan as gifts to facilitate
business (i.e. bribes) but when the
government cracked down, demand
slackened. Now, according to Kristiane Sherry, of the specialist spirits website Master of Malt, China is
‘really coming back’ as a whisky-buying market. Sukhinder Singh from
The Whisky Exchange told me that
‘now sadly all stock goes to Asia. I get
emotional about this’.
Singh developed an interest in
whisky while working at his parents’
west London off-licence and set up
The Whisky Exchange in the 2000s
as Britain’s first online whisky shop.
Since then he’s seen prices, particularly for Macallan, go through the roof.
Macallan is special because, according to Singh, ‘they were the first
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
The world has
gone whisky
mad – and
much of the
demand is
from China
distillery to do really old whiskies;
they were way ahead of their time’.
He frequently has customers offering
to buy his entire collection.
It’s not just Macallan though:
Ian Buxton, author of a fascinating
new book, Whiskies Galore, told me
about visiting the Bowmore distillery on Islay in the 1990s and seeing
bottles of Black Bowmore 30-yearold whisky gathering dust and priced
at around £100 a bottle. One sold this
year at auction for £11,450.
Particularly collectable are
whiskies from closed distilleries. Port
Ellen in Islay was shut down in 1983.
Diageo, the drink conglomerate that
owned it, has released a little of the
product every year for 17 years. The
first releases were at £80; last year’s
were at £2,600. Others are more
affordable: Singh tips Rosebank,
a Lowland distillery, and Imperial
on Speyside. A ten-year-old Rosebank bottled in the 1990s would have
been about £50 seven years ago; now
it’s £550.
But the closed-distillery whisky
that really gets collectors excited
is not Scottish; it’s Japanese. Karuizawa closed in 2001, and this June the
Whisky Exchange released a special
pair of bottles, a 33-year-old and a
31-year-old, from this distillery, called
the ‘Golden Geishas’, for £2,750. A
pair go at auction for around £10,000.
Until five to ten years ago, Japanese whisky was drunk only domestically, but now whisky lovers have
woken up to its quality and there is
a shortage of aged Japanese spirits.
David Walters, a whisky expert who
recently joined the wine brokers
Fine & Rare, tips Yamasaki ‘age
statement’ whiskies: ‘There’s just not
enough to go round.’
It’s a similar story with Scotch.
Ordinary ‘age statement’ whiskies
that aren’t made any more are in
demand. Sukhinder Singh recommends looking out for whiskies that
aren’t necessarily expensive but are
loved and actually drunk: ‘Much of
the demand is driven by how good
the whisky is; it’s not about packaging or rarity.’ Some releases aimed
squarely at collectors have not
kept their value, whereas the Whisky Exchange has 1980s bottles of
12-year-old Talisker for £1,200.
It’s not just single malts that are
attracting attention, but also blends.
Frans Op den Kamp, a collector of
Johnnie Walker, told me that it’s fascinating how blends such as Black
Label have changed over the years.
Whiskies were made in different
ways in the past: different strains of
cereal, longer fermentation times,
blends with higher proportions of
grain to malt, or containing whisky from lost distilleries. He owns
whiskies that not even Johnnie Walker have in their own archives.
Ian Buxton finds the thought
of people buying whisky not to be
drunk depressing: ‘They’re made for
pleasure.’ Singh is more relaxed —
‘People are free to do as they like’
— and insists that much expensive
whisky really is consumed.
Such is the demand at the moment
that some releases are on strict allocation. Master of Malt received only
six bottles of the Yamazaki Sherry
Cask 2013 release, which whisky
Above: Scotch
whisky barrels
Previous page:
whiskies at
the Cameron
House Hotel on
Loch Lomond
If the market
turns, it will
be the people
just in it for
the money
who get hurt
writer Jim Murray declared the best
whisky in the world in 2015.
Just as with wine, there are problems with forgeries. This August a
Chinese businessman ordered a glass
of Macallan 1878 in a Swiss hotel bar
for $10,000. When the story made the
news some whisky experts declared
the bottle a fake. The businessman
is trying to get his money back. In
2004, Macallan itself was embarrassed when some of the whisky it
had acquired for its collection turned
out to be counterfeit.
In a few cases Sukhinder Singh
has tipped off the police (who
weren’t very interested) about forgers trying to sell him dodgy bottles.
He pointed me towards sites that
are selling Macallan 1941, ‘a year
they didn’t make any whisky!’ His
advice is always to buy from a reputable merchant such as the Whisky
Exchange, or an auction house: ‘Do
some research and if it looks too good
to be true, it almost certainly is.’
If you want to make sure what
you are buying is kosher, you can
buy ‘new-make’ whisky directly
from a distillery, age it at the warehouse and then sell it on, or bottle it
when mature. There are lots of new
distilleries in Scotland and Ireland
in need of cash flow. The key is to
look at the pedigree of the distillery:
see who is involved and where the
money comes from. Some distilleries
such as Arbikie, which Fine & Rare is
involved with, offer a buyback clause.
Others may charge for storage.
The risk with all the new distilleries, particularly in Ireland, is that
there’s going to be a lot of unknown
whisky coming on to the market at
the same time. Ian Buxton told me
‘people have had their fingers burnt
in the past from investment casks’.
He thinks worldwide demand is
driven by fashion as much as anything else: ‘It’s all driven by low interest rates, cheap money and people
chasing investment returns.’
As a whisky historian, Buxton
takes the longer view: ‘We’ve been
here before with whisky booms.’
But he admits he is something of a
voice in the wilderness; for years he
has predicted a bust that hasn’t happened. Singh, too, points out that the
market could turn and when it does,
it will be the people just in it for the
money who get hurt: ‘Whisky is for
drinking at the end of the day.’ Kristiane Sherry thinks you could make
7 per cent a year from a shrewd
investment, but ‘if all goes wrong and
you can’t sell it, worst case you’ve got
some fabulous whisky to drink far
cheaper than you otherwise could’.
spectator money | 30 september 2017 |
The Old Mutual Gold & Silver Fund
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following the lead of the world’s leading central
banks and invest in gold?
Talk to your financial adviser about the Old Mutual
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Please remember that past performance is not a
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For retail investors. This communication provides information relating to funds known as the Old Mutual Gold & Silver Fund (the “Fund”). This communication is issued
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incorporated in England and Wales under registered number 3591 559. OMGI 07/17/0194. Models constructed with Geomag.
Philip Hensher wonders
if Anthony Powell’s Dance
is for all time
A.N. Wilson applauds the
disclosure of Isaac Newton’s
‘unholy’ Trinity
Andy Miller says Jimmy
Webb’s Beatles anecdote
has lain down for 50 years
like a bottle of vintage Port
James Delingpole explains
why Curb Your Enthusiasm
makes him want to hide
behind the sofa
Stephen Bayley thinks
medicine needs a redesign
Kate Chisholm is terrified
by Joan Crawford’s turn in
an archival drama from the
golden age of American
‘Woman looking through
Field Glasses’, c.1869, by
Laura Freeman — p64
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Of his time
Hilary Spurling impressively captures the essence and the spirit of
Anthony Powell, his writing and his era, says Philip Hensher
Anthony Powell: Dancing to the
Music of Time
by Hilary Spurling
Hamish Hamilton, £25, pp. 576
Great novelists come in all shapes and sizes,
but one thing they all share is a status of
half-belonging. If they had no foot in the
world at all, they could hardly understand
it; if they completely belonged, they could
hardly understand what was distinctive.
One of the pleasures of this excellent biography is fully appreciating the peculiar, liminal, not-quite-successful position Powell
wrote from, and described with great exactness. In half a dozen social and professional
milieux, he was a tolerated, perhaps useful
minor presence, like a spare man at dinner.
From the standpoint of a rather failed editor, screenwriter, soldier, socialite, he stood
by and watched the world. In each case, one
suspects, the subjects hardly realised they
were being observed.
This is the fourth major biography by
Hilary Spurling, after her full-scale lives
of Ivy Compton-Burnett, Paul Scott and
Henri Matisse. It is the first, perhaps, with
no major surprise to spring on the reader.
(What the great Compton-Burnett biography had to reveal came as news to people who had known the novelist for many
decades.) Powell told his own story twice,
in his novel sequence A Dance to the Music
of Time, published from 1951 to 1975, and
four volumes of richly enjoyable memoirs,
published between 1976 and 1982. There
is a gentlemanly reticence about private
matters in both novel and memoir — the
sentence in which Nick Jenkins, the narrator of the novel, informs the reader that he
has married Isobel Tolland is, to fashionable
sensibilities, indecently clipped. Nevertheless, what we have in both is a detailed and
largely truthful account of events. Powell
made sure there would not be much for a
biographer to discover.
Powell came from a line of soldier gen54
try. The unusual fact of his childhood is that
his mother was very much older than his
father, and they moved around various London addresses when he was a small child.
(When, much later, he moved to a house in
the country, he found the sight of fields and
woods from his study window disturbing.)
At Eton he made friends with Henry Yorke,
later the novelist Henry Green, but otherwise did not shine at sport or intellectual
pursuits. After Oxford, he took a job at a
dim publisher called Duckworths and went
to smart parties; he was not much of a success. ‘Ah, you’re buying experience, young
man,’ a hostess remarked with evident
relief at having placed him. The women of
The appearance of things is so
searchingly pulled apart in Powell
that it takes on a real profundity
his generation made it disarmingly frank
that a boy with a very moderate salary and
without real prospects was of no interest to
them. He made his way slowly — evidently
agreeable company, he befriended the Sitwells, had an affair with Nina Hamnett, and
maintained friendships with Evelyn Waugh
and Constant Lambert.
The five novels he wrote in the 1930s
fell under the shadow of Waugh and even
of Henry Green; they are extraordinarily
dry, and met with only very moderate success, though their brilliance has never been
in doubt. The last of them, indeed, was published days before the war broke out and
was a minor casualty of the conflict. Powell
had a mixed war, though relations between
him and the army never broke down as
spectacularly as they did in the case of
Evelyn Waugh — in person, he was always
much more emollient, though perhaps not
very competent. He was personally selected by a former flatmate of his friend Alick
Dru, Lt-Col Denis Capel-Dunn, secretary to
the Joint Intelligence Committee, to act as
his sole assistant. Powell lasted nine weeks
working for this ‘squat figure in a sodden
British Warm… famed for his forcefulness with subordinates… manipulation of
equals and ingratiation of superiors, particularly those of ministerial rank’. By the
time Capel-Dunn sacked Powell, refusing a
request to stay on long enough to be promoted to major (‘My nerves wouldn’t stand
it,’ Capel-Dunn said), Powell had taken
the opportunity to observe a singular type
at close quarters. When the long novelistic
silence between What’s Become of Waring
(1939) ended with the first volume of Dance,
A Question of Upbringing (1951), Powell’s
thoughts had cohered into one of the great
fascinating monsters of fiction. Kenneth
Widmerpool had a number of originals, but
the main one was Capel-Dunn.
Powell’s long and happy marriage to
Lady Violet Pakenham connected him
to generations of powerful and compelling people within one family, including
the painter Henry Lamb, Lord Longford,
Lady Antonia Fraser, Harold Pinter, Ferdinand Mount and Harriet Harman. In
Dance, the authority and sympathy within
any number of social settings is never likely to be equalled — Proust doesn’t come
anywhere near Powell’s social range. Even
in worlds he knew nothing about, such as
music (Hugh Moreland’s symphony comes
and goes with the minimum of comment),
the authenticity of Powell’s portrayal of the
manners of Mrs McLintick and the music
critics is deeply impressive.
The sequence has a peculiar and compelling technique; the narrator analyses
rather than mulls, always looking outwards,
and the appearance of things is so searchingly pulled apart that it takes on real profundity. In the great scenes in Powell, the
characters often know much more than
the narrator admits, or will share with the
reader. ‘So often one thinks,’ Powell writes,
‘that individuals and situations cannot be
so extraordinary as they seem from out-
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Anthony Powell, by Henry Lamb (1934)
side: only to find that the truth is a thousand
times odder.’ When Jenkins and Jean play
at not knowing each other at the memorial service in The Military Philosophers
(‘[Madame Flores] spoke English as well
as her husband, the accent even less perceptible’) there is a sense of struggling to
make sense of surfaces. Many of the great
scenes are like this: Pamela Widmerpool
confronting Polly Duport at the end of Temporary Kings, or Barbara Goring pouring
sugar over Widmerpool’s head. As in life,
we see only the final, physical result of an
internal process, and try to understand. We
are not given the slack novelist’s privilege
of reading many minds, and the texture is
extraordinarily like life. The quality of characters dropping in and out has always been
admired as resembling the process of living;
less remarked upon is the constant texture
of trying to read events and people from
their actions and appearance, which after
all is the way we all live.
Will it last? Magnificent and accomplished as it is, Dance is certainly a challenge
to many readers now. Powell’s dedication to
the exact period detail is unmatched — the
titles of the books his characters write, for
instance, inspire awe in their precise plausibility, from St John Clarke’s Fields of Amaranth to J.G. Quiggin’s Unburnt Boats to
X. Trapnel’s Dogs Have No Uncles to Ada
Leintwardine’s gritty I Stopped at a Chemist
(‘a tolerable film as Sally Goes Shopping’).
The dedication goes as far as making sure
the characters’ anecdotes have the right
degree of dullness. ‘The King is supposed to
have said “Well, Vowchurch, I hear you are
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
marrying your eldest daughter to one of my
generals,” and Bertha’s father is said to have
replied, “By Gad, I am, sir, and I trust he’ll
teach the girl to lead out trumps, for they’ll
have little enough to live on.” Edward VII
was rather an erratic bridge-player, you
know.’ Notoriously, Powell’s dry wit hardly travelled. Even now, I’m sometimes
not quite sure if he is joking — when, for
instance, his narrator remarks: ‘I was then at
the time of life when one has written a couple of novels…’ Will readers in the future be
able to catch his complex tone at all?
This is a fine biography by a writer who
knew Powell well, and who understands how
writers think, and how novelists stand in
relation to their material. Much of Dance is
roman-à-clef if anything ever was, but Spurling takes the trouble to give Julian Maclaren-Ross and Constant Lambert lives quite
separate from X. Trapnel and Hugh Moreland. Three quarters of the book is taken
up by Powell’s life before Dance started to
be published, and his last 20 years, after it
came to an end, are wrapped up in a mere
14 pages, largely of Spurling’s own memories of Powell. This I think regrettable: the
four volumes of memoirs are barely mentioned. Since such important events as the
famous 1982 dinner for Mrs Thatcher, hosted by Hugh Thomas with Philip Larkin, V.S.
Pritchett, Tom Stoppard and Mario Vargas
Llosa as Powell’s fellow guests don’t feature, I think there must be much more to say
about Powell’s last years than this suggests.
Nevertheless, in this biography Powell
gets what he deserves — a biographer of
wide sympathy and human understanding,
in tune with a style of manners and a way of
thinking that is slowly vanishing, and very
unlikely to be resurrected. Beneath that
conventional exterior, the Regency house
in the country and the portraits of what
was coming to be called the Establishment,
Powell was a writer as self-doubting and as
shockingly original as Beckett. It’s good to
have a commentator who understands that.
Apostle of gloom
Andrew Taylor
After the Fire
by Henning Mankell, translated by
Marlaine Delargy
Harvill Secker, £17.99, pp. 416
Few people turn to Henning Mankell’s work
in search of a good laugh. He’s best known
as the author of the grim and darkly fascinating Wallander series of Swedish crime
novels, though he also produced a formidable body of other novels, as well as plays,
screenplays and children’s books, before his
death in 2015.
After the Fire is his last book, now published in an admirably smooth English
translation. It reprises the main setting and
many of the characters of an earlier book,
Italian Shoes, including the narrator. Fredrik is a former surgeon whose medical
career was destroyed after he botched an
operation. Now nudging 70, he lives alone
on a bleak island in the Stockholm archipelago.
The novel opens one autumn night
when he wakes to find his house on fire. He
escapes the blaze with only a pair of wellingtons — and even these turn out to be
two left-footed boots. The police suspect
arson, and Fredrik himself is the only suspect. Most readers will guess the real culprit
long before the police do.
This isn’t a crime story, however — the
arson is merely a device to plunge Fredrik
more deeply into depression. He moves into
a caravan on his island, occasionally varying the monotony by sleeping in a tent on
his skerry, a rocky islet that forms part of
his property. As the temperature plummets,
he continues to take bracing morning dips
in the sea.
‘As I get older,’ Fredrik confides in a
typical aside, ‘I find my body increasingly
repulsive.’ The odd thing is, the apostle of
gloom is not a wholly unsympathetic character. There is something endearing about
his raw honesty, his obsession with his own
existential plight, and his acceptance of the
fact that we can never really know anyone
To pass the time, he strays among his
memories and meditates on ageing, illness
and mortality. In the present, he forms an
attachment to a female journalist 30 years
his junior, who accepts his friendship but
rejects his carnal overtures.
The archipelago is home to a scattered
community of loners. Two of them drop
dead of natural causes. Fredrik consoles one
widow in his special way: ‘We never make
sense of death. It doesn’t obey any laws or
follow any rules. Death is an intractable
Fredrik has a recently discovered daughter, Louise, who arrives with the news that
she is pregnant. He believes, for no obvious
reason, that she is supporting herself as a
pickpocket. But he quite likes the idea of
being a grandpa.
He turns out to be right about Louise’s
career choice when she is arrested in Paris
and charged with theft. He goes to see her,
sorts out her problem and meets her partner, an Algerian security guard, and the
latter’s disabled brother. Paris prompts
memories, especially of visits when he was
a student. He invites the journalist to join
him. She accepts, but continues to reject his
Back on his island, Fredrik arranges
for his house to be rebuilt. Louise’s baby
is born prematurely, gets meningitis but
survives. Another house is burned down
while he’s having a New Year’s Eve party.
He works out the entirely obvious culprit.
The book ends on an uncharacteristic note
of qualified optimism as he moves into his
new home.
All in all, the novel commands respect
rather than provides enjoyment. As I read
it, I found myself wondering what P.G.
Wodehouse would have made of it. I know
Eeyore would have loved it, but I’m afraid
I didn’t.
Going places
Christian Wolmar
Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations
by Simon Jenkins
Viking, £20, pp. 336
Stations, according to Simon Jenkins, are
the forgotten part of the railway experience. People love the trains, the journey, the
passing countryside, the leisurely pace and
the locomotives, especially steam ones. The
stations, however, have been rather ignored.
Sure, the ubiquity of Prêt, Upper Crust and
all those coffee chains on station concourses
has made the experience somewhat tawdry
Stations are enjoying a renaissance:
being turned into pleasant, humanfriendly spaces
at times, but even the worst is better than
an airport. Brief Encounter would not have
worked in a departure lounge.
As Jenkins discovers, there is still plenty to celebrate and enjoy, and the modern
disdain of stations is partly borne of our
reluctance to linger in the face of modern
life’s myriad competing demands. Linger,
though, we must, to enjoy the variety of stations that have been left, largely by our Victorian forebears. Of course Beeching cut a
swath through the station network, closing
more than 2,300, but many were small or of
little architectural interest. The most infamous loss was the old Euston, with its won-
derful sweeping staircases in the Great Hall
and overrated Doric arch.
For a while after British Rail had
stopped closing lines, stations were still in
its crosshairs, including, notably, St Pancras,
not least because there was the potential
of a quick buck from property sales for the
cash-strapped organisation. Jenkins claims
a role here in stopping the destruction.
He was appointed to the British Railways
Board in 1980 and was shocked by the disdain for heritage shown by a continued programme of station demolition. He tried to
stop the destruction of the Derby Tri-Junct,
a station, as its name suggests, linking three
lines, but was told by the chairman, Sir Peter
Parker, that it was too late.
Victorian buildings were out of fashion
and Jenkins, appointed head of BR’s environment panel, trooped around the country
‘visiting distressed railway heritage, if only
to draw attention to its plight’. However,
Jenkins says that he managed to persuade
Parker to fund a Railway Heritage Trust
with £1 million per year and as a result no
major stations were subsequently lost, apart
from Newmarket.
The book, therefore, is a celebration of
what’s left, rather than a lament for what
is gone. There is the occasional expression of anger, such as when Jenkins relates
how British Rail, in what he calls ‘the 1970s
Devastation’, ripped out the free-standing
wooden ticket office at Edinburgh Waverley designed by James Bell in the 1890s and
replaced it successively with ‘a travel centre,
a shopping kiosk and then a Costa Coffee
stand’, which was in turn removed, leaving
a few rows of metal seats.
Nevertheless, with more than 2,500 surviving stations, there is no shortage for Jenkins from which to select his best 100. The
cover of the book is a good place to start.
I confess that I had no idea of the location
of the remarkable glass roof, sprouting out
of a circular ticket office like the underside
of a mushroom. It is in fact Wemyss Bay, on
the Firth of Clyde, a station mainly used by
passengers transferring from train to ferry
or vice versa, and consequently needing to
offer both shelter and speed, which explains
the huge concourse that seems out of scale
for such a small place.
Divided geographically, Jenkins admits
that London is over-represented in the
book, but that is understandable given the
grandeur of several of its termini, built as
demonstrations of power by the private
companies whose main offices they housed.
Nevertheless, this is a genuinely national selection, and while the larger stations
undoubtedly predominate, Jenkins has
unearthed a lot of gems in small places such
Betws-y-Coed and Gobowen.
The photography is stunning, but since
Jenkins’s focus is on the architecture — he
is after all the author of England’s Thousand Best Churches — there are few people
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Wemyss Bay train and ferry station on the Firth of Clyde
in the pictures, which rather belies the very
purpose for which the stations exist. There
are even fewer trains or locomotives. Jenkins wants us to look at these spaces that
are ignored as we rush through, and to look
behind the modern ‘improvements’ that
have so often been added with little regard
for their impact on the historic design.
In recent years, though, much more attention has been paid to heritage (sometimes
excessively so, but that is another story) and
there have been welcome improvements.
One great cause for celebration has been
the recent removal of the nasty 1960s leanto that completely wrecked the wonderful clean lines of the yellow-brick frontage
of King’s Cross, creating a pleasant piazza
from which to admire what is my favourite
London station (Jenkins prefers the Gothic
extravaganza next door, ‘which gives me the
greatest thrill’).
Of course I have to quibble with some of
Jenkins’s choices and, particularly, his ratings. He seems to slap four or five stars on
much Victorian architecture while giving
only grudging praise to such 1930s Underground masterpieces as Charles Holden’s
Southgate (one star) or Gants Hill (two
stars), with its subterranean art deco concourse that would not be out of place in
Moscow’s remarkable metro system. Inevitably, as he admits, there will be countless
complaints about his omissions which, he
says, will hopefully be remedied in a future
volume listing the next best 100.
Stations, as Jenkins notes, are enjoying a
renaissance. Look at how shabby, car-dominated entrances, as at Newcastle, Nottingham and St Pancras, have been turned
into pleasant human-friendly spaces, and
at how several major cities — and in particular London — are being blessed with a
remarkable series of new or rebuilt stations
which, in the capital, include many rebuilt
Underground stations. And we are being
encouraged to linger more, with many stations managing to escape the Costa Coffee
fate and providing independent pubs and
cafés instead.
Ratings war
Katrina Gulliver
The Future of War: A History
by Lawrence Freedman
Allen Lane, £25, pp. 400
Planning for the ‘war of the future’ is something generals and politicians have been
doing for the past 150 years. The first and
second world wars were the most anticipated conflicts in history. Military strategists and popular novelists all published the
wars they envisioned in the decades before.
Whether in the spycraft of Erskine Childers
or the science-fiction of H.G. Wells, the
reading public was warned of the carnage
to come in many imaginative forms. But all
that anticipation did little to avert the bloodbaths.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
In this book, Lawrence Freedman offers
a detailed analysis of how we have planned
(or failed to plan) for conflict. Into the 20th
century, military planning suffered from still
focusing on the model of the Napoleonic
wars, with the notion of the decisive battle. But warfare itself has moved on. From
serried ranks of uniformed soldiers engaging on an open field, under rules of battle
understood by all, we now have asymmetric warfare of nonstate actors and irregular
skirmishes, or unending occupations.
And that’s only in the conflicts we
acknowledge as wars. Of all the people who
die violently each year, only a minority are
killed in part of a recognised war. Freedman
points out that even defining ‘war’ is difficult. For instance, the traditional concept
of war as interstate hostility means that the
Falklands conflict (death toll 900), involving
two sovereign state belligerents, is classed
as a ‘war’, while the Rwandan genocide
(death toll 500,000+) is not.
The next war is also not always one of
our choosing, but often someone else’s
conflict we end up stepping into. Of the
various civil wars and insurgencies taking place at any time on the planet, we can
now watch what is happening in real time.
Instead of reading news reports of something that happened weeks ago, we now
have human rights abuses livestreamed on
Of all the people who die violently
every year, only a small minority are
killed in a recognised war
Facebook. The immediacy of humanitarian
crises makes us demand that our leaders ‘do
something’. What the ‘something’ ought to
be remains open to debate. To not intervene
is to be callous, disregarding the suffering of
the helpless civilians of Whereveristan. But
to intervene is imperalist, colonialist, and
all the bad -ists. The awkward truth is that
‘peacekeeping’ troops can never be truly
neutral (their presence affects the outcome
of a conflict, even by preventing anyone
from ‘winning’), and NGO involvement can
serve to prolong a conflict, distort the local
economy, and keep a country in a state of
dependence on external control.
Most of the conflicts of the last 50 years
were civil wars or rebellions, rather than
interstate wars. Knowing they are playing
to an international audience also motivates
warlords to use civilians as sympathetic
victims — using them as human shields, or
allowing massacres to take place, to cement
their side’s image as the ‘injured party’
in the conflict. For the first time, there is
advantage to be gained in playing the victim rather than the victor. The future of war
is war for an audience.
We can also now focus on the individual
victim. For soldiers, our wars have become
less lethal. Not only do our troops get bet57
ter medical care for battlefield injuries, they
are unlikely to die of yellow fever or cholera
during foreign conflicts. Historically, more
soldiers died in war from sickness than bullets. It is only in the last few decades that
soldiers’ deaths from battlefield injuries
exceeded those from disease. Some of our
soldiers don’t even need to go near a battlefield — they can operate Predator drones
from a computer thousands of miles away.
Whether the targeted assassination
model of drone warfare is ethical is still
open to debate. At the very least, it’s hardly sporting to shoot someone who doesn’t
even know you are there. It is in this sense
against all the traditional rules of war.
But at the same time, when faced with an
enemy who doesn’t play by those rules, is it
fair enough? Whether drone warfare alone
will turn out to be decisive in any conflict
is another matter. It is unclear yet whether
picking off Isis leaders via drone-strike has
been more effective than driving them from
their strongholds by traditional means.
And as Freedman explains, drones themselves could turn out to be vulnerable if their
Sir Isaac Newton,
by Godfrey Kneller
(1646–1723): Newton
was a secret, though
fierce critic of the
‘Holy’ Trinity
The possibility of hostile forces taking
over major utilities, or disabling our
banking system, is very real
systems were hacked by the enemy. Cyberwarfare is an increasing threat, in which foreign states, terror groups, or other mischief
makers could knock out key infrastructure.
We’ve already seen the danger with various
large-scale hacks — usually done for money,
such as the Wannacry ransomware attack.
But the possibility of hostile forces taking
over major utilities, or disabling our banking system, is very real. We could be at war
with an enemy we didn’t even know existed.
In terms of more traditional conflicts, as
more of the world becomes urban, so will
more of its wars. Armies have long avoided
cities, but the military nightmare of trying
to capture and control a city of millions of
inhabitants will become more often the reality. Already some of the world’s cities are in
what could be defined as a state of conflict,
although not classified as wars. In Rio, over
6,000 people were killed in 2016, by gangs or
the police. The casualty rate among the security forces is higher than that of combatants
in recent wars. But while terrorist groups
are typically recognised in analyses of war,
the activities of criminal groups are not. This
means the 120,000 people killed as a result
of drug cartels in Mexico over the last decade also don’t count as war casualties.
Freedman’s lucid style packs in plenty of detail of where things went wrong,
and the classic mistake of always planning
for the last war. It is not comforting reading. As with Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘known
unknowns’, the war of the future may be
the one we least expect.
Trials and Trinitarians
A.N. Wilson
Priest of Nature: The Religious
Worlds of Isaac Newton
by Rob Iliffe
Oxford University Press, £22.99, pp. 522
John Calvin believed that human nature
was a ‘permanent factory of idols’; the mind
conceived them, and the hand gave them
birth. Isaac Newton acquired a copy of Calvin’s Institutes when he went up to Trinity
College, Cambridge in 1661 as a teenager.
By the time he was a mature man, however, Newton’s determined effort to strip the
mind of superstitious superfluities had far
outstripped the austere predestinarian of
Geneva. As a Fellow of Trinity, and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1669
onwards, Newton was obliged to subscribe
to the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of
England. It was noted that, most unusually
for a Cambridge academic at this period,
he refused to take Holy Orders. In addition
to his public work as a mathematician and
physicist, Newton undertook work which
was, perforce, utterly secret. This was his reexamination of Christian doctrine from its
historical foundations. Had this work been
made public, he would have been forced to
resign all his public and academic positions.
For he had come to the conclusion, by the
time he reached maturity, that the central
doctrines of Christianity, as outlined in the
Creeds and the Articles, were monstrous
idolatries, inventions, Satanic perversions of
true religion. Above all, he excoriated Athanasius for persuading the Council of Nicaea
to adopt the plainly, as Newton would see
it, idolatrous view that Jesus had been the
divine Second Person of the Trinity.
Rob Iliffe, professor of history at Oxford,
begins his study of Newton’s religious
thought by saying, ‘Newton’s extensive writings on the Trinitarian corruption of Christianity are among the most daring works of
any writer in the early modern period, and
they would merit careful study even if they
had not been composed by the author of the
Principia.’ Presumably, Iliffe means that the
writings are ‘daring’ in their conclusions, as
Newton was not so ‘daring’ as to publish
them — which would have spelt personal
ruin. All his work on gravity, cosmology,
mathematics, the colour spectrum, and so
on would have been conducted, not in the
spacious setting of Trinity, but in a garret,
and it is unlikely that the world would have
heeded them so readily had they not come
from the Lucasian professor. So obsessed
was Newton by his religious views and writings, however, that he longed to get out of
Cambridge, and settle in London, if only a
convenient post could be found. But when
Locke wangled him the Mastership of the
Charterhouse, at £200 p.a. with a coach, this
was not a sufficient lure.
We are all hugely in Rob Iliffe’s debt.
Few of us would have the skill, in mathematics or philosophy or divinity, nor the
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
patience, to do what he has done, which is
read through the huge extent of Newton’s
obsessive theological writings. He, together with a team of industrious scholars, has
helped to put online the writings which
had hitherto been visible only in academic libraries, such as New College, Oxford,
King’s College, Cambridge, and the Fitzwilliam Museum. Most of this stuff had
either been totally forgotten, or never even
read, until the last 15 years; so that, as well
as being a punctilious, painstaking historical work of the utmost density, this book
also constitutes one of the most sensational
‘scoops’ of recent times.
What emerges is something which will
fascinate any student of Newton and the 17th
century, but which will also give any honest Orthodox Christian pause. On the one
hand, Newton emerges from these pages as
a crackpot, who believed himself to be one
This book constitutes one of
the most sensational ‘scoops’ of
recent times
of the remnant of true believers, mentioned
in the book of the Apocalypse, who would
be resurrected to rule over mortals in the
Millennium. On the other, his was one of
the most acute, most searching, of all human
intelligences. He had researched every
aspect of the history of Catholic doctrine,
and his account of how the Creeds evolved,
though laced with the violent anti-Catholic prejudice of their times and coloured by
apocalyptic fervour, would be broadly in step
with the mainstream of scholarship since the
19th century: namely that full-blown doctrinal Trinitarianism can only be found in the
New Testament if the reader, consciously or
unconsciously, puts it there.
Iliffe demands from his reader a very full
concentration on the knotty issues which
possessed the minds of Desert Fathers,
Arians, and the Fathers of the Church, the
Cambridge Platonists, the materialists who
followed Hobbes, as well as the saner and
more congenial thought-processes of Locke
and Hooke. At times, the reader is reminded of the fact that for much of his long life,
‘Skid Row has been gentrified.’
Newton was the contemporary of Swift;
and it is all that one can do to remind oneself that one is reading an academic work,
rather than having strayed into the pages of
Gulliver’s Travels. It is not altogether surprising, in the final chapter, when Locke,
Pepys and others begin to notice that Newton’s outbursts of paranoia went beyond the
eccentric. The Dutch natural philosopher
Christian Huygens noted that Newton, during a conversation with the Archbishop of
Canterbury, had betrayed signs of madness,
and that his friends had led him away and
kept him under house arrest for a considerable period in 1694. Sadly, we are not told
how the conversation went. He recovered
his wits, and lived to his mid-eighties. This is
a book which will take you several weeks to
read, but the journey is worth it.
Portraits of Pakistan
Victoria Schofield
Travels in a Dervish Cloak
by Isambard Wilkinson
Eland, £19.95, pp. 238
By his own admission, Isambard Wilkinson’s
memoir of his experiences in Pakistan a decade ago as a foreign correspondent has taken
‘criminally’ long to write. A litany of thanks
to assorted individuals in his acknowledgements is testimony to the book’s painful gestation. Perhaps the most surprising is to his
brother, Chev, ‘who is missing a vital organ
on my account’. Reading Wilkinson’s narrative, which is both humorous and poignant, the reason is clear. From an early age
he suffered kidney failure requiring a kidney
transplant; but dire predictions of the disease, which might leave him bound for life
to a dialysis machine, did not prevent him
from being ‘internationally curious’.
That his destination became Pakistan
had its origins in his youth. In the wake
of Partition and Independence in the subcontinent in 1947, his grandmother, whose
family had lived in India since the 19th century, had returned to her home in Ireland.
But, as with many families who have spent
a lifetime in South Asia, the relationship
continued; not only did her house contain
ornaments and memorabilia of her previous life, but her friend, an affluent Begum
of Lahore, came regularly to stay in Ireland
while his grandmother returned as regularly to Pakistan. As a young boy Wilkinson
became enthralled with the exotic images these reunions evoked, finding himself
‘experiencing nostalgia for a place I’d never
known’. A turning-point came in the 1990s
when, aged 18, his grandmother asked him
to accompany her to the wedding of the
Begum’s youngest son in Lahore.
A decade later, now working as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, Wilkinson
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
returned to Pakistan, putting his ambition
to be a frontline journalist into operative
gear despite his less than robust health. As
he rightly realised, in the 2000s ‘Pakistan
was News’. Arriving in Islamabad in 2006,
among other events he witnessed were the
siege of the Red Mosque, when, under President Musharraf’s authority, special forces
stormed the mosque where suspected militants had been operating in the heart of the
country’s capital; the lawyers’ movement,
when the country’s lawyers assembled en
masse to protest against Musharraf’s dismissal of the chief justice of the Supreme
Court; the return of former prime minister
Benazir Bhutto followed by her assassination; and Musharraf’s replacement as president by Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari.
In addition to reporting on political developments, and being briefly expelled for
having written an article describing Musharraf as ‘our [i.e. the West’s] son of a bitch’,
Wilkinson’s particular quest was looking
for the ‘real’ Pakistan, characterised by the
country’s mystic Sufist traditions, which led
to exhaustive travels far beyond the normal
ambit of a foreigner.
By writing a memoir of his experiences,
Wilkinson is following in the footsteps of
previous journalists who have gone to Pakistan and found themselves caught up in a
country with which they develop a special
affinity, their experiences later related in
a travel-cum-political-chronicle. Notable
forerunners in the 1980s are Emma Duncan’s Breaking the Curfew, and Christina
Lamb’s Waiting for Allah; more academic
in tone, Owen Bennett Jones’s Pakistan:
Eye of the Storm and Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country likewise give snapshot accounts of Pakistan’s mostly troubled
history through personal experience and
observation. What makes Wilkinson’s book
instantly readable is its lack of sophistication, illustrated by his honesty about
his own failings and of those around him.
Although the names of the main players on
the political scene are mentioned, he is careful to preserve the anonymity of others who
might take offence or whose lives might
perhaps be endangered by his revelations.
The portrait he paints of Pakistani
society is vibrant and engaging, revealing
contradictions which will be instantly recognisable to those who know Pakistan well.
The wrangles between his cook, Basil, and
his driver/housekeeper, Allah Ditta, whose
intense patriotism is contrasted by his ignorance of where the capital is (‘I asked him
to point on the map where we were. He
tugged his beard, tilted his head and placed
a finger some 400 miles from our current
geographical position’); the search for alcohol; the logistics of getting out of the sterile capital to capture the ‘mad, bewitching,
beloved parts of the country before they
disappeared’ are all amusingly described.
Even the arrival of the mango season, leav59
ing his servants in ‘a sticky stupor’ as they
gorged themselves on this incomparable
fruit, gets a mention.
So while there is nothing revelatory
about the descriptive history, the pleasure
in reading this memoir is its authenticity.
Added to this is the sympathy generated by
Wilkinson’s personal struggle, culminating
in his brother Chev’s donation of a kidney
for a second transplant. Travels in a Dervish
Cloak is a must read for anyone wanting
to understand Pakistan at a level beyond
drawing-room gossip or politico-religious
Having your cake
Andy Miller
The Cake and the Rain
by Jimmy Webb
Omnibus Press, £20, pp. 320
For those in the know, Jimmy Webb is one of
the great pop songwriters of the 1960s and
70s, up there with Lennon and McCartney,
Brian Wilson, Goffin and King, Holland,
Dozier and Holland, and Bacharach and
David. The hits he wrote for Glen Campbell alone earned him his place in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame: ‘By the Time I Get to
Phoenix’, ‘Galveston’ and of course ‘Wichita
Lineman’, the dying fall of which — ‘And I
need you more than want you/ And I want
you for all time’ — is so perfect that I am
fighting back tears even as I type it. The song
was written in an afternoon at the request of
Campbell who, after the success of ‘Phoenix’
was looking for ‘something about a town’.
I told him I appreciated his interest but I had
just about exhausted the Rand McNally phase
of my career. ‘Well, could you make it something geographical?’ he almost pleaded. I told
him I would spend the rest of the day on it and
get back to him. By about four o’clock I had
come up with a song.
Webb was barely 21. His jazzy number
about a hot air balloon ride, ‘Up, Up and
Away’, recorded by vocal group The 5th
Dimension, had just won record of the year
and song of the year at the Grammys. In the
space of a few months, this son of an Oklahoma Baptist minister had gone from hustling for a break in the hyper-competitive
environment of 1960s LA to being deluged
with awards, sports cars and recreational
drugs. Lyrically and literally, Webb was riding high.
Now the songwriter’s songwriter has
written a memoir of this magical period
and the carnage that followed. The Cake
and the Rain takes its title from another
record from Webb’s purple patch, ‘MacArthur Park’; you may know it. The song was
a huge and notorious hit for the actor Richard Harris (for whom Webb went on to craft
two similarly grandiloquent albums) and
again ten years later for Donna Summer,
whose Georgio Moroder-produced disco
version topped the US charts in 1978. Its
central metaphor of a cake left out in the
rain, melting, recipe irretrievable, like an
apocalyptic episode of Bake-Off, is both
famous and infamous; ‘Fucking tremendous! I’ll have that!’ shouted Harris the first
time he heard it. (‘It was long enough, tall
enough, and wide enough [for him],’ notes
Webb wryly. ‘Also, in the zeitgeist of the era,
it was obscure enough to confound even the
most inquiring intelligence.’)
This book deals with Webb’s early life
and his initial phenomenal success through
to the mid-1970s, by which point his career
is looking like, well, like a cake left out in
the rain. Seven years after his rapid ascent
with ‘Up, Up and Away’, Webb is plummeting back to earth: having launched himself
as a long-haired, bearded singer-songwriter, his (wonderful) LPs aren’t selling; he is
developing a serious cocaine habit; he is
embroiled in several unhappy love affairs;
he nearly kills himself and photographer
Henry Diltz when the glider he is piloting
crashes into a mountain.
Webb’s problem, as he acknowledges
ruefully, was that he was too ‘Vegas’ for
the emerging Seventies rock scene while
also too ‘hip’ for the showbiz pros who had
hits with his songs. He was also very young.
These, however, are not problems for the
reader of The Cake and the Rain. Webb
knows his way around an anecdote and the
book draws on his fund of stories about,
on the one hand, Campbell, Harris, Frank
Webb knows his way around an
anecdote, and is often very funny –
bring on volume two
Sinatra et al, and on the other, Joni Mitchell,
Janis Joplin, Harry Nilsson and many more.
Of particular note is a bizarre and humiliating encounter with the Beatles during
the recording of the White Album, Webb’s
account of which has clearly been laid down
for 50 years like a bottle of vintage Port;
‘henceforth, Paul and I were never what
you could call friends,’ he understates masterfully. Similarly his eyewitness account of
John Lennon’s appalling behaviour during
the latter’s mid-70s ‘lost weekend’ chills the
Webb is an honest and self-deprecating narrator of his own outrageous fortunes and misfortunes; occasional bursts
of pretentiousness are both characteristic
and endearing. He can also be very funny.
And when he feels sorry for himself, as he
frequently does in this book, he sits down
and writes a magnificent song about it. The
Cake and the Rain is not just a series of tall
tales well told but a warts-and-all portrait of
what happens to prodigiously talented people when fame gets the better of them —
and those around them. Things would get
much worse for Webb before they got better — roll on volume two.
Brotherly love
Alex Peake-Tomkinson
Sugar Money
by Jane Harris
Faber, £14.99, pp. 391
Jane Harris’s novels often focus on the disenfranchised: a maid in The Observations,
a woman reduced by spinsterhood in the
Victorian era in Gillespie and I, and now, a
young slave in this third novel. Disenfranchised they may be, but her protagonists
don’t lack agency. The narrator of Sugar
Money is Lucien, a slave who is barely in
his teens and whose voice is startlingly optimistic. In Martinique in 1765, Lucien and
his older brother, Emile, are tasked by their
French master with returning to Grenada
— where they once lived — and smuggling
back 42 slaves who are living under the rule
of English invaders at a hospital plantation
in Fort Royal.
Emile is realistic about the scale of the
challenge, but Lucien views it as a great
adventure. The brothers, of course, have no
choice but to undertake the trip. The power
dynamic between them and their master
is plain: he views them ‘like he might survey the twitching of two sand-fleas on the
shore’. But this is not the slave narrative you
might expect: readers bracing themselves
for scenes of torture and ill-treatment will
initially be surprised. Harris’s great triumph
is Lucien’s voice, and a reader needs to
embrace the young slave’s confidence and
hope in order to enjoy this book.
Sugar Money is based on a true story. On
holiday on the island, Harris read Beverley Steele’s Grenada: A History of its People and first came across the story of an
enslaved man charged by his masters to
steal fellow slaves from their enemy. The
historical original embarked on his mission
without an accomplice but, having worked
on two previous novels with ‘solitary protagonists’, Harris has said she wanted to
place close relationships at the centre of
this book. One of the most moving aspects
of the novel is the relationship between the
siblings. Lucien confesses: ‘I found myself
too much in simple-hearted awe and adoration of my brother.’ For his part, Emile is
consumed by love for Celeste, the woman
he had to leave behind in Grenada. His
yearning for her in the seven years between
him leaving Grenada and returning on this
unenviable mission has reached such a pitch
that he can no longer bear to hear her name.
In Grenada, the slaves who are to be
taken to Martinique express excitement
over the trip, anticipating a rosier future.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Emile bluntly refutes this. Lucien feels the
‘scars on my back begin to tingle’ as discussion turns to their own late father, the cruellest of masters. It is in Grenada that Harris
makes the brutal reality of slavery utterly
plain. The risk of her earlier restraint has
paid off and the brief, harrowing scenes
towards the novel’s climax have an extra
power because of it.
Alice Waters shows
the Prince of Wales
around her ‘Edible
Schoolyard’ garden in
Alice’s restaurant
Paul Levy
Coming to My Senses: The Making of
a Counterculture Cook
by Alice Waters, with Cristina Mueller and
Bob Carrau
Hardie Grant Books, £16.99, pp. 308
Though Alice Waters is not a household
name here, that is precisely what she is
in America — the best-known celebrity
cook, the person who inspired the planting of Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden, the recipient of the National
Humanities Medal, the Légion d’Honneur,
vice-president of Slow Food International,
the founding figure of California cuisine.
She is the mentor of Sally Clarke and, claims
Wikipedia, of René Redzepi and Yotam
It all began in 1971 with a simple French
restaurant in Berkeley, California, which she
called Chez Panisse in homage to the films of
Marcel Pagnol. It served a no-choice menu,
costing $3.95, consisting of the traditional
dishes she’d tasted during her year abroad in
France. She quickly learned that it was difficult to find the top-quality ingredients she’d
enjoyed in France, and this led her to develop a network of organic farm suppliers.
Disclosure: I know Alice. Indeed, until I
read her memoir I thought I’d met her when
I was 20 — but I now realise that when I visited Berkeley on a mission of countercultural imperialism (on behalf of a New Left
magazine called New University Thought),
Alice had not yet come to study at University of California Berkeley and been swept up
in (our target) the Free Speech Movement.
This formed her outlook and attitudes — she
dedicates this volume to the memory of the
charismatic Mario Savio (1942–96), who said
in a fiery Sproul Hall speech of 1964: ‘There’s
a time when the operation of the machine
becomes so odious… you’ve got to put your
bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels,
upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and
you’ve got to make it stop.’
This autobiography does something
remarkable. About half the text is in roman
typeface, and is a chronological account of
Waters’s life: one of four daughters, born in
suburban New Jersey, to a middle-class family
where the father’s job caused them to move
often, eventually to California. The other
half of the text is in italic, and either comments on the text or looks forward to her life
at Chez Panisse and after. To my taste there
is a little too much about Alice’s all-American, uneventful childhood; but it is written
in a spirit of sheer guilelessness that makes
tolerable the total visual recall of dresses,
toys and pets. Things begin to heat up when
she gets to Berkeley, goes to France, returns
to work for Bob Scheer, who stood for Congress as an anti-Vietnam war candidate, and
begins cooking for her friends. The narrative
accelerates as she goes to London to train at
the Montessori school, travels to Turkey, and
returns to France and meets the great cook
and wine-authority, Richard Olney, who
introduces her to the Peyraud family, owners
of Domaine Tempier in Provence.
She goes back to Berkeley, only to be
sacked from her first job at the Montessori
school, not for biting a violent child (which
she did), but for wearing a see-through
blouse. Alice’s memoir is well-titled, for it
is not only her palate that is sensitive; she is
frank about her liking for men. Sometimes,
though, this is a tell-but-no kiss story, as when
she desires filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin,
whom she marries to allow him to stay in the
US, but finds he is not interested.
Alice counts Elizabeth David a major
influence, and genuflects frequently to the
American food icon, James Beard, though
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
she surely knows he was an old fraud, who
rarely credited his several ghost writers, as
she has the grace to do with her own collaborators. There are good stories about them,
and about M.F.K. Fisher, Jeremiah Tower
and Bill Clinton. The best gossip, though, is
cinematic: because she had a relationship
with Tom Luddy, the American film producer and co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival, she can tell of being ignored by Jean-Luc
Godard, of staying with Agnès Varda and
Jacques Demy, and of entertaining both Gloria Swanson and the 94-year-old Abel Gance.
As the reader progresses through Coming to My Senses, the tone changes from onpurpose lack of sophistication to candour,
and the narrative becomes gripping as Chez
Panisse gets closer to opening — when Alice
was 27. It’s startling to learn that she decided
not to cook, and served as a waitress that first
night, though she was in the kitchen herself
from 1976 to 1983 (which includes the several times I was lucky enough to eat there).
‘I was deeply disillusioned about politics,’
she writes, ‘and by opening the restaurant,
I really thought that I was dropping out…
But it became political. Because as it turned
out, food is the most political thing in all our
lives.’ Brexit is, sadly, about to show just how
right she is about this. You start this book
feeling that Alice is faux-innocent; you finish
it thinking she’s heroic.
No pain, no gain
James Delingpole celebrates the unrivalled hilarity – and horror – of
Curb Your Enthusiasm
he best episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm are the ones that make you
want to hide behind the sofa, cover
your ears and drown out the horror by
screaming: ‘No, Larry, no!’ I’m thinking, for
example, of the one where our hero attends
a victim support group for survivors of
incest and, in order to fit in, decides to concoct a cock and bull story about how he was
sexually abused by his uncle. This, of course,
comes back horribly to haunt him when out
one day with his blameless real uncle…
But no, I shan’t try to elaborate, for the
plots in Curb Your Enthusiasm are as convoluted as any farce. And besides, you should
see it for yourself. So long as you don’t mind
writhing in embarrassment, and wishing the
ground could swallow you up, there really
are few things more excruciatingly funny
than Curb.
Some people, I know, revere it because
it is so groovily (and influentially) postmodern. It purports to show the further, truelife adventures of Jewish comic and writer
Larry David — played and written by himself — following the massive success of his
surprise hit ‘comedy about nothing’, Seinfeld.
As a viewer, you feel as though you’re in on
a sophisticated joke — something that the
show’s distinctive and rather odd tone (part
naturalistic, part archly knowing) encourages.
Underneath all that fancy, self-referential stuff, though, what you have is a very
traditional comedy of character in extremis.
Sure, Larry isn’t exactly Everyman, with his
fame and his multimillion-dollar lifestyle
and his complete lack of filter. Nonetheless,
more often than not you find yourself thinking: ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
Take the infamous scene where he
bumps into some white American friends
with their adopted oriental toddler in a
pushchair. Short of something to say, he
asks them whether the child is any good
with chopsticks. The friends — this is PC Los
Angeles — are mildly appalled by this racial
stereotyping. But Larry digs himself deeper
by insisting that this is a valid question.
As indeed, I’d argue, it is. The comedy,
as so often in Curb, lies in the gulf between
what people really think and what they’re
allowed to say. As David once told Ricky
Gervais: ‘We all have good thoughts and bad
thoughts, but nobody ever expresses the bad
thoughts. We just think them and don’t say
them… But the bad thoughts are funny.’
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ has two meanings. Partly, it’s a fairly typical piece of downbeat David life philosophy — ‘Always keep
The comedy lies in the gulf between
what people really think and what
they’re allowed to say
to it. To not is unattractive. It’s unseemly,’
he once said. Partly, it was a warning to fans
to keep their expectations in check: ‘Don’t
expect another Seinfeld.’
It wasn’t. It was possibly something
even better — though its groundbreaking
originality isn’t so obvious now that it has
spawned so many imitations. Ricky Gervais’s
Extras, for example, was an obvious homage
— especially in the scenes where Gervais’s
character has excruciating encounters with
real-life superstars (e.g. David Bowie) playing pastiche versions of themselves.
There’s a danger that after a while it can
start to look a bit smug, a bit ‘see how famous
my friends are and how willing they are to
appear in my show’. This has felt increasingly the case in later seasons, such as the last
one’s finale where David conducts an escalating dispute with the man who lives above
his New York apartment — Michael J. Fox.
Yes, it was daringly tasteless and black to
build an episode around Fox’s early onset
Parkinson’s disease. (One running joke asks:
‘When he shakes, is that the Parkinson’s or
is he angry?’; another is about the degree
to which disabled people use victimhood to
their advantage.) At the same time, though,
you might wonder how daring that joke
really is when everyone is so in on it, from
Fox (playing an obnoxious version of himself) to the then New York mayor Michael
Bloomberg, who ends the episode by banishing David from the city.
That’s a mild quibble, though, rather
than a major objection. For me the thing that
makes Curb Your Enthusiasm so enduringly watchable isn’t so much the meta stuff —
does real life Larry really wear those funny
little tops with the zip? Can he afford a better interior decorator? Did George ever
get any work after Seinfeld? — as the more
basic comedy of character and manners.
Like Alf Garnett and Victor Meldrew,
Larry is a man who knows he’s in the right
but who is perpetually tormented and frustrated by having to live in an unjust world
that conspires continually to make him look
like a curmudgeonly buffoon. He is at once
the tragic hero with whom you identify;
and the comical idiot whom you love to see
Well, he is for some of us anyway. How
I writhed with agonised recognition during
the scene where Larry has just bought a new
house only to realise on his first night that he
has made a huge mistake: there’s a noise — a
‘house noise’ — that it only makes at night
when you’re in bed trying to get to sleep, and
now there can never be a moment’s rest till
he has traced its source.
David has a knack, like all the best observational comedians, of mining humour from
the quotidian, from the stuff that we’ve all
worried about but probably never recognised as shared experience till we saw it on
Curb. Stuff to do with social etiquette like:
when exactly is the ‘cut-off’ point, at night,
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Divine comedy: even if Larry David is as big a prize twonk in real life as he is on Curb we can hardly begrudge him for it
beyond which it is unacceptable to phone
friends; should you call someone out when
they spot someone they know in a queue
and use it as an excuse to sneak in front of
you; how long after a bereavement — ‘the
sorry window’ — is it no longer necessary to
offer condolences?
Seventeen years ago it probably seemed
to many of those involved with Curb quixotic to the point of suicide, or at best, cultish
obscurity, to fashion a sitcom about the plight
of a man so successful and rich that he never
need work or worry about money again. But
actually this is where the comedy also lies.
Just as in academia disputes are so vicious
More often than not you find
yourself thinking: ‘There but for the
grace of God go I’
because ‘the stakes are so low’, so we can
watch in awed fascination and schadenfreude
as major-league actors, directors and agents,
with nothing better to do with their pampered
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
lives, bicker over trivia. Yes, the rich are different: they’re even more tortured and insecure
and unhappy than us paupers.
So even if — as he surely must be —
Larry David is as big a prize twonk in real
life as he is on Curb we can hardly begrudge
him for it. He has built a deservedly successful career turning his pain into our gain.
Long may he go on suffering!
The new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm
starts on 2 October on Sky Atlantic.
‘Woman in a Tub’, c.1896–1901, by Degas
I spy
Laura Freeman
Drawn in Colour: Degas from the
National Gallery, until 7 May 2018
Where was Degas standing as he sketched
his ‘Laundresses’ (c.1882–4)? Did he watch
the two women from behind sheets hanging to dry? Or was he hidden by steam from
the basins? The laundry women are unselfconscious, unguarded. One reads aloud
from a list, calling out shirts, collars, cuffs to
be washed and ironed. Another leans over
her workbench, staring into the placket of
a folded shirt like Narcissus into his pool.
Neither is the least bit bothered by the artist
making a rapid chalk sketch to be worked
up later in pastel. Nor the two men in ‘At the
Café de Châteaudun’ (c.1869–71), reading
a newspaper with monocle and magnifying
glass. Degas might be peering at them over
the top of his menu. A coffee, a croissant, a
sneaking sketch.
In ‘Women in a Theatre Box’ (c.1885–90),
Degas has misread his ticket and barged in
on the wrong seats. The two women, mid-gossip, haven’t noticed the snoop at the back of
the box. You imagine Degas sketching rapidly, eavesdropping furiously, before retreating, still not spotted by his unwitting sitters.
There is something of the paparazzo
about Edgar Degas (1834–1917). ‘Click!’
goes the shutter of his eye. A fleeting
There is something of the paparazzo
about Edgar Degas. ‘Click!’ goes
the shutter of his eye
moment, a snapshot, a candid close-up.
He catches his subjects unaware, off-duty,
yawning, fidgeting, in ungainly, in-between
poses, tying a slipper lace, adjusting a pinching shoulder strap. He is master of the zoom
lens, prying, spying, fascinated. ‘It is as if you
looked through a keyhole,’ he said.
There is a tension in his sketches. On
the one hand, the rapt intensity of his gaze.
On the other, a need for rapid expression:
swift chalk strokes, firework dashes of pastel, brisk scribbles of colour as in the grass
background of his ‘Russian Dancers’ (1899).
Quick, quick, before the ballet master calls
a new pose, before the bather turns and sees
him, before the foot stamps the ground and
the frame is lost.
The opening image of the National Gallery’s excellent exhibition Drawn in Colour:
Degas From the Burrell is a daring one. In
‘Woman Looking Through Field Glasses’
(c.1869), the hunter becomes the hunted
(see p.53). Degas, that fierce looker, that
nosiest of parkers, sketches in pencil and
essence (paint drained of its oil and diluted
with turpentine) a woman at the races. She
directs her binoculars not at the jumps or the
jockeys, but at the artist — and at us. She
cups her elbow with her free hand and holds
the glasses to her face. With her hat pulled
low and the binoculars covering her eyes, we
see almost nothing of her expression. She
has a rare advantage. ‘You lookin’ at me?’
she seems to say, bold and unabashed.
To mark the hundredth anniversary of
Degas’s death, the National Gallery has
borrowed from the Burrell Collection in
Glasgow to mount this inspiring display of
paintings and pastels. Industrialist Sir William Burrell (1861–1958), who made his
money in shipping, collected 23 works by
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Degas and regretted never having met the
man whose oils and pastels he so admired.
The ‘Woman Looking Through Field Glasses’ was the first Degas he bought.
Drawn in Colour, curated with wit and
insight by Julien Domercq, tackles three
themes in three rooms: ‘Modern Life’, ‘Dancers’ and ‘Privacy Observed’. It is a Goldilocks
show: just the right size, not so big you are
flagging, nor so small that you leave unsatisfied. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s Degas: A
Passion for Perfection (3 October–14 January 2018), curated by Jane Munro — opening
just too late for my deadline — is the more
sweeping survey, giving us landscape, sculpture and a glass of green absinthe. There is
great pleasure to be had in this autumn glut
of bathers, drinkers and dancers. Could you
ever be bored of Degas’s dancers, ever have
seen too many tutus? No!
The Fitzwilliam catalogue trumps the
National Gallery’s, so save your book shopping for Cambridge. See both exhibitions if
you possibly can: a glorious Degas pas de
At the National Gallery, we open with
the spirit of Charles Baudelaire, whose essay
‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863) called
on artists to paint boulevards and bistros,
café dandies and come-hither courtesans.
Degas takes us into that steaming laundry
room with its brassy washgirls. We stand in
driving rain to place our bets in ‘Jockeys in
the Rain’ (c.1883–6), and jostle elbow-toelbow with two women buying a brooch
in ‘At The Jeweller’s’ (c.1887). The pastel is loose and hazy. A fine mist of colour
like gold dust settles on arms, woodwork,
the countertop. Degas was a master of such
shimmering pastels — sfumato by the Seine.
The gallery boards explaining materials and
technique are particularly good.
In the second room, we leave the streets
for ballet practice rooms, the barre, banquettes where the dancers from the Opéra
sit and nurse their ankles. ‘The Green Ballet Skirt’ (c.1896) has you wincing as a pipsqueak-thin dancer massages the sole of
one foot with her thumb. Stretch, bend, plié,
ache, en pointe, ouch. How long did the ballet girls in tulle hold those arabesques in
‘The Rehearsal’ (c.1874)? Degas stands in
a corner of the room, below a spiral staircase, a fly-on-the-wall observer of first positions and ballet buns. He adored the ballet,
attending 54 performances in just one year
in 1885, and his backstage and in-the-wings
sketches convey to us some of his awe and
delight in the dancers.
The third room is more unsettling. Here
is Degas at his most through-the-keyhole,
watching women — models? prostitutes?
modern Susannahs watched by the Elders?
— bathe, soap and comb their hair. As with
the ‘Theatre Box’, we are intruders, we know
we shouldn’t be there, we have blundered in
uninvited. Degas dares you to look — and
won’t let you tear your gaze away.
Beauty and the beast
Igor Toronyi-Lalic
This is Rattle
It’s All True
Cafe OTO
I was going to start with a little moan. About
the shouty marketing, the digital diarrhoea,
the sycophantic drivel, which, like a bad
smell, hovered over Simon Rattle’s ten-day
coronation. But then came the most amazing Rite of Spring I’ve ever heard and to
moan suddenly seemed criminal.
No masterpiece is harder to pull off than
the Rite. So often it deflates midway and
never regains its shape. Rattle made his
name with the piece when he was at the
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,
taming the brute, slowing it down, prising
open its interior, allowing us to inspect its
fangs, look straight down its snappy gob.
Here, the beast was unleashed. Rabid
brass, uncontrollable winds, strings scything through the rabble behind. Key to the
pungency was the bite of the percussion,
allowed to go to such extremes my eyes
began to water. The LSO can come across
as a bit slick. Last Sunday they were monstrous. Before letting loose their inner animal, they delivered an invigorating Firebird
and a Petrushka that sounded (in the best
possible way) like they’d passed the vodka
round early.
Still, I could have done without the
big screens, the speeches, the Lord Mayor
explaining how historic everything was. Left
to our own devices, I dare say we could have
figured this out ourselves. The Barbican
website was a mess:
This is Simon Rattle…This is it…This is Helen
Grime and Thomas Adès, Oliver Knussen and
Elgar. This is Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir
Simon Rattle…This is the LSO. This is Christian Tetzlaff. This is Sir Simon Rattle.
U ok hon?
‘This is Rattle’ also ingeniously offered a
series of concerts without Rattle. Stuffed with
work by Thomas Adès, Harrison Birtwistle,
Oliver Knussen, Helen Grimes and others,
these became a chance to do an MOT on the
state of new British music, some of which
seems destined for the knacker’s yard.
I kept thinking about the two cocky
caryatids that prop up one of the architectural wonders of London that you can
see straight across from the house in which
Adès grew up. Lubetkin’s Highpoint, a
stack of calm geometry, is a cool classic
and a lesson in the importance of impurity. At the entrance stand the classical
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
lovelies, unashamed, bizarre, brilliant.
The same spirit is there in Adès’s early
orchestral tone poem Asyla. That embrace
of vulgarity, excess, wrongness. It’s an
instinct foreign to his tastefully correct compatriots, who write like they think it impolite
to surprise.
It meant the attempt to canonise three
new British works in the opening concert
just served to show everyone up. The only
piece that deserved its place was Asyla,
whose ideas remain as vivid as ever. Pounding nightclubs; rainy idylls; echoey temples. The writing is fastidious. The score has
instructions for a ‘bag full of metal knives
and forks (struck flat)’.
Birtwistle is usually a match for Adès, but
he’s not very Birtwistley in his Violin Concerto, which scurries around in life-sapping
middle-register. Birtwistle is at his best in
the shadows. Shine a torch on his murky
world and it becomes a bit too clear how dry
a lot of the writing is. Knussen’s Third Symphony was classic Knussen: colourful, zippy,
with three glinting treasures — guitar, harp
and celeste — and a serious ADHD problem that was exhausting. The short straw
went to Grime who was charged with writing the fanfare. Enter five minutes of fake
energy and false smiles.
Elsewhere, at Milton Court, there were
more attempts (to half-empty halls) to generate excitement for new British music. The
night with the excellent Britten Sinfonia,
stitching together a whole set of works that
feed off baroque techniques, was beautifully
played and cleverly curated by Grime — but
only Adès’s suite from The Tempest dazzled.
Adès himself curated a night. Two gems
emerged: Judith Weir’s The Alps, a typically wry song, and Gyorgy Kurtag’s magically
microtonal Eletut.
All very pleasant, nothing very life-changing. If you restrict yourself to the safe, samey
composers of the Faber publishing house
and its allies, your life will not be changed. A
shock will come when audiences finally realise what the younger generation of composers are up to, very few of whom were at these
gigs, or take their lead from Faber.
Many were instead at Cafe OTO,
absorbing the UK première of a blistering
new opera, It’s All True, from the New York
experimentalists Object Collection. Formally the piece resembles a kebab in its welding
together of offcuts — the sloppy beginnings
and intense endings of the rowdy stage
shows of the hardcore punk band Fugazi. However red-faced and Trumpian the
resultant barrage of sweary rants and noisy
swordplay between electric guitars might
sound, it’s surprisingly subtle in its direction
of travel and touching in its nostalgia and
even rather beautiful.
The OTO performance wasn’t as clear or
suffocating as its world première at Borealis Festival. But London won’t forget it in a
hurry. Not pleasant, pretty life-changing.
Vital signs
Stephen Bayley
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?
Wellcome Collection, until 14 January 2018
Exhibit A. It is 1958 and you are barrelling
down a dual carriageway; the 70 mph limit
is still eight years away. The road signs are
nearly illegible. You miss your turning, overcorrect, hit a tree and die.
The following year, graphic designer
Margaret Calvert is driving her Porsche
356c along the newly built M1. The motorway signs are hers. It is information design of
a high order, possibly even life-saving. The
clarity and intelligence of Calvert’s British road signs remain unmatched nearly 60
years later. And the font she created became
the NHS, and later rail and airport, standard.
Exhibit B. The French are worried about
nuclear waste. Given the half-life of radioactive detritus, warning signs must be legible in 100,000 years when written language
may be redundant. After all, the alphabet is
simply a primitive sort of code. Nuclear sites
Pantone 448C was chosen after
market research determined that it
was exceptionally repellent
Man machine: Fritz Kahn’s ‘Der Mensch als Industrieplast’, 1926,
which shows the body not so much as a sacred temple
as as a churning and industrious factory
require signs as chillingly effective as the
medieval Plague Cross, a red mark daubed
on the door of infected properties.
How signs and symbols warn us about
danger and contagion is the subject of Can
Graphic Design Save Your Life? In 2012 Australia demanded standardised packaging for
cigarettes. Out went brands aiming to seduce
with jolly jack tars, camels and cowboys; in
came a brief that required the product to
look disgusting. A drab colour known as Pantone 448C was chosen after market research
determined that it was exceptionally repellent. And the law demanded that 60 per cent
of the pack’s surface be covered with grisly
photographs of tumours and lesions. (Rather
as if, in the interests of road safety, Calvert’s
Porsche were required to be covered with
pictures of harrowing traffic accidents.)
But constraints can be stimulating: a wittier response to cigarette deterrence came
from a British design group called Build,
who reimagined Marlboro packs in machinereadable OCR-B font with a QR code linking
to an anti-smoking site. You are warned that
each cigarette knocks 11 minutes off your
life since you are filling your lungs with cyanhydric acid, also found in Nazi gas chambers.
Then there is sex, stigmatised long before
smoking. But the old venereal diseases now
seem quaint compared with the more recent
horrors of Aids. A 1943 poster gently warns
the romantically inclined, but careless, that
VD will be ‘A shadow on happiness’, but the
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Banksy NYC
Auction date: Tuesday 12th December, 1pm
26 E 64th Street , New York
Still welcoming consignments for this dedicated auction
Further details:
Banksy (b.1974)
Balloon Girl, screenprint in colours, 2004,
numbered from the edition of 600 in pencil, published by
Pictures on Walls, London, the full sheet, 700 x 500mm.
Estimate: £30,000-50,000
Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by Pest Control.
Child’s play to literary
invention: Will Tilston
as Christopher Robin
Milne in Goodbye
Christopher Robin
government’s Aids public-health campaign
of 1987, a world first, was much bleaker. The
TBWA agency hired Nic Roeg to direct the
ad and wrote a stark copyline: ‘Don’t Die of
Ignorance.’ Crucially, a black tombstone was
an unforgettably scary motif. For Benetton’s
influential Colors magazine, Oliviero Toscani and Tibor Kalman did similarly radical
spreads about Aids: frank but visually witty
too, these were the best magazine graphics
of the 1980s and 1990s.
Graphics and medicine have a shared
history. The first pop-up anatomy book
appeared in the 16th century, as significant
an event in the history of illustration as in
the history of medicine. Fibrox probes now
examine our guts, but the windings of the alimentary canal were once the province of art:
Gray’s Anatomy of 1858 depended not on
photographs but on illustrations by Henry
Vandyke Carter.
At the Wellcome, one of the most striking images is a 1926 poster by Fritz Kahn,
‘Der Mensch als Industrieplast’. In synch
with the Corbusian techno-romanticism of
the day, Kahn shows the body as a machine
for living in, not so much a sacred temple as
a churning and industrious factory.
This is an engrossing and original exhibition. Curators Rebecca Wright and Lucienne
Roberts make a vital case for graphics, but
paradoxically, the display betrays the weaknesses of the exhibition medium as a communication tool. While individual items have
immense power, the exhibition design itself
lacks synoptic force and coherence. It was a
neat idea to use hospital screens as dividers,
but they create a sense of improvisation.
Still, I was beguiled and left full of fine
thoughts and contemplations. Is it because
the human mind makes an easy association
between visual precision and health that so
much medical typography is sans serif?
Exhibit C. One of the greatest-ever exercises in Big Pharma corporate identity, a
process actually begun by Sir Henry Wellcome, was conducted by Geigy in the 1950s.
The Akzidenz-Grotesk font was paired with
clever picture research to make astonishingly beautiful and comfortingly modern packaging, generously displayed at the Wellcome.
The Swiss Style was defined by medicine,
not chocolate.
As you leave the Wellcome and walk
past the new University College Hospital,
Margaret Calvert’s 2008 reworking of her
original font, known as Rail Alphabet, is
unavoidable in the blizzard of signage. It’s a
visual language of clarity, but not of warmth.
What about redesigning hospitals to make
them more amusing, or rebranding diseases and disorders to make them less frightening? Might it be better if the intimidating
A&E sign looked like the trashy retro-kitsch
of ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’? Or your statins
were packaged like Château d’Yquem?
Sure, graphics can save your life. They
can also make you think.
Unhappy days
Jasper Rees
Goodbye Christopher Robin
PG, Nationwide
Scriptwriters love to feast on the lives of
children’s authors. The themes tend not to
vary: they may have brought happiness to
millions of children but their stories — sob
— were fertilised by unhappiness. Saving
Mr Banks: Mary Poppins author was a bossy
shrew because her alcoholic father died
young. Miss Potter: Peter Rabbit creator
never found love. Finding Neverland: Peter
Pan playwright cheered up grieving family.
Enid (made for BBC Four): Miss Blyton was
a monster traumatised by her upbringing.
And so it will presumably go on. We can
probably not expect a family film about
Charles Dodgson taking cute snaps of little
Alice Liddell, but one day, years from now,
skint single mother Jo Rowling, played by an
as yet unborn actress, will chew once again
on a Biro in an Edinburgh café and conjure
magic. For now, there’s Goodbye Christopher Robin.
It’s the same sort of story. In this iteration, A.A. Milne was a cold father defrosted
by his young son’s imagination, but whose
tales and poems would eventually make the
boy’s life a misery. Dark shadows presage
naught but ill from the start. In 1941 a longfaced postwoman delivers a brown envelope
to the Milnes’ leafy cottage in Sussex, which
can mean only one thing. We duly flash back
to the Somme, the bad show which convinces shellshocked playwright Alan Milne that
no good can come of conflict.
‘Blue’ by nickname, blue by nature, Milne
flinches when corks or balloons go pop. Then
his wife Daphne (whose actual name was
Dorothy) gives birth to little Christopher
Robin, whom they call Billy Moon because
he can’t pronounce his surname. They’re not
the best of parents, but back then who was?
Milne carries the infant as if he’s a tea tray,
and Daphne styles the boy in girly smocks
and a Louise Brooks bob before handing him
over to Nanny (aka Noo) for years and years.
There’s a sweet sequence that captures
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
the transition from child’s play to literary
invention. Huffy Daph dashes up to town
to become a flapper and punish Blue for
his writer’s block. Then Noo disappears to
attend her mother’s death. And so the father
is left in charge of a cross-dressing son with a
menagerie of stuffed animals and a fondness
for the woods.
E.H. Shepard motors down with his
sketchbook. Soon Winnie-the-Pooh is flying
off the shelves and the bear’s innocent young
owner is a celebrity whose image is exploited
to shift ever more units. His father rings from
America to bid him goodnight and the call is
broadcast live on the radio. He does a Q&A
for a phalanx of stalker fans. He’s trolled by
the Times, and required to pose right next to
London zoo’s large Canadian bear. Isn’t it
funny how a bear makes money?
It’s an affecting story, competently visualised by director Simon Curtis, who made
the pleasant period bauble My Week with
Marilyn. And yet there’s a gnawing cred-
Children may emerge with PTSD
from a story of neglect bordering
on abuse
ibility gap; the facts feel mangled implausibly out of shape to serve the narrative’s
needs. The exploitation of Billy takes place
in a vacuum, with no one seeming to sanction it. Daphne sends a poem by Milne to
Vanity Fair, which publishes it without telling him. Nanny is ruthlessly sacked for having a beau. Christopher’s brush with death
in wartime feels like a manipulative fantasy. Meanwhile inconvenient facts have been
deselected. The blurb before the end credits
advises that Milne’s pacifist tract Peace with
Honour was published in 1934. It omits to
mention that its counterblast, War with Honour, followed in 1940. And that the older
Christopher Robin, who eventually makes
his peace with his fictional alter ego, drifted apart from his parents and spoke to his
mother once in the last 15 years of her life.
There’s also an issue with accent continuity. On vowel-contorting duty as the
spiffingly English Milnes are an Irishman
(Domhnall Gleeson, ever adept at playing
glassy-eyed oddballs) and an Australian
(Margot Robbie). Neither ages a scrap in 20
years. Will Tilston as the scrumptiously dimpled Christopher Robin looks jolly 1920s
but sounds massively 2010s. Kelly Macdonald makes a fine Noo.
It’s not clear who Goodbye Christopher
Robin is for. Children may emerge with
PTSD from a story of neglect bordering on
abuse. Perhaps its natural market is across
the pond, where Pooh’s image rights are
owned by Disney and the original stuffed
toys are in the New York Public Library.
Might Americans see this tale of crippling
emotional continence as an adorable specimen of heritage Britishness? Do bears shit
in the woods?
Killer queen: Gina McKee as Boudica
Bloody minded
Lloyd Evans
Globe Theatre, until 1 October
Ramona Tells Jim
Bush Theatre, until 21 October
Tristan Bernays loves Hollywood blockbusters. His new play, Boudica, is an attempt to
put the blood-and-guts vibe of the action
flick on the Globe’s stage. The pacy plotting works well. Boudica revolts against the
Romans who have stolen her kingdom. The
queen is imprisoned and flogged while her
two maiden daughters are savagely violated. Vowing revenge, she allies herself with
the reluctant Belgics and they attack and
destroy Camulodunum (Colchester).
The first half is a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser. After the interval, an anticlimax. London
is sacked but the Romans cling to power and
when Boudica dies, her bickering daughters
fight rather tediously over the succession.
What counts here are the externals: the costumes, the accents, the fights, the stunts. The
legionaries sport sturdy tin helmets crested
with stiff blond bristles. The Roman leaders,
all misogynistic twerps, wear fussy golden
dressing-gowns and all of them prattle away
in sibilant Noël Coward voices. The native
Brits wear linen and fur outfits suggesting a
tatty, sexy Celtic elegance. Bernays fills his
dialogue with Shakespeare’s rhythms. ‘Give
me briefly the cause of this your suit?’ asks
an envoy. A duel on the battlefield ends with,
‘Silence wretch. And die you like a man.’
Boudica, whipped and bleeding, displays
her wounds to her ravished daughters. ‘Do
not these ruby mouths across my back cry
likewise what I’ve suffered?’ She taunts her
enemies to fight. ‘Where are you Rome, you
slouching slug-a-beds?’
Pedants like me will object to Bernays’s
grammar. ‘We heard with woe the death of
he your king.’ Spot the problem? A pronoun
takes an oblique case following a preposition, and the sentence quoted should end
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
‘of him your king’. That said, the deliberate creakiness of the verbal idiom suits the
play’s flashy antiquarianism.
Gina McKee is near-perfect as Boudica. She has the right sort of defiant regality but her willowy figure isn’t convincing.
A warrior queen leading an army of barbarians needs more muscle density, more sheer
skeletal thickness than this catwalk damsel
can offer. Swords and pikes seem unfamiliar in her Fairy Liquid hands. She thrusts a
spear through a centurion as if performing
an aerobics exercise. However, her charisma is undeniable and as soon as her character dies the play’s dramatic interest expires.
The curtain should fall with the exit of her
corpse. This is hardly a classic, but it succeeds on its own terms by replicating the
kind of gory thriller beloved of the groundlings in Shakespeare’s day.
The Bush’s studio stage hosts a new play
by comedienne Sophie Wu. The title, Ramona
Tells Jim, is uninspiring but everything else
works very well in this offbeat rom-com.
At its heart there’s a beautifully rendered
seduction scene between two nervous kids
on a remote Scottish island. Strapping Jim,
17, wants to become an oceanographer. He
meets 16-year-old Ramona, a swottish English schoolgirl on a geography field trip.
Ramona tries to pose as a sophisticated
woman of the world but her impulsive child-
ishness keeps breaking through. ‘I’m a single
Pringle ready to mingle,’ she says, indicating
her availability through the medium of gangsta rap. Jim invites her to watch a meteor
shower on a beach. Once there, he suggests
sex. Romana admits she’s a virgin, but ‘ready
to pull the plug’. Does he have protection?
He produces a sheath. She’s dismayed rather than relieved or delighted. The condom,
packed in advance, suggest a lack of gallantry. Never mind. She lies on the pebbles. ‘Still
got my wellies on, is that a problem?’ She
hitches up her skirts. ‘Is the beast robed?’
The deed itself is awkward, short-lived and
pleasure-free but punctuated by supportive
observations. ‘Is this fast enough?’ ‘A perfect
tempo, like iambic pentameter.’ Afterwards
they declare their undying love. Then they
part immediately.
We move forward 15 years and Jim’s
career has faltered. He’s stuck in a relationship with a gobby, grasping minx who claims
to be carrying his child. The minx lives with
her mother (‘absolute slut’) and her ‘pigthick mong brother’. She secretly keeps
a stolen pet rabbit, which her mother has
threatened to microwave. She feeds the animal with strips of pork sausage. These small
details tell us everything we need to know
about this wretched girl: she’s selfish, stupid
and immoral and yet full of affection that
she can’t channel properly so she lavishes it
on a herbivorous pet, accidently turning it
into a meat-eater. It’s a brilliant portrait of
disturbed, rootless adolescence.
Mel Hillyard’s production is sublimely
funny but also moving and at times uncomfortable to watch. Ruby Bentall is brilliant
playing the geekishly endearing Ramona.
Amy Lennox, as the minx, delivers an
uncompromising portrait of twisted young
lust. With its small cast and simple stage
effects, this show would be an ideal candidate
for a tour. Even greater things must surely
come from Sophie Wu. I can’t wait.
Box sets
Sound and vision
Michael Hann
To get a reminder of how strange the 1970s
were, there’s no need to plough through
lengthy social and political histories. Go
instead to YouTube, and watch the publicinformation films made for schoolchildren.
Take Lonely Water (1973), in which Donald
Pleasence provides the voice of death, stalking careless children and dragging them to
a watery grave. There’s Apaches (1977), in
which kids playing on a farm suffer various recondite forms of agricultural death
Where the Land Lies
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
(falling under the wheels of a moving tractor, drowning in slurry). Or try my personal nightmare, The Finishing Line (1977); a
school sports day, played out on a railway
line, which ends with the traditional sprint
through a tunnel pursued by a train and
the bodies of dozens of dead children laid
out on the track. It wasn’t all Spangles and
Space hoppers, whatever stand-up comedians might have you believe.
This autumn, two enormous new rock
box sets — so heavy you could devise a
workout routine around them — take on
Black Sabbath’s view of the 1970s
resonates more strongly forty years
on than Bowie’s
the 1970s, and offer differing views of that
decade but linked perhaps by those public-information films. Black Sabbath’s The
Ten Year War compiles all the albums the
group made with Ozzy Osbourne as their
singer during their first iteration, and is the
sound of the adult narrators of those clips:
You are all going to die, horribly! Bowie, in
retrospect, on A New Career in a New Town
1977–1982, sounds more like the kids: positively fancy-free, having come through his
own paranoid phase immediately prior to
this period. Before decamping to Europe
in 1976, he had been holed up in Los Ange-
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les, subsisting on milk, peppers and cocaine,
and keeping his urine in a fridge for fear
a witch would use it to cast a spell on him
(why he didn’t realise that flushing it down
the loo might be a better way to protect it
from supernatural interference is another
At the time, though, you wouldn’t have
bet money on Sabbath being as worthy
of memorialising as Bowie. This, after all,
is the group of whom NME said in 1975:
‘Black Sabbath are simply low-consciousness music.’ And you wouldn’t have bet
that their view of the world would resonate strongly enough, 40 or more years on,
that in every country where rock music is
played, young musicians still pick up guitars to play loud, gloomy, slow songs about
how awful everything is, with occasional
references to Satan (in the codified way
of these things, this particular style is now
known as ‘doom metal’).
What Sabbath knew is that for someone,
somewhere, the world is always terrible, and
the more terrible things are, the more resonant their music would sound. Hence its
enormous popularity in America’s rust belt,
and the resurgence of metal’s popularity in
the late 1970s and early 1980s, with unemployment rising in the music’s traditional
bastions in industrial areas. The Ten Year
War, with its warnings of apocalypse at the
hands of ‘War Pigs’, its fretting about mental
illness on ‘Paranoid’ (‘All day long I think of
things/ But nothing seems to satisfy,’ could
have been written this year about kids driven to distraction by social media), sounds
astonishingly timely in 2017.
Bowie, of course, is Bowie. His legacy is
sacrosanct, and with good reason. Yet it’s
his box set that is more of a time capsule.
The three albums that make up the meat
of A New Career in a New Town — Low,
Heroes and Lodger, known inaccurately as
‘the Berlin trilogy’ — are, for all the quasiclassical noodling of the instrumental piec-
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‘Young lady, you are not going out like that.
It’s Friday night and when I was your age I was
bare-legged, with no tights and a skimpy top.’
es on the first two, works of pan-European
optimism. What could be more emblematic
of European unity than proclaiming that
we could be not just heroes, but also Helden
and héros, on the German and French versions of the song? As Bowie reinvents himself, you hear not just the sound of his own
vaulting ambition, but the sounds of worlds
closed to most people — not just Berlin
bohemia, but also the thriving underground
club scene of the nascent new romantics on
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and
the high-art world of his soundtrack for
Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.
Bowie’s was an elitist vision of pop, one
framed by an art-school education, one
where he explained the world to his acolytes. Sabbath’s was populist, the sound of
Brummie lads far from London’s metropolitan trendsetters, born of grunt work and disillusionment, reflecting a white, blue-collar
audience’s own alienation back at them. You
don’t have to be a social historian or theorist
to look at Britain and know which worldview is holding sway right now.
Black Sabbath’s The Ten Year War and
David Bowie’s A New Career in a New
Town (1977–1982) are available now.
Woman of a thousand
Kate Chisholm
‘On air, I could be the most glamorous, gorgeous, tall, black-haired female… Whatever
I wanted to be, I could be… That was the
thrilling part to me,’ said Lurene Tuttle, talking about her career as a star of American
radio in its heyday from the 1930s to the
1950s. She was known as ‘the Woman of a
Thousand Voices’ because of her talent for
voicing any part, from child to OAP, glamour puss to gangster moll, hard-nosed executive to soft-hearted minion. On Saturday
we heard her in full flow on Radio 4 Extra
in an episode of Suspense, brought out of
the archive from June 1949 for the threehour special celebrating The Golden Age of
American Radio. It was terrifying.
Tuttle starred opposite Joan Crawford,
who was so nervous about being on radio
she insisted the episode was prerecorded
(the episodes usually went out live, with a
full orchestra in the studio providing a dramatic musical backdrop). On this occasion
Crawford was the good sister Clara, against
Tuttle’s jealous, crazed Adele. As the two
screeched at each other, the lamps flickered,
I swear, and my pulse rate soared. The best
thing I’ve heard for a while — in spite of its
completely over-the-top plot, with Clara’s
husband killed with a knitting needle and
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
her son murdered in a beach hut. Tuttle and
Crawford were so convincing, so in character, not just reading or voicing the script, I
felt as if I was watching it unfold on the big
screen, in black-and-white, a tussle between
two Hollywood goddesses.
They had money for radio in those days,
the big brands sponsoring long-running
shows, such as the Lux Radio Theater, when
Hollywood stars reprised their film roles in
adaptations that were broadcast live, with
an interval, just like in the cinema. We heard
Marilyn Monroe being interviewed in an
intermission, stumbling over her words, giggling nervously, and dropping in a plug for
the sponsor (Lux soap flakes).
‘Lux helps a lot,’ says her interviewer,
clumsily introducing the subject of doing
the washing.
‘That’s right, Mr Kennedy,’ says Monroe.
‘It’s my standby.’
‘Thousands of girls have been telling us
for years how lovely the lingerie stays with
Lux care?’
‘Any girl would prefer pretty undies than
faded ones,’ Monroe simpers through what
sounds suspiciously like gritted teeth.
Lucy Catherine’s two-part play for Radio
4 this week was in the style of these overthe-top fictions but was actually based on
a fantastical but real-life story set in Korea,
both South and North. In 1978 the South
Korean film director Shin Sang-Ok disappeared while in Hong Kong and a few
years later turned up in Pyongyang, along
with his actress wife Choi Eun-Hee, making
films again, but now for the future leader of
North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, who wanted to
create a film industry that would rival Hollywood and put his country on the world stage
Joan Crawford was so nervous
about being on radio she insisted the
episode was prerecorded
(using very different tactics from his son, the
present leader, to create a global stir).
In Lights, Camera, Kidnap! (atmospherically directed by Sasha Yevtushenko), Paul
Courtney Hyu played Shin and Liz Sutherland his wife in such a way as to make us
question what happened. Were they both
kidnapped? Why did it take them so long
to escape (on a trip to Vienna in 1986 when
they fled their room in the InterContinental Hotel to the American Embassy)? In
Pyongyang, Shin was given a huge budget
to make whatever he wanted, and a cast of
10,000 extras, if needed. Try doing that in the
West, says Kim Jong-Il.
‘The American negro is the key figure
in this country,’ said James Baldwin, the
American writer, who began publishing
in the 1950s and died in 1987. ‘And if you
don’t face him you will never face anything.’
He was unflinching in his portrayal of the
country he experienced as a black homosexual, growing up in Harlem with a preacher stepfather and eight siblings. In Nobody
Knows My Name: Notes on James Baldwin
(produced by Shanida Scotland and Eleanor McDowall for Radio 3 on Sunday) we
heard archive recordings of him talking not
so much about what it was like to be born
black in a country where all the standards,
all the images, all the references revolve
around what it is to be white and Protestant and puritan. What Baldwin wanted to
do was to confront the truth, not flinch from
what he was, or allow others to pretend who
they were. He refused, absolutely, to remain
bitter, after experiencing, as a teenager, a
moment of blinding, murderous rage when
he had tried to eat in a restaurant reserved
only for white people. ‘I realised I could die,
or I could take it all and change it.’
Writing novels, essays, plays helped him
to release some of what he felt but, as these
recordings showed, what he said when interviewed was equally powerful and expressed
with such fluency, cogency and courage. ‘In
order to learn your name,’ he insisted, ‘you
are going to have to learn mine.’ Hearing
him now, 30 years after his death, was salutary. How far have we still to go? How far
have we gone back?
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
By Guy Dammann
rague. Prague. It helps to say the name
at least twice as a countermeasure to
the ridiculous ease of modern travel
— especially when visiting cities of one syllable. Another countermeasure is to arrive
by train, where the sweep of the landscape
gives a better sense of Prague as the grand
Bohemian capital than as a retreat for Hapsburg aristocrats and easyJet stag parties.
There are direct trains from Munich
and Budapest, and of course Vienna and
Bratislava, to Prague’s Hlavní nádraží station, originally christened Wilsonovo nádraží
after the US president who championed
Czechoslovak independence. A new Wilson
monument stands outside the station, replacing the original statue, which the Nazis melted down for its bronze. The art-nouveau
station building is quite a sight, and a short
walk from other ‘sights’ — the Old Town
and Wenceslas Square are just a few blocks
away. Avoid the taxi ranks unless you need a
reminder of how easy it can be to get ripped
off in Prague. That’s entirely unnecessary in
a city which remains navigable on foot and
is full of music and beer, both of which are
excellent and affordable.
The music came first, for me. Smetana and
DvoĜák’s scores, so central to the emerging
sensibility of the country’s nationalist revival, also provided my teenage years with much
The Old Town seen from the Charles Bridge
of their soundtrack. The beer came a little
later, from the cramped bar of West Hampstead’s Czech club, where enormous glasses
of frothy Gambrinus pilsner and smaller ones
of slivovitz were all you could order, or want.
There were two old posters, one of the young
Václav Havel holding protest, another of a
woman on a bike having her bottom spanked,
both of which made me keen to travel to the
country. There was also a sign reading ‘No
Albanians’ on the front door, which made
me less keen. I stopped going when they
switched from Gambrinus to the ubiquitous
Urquell, stupid because Czech pilsner —
nowadays mostly brewed in Slovakia where
the water’s better — tastes pretty alike. ‘Není
pivo jako pivo’: there’s no beer like beer.
The saying captures an important truth
about Czech people, which is that they are
mindful of quality but not taken in by bullshit. Most things — apart from the worst
tourist traps crowded round the Charles
Bridge — have a genuine feel which derives
from the deep roots of Czech culture; an
innate sense of how things should be done.
It’s something you can still hear in the magnificently co-ordinated string section of the
Czech Philharmonic, and seems to have
been among the reasons for Mozart’s strong
attraction to the place, when he arrived to
conduct Figaro early in 1787 (after its premature withdrawal from fashion-obsessed
Vienna), and in returning for Don Giovanni
and La Clemenza di Tito, both commissioned by Prague’s National Theatre.
Today’s musical scene remains lively. The
Opera’s new season is just under way, with
a production of MartinĤ’s ravishing Juliette,
while the annual Prague Spring festival,
founded by Rafael Kubelik in 1946 to celebrate the Philharmonic’s 50th anniversary, brings the musical great and good to the
Rudolfinum hall. But much of the best of
the city’s musical culture is to be found in
the small concert series and one-off chamber recitals which take place in small venues
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
‘In a million years the only evidence of
our civilisation will be nappies and
Nespresso capsules’
— Tanya Gold, p86
High life
I think this week marks my 40th anniversary as a Spectator columnist, but I’m not 100
per cent certain. All I know is that I was 39
or 40 years old when the column began, and
that I’ve just had my 81st birthday. Keeping a
record is not my strong point, and it’s also a
double-edged sword. I once planned to publish my diary, but then I stopped keeping one.
I’d found passages in it that were dishonest,
written in the heat of the moment, most likely under the influence, and the result was a
bum-clenching embarrassment.
Now I don’t use any social media, certainly not Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, being
a firm believer that Zuckerberg and Bezos
should be locked up for life (Zuckerberg for
not doing enough to tackle terrorist content).
The pair’s crime is being much too ugly, and
we all know that the ancient Greeks thought
that looks were a mirror to one’s soul. What
is more, we’ve all read the stories about how
Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from
two dumb Wasps, and how Bezos’s business
is in the business of shutting down other
businesses. Forty years in the pokey for each
of them would make this a better world. And,
incidentally, the world would be much more
super-duper/ if we had more of Jacob ReesMogg/ and far less of Yvette Cooper.
The fact that this Cooper woman attacked
Jacob for sticking to his religious beliefs
is typical of politics today. What balls. She
belongs on a dreary pavement outside a
shoddy nightclub selling imitation Rolex
watches, not in Parliament.
Otherwise London was fun. Catching up
with so many old friends I hadn’t seen in
quite a while was a mirror in itself, wrinkles
and all that. The downside of being a professional peripatetic is that one loses contact
with good friends, and is reminded of father
time when one notices the ravages of age on
them. Never mind.
In London I picked up Claire Tomalin’s
memoir, along with other goodies. I shop in
bookstores, never online. The reason I wanted
to read that particular opus was that her ex-
hubbie Nick and I happened to be near one
another on the day he was killed in Quneitra, Golan Heights, during the Yom Kippur
war, 1973. I was in a car with Peter Townsend
— of Princess Margaret fame —and JeanClaude Sauer, both with Paris Match, and Joe
Fried of the New York Daily News. I was filing twice daily for Acropolis, back then the
number-one Athenian daily. We drove to the
Golan Heights twice a day from Tel Aviv in
order to send stories, and on that afternoon,
Zuckerberg and Bezos should be
locked up for life
as Quneitra lay in total ruins, heat-seeking
missiles were flying around as if it were the
Glorious Twelfth. That’s when Townsend
saved our lives. He told us to turn off the car
engine and get out. We had never heard of
heat-seeking missiles, but the veteran fighter
pilot smelled something we had not. Nor had
Nick Tomalin. He did not turn off his engine
and… you know the rest.
He was written up as a hero following his
death — the media know how to glorify their
own. But the four of us knew better, though
we said nothing, of course. What caught my
attention in Claire Tomalin’s book, however,
had something to do with opera. Nick starts
to beat her after she responds in kind following his unfaithfulness. He swings at her with
closed fists, she ducks and he breaks a wooden bar instead. ‘I thought at once, goodness,
The Marriage of Figaro gets it exactly right:
it’s fine for the Count to have affairs and tell
lies, but he will not allow the Countess any
equivalent freedom.’ Well, not exactly. First of
all, ladies do not respond in kind — at least
not where I come from. Second, one does not
hit a woman — even with a rose, as they say in
French. Third, the Count suspects the Countess — who is only flirting with Cherubino —
and, in a great aria I used to know by heart,
decides to send the youngster away to the
army: ‘Cherubino alla riscossa per la Gloria
militar…’ The Count does not hit the Countess — not by a long shot.
My, my, why are lefties more prone to hitting women? Is it that they are too enamoured of themselves to succumb to romantic
martyrdom? Perhaps. Just as lefties today are
heaping abuse on Leavers and threatening
violence instead of experiencing rare vertebrate moments and accepting Brexit like the
men they’re not. Again, never mind.
This has been a glorious autumn. Here in
the mountains the sky has never been bluer
and the air never crisper. I’ve been exercis-
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
ing like mad and staying home a lot. The
Gulf horrors have left, the village is empty,
the cows have come down from the mountains, where they’ve grazed all summer, and
the locals are busy building bigger and plusher chalets for the new rich. When will it all
end? Not in the near future, that’s for sure.
Africa is getting rather crowded, and the
locals breed too much. There is not enough
food to go around, so they come over to us.
A wormy little bureaucrat from Luxembourg
has abolished European borders. A few brave
men like the PMs of Hungary and Poland are
resisting. The media, needless to say, are on
the side of the worm. Europe stinks of necrosis. The Brits should thank their lucky stars,
and Nigel Farage. And now I’m off to the Big
Bagel for some fun and games before I’m
joined over there by the MoMC.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
As is traditional in this village, the Chapel
congregation had walked the 100 yards up
the hill to unite with the Anglicans for the
Harvest Sunday morning service. The Chapel people are on the whole younger and more
visibly filled with the Holy Spirit than the
Anglicans. Retired postmistress Daphne was
standing in the aisle, bubbling over as usual
with love and joy, and bestowing hugs and
kisses on anyone attempting to squeeze pass.
The Clarke contingent — mother, aunt,
grandson — took a pew brazenly near the
front. The service this year was led by the
rural dean, who is an absolute babe. This was
a rare visit, and we all of us, young and old,
male and female, feasted our eyes greedily
on her as she emerged theatrically from the
vestry shooting her glamorous cuffs. ‘Is she
going to do a pole dance?’ I said in a confidential aside to grandson Oscar, a oncea-year churchgoer since the age of five. At
seven-and-three-quarters Oscar knows what
a pole dancer is, I noted, because he tittered
politely at his mad dog grandfather’s ludicrously anachronistic witticism.
My mother and her sister were too
NOVEMBER 2 - 4, 2017
S A A T C H I G A L L E R Y, L O N D O N
O pening night ticke ts s till ava ilable
s a lo nq p.c o m /sp e ct a tor
decrepit to rise for the first hymn, ‘God,
Whose Farm is All Creation’. They had used
up all of their strength extricating themselves
from my 1.3 Fiesta at the church gate and
tottering inside on their disability apparatus.
The hymn, I read with surprise, was written
by the ‘voice of cricket’, radio commentator John Arlott, and we sung it to a folk tune
arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. ‘How
English can you get?’ I said to Oscar, indicating the attribution at the bottom of the
page with my thumbnail. Although Oscar
can read, he had heard of neither.
The bible reading was taken from the
Gospel according to Luke, chapter 12. This
wealthy chap had such a whopping great
harvest he decided to knock down his barn
and build a bigger one. Secure in his good
fortune, he planned to ‘eat, drink and be
merry’. God was furious. ‘You fool,’ he told
the guy. ‘Your life will be required of you this
very night.’ The moral of the story was that
we should not store up wealth for ourselves
but should be rich only towards God. Which
seemed to me directly to contradict Max
Weber’s theory about Protestantism being
the turbocharger of capitalism. But instead
of sharing this thought with my grandson, I
kept it to myself, not least because I am an
autodidact and it was probably erroneous
on every level.
The rural dean mounted the stairs to the
pulpit to give a sermon, and we sat back in
our pews to enjoy the sight of her. ‘I don’t
know about you,’ she said. ‘But the Brussels sprouts in my garden have fallen victim to a plague of green caterpillars.’ There
followed a sort of near-silent uproar. Pretty
much everyone present was moved to whisper an angry word or give an imperceptible
nod of the head to indicate that the little
bastards had indeed been doing the same to
theirs. Her opening statement had touched
a raw nerve in the congregation, galvanising
it. If we thought they were greedy, she continued, we should listen to this. Green caterpillars must increase their body mass by a
factor of one thousand to survive to the next
stage. Eating is all they do. Their anatomy is
designed for eating; their instinct devoted to
it entirely.
I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten now whether our rural dean’s final advice to us was to
emulate the caterpillar in our devotion to
God’s Kingdom, that we might one day metamorphose and take wing. Or whether we
should regard the caterpillar’s appetite as a
metaphor for the selfish greed of the materialist who stores up treasures for himself.
Whatever it was, her colourful sermon about
these hungry caterpillars was rich food for
thought for young and old, and nobody collapsed during it or had to be carried out.
The offertory hymn, obviously, was ‘We
Plough the Fields, and Scatter’. Knowing
the words off by heart, I sang out with gusto,
abandon even, while ostentatiously forsaking my hymnal: ‘No gifts have I to offer, for
all Thy love imparts, but that which Thou
desirest: my humble, thankful heart.’ But
when the velvet bag came around, I shoved
in 78p anyhow.
After the service, we stayed for coffee and cake. An elderly farmer with hands
like dinner plates talked football with Oscar
and amazingly offered him cup final tickets
via a connection at the Football Association. Around here, the farmers comprise an
ancient hereditary Puritan aristocracy who
have no interest in, or even conception of,
bourgeois culture. I shook hands formally
with the rural dean and was about to ask her
for her phone number when this farmer intervened and monopolised her, I’m sorry to say,
in a distinctly droit du seigneur manner.
Real life
Melissa Kite
Assuming someone had moved house
before, and put a new boiler in their new
house, while remaining a customer of British Gas, I set about doing that.
It never occurred to me that I might be
the first person on the planet to attempt
such a thing. Not for a second did I imagine
I was a swashbuckling pioneer to come up
with the idea of ripping out an old boiler at
the same time as continuing to buy gas, electricity and home servicing from an energy
supply company.
But it turns out I really was, or at least
that is the impression I was given. Having
decided to continue with the same company, rather than shop around for a new supplier who would charge me slightly less at
first then much more in a year’s time, I rang
to ask about my service contract. The new
house had a cranky old boiler that would
be coming out at some point, I told them, so
should I not cancel and restart the contract
when I had the new boiler up and running?
The upshot of the discussion that ensued
was that I really would be tempting Armageddon to cancel my Homecare policy. A
sane person would surely keep it going, and
when the new boiler was in book an engineer to come out and see it just to make sure
British Gas was happy with it.
Sounded alright, as a plan.
My eye was then taken off the ball when
an electricity smart meter was foisted on me
a few weeks later. The builders let the guy in.
I came home to find an evil little machine on
my hallway table blinking about how much
power I was using every second of the day.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
‘Total Today £0.14,’ it said, at 16:36. Then at
18:33: ‘Total Today £0.18.’
Why not issue me with a machine measuring how many breaths I’ve taken, counting
down the gasps I’ve got left until I’m dead?
I unplugged it and threw it in a drawer.
Did they know I had done this? I waited
for a phone call or letter from British Gas
ordering me to reconnect my doom-ometer.
But the only letter that came was to
remind me that my annual boiler service
was overdue. I rang the number. The wait
was half an hour. ‘I’ll ignore it,’ I thought.
But the letters kept coming, and they got
quite strict in tone, until they were threatening to stop insuring my boiler that hadn’t
been installed yet.
Eventually, Terry the plumber took me to
the heating centre and I splashed out on a
magnificent Worcester Bosch. I got quite a
thrill as the man behind the counter talked
me through its features, none of which
I understood in the slightest, but which
sounded goddam sexy as boilers go.
Terry took the shine off it as well as he
could by telling me cheerfully that when
he finished the bathroom I should keep
the temporary electric shower in the basement because ‘if yer boiler breaks daaaa’an
you’ve always got somewhere to wash!’
‘Terry,’ I admonished him, ‘I’ve just spent
thousands on a Worcester Bosch. It is never
going to break down.’
‘Yeah, I know!’ said Terry. ‘I’m just saying,
if it does, you’ve got the electric shaaaa’ar!’
Electric shower, my foot. With the boiler purring away, I forgot about anything to
do with it, because that was the whole point
of buying it. It wasn’t until the other day,
months later, I turned my attention to the
growing heap of letters.
The wait time was half an hour whenever
I called so I did an online chat with someone
called Andy to book an appointment. ‘Is this
it? Is this what life is now? No one speaking to anyone. It’s tragic,’ I told him, which, I
assume, he could have done without.
The engineer turned up a week later, and
stopped dead in front of the gleaming combi.
‘That’s a brand new Worcester Bosch,’ he
said. ‘Correct,’ I said, preening myself. ‘That
don’t need servicing for a year and even
then…’ ‘…it’s never going to break down?’
I finished his sentence for him. ‘Well, yeah.’
‘The thing is, they said you had to test it,
to continue the service contract.’
‘I can’t test it, cos you ain’t got all your
radiators hooked up yet.’
‘But they’re threatening to stop my contract if I don’t have it serviced today, and I’m
not getting the rest of my radiators hooked
up for ages. I’m gutting the house.’ He shook
his head. The impasse was insoluble. ‘Or I
could just cancel the contract?’ I suggested. ‘Yeah, you could do that,’ he perked up.
‘And restart it when you’re ready!’
And, of course, if I’d done that four
months ago, I would have saved £120.
The turf
Robin Oakley
Racing is an expensive sport to stage.
Courses and grandstands have to be maintained, health and safety regulations have
to be observed. Human and horse ambulances have to be provided, turnstiles have
to be manned and, to maintain the ‘integrity’ of a much gambled-on sport, stables
have to be guarded, and photo-finish and
race-patrol cameras have to be provided.
Recognising this, as they sought to clean up
gambling laws in the 1960s, our politicians
introduced a rare example of ring-fenced
taxation: they sanctioned a levy system on
bookmakers to make them responsible for
producing a significant contribution to racing’s costs.
By 1978 the Gambling Commission was
complaining that racing had become ‘addicted to subsidy’. Both sides disliked the system, but nobody could find anything better.
Bookmakers complained that they were
being forced to prop up a sport with an ineffective business model. Racing’s administrators moaned that the sums emerging from
the annual round of haggling were neither
sufficient nor predictable, particularly when
the bookies starting taking their online gambling business offshore to evade the levy.
With the levy now morphing into a ‘racing
right’ to funds derived from that offshore
business, there should be greater predictability, but racing is not just run to provide
our sport.
Thanks to its dependence on gambling
income, it is also run to boost betting. One
of several drawbacks in that is the potential loss of quality: the bookmakers want
as many race meetings as possible to keep
the business churning through their betting
shops, and as many races as possible with the
eight-runner minimum fields that encourage each-way betting for a 1-2-3 place as
well as a win. The sport’s aficionados will
happily watch a quality race between four,
five or six exclusively bred and expensively
purchased Classic-race aspirants; the bookies would rather have a dozen low-grade
handicappers kicking sand in each others’
faces round an all-weather track. Even as
an enthusiast I find it impossible to keep up
with the sheer volume of racing, and much
of it is sheer dross.
There are other penalties associated
with the sport’s dependence on gambling.
The media currently resembles the Hollywood leading lady of whom it was once writ80
ten: ‘She was beside herself… her favourite
position.’ Compared with the current portrayal of betting shops and their fixed-odds
betting terminals (FOBTs), William Hogarth’s snarling Gin Lane caricatures are a
model of benignity. The moral crusaders
have gambling in their sights and FOBTs,
which currently allow maximum stakes of
up to £100, have become the sharpest focus
of their outrage.
No rational racing fan would fail to
acknowledge that gambling addictions
sometimes afflict those least able to afford
a loss, but racing’s problem is that FOBTs,
also used appropriately by thousands of
small-stakes punters for an occasional flutter, have become a mainstay of high-street
betting shops. If a government desperate
for diversions decides to heed the baying
social-media mob, and wrecks the FOBT
business with new restrictions, then highstreet betting shops will close, jobs will be
lost and racing’s income stream will shrink.
Racing’s administrators know well the
sound of the bookmaking industry crying
wolf, but senior and sober folk are taking
this threat seriously.
Thank God, then, for racing days like
Newbury last Saturday. By this time of year
I am yearning to get back to the National
Hunt horses, jumpers we have come to know
over the years, fighting it out tenaciously
over obstacles. But there is an exhilaration,
too, in sheer speed, and in the Dubai International Airport World Trophy Stakes Take
Cover burst from the stalls like one of Kim
Jong-Un’s better-class rockets, shot across to
grab the running rail and then lowered his
head in determination as Cotai Glory and
Muthmir tried to get past him.
We often moan about top-class Flat
horses retiring at three or four, and sprinting should be a youngster’s game: the
remarkable thing about Take Cover’s success in this Group Three race, after two
Listed wins this season, was that at the
advanced age of ten he is better than ever,
a tribute to his young trainer David Griffiths, who noted: ‘He doesn’t lie down when
they come at him. He would go through a
brick wall for you.’
There was a reminder, too, of the bright
young faces coming through in the training ranks when George Scott’s James Garfield won the Group Two Dubai Duty
Free Mill Reef Stakes by just three quarters of a length from James Tate’s Invincible Army. Married just a week before to
owner Bill Gredley’s daughter Polly, Scott
was winning his first Group race, a feat
achieved earlier this season by James Tate
when Invincible Army, who was somewhat
knocked about in the Newbury race, won
Sandown’s Sirenia Stakes. James Garfield
and Invincible Army look like two horses
to have on your side next season and the
same goes for the two advancing young
Newmarket trainers.
Janet de Botton
The youngest player on the great Allfrey
team, Mike Bell, is forming a very strong
partnership with David Gold. They have
already represented England and had a
hoard of good results.
When playing at such a high level, not
only do you have to be technically pitchperfect, you also need to have the guts and
imagination to go with your instincts — and
not be afraid of looking a fool in front of
your team mates.
This cannot be demonstrated better than
with this hand from the first weekend of the
Premier League:
Dealer West
E/W vulnerable
z Void
y J 8 2
XK 9 7
w Q 10 8
z J 10 5
XQ 8 4
wAK 9
7 652
z AQ
y A Q 10 9
XJ 6 3
w Void
zK9 8
X A 10 5
w J3
7 642
7 543
All Pass
A frisky auction saw Mike end up in
the doubled slam. Unlike a couple of other
declarers, he was not treated to the favourable Spade lead which allows two Diamonds to be discarded from dummy. West
led a trump. He won, ruffed the zQueen and
played a small Club from dummy.
East didn’t seem interested in this trick,
so Mike placed the wAce on his left.
He ruffed and tabled the XJack; West
correctly played low — in case declarer has
J,10 of Diamonds and a guess — and Mike
let it run to East’s Ace! Dummy’s other Diamond went away on the zAce and the slam
was made.
Not only did young Mr Bell risk having
to explain to his team mates why he went
off in a cold slam when the XAce was onside
— he also played for West (a top-class player) to have misread the situation when he
didn’t cover. That takes guts and enormous
The future of English bridge is looking
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
love Picpoul de Pinet; I mean we all
do, right? It’s the quintessence of easy,
affable drinking and I’ve not met a
Picpoul more easy or affable than the 2016
Racine Picpoul de Pinet (1), produced by
Bruno Lafon and François Chamboissier,
the Burgundian/Bordelais pair behind Diva
Sud, a collection of great-value wines from
the Rhône, Languedoc and Provence. Their
Picpoul is spot on: fresh, lively and lightbodied with excellent acidity, fine concentration of fruit and — hooray! — an easy-access
screwcap. Don’t overanalyse it, just bask in
its tasty simplicity. £9.75 down from £11.50.
The 2015 Domaine Mourchon ‘La
Source’ Côtes du Rhône Blanc (2) is an
old favourite of mine. I love white Rhônes;
they’re really rather rare and are ideal for
members of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) gang. This scrumptious example is a
blend of Bourboulenc, Clairette, Roussanne
and Viognier — not that you would know it
thanks to the characteristically French lack
of info on the back label. What am I talking about? It doesn’t even have a back label.
Typical. Anyway, gripes apart, it’s a cracking wine with delicate hints of baked apple,
peaches, apricots and a long creamy finish
and, with £2.50 knocked off the RRP, it’s a
cracking price. £12.75 down from £15.25.
The 2015 Montagny 1er Cru Chaniots,
Les Vignerons de Buxy (3) is a gratifyingly
grown-up white burgundy made by the
Vignerons de Buxy, a tip-top co-operative
that makes wines of legendary quality. I
reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a better Montagny for the price (especially since
our hosts for this offer, Mr. Wheeler, have
snipped a full £3.25 off the RRP). It’s soft,
smooth, supple and creamily textured, with
peaches and pears and a touch of vanilla
on the palate. I loved it. £14.25 down from
The 2015 Mas Collet (4) is a fascinating red blend of Garnacha (aka Grenache),
Samsó (Carignan), Cabernet Sauvignon
and Tempranillo from Celler de Capçanes,
a first-rate co-operative based high in the
Priorat hills (also the Denominación de
Origen of Montsant) 20 miles inland from
Tarragona in north-east Spain. The wine is
uncomplicatedly fresh, ripe and juicy with
the heady scent of herbs and violets on the
nose and plenty of sweet blueberries, plums
and damsons. It’s perfect warming autumn
fare. £10.75 down from £14.
The 2015 Quinta Nova ‘Pomares’ Tinto
(5) is from a blessed spot slap-dab on the
White Rhônes are really rather rare
and are ideal for members of the ABC
(Anything But Chardonnay) gang
precipitous hills above the Douro River in
Portugal. I’ve been lucky enough to visit
Quinta Nova de Nossa Senhora do Carmo
(to give it its full name) and fell in love with
it and its wines. There’s a restaurant with
rooms here as well as a winery, and the views
across the Douro Valley are astounding.
The wines are darn good too and this
entry-level red is an absolute peach. It
blends the typical port varieties of Touriga
Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz.
If they’d lobbed some brandy in to stop its
fermentation it would be port; as it is, it’s
a ridiculously rich and tasty red wine with
buckets of ripe, dark fruit. £11.75 down
from £14.
Finally, from close to Montpelier in the
heart of the Languedoc, the glorious 2014
Domaine de la Jasse ‘Black Label’ Tête de
Cuvée (6). Its previous vintages have been
among our very bestselling wines. Made by
Bruno le Breton and Patrick Léon (formerly
of Château Mouton-Rothschild) from 100
per cent Cabernet Sauvignon aged for a
year in barrique, it’s incredibly concentrated and intense with all manner of cassis, liquorice, spice, herbs and vanilla entwining
on the palate. It will age for years yet and
I reckon is worth almost double the £12.75
(down from £15) that Mr. Wheeler is asking.
The mixed case has two bottles of each
wine and delivery, as ever, is free.
ORDER FORM Spectator Wine Offer
Mr. Wheeler, Estate Office, Park Lane BC, Langham, Colchester, Essex CO4 5WR
Tel: 01206 713560; Email:
Prices in form are per case of 12
Mixed 7
Racine Picpoul de Pinet, 12.5%
Domaine Mourchon Côtes du Rhône Blanc, 13%
Montagny 1er Cru Chaniots, 13.5%
Mas Collet, Celler de Capçanes, 14%
Quinta Nova ‘Pomares’, 13.5%
Domaine de la Jasse ‘Tête de Cuvée’, 14%
Sample case, two each of the above
Issue no.
Expiry date
Please send wine to
Mastercard/Visa no.
Start date
Sec. code
Prices include VAT and delivery on the
British mainland. Payment should be
made either by cheque with the order,
payable to Mr. Wheeler, or by debit
or credit card, details of which may be
telephoned or faxed. This offer, which
is subject to availability, closes on 11
November 2017.
*Only provide your email address if you would like to receive offers or communications by email from The Spectator (1828) Limited, part of the Press Holdings
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the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Gamesters of Triskelion
Raymond Keene
The triskelion, or three-legged emblem, has been
on the coat of arms of the Isle of Man since the
late 13th century. The Isle of Man has now
attracted one of the strongest ever lineups for an
open competition in the history of formal chess
tournaments. The lists include world champion
Magnus Carlsen, former champions Vladimir
Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand, and
Hikaru Nakamura as well as the former world
title challengers Boris Gelfand and Nigel Short.
The British contingent is joined by Michael
Adams, the newly minted British champion
Gawain Jones, and David Howell. Doubtless the
munificent prize fund of £133,000 is a lure.
The first round saw the following impressive
strategic performance by Nigel Short, who first
gains control of the dark squares in his
opponent’s camp, then converts this into material
gain, finally infiltrating his opponent’s lines of
defence and strangling him to death.
Short-Osmanodja: Masters Isle of
Man 2017; Catalan Defence
1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 c4 e6 4 g3 In former
times Short was a strict adherent of 1 e4. In recent
years, however, he has graduated to becoming a
fine exponent of the subtle flank openings such as
the Catalan, which he employs in this game. By
adding a deeper and richer vein to his openings
arsenal, Short has revealed an innate talent for
openings that lead to closed positions. 4 ... Bb4+
5 Bd2 Be7 6 Bg2 0-0 7 0-0 c6 8 Qb3 b5 9
cxb5 cxb5 10 Rc1 Avoiding 10 Qxb5 met by 10
... Ba6 followed by full activation of Black’s forces.
By placing his rook on the open c-file White sets
the strategic tone for the remainder of the game.
10 ... Ba6 10 ... Qb6 11 Bb4 Bxb4 12 Qxb4 Bd7
13 Ne5 was seen in Nikolaidis-Ricardi, Elista 1998.
11 Bb4 Strategically the key move. White trades
off Black’s principal guardian of the dark squares,
primarily the invasion point c5. 11 ... Bxb4 12
Qxb4 Qb6 13 Ne5 (see diagram 1) If Black
could play ... Nc6 unmolested then he would be
free of all his troubles. Hence White hastens to
prevent this move. 13 ... Nfd7 14 Nxd7 Nxd7
15 e3 Rac8 16 Nd2 Nb8 Black is still seeking
to regroup his forces , so that he can play ... Nc6.
Short now demonstrates that the time lost in this
White to play. This position is from Paul-Jonsson,
Isle of Man 2017. How did White make a decisive
material gain? Answers to me at The Spectator
by Tuesday 3 October or via email to victoria@ There is a prize of £20 for the first
correct answer out of a hat. Please include a postal address and allow six weeks for prize delivery.
Last week’s solution 1 Qxd4
Last week’s winner Keith Douglas,
Leominster, Herefordshire
On the house
Lucy Vickery
In Competition No. 3017 you were invited to
submit a sonnet containing household tips.
You were on sparkling form this week
and there were plenty of stylish, inventive
entries to choose from. I was riveted by your
recommendations and hope to put them to
the test, though I might just take John Whitworth’s word for it: (‘Prick sausages and
they will never burst./ A pint of piss will
slake a raging thirst.’) Commendations go
to David Silverman, Joseph Conlon, Jennifer Moore, Fiona Pitt-Kethley and A.H.
Harker. The winners earn £20 each. Basil
Ransome-Davies trousers £25.
Diagram 1
A healthy dose of vinegar will clean
Your windows and wipe porn smears off your
A saucer makes a handy weapon if
You need to finish a domestic tiff.
You overdo the vodka or the gin?
Dump all the empties in your neighbour’s bin.
Old copies of the Daily Mail will do
For visitors who badly need the loo,
And anti-orthopaedic chairs for guests
Whom you regard as knuckle-dragging pests.
Save money by not buying cutlery,
Just nick it from the local KFC,
And if you want to be your granny’s heir
Much sooner than expected, soap the stair.
Basil Ransome-Davies
Diagram 2
manoeuvre permits White to extend his control
of critical terrain. In fact, Black would do better
to pass with, for example, 16 ... h6. 17 Bf1 Nc6
18 Qc5 Qb7 19 Qa3 Making way for the
invasion by White’s knight. 19 ... Qb6
20 Nb3 Rc7 21 Rc5 Rfc8 22 Rac1 h6
23 h4 Nb8 24 Rxc7 Rxc7 25 Rxc7 Qxc7
26 Nc5 (see diagram 2) In spite of reduced
forces White’s advantage has persisted and
now the b5-pawn becomes a serious target. 26
... Qb6 27 Qd3 Qa5 28 a3 Nc6 29 a4
Bc8 30 axb5 Ne7 31 Qa3 Qb6 32 Na4
Qc7 33 Qc5 Qd7 34 b6 axb6 35 Nxb6
Qb7 36 Bb5 Kf8 37 Qd6 g6 38 Qd8+
The decisive penetration. 38 ... Kg7 39 Bd7
Bxd7 40 Nxd7 Nc6 41 Qf8+ Black resigns
Your eyes, my love, are chilly as the ice
With which you shift unwanted chewing-gum;
Brisk as your toothbrush when you clear the crumb
From toasters are your words, which are not nice.
The vinegar with which you clean the glass
Is not more acid; and the potent meths
Which gives to ballpoint stains deserved deaths
Does not in virulence your glare outclass.
You would be rid of me, my household queen.
(Much as with cedar you deter the moth.)
Yet I too have a microfibre cloth;
So might not we together live and clean?
Would you but spill the red wine of your love,
I could, like salt, absorb it from above.
George Simmers
To whiten grimy grouting, an old toothbrush
and lemon juice will clean where dark mould thrives.
The same juice freshens worktops, mugs and loo
(the lowly lemon leads so many lives).
Combined with salt it’s good for scouring rust off
or scrubbing marble, with a cotton rag.
You’ll get the vacuum cleaner’s smell of dust off
by slipping a few drops inside the bag.
Dried rinds, when buried, will protect the garden
from furry diggers — squirrel, say, or cat.
Remember that old paintbrush left to harden?
A soak in boiling juice will soon cure that.
And all homes need it — sliced, and not too thin —
with ice and tonic and an inch of gin.
D.A. Prince
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
How to be thrifty? Let me count the ways:
Use what you need when making cups of tea.
Don’t fill the kettle like the Arctic Sea
But just enough. Eventually it pays.
Observe how much you buy on shopping days
And what you throw away, then learn to be
Less profligate. Buy one instead of three;
Then what you’re saving weekly will amaze.
Why light a room when nobody is there?
Why leave the TV on when no one’s viewing?
You’re spending cash on nothing, so take care;
The road to thriftiness is worth pursuing.
And even though you be a billionaire
It’s wise to ponder what your pence are doing.
Max Ross
Places to eat
by Doc
Shall I compare thee to a household tip?
Thou art more worth to me than being told
That rough winds get in through the tiniest chip,
And chewing-gum in holes can thwart the cold.
Sometime too hot, the water in the sink
May harm your skin, as hot detergent scalds.
Your hands are perfect as they are, I think,
So put some talcum in your marigolds.
But thy eternal beauty drives out grime
As water does in a stained coffee cup
If you are going to wait a little time
Before you come to do the washing-up.
So long as men shall breathe or kiss with lips,
So long I’ll love thee more than household tips.
Brian Murdoch
5 Cross as a sign (6)
10 I left millionaire mixing
petroleum distillate (10,
two words)
16 What may be caught with
a rod — a rod (5)
17 Strips, rubs gently and
beats (7)
18 Pipe second carol outside
Kings (7)
20 Those assailing verbally
about to take on loathsome
heartless rebels (8)
25 Just a bit of cement added
26 Run faster than dismissal
speed? (7)
28 Works with new director
on mathematical quantity
29 Island’s small businesses (3)
34 Wrecked automobile
union’s leader left miles
away in Central Greece (7)
36 Bad South American
evading courts in
Californian city (7)
40 Get comfy again as a
colonist? (8)
41 US actress starts killing
after interval (6)
42 Some cost in changing
financial experts (10)
43 Pound dispatched by
agreement (6)
44 Bernstein’s story of bridge
player by bank (8,
two words)
Don’t go forgetful into your goodnight;
Check, check that you have left no switches on.
It isn’t hard to make an oversight
And let disaster rage when you have gone.
Before retiring to your bedroom keep
A mindful eye on windows, doors and keys
Lest mischief-makers enter while you sleep
And flee away with anything they please.
Then if you feel each part is well inspected
And all is like a fort when you retire
Sleep soundly in the knowledge you’re protected
From foreign guests, from flooding and from fire.
If circumstance has placed you on your own
It’s wise to sleep beside your mobile phone.
Frank McDonald
A lemon cut in half, beside the sink
will stop your hands from having fishy fingers.
Sprinkled with salt, the lemon’s other half
will banish from your fridge a smell that lingers.
And if you iron sitting on a chair
the task is not unpleasant. You are free
to listen to the radio, watch TV
each hankie pressed into a perfect square.
White vinegar cleans all things, more or less
And soda water’s good on red wine stains,
but should blood mark a T-shirt or a dress
hot water will ensure the mark remains
1 French worker’s garment
from old car firm on river
forever brownish. Everybody oughter
know that blood yields only to cold, cold water.
Adèle Geras
You are invited to submit the formula for a
successful marriage courtesy of a well-known
husband or wife in literature (please specify).
Please email entries of up to 150 words (providing a word count) to
by midday on 11 October.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
The unclued lights, when
paired, are of a kind, the first
word in each pair being thematic. Two of the unclued lights,
one of which is plural, do double duty. One pair has a literary
reference, too.
2 Transfer and allow
deliveries (8, two words)
3 Male hawk close to
chancel after 9 am prayers
4 Experts in diving sickness
6 Ferry from Romania, twice
(4, hyphened)
7 Boycott promotional
leaflet promoting
extortionist (11)
9 Plants Brideshead family
endlessly criticises (8)
15 Lady’s fingers look
ravishing to some extent
16 Exits before poor rep with
losses runs out (11)
19 Con artist regularly
provides pastoral songs (4)
21 Old tales of undoubted
daring (4)
23 Penitential garment carried
by saint, to wit (8)
24 Northern Italian in
banking street (7)
27 Warms up prior to
eliminating rounds (8)
31 Former BBC DG upset
tribunal. Not half! (4)
32 Rallying cry evoking
terrible noises (6)
35 Let everyone scream (5)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 16
October. There are two runnersup prizes of £20. (UK solvers
can choose to receive the latest
edition of the Chambers
dictionary instead of cash —
ring the word ‘dictionary’.)
Entries to: Crossword 2329,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The unclued lights are part of a SUIT of armour.
First prize Clive Rose, Henley on Thames, Oxon
Runners-up Virginia Porter, Gwaelod-y-Garth, Cardiff;
Hugh Aplin, London SW19
Status Anxiety
Don’t let these figures
depress you, girls
Toby Young
re British teenagers suffering from an epidemic of
mental illness? Yes, according to a ‘government-funded study’
which found that 24 per cent of
14-year-old girls are suffering from
depression. This has been seized
upon by critics of Conservative education policies; they see it as ‘proof’
that the increased focus on teaching children knowledge, as well as
more frequent testing and the GCSE
reforms, have literally driven children mad. ‘One in four girls is clinically depressed by the time they
turn 14,’ reported the Guardian.
I’m sceptical about this and I
took a look at the research carried
out by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which is based at UCL
Institute for Education. It involved
asking 14-year-olds in the Millennium Cohort Study to fill out a questionnaire called Short Moods and
Feelings. This is an American document that uses the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ criteria for depression. It lists
13 symptoms in the form of first-person statements like ‘I thought I could
never be as good as other kids’ and
asks respondents to indicate ‘Not
true’, ‘Sometimes’ or ‘True’, depending on how often they’ve experienced
these feeling in the past two weeks.
A total of 11,394 children complet-
Treat this
survey and
the inflated
claims made
on the back of
it with a large
dose of salt
ed the survey, which is a respectable
sample size.
The first thing I noticed is that the
report doesn’t actually claim that a
significant percentage of these children are suffering from depression,
much less ‘clinical depression’, since
no clinicians were involved. Rather, it says that 24 per cent of girls
are ‘suffering from high symptoms
of depression’, without providing
a definition of ‘high’. If they were
using the questionnaire as it is supposed to be used, they should have
assigned a score to each answer, with
different values awarded to ‘Not true’
(0), ‘Sometimes’ (1) and ‘True’ (2),
and only claimed that children who
scored 12 or above might be suffering from depression. Did they follow
this methodology? We don’t know,
but ‘high symptoms of depression’
sounds like a sleight of hand designed
to conceal the fact that the number
scoring 12 or above was much lower
than 24 per cent.
A more fundamental problem is
that the questionnaire is not designed
as a diagnostic tool. Indeed, if you
look it up you’ll see the following
explicit warning: ‘This instrument
should be used as an indicator of
depressive symptoms and not as a
diagnostic tool and therefore does
not indicate whether a child or
adolescent has a particular disorder.’
It may be that the researchers
used the phrase ‘high symptoms of
depression’ to avoid falling into this
error, and not because they were
trying to exaggerate the scale of the
problem, but no such circumspection
was shown by newspapers reporting it. The Guardian was far from
alone in this respect. Here’s a sam-
ple of the headlines: ‘A quarter of all
14-year-old girls are depressed’ (The
Independent), ‘One in four teenage girls are depressed’ (Daily Telegraph), ‘One in four 14-year-old girls
is depressed’ (The TES). In fact, the
research tells us nothing of the kind.
Another difficulty in using this
study to try and ‘prove’ that Michael
Gove’s education reforms are
responsible for higher levels of mental illness is that it is the first time
14-year-olds have been surveyed
in this way, so we don’t know if the
level has climbed or fallen since 2010.
Natasha Devon, a self-described
mental health champion, wrote in
the TES saying that it was ‘helpful
to have some solid statistical analysis
to support the notion that poor mental health in young people is increasing at a dramatic rate’ and claims the
research shows that the prevalence of
depression among 14-year-olds has
‘doubled’ in ten years. She evidently
doesn’t know what ‘Millennium’ signifies in ‘Millennium Cohort Study’.
It means that it’s a longitudinal study
of a group of children born in 2000
so, by definition, the same researchers
could not have surveyed a different
group of 14-year-olds ten years ago
and compared their recent findings
with those. Ten years ago, the oldest
children in the cohort were seven.
So treat this survey and the inflated claims being made on the back of
it with a large dose of salt. It doesn’t
tell us much about how prevalent
depression is among teenagers, and
it doesn’t tell us anything about
whether it’s rising or falling.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
Spectator Sport
All power to the
NFL knee protest
Roger Alton
he history of sport and political
protest in this country would
be a slim old volume. It would
feature quite a bit of Robbie Fowler,
the Liverpool striker, who once lifted
his shirt after scoring to reveal a Calvin Klein T-shirt which said ‘Support
the Dockers’ using the ‘C’ and ‘K’ of
the fashion logo. He might have been
misguided — those dockers had been
on strike, as they always seemed to
be, and they did a fair bit to bring
down (temporarily) the great city of
Liverpool — but Fowler was a terrific
player and an all-round good guy. He
once persuaded a ref to revoke a
penalty and later made an elaborate
show of snorting the touchline. He
also bought up more or less every bit
of property in Liverpool: hence the
terrace anthem, to the tune of ‘Yellow
Submarine’: ‘We all live in a Robbie
Fowler house…’
In general our sportsmen are discouraged from being political. They
devote their energies to being brand
ambassadors for watches or whiskies
or motor cars. There was a brief skirmish recently over football teams,
I would take
the knee
myself if
I thought
I could get
up again
especially England, wearing the
Remembrance Day poppy. After trying to ban this as ‘political’, Fifa eventually backed down.
It is precisely because sport can
have such power that we should all
applaud the ‘taking the knee’ protest during the singing of the national
anthem that has swept the National
Football League in America. Indeed
I would take the knee myself if I
thought I could get up again. The
protest started a year ago when Colin
Kaepernick, a quarterback with the
San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the
anthem to raise awareness of police
brutality against young AfricanAmericans. It was not a protest about
Trump; it was a protest about race.
But nobody gave a damn and since
then Kaepernick can barely get work.
But the protest took off a few days
ago when, quite out of the blue and
presumably as a diversionary tactic from god knows what, President
Trump called on football club owners
to suspend any players who protested during the national anthem, and
added a little spice by calling the
players ‘sons of bitches’.
The vast majority of American
football players are black. Nearly all
the owners are white, but they don’t
like being told what to do, even by
another billionaire. So far no protesting player has been fired for kneeling, or linking arms as they did as last
Sunday’s matches, including — spec-
tacularly — in London. This is all
about race, and we must hope that
Trump doesn’t get his way.
ow much more can one love Ben
Stokes? Not only is he the best
cricketer in the world, but it looks
like he wasn’t prepared to take any
nonsense from anyone in Bristol
who may have given him a bit of gyp
after that fabulous one-day victory
at the weekend. We can’t be certain
what happened that led to his arrest
on suspicion of assault at 2.30 a.m.,
but anyone picking a fight with Ben
Stokes wants their head examined.
e are sadly familiar with the
sometimes heartbreaking
tales of how top-line sports folk cope
with filling the hours once they step
away from the limelight. Sitting at
home watching Homes Under the
Hammer perhaps; or checking the
cricket scores to see whether Somerset have finessed that elusive bowling
bonus point.
No such problems for Usain Bolt:
he has taken to a boat in the crystalline
waters of the Caribbean along with his
girlfriend Kasi. She, it turns out, is a
most comely and well-upholstered gal
with a keen liking for taking her own
picture. She looks capable of bringing
out a sub-ten-second performance in
most of us. Though probably not the
great man himself, who looks set for
a marathon.
totally addicted to viewing their
indiscreet images of their lunches
and holidays and children. I don’t
want to post any of my own. For
privacy reasons, I never signed up
for Twitter or Facebook and the
same goes for Instagram.
— Name and address withheld
Q. How can I avoid becoming
seen as an ‘Instagram creeper’?
My well-meaning niece tells me
that I’m in danger of qualifying
for this insult. Apparently it
means a sort of Peeping Tom who
views other people’s postings but
never contributes any herself.
I joined Instagram a year ago
to promote a fundraising event,
and it’s true that, though I posted
six related images then, I have
posted nothing since. But certain
friends and acquaintances began
following me at that time and
so I followed them and now am
A. Your niece is correct. To avoid
the charge of creeper you must
post more images. They need not
compromise your security e.g.
by showing yourself on holiday
or standing in front of priceless
paintings in your drawing room.
Plenty of toffs post only images
of plants, animals or posters for
worthy forthcoming events. In this
way they justify their foothold in
the Peepers’ Gallery.
Q. How can I discourage a friend
from licking her forefinger
when she turns the pages of a
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
newspaper? I think it’s unhygienic
and ‘common’: the Queen
wouldn’t do it. My friend would be
mortified by any suggestion that
she doesn’t know how to behave.
— G.P., Westminster
A. There are practical reasons
why finger-licking is considered
‘common’. The finger quickly
becomes a portal for bacteria
to enter the mouth, and dried
saliva actually smells. You could
convey her breach of etiquette by
subtle means. Purchase a pack
of rubber finger cones from a
stationery shop. Next time you are
together, don one ostentatiously
then begin to read the newspaper
yourself. Confide that you’ve only
just learned that finger-licking is
considered naff, so you’re trying
to retrain yourself not to do it. You
will discard the thimble once the
new habit is ingrained.
Q. Your advice to spray leftover
food with Pledge to discourage
grazing is impossible, as no
civilised household would contain
the product, due to its ruinous
effect on antique mahogany.
The correct product to spray on
unwanted food is horse liniment,
borrowed from the stables.
— M.R., Tibenham, Norfolk
A. Good point. You could equally
use spray starch which is found in
many civilised households.
Q. May I pass on a tip? There is
no need to spend hours shaking
cushions in order to plump them.
You need only drop them once.
This simple action redistributes
the contents perfectly.
— S.B., London SW11
A. Thank you for this time-saving
Venice all tarted up
Tanya Gold
eneta is a Venetian restaurant
inside the St James’s Market
development south of Piccadilly Circus. I do not like this development because it has no identity and
great cities should have identities. It
is not like St James’s, and it is nothing
like a market either. It is a cold and
glassy spot with a stupid name, and
it is, with other developments from
here to Hyde Park Corner, the reason
that people now hate London or do
not recognise it as London, because it
is beginning to resemble a giant Nespresso capsule. Someone once told
me that in a million years the only
evidence of our civilisation will be
nappies and Nespresso capsules and
I think this may be true, and future
alien visitors will think we invented
caffeine and babies and then blew
ourselves up by mistake.
St James’s Market is, therefore, an
excellent place for an expensive restaurant selling the cuisine of a dead
city to a dying one, because it has no
The building is stone and high,
with a vast curve of window; it looks
Veneta is like
a branch of
Habitat. It is
Venice tidied
up and made
tasteful, and
who needs
slightly like the mask of Iron Man,
the most irritating of the Avengers
because he describes himself as ‘a
billionaire philanthropist’, and what
gentleman would say that about himself? Or it looks like a building that is
wearing sunglasses, while nodding at
the other vast restaurant in St James’s
Market, which is the Aquavit.
Inside, Veneta is rather beautiful. It is high and bright, with wood
floors and things — I think decorators call them ‘accents’ — which are
supposed to invoke the sea. The sea
does get lost in Venice, even if it is
the point of it. There is aquamarinecoloured glass and leather, a curling
metal staircase and a gold-coloured
bar. If this is Venice, it is no Venice that
I have seen. It is too glib and subtle.
Venice is rotting grandeur and insane
camp. It is shockingly tasteless: every
piece of glass made in Murano since
the glassblowers were moved there to
stop them setting fire to the city, for
instance, and the late Tintorettos in the
Doge’s Palace, most of the wallpaper,
‘I’m afraid there’s surge pricing of 4.5 times the normal fee.’
all of the floors and everything painted by Tiepolo. This does not mean I
do not love it all. Veneta, meanwhile,
is more like a branch of Habitat. It is
Venice tidied and made tasteful, and
who needs that?
The food, though, is better than
at most of the restaurants in Venice,
although Veneta does have the advantage of not being a tourist destination
that is also in the middle of the sea.
The meal I last ate in Venice was at the
Gritti Palace during a flood, but that
is normal. The waiter served excellent
lamb and let us stand on the boat deck
during an electric thunderstorm while
pretending he had not noticed that we
were wearing bin bags on our legs. He
thought we were mad: Gli inglesi!
Veneta cannot provide such drama.
It is too calm and Venice, the serene
one, is not calm at all because that was
just an early piece of spin. (There is
nothing calm about bankrolling the
Crusades and governing an empire
from the middle of the sea.) But it
does serve an excellent pork chop,
sticky with herb and fire; then a golden
light broth with pasta and mushrooms
that does everything mushrooms conceivably can do, which is not a lot; and
a fine piece of pork, again sticky with
skill; and as good a piece of focaccia
bread as can be baked, heavy with salt
and rosemary and as golden as the
Madonna of Torcello.
But the St James’s Market development still looks like a Nespresso capsule with a Venetian restaurant inside.
As a kitchen then, it succeeds. As a
pastiche, it fails.
Veneta, 3 Norris St, St James’s Market,
London SW1Y 4RJ, tel: 020 38749100.
In 1872, the 27-stone figure of the
Tichborne Claimant was insisting
he was Sir Roger Tichborne Bt,
an heir thought lost at sea as a
slim young man. To raise funds
he undertook a series of public
meetings, and at one in the East
End, the cry ‘Three groans for the
Attorney-General’ was repeated
every five minutes.
Dickens describes the
classic 19th-century groan in
The Pickwick Papers (1836)
at the Eatanswill election
hustings. When Horatio Fitzkin
is proposed, ‘the Fizkinites
applauded, and the Slumkeyites
groaned, so long, and so loudly,
that both he and the seconder
might have sung comic songs
in lieu of speaking, without
anybody’s being a bit the wiser’.
Crowds do still groan, at bad
puns, but as ‘an expression of
strong disapprobation’ in the
words of the Oxford English
Dictionary, the convention is
to boo. The Victorians paired
groans and hisses as boos and
hisses are today. A depreciatory
claque in football crowds is now
called the boo-boys. The OED
picked up an example from the
Sun in 1990: ‘Leeds boss Howard
Wilkinson last night backed goalstarved striker Lee Chapman
to beat the boo-boys.’ Boo has
also taken over territory once
occupied by bo. People have said
boo to a goose since the days of
Charles I, but had already started
saying bo to it the previous
century. Sometimes it was bo to a
battledore, meaning not only the
bat for hitting shuttlecocks, but
also a hornbook with a handle
for children to learn their ABC.
What do you call the game
with infants of looking out from
behind a cushion? I’d say peepbo — as used in the game. Some
called it bo-peep. In 1528 William
Tyndale wrote in a tract against
a man who ‘playeth bo-peep
with the scripture’. Why Little
Bo-Peep was so called, no one, I
believe, knows.
The bogey-man Bloody
Bones, terrifyingly coupled since
the 16th-century with Raw-Head,
was invoked in 1672 in another
religious controversy by the
satirical poet Robert Wild: ‘The
Pope’s Raw-head-and-bloodybones cry Boh Behind the door!’
Today the word shouted to give
a fright is more often boo than
bo. I can recommend a book by
Ronald C. Simons on the startle
reflex with the simple title Boo!
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 30 september 2017 |
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