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The Spectator - March 08, 2018

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10 march 2018 [ £4.50 [ est. 1828
Sex, power and Picasso
Writers and their mothers
Handling social climbers
James Woodall
Tibor Fischer
Dear Mary
Prince Charming
Is Mohammad bin Salman too good to be true?
By Christopher de Bellaigue
UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20.
established 1828
The spying game
he apparent chemical attack on a
former Russian double-agent and
his daughter in an English cathedral city could be straight from a cold war
thriller. Unfortunately, though, the case
is not going to be solved in 500 pages —
nor will it be solved by July, when the Foreign Secretary has threatened to withdraw a British delegation of dignitaries, if not the English team, from the
opening ceremony of the World Cup.
It was inevitable, as soon as Sergei Skripal was taken acutely ill on a bench in Salisbury, that fingers would point at Vladimir
Putin. He did, after all, pass a law to give the
FSB, the successor organisation to the KGB,
powers to execute enemies of the Russian
state on foreign soil. As Robert Service
says on page 20, this form of assassination
is entirely in keeping with his foreign policy.
And of course there is the case of the
Russian dissident and former FSB officer
Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006
after being poisoned with polonium at a
London hotel. The nature of the poison —
a substance which would be extremely difficult for ordinary criminals to obtain — was
widely interpreted as a deliberate calling
card of the Russian state.
Yet there are reasons for caution in the
government’s reaction to the Skripal case.
It took years for an official inquiry to investigate Litvinenko’s death, and even then
the best it could say was that the Kremlin
was ‘probably’ involved. This time, the circumstances are even less clear. There is no
obvious motive. Litvinenko was an active
dissident who was making trouble for Putin
at the time of his death. Skripal, as far as we
can tell, has lived a quiet life in Wiltshire
since 2010, when he was one of the parties
in a ‘spy swap’ between Britain and Russia.
Four years earlier he had been convicted of
spying for Britain and sentenced to 13 years
in a Russian prison.
Why should Putin, or anyone else in the
Russian state, suddenly want him dead now
for anything he did more than a decade ago?
Or destroy the precedent that spy swaps
should always be honoured? If Russian
agents considered Skripal a great danger,
they had plenty of opportunities to murder
him earlier — or simply to keep him in jail.
It would hardly be in Russia’s interest to be
seen to renege on a spy swap, which would
make co-operation with Britain — or any
Investigators have not ruled out the
possibility that this attack on Skripal
was an attempt to frame Putin
other country — less likely in future.
What no one outside the security services can say at this stage is whether Skripal has been involved in any underground
activity since coming to Britain — nor even
whether he has been in contact with MI6
or involved with any private organisation.
During the Cold War, Soviet spying was a
nationalised monopoly. Along with much
of Russian industry, it is now partly privatised. Mafias are also involved. Organised
crime is now intertwined with the Kremlin:
it is unclear where the state begins and ends.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that this attack on Skripal was an attempt
to frame Putin, to provoke the West into an
intemperate response.
This is what makes life especially difficult for the British government. We don’t
treat Italian ministers as complicit in the
crimes of the Mafia, in spite of suspicions
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
that they might well have had their fingers
in organised crime. (The Slovakian government is embroiled in just such a controversy
right now.) It is hard to argue, given that we
preach human rights to the rest of the world,
that the principle of innocent until proven
guilty should not apply as much to Vladimir
Putin as to anyone else. If we wrongly accuse
him, we risk losing Russian co-operation
where we really need it.
It is far better that the UK government
limits its diplomatic broadsides against Russia to matters over which there is no room
for doubt, such as Russia’s annexation of
Crimea and the flexing of its muscles involving military exercises over the Baltic. The
way to respond on these is to make sure that
we retain our military capability at a level
to deter Russia. We have sadly failed to do
this. Britain and other European nations
were too quick to cash in the dividend
from the end of the Cold War, to dismantle the defences of western Europe without
stopping to ask whether Russia had really
changed. We expanded Nato eastwards to
the Russian border but in a mainly symbolic,
weaponless way which has invited Putin to
test our boundaries.
The Skripal case must be exhaustively
investigated, but we shouldn’t be surprised
if the government can make no conclusive
findings which would justify retaliation.
There is little point in threats that would be
laughed off. If Prince William is kept away
from the World Cup, it would only serve to
underline the paucity of the options open
to Britain. If, on the other hand, we are
serious about maintaining the strength of
Nato we will succeed in deterring Vladimir
Putin from trying to pursue expansionist
Guilty? p20
Seduced by Bruni, p42
Picasso’s girls, p40
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary Twitter’s parallel universe,
Brexitland, Corbyn and Croatia
Paul Mason
10 Politics The EU would regret
punishing Britain
James Forsyth
11 The Spectator’s Notes
Poor Cathy Newman, Max Mosley
and bringing in voter IDs
Charles Moore
17 Rod Liddle The populist revolution
has only just begun
18 Ancient and modern
The goods of war
21 Mary Wakefield Girls should be
taught to spot a wrong ’un
23 James Delingpole What I learned
about women from a burst pipe
25 Letters No-booze drinks, university
pensions and a defence of Sunderland
28 Any other business Can May
be her own housing supremo?
Martin Vander Weyer
12 Prince Charming
Is Mohammad bin Salman
too good to be true?
Christopher de Bellaigue
30 David Crane
Napoleon: The Spirit of the Age,
by Michael Broers
13 A ray of hope
The crown prince is the real deal
John R. Bradley
32 Jesse Norman
Thomas Paine, by J.C.D. Clark
14 Clive James
‘Grief Across the Water’: a poem
18 The real war on women
Why are campaigners being silenced?
Judith Green
Kate Womersley
Paper Cuts, by Stephen Bernard
33 Clare Mulley
Operation Chaos, by Matthew Sweet
Patrick Hare
‘Orchestra’: a poem
20 The Russia problem
It’s time to seize control from Moscow
Robert Service
34 Sam Leith
Enlightenment Now,
by Stephen Pinker
22 Two nations
In London, dinner parties and
murder exist side by side
Harry Mount
35 Claire Kohda Hazelton
Battleship Yamato, by Jan Morris
24 A very EU coup
Selmayr’s astonishing power grab
Jean Quatremer
36 Amy Sackville
Sight, by Jessie Greengrass
Juliet Nicolson
Elisabeth’s Lists, by Lulah Ellender
37 Tibor Fischer
Writers and their Mothers, edited
by Dale Salwak
38 Stuart Evers
on first novels
C.J. Driver
‘For the One Only’: a poem
39 Sara Wheeler
Free Woman, by Lara Feigel
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Robert Thompson, Nick Newman, Grizelda, Bernie, Adam Singleton, NAF, Geoff Thompson, RGJ. 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 336; no 9889
© 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 | 10 march 2018 |
The last word in battleships, p35
What does ‘painting life’
mean? p46
40 James Woodall
Peak Picasso
55 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
42 The listener
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Rod Liddle
56 Real life Melissa Kite
Carla Bruni; Val Wilmer;
Rachel Portman
Kate Chisholm
44 Theatre
Fanny & Alexander;
Harold and Maude
Lloyd Evans
Why commit to a relationship when
Kate Moss could be beckoning from
behind the next screen? It’s so much
easier to imagine someone’s perfect
when you haven’t yet met them.
Mary Wakefield, p21
57 Wild life Aidan Hartley
Bridge Susanna Gross
50 Notes on…
The Katherine Mansfield House
Nigel Andrew
58 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
45 Music
A short history of French
musical decadence
Michael Tanner
59 Crossword Pabulum
60 No sacred cows Toby Young
Battle for Britain Michael Heath
61 Sport Roger Alton
Your problems solved
46 Exhibitions
All Too Human
Martin Gayford
Mary Killen
62 Food Tanya Gold
47 Television
Gianni Versace; This Country
James Walton
One month in Beirut Elisabeth
Knatchbull-Hugessen attended 13
tea parties, 60 cocktail parties and
63 lunches or dinners and was served
‘stuffed intestines, yards of them’ as
well as ‘rats turned inside out’.
Juliet Nicolson, p36
In mid-February, while dressing
before dawn, I was perplexed to find
a toad in my boot. That, I thought,
should not happen for weeks.
Aidan Hartley, p57
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
48 Interview
Director Michael Boyd
Lloyd Evans
49 Cinema
You Were Never Really Here;
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Deborah Ross
Christopher de Bellaigue,
who writes about Saudi
Arabia’s crown prince on p12,
is the author of a biography of
Iran’s Mohammad Mosaddegh
and, most recently, The Islamic
Jean Quatremer has
worked for the French daily,
Libération, since 1984 and is the
author of several books on the
EU. He writes about the Martin
Selmayr imbroglio on p24.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Amy Sackville’s new novel
Painter to the King comes out
next month. She admires Jessie
Greengrass on p36.
Tibor Fischer, who considers
writers and their old mums on
p37, is the author of several
novels. His new one, How to
Rule the World, is published
this April.
Jesse Norman is the author
of the forthcoming Adam
Smith: What He Thought,
and Why it Matters. He writes
about the life and legacy of
Thomas Paine on p32.
ergei Skripal, aged 66, and his daughter
Yulia were found in a state of collapse
on a bench outside a shopping centre in
Salisbury. Mr Skripal, a retired Russian
military intelligence officer, was jailed
by Russia in 2006 on charges of giving
secrets to MI6; he was deported in a
swap of spies in 2010. Boris Johnson, the
Foreign Secretary, said that the incident
had ‘echoes of the death of Alexander
Litvinenko’. Public Health England
threatened food manufacturers and
supermarkets with new laws unless they
reduced the calories in portions of crisps,
pizzas and pies.
n a speech on Brexit at Mansion House
(intended, before the snow came, to have
been made in Newcastle), Theresa May,
the Prime Minister, sought to conciliate
members of the government by speaking
of compromise and to cheer up European
Union negotiators by acknowledging such
things as a role for the European Court
of Justice in regulating bodies like the
European Medicines Agency (which has
already decided to move from London to
Amsterdam). She repeated that Britain was
leaving the single market and the customs
union, but said: ‘We may choose to commit
some areas of our regulations like state aid
and competition to remaining in step with
the EU’s.’ On Northern Ireland, she said
there would be no hard border with the
Republic, and no customs border with the
rest of the United Kingdom. She proposed
five tests for an agreement with the EU,
though it was unclear how they could be
applied; one of them was ‘bringing our
country together’.
n response to the speech, Jacob ReesMogg, a leading Brexiteer, said; ‘Now is
not the time to nitpick.’ Sarah Wollaston,
an MP leaning towards the Remain
position, said that a rebel amendment to
the Trade Bill, on a customs union, would
‘probably be kicked down the road’.
EU responses were cool. Guy Verhofstadt,
the Brexit spokesman of the European
Parliament, called the speech vague
‘aspirations’, and came to London for talks
with David Davis, the Brexit Secretary,
before a vote by the European Parliament
in Strasbourg next week. Five days after
the speech, when Philip Hammond, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer, was due
to give his view of Brexit, Donald Tusk,
the president of the European Council,
presented draft guidelines on what the EU
would like to see in a trade agreement with
Britain after Brexit. Sir Roger Bannister,
the first man to run a mile in less than
four minutes, died aged 88. Trevor Baylis,
the inventor of the clockwork radio, died
aged 80. Cumbrian villagers, cut off by snow
for six days, burnt furniture to keep warm.
Thousands further south were without
water after a thaw exposed burst pipes.
he populist, anti-eurozone Five Star
Movement became Italy’s biggest
party, with 32.6 per cent of the vote in the
general election. It dominated in the south,
while the right-wing coalition, with 37 per
cent nationally, dominated in the north,
apart from the redoubts of Tuscany and
the Trentino which favoured the left-wing
coalition of Matteo Renzi, who resigned
as the leader of the centre-left Democratic
Party. Lego’s pre-tax profits fell by 18 per
cent in 2017. France decided to make 15
the legal age of sexual consent, which had
not been fixed before.
resident Donald Trump of the
United States said he wanted steel
imports to bear a 25 per cent tariff and
aluminium 10 per cent; later he issued
a threat against cars made in the EU.
Gary Cohn, a leading economic adviser
to the President, resigned. Gary Oldman
won the Oscar for best actor for his role
as Churchill in Darkest Hour; Frances
McDormand was best actress for her
part in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,
Missouri; the best picture was reckoned
to be The Shape of Water, directed by
Guillermo del Toro.
im Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea,
agreed to meet President Moon
Jae-in of South Korea at a summit in April
at Panmunjom on the border. Some 90
people were reported to have been killed
by Syrian government forces in one day
in eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. A
Russian transport plane crashed on landing
at the Hmeimim air base near Latakia,
killing all 32 on board. At least 36 proSyrian government troops were reported
to have been killed by a Turkish air strike
in the region of Afrin, where they had been
supporting Kurdish forces. South Africa
blamed an outbreak of listeria that killed
180 people on contaminated polony. CSH
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
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Paul Mason
everything west European is an antidote
to what they call ‘the Balkan mentality’;
plus — as always in eastern Europe
— incredibly well-informed academics, in
despair at the commercialisation of their
once classical education system.
or the young in Croatia, the European
Union is not some abstract imposition
but a potential source of support for
the rule of law, democracy and secular
modernity. They cannot understand why
xit from Gravystan,’ reads
the masthead of, an
independent news site in Croatia,
where I’ve arrived for something called
‘Philosophical Theatre’. More people
left this country last year than were
killed in its war with Serbia, and the
Index website records the country’s
declining population with a continuous
rolling tickertape. ‘It’s not just economic
migration,’ my driver tells me. ‘Young
people are sick of growing up in a
country where everything is corrupt and
there’s a permanent right-wing majority
in politics. They think, if I’m going to do
a shit job, I might as well do it in a real
country.’ The Croatian National Theatre,
an unspoiled Austro-Hungarian relic, is
disconcertingly beautiful and packed.
The demographic is trendy young people
running small businesses, to whom
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
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Iran is our natural ally
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Can you forgive her?
Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
H less
ou on
t the BBC early doors for the
Today programme, to preview
Corbyn’s speech advocating membership
of a customs union. I suggest that
‘this is something Remainers can get
behind’, but come off air to a torrent
of denialism and abuse on Twitter. In a
parallel universe, the people who feel
existentially destroyed by being halfway
out of the EU would have made this case
passionately before the vote, instead
of trying to rely on fear and platitudes
now. In quick succession, the European
Commission drops its bombshell,
obliging Britain to impose customs
controls across the Irish sea; then Theresa
May delivers her speech applying for a
kind of off-peak gym membership of the
EU. It’s well delivered, diplomatically
calibrated, and doomed to be rejected.
Again, in a parallel universe, David
Cameron would have stayed in office,
gone for something close to a Norwaystyle deal, with a cross-party committee
to oversee the negotiations. Instead,
we’ve got May and a shambles. I arrive
at Newsnight’s studio to find the
government hasn’t even put up a minister
to defend the new position, allowing the
sole Tory voice on the country’s flagship
current affairs programme to be John
Redwood MP, who spins it as a ‘takeit-or-leave it’ ultimatum. It feels like
some realism is emerging about Britain’s
practical options: it’s either a version
of Canada or a version of Norway.
The parallel universe does not exist.
0330 333 0050 quoting A152A
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anyone would want to leave it. But for
the elite it’s a source of funding, which
pours into projects that often seem to
benefit their own electoral base. In a
parallel universe, the EU might have
tried to build up democracy in Croatia
before allowing it to join. Jean Claude
Juncker is now busy trying to get Serbia
and Albania into the EU, after which
corruption and organised crime will be
as scandalously neglected as they are
in Croatia. In a bar thick with cigarette
smoke, I sit with young journalists and
bloggers watching social democracy
getting eviscerated in the Italian election
results. A bunch of xenophobes and
political fraudsters are high-fiving each
other. Where Italy is heading, Croatia
has already arrived.
e drive through a steep valley,
blanketed in snow, to Kumrovec
— birthplace of Josip Tito. It’s a wellpreserved peasant village from the early
20th century — thatched roofs, basketweaving sheds, blue tits pecking at corn
cobs hanging from the eaves of cottages.
Tito’s statue is reassuringly life-sized and,
like the country he once ruled, un-Soviet.
Last year the Croatian government
erased Tito’s name from a square in
Zagreb — and all commemoration of
the country’s socialist past is heavily
disputed. Yet some among the young
dream that, if Serbia, Bosnia and
Montenegro eventually join the EU, they
can reform a kind of virtual Yugoslavia,
just as an economically united Ireland
has evolved over time. The memorial
in Tito’s cottage is quite restrained: his
binoculars and uniform are in a glass case
alongside a photograph of his funeral,
showing Jim Callaghan, Margaret
Thatcher and Prince Philip among the
dignitaries. It was from here, amid the
wine-presses, that a peasant’s son took
it on himself to liberate Yugoslavia from
fascism. ‘Find me the man who is killing
the most Nazis,’ Churchill told the MI6
spy Fitzroy Maclean — and it was Tito.
My host invites me to write something
in the condolence book — but it is so
cold that the pen doesn’t work. What
I would have written is: ‘Thank you,
comrade, for your heroism during the
anti-fascist war, but…’
Paul Mason on Labour and Brexit.
The EU would regret punishing us
ast Monday, Theresa May’s chief of
staff talked junior ministers through
her Mansion House speech. Gavin
Barwell was frank with them. The decision
to stay in various EU agencies — and the
commitment that UK regulatory standards
for goods would remain ‘substantially similar’ to Europe’s — would make it harder to negotiate big trade deals with other
countries. But he argued that the trade-off
in access to the EU market made it worthwhile. In keeping with the current Tory truce
over Brexit, no one in the room dissented.
No. 10 believes that maintaining this
peace is not just desirable, but essential. Barwell ended the meeting by emphasising that
the lesson of Maastricht and Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour over the customs union was
that Labour would always take the opportunity to bring down a Conservative government. So the Brexit deal needed to be one
that every Tory, from Anna Soubry to Jacob
Rees-Mogg, could support.
Mrs May’s speech succeeded because no
single Tory faction got everything it wanted but most got what they needed. For the
Brexiteers, there’s the fact that the UK is
legally leaving the single market and the
customs union and that free movement will
end. The vast majority of former Remainers,
meanwhile, are reassured by the government’s effort to stay in various EU agencies
and to replicate parts of the single market.
On goods, the deal the UK is seeking bears
significant similarities to Switzerland’s relationship with the EU. Observing the current Tory mood, one of the Prime Minister’s
cabinet allies confidently declared: ‘She’ll be
fine as long as she doesn’t do what David
Cameron did, and give in.’
Unfortunately, the European Union is
about to take a wrecking ball to this carefully constructed compromise. The EU doesn’t
much like its deal with Switzerland and is
currently trying to pressure the Swiss into
accepting changes. The idea of handing that
kind of arrangement to the UK — and without free movement — won’t appeal.
The UK has at least held some things
back for the negotiations. I understand that
one paper circulated to senior cabinet ministers in recent weeks suggested that if the
EU doesn’t bite on May’s proposals, Britain could offer concessions on immigration
in an attempt to make them more palatable.
The current indications, however, are
that the EU will stick to its position that the
UK’s choice is between staying in the single market or a free trade deal like Canada’s. One reason why the EU will continue
with this approach is that it doesn’t want an
alternative economic model on its doorstep.
If it can push the UK into agreeing to follow
all the rules of the single market, so much
the better.
The big question in British politics now
is how May responds when the EU rebuffs
her offer. She has always resisted the idea
of choosing between the Norwegian and
Canadian models. But if Brussels forces
her to, which path will she go down? Her
red lines would suggest Canada but she will
come under immense institutional pressure
to accept something akin to Norway.
Many in government fear there are
those in Brussels who want to cut the
UK down to a more appropriate size
Many in government fear that there are
those in Brussels who want to cut the UK
down to what they see as a more appropriate size. These forces have been encouraged
by the lack of urgency in the UK government’s preparations for a ‘no deal’ scenario.
The fact that Britain can’t credibly threaten
to walk away makes it all too tempting for
hardliners on the EU side to punish the UK.
You could see this approach in the EU’s
draft legal text for the withdrawal agreement. Its language about Northern Ireland
was deliberately provocative. One No. 10
source remarks: ‘We know where that came
from. There are those in the Commission
who want to ramp up the pressure on us.’
But the danger is that the hardliners miscalculate: they push for something that the UK
really can’t accept and the talks collapse as
a result.
The chances of ‘no deal’ are higher than
‘This isn’t vague enough’
generally realised. The two sides remain
substantially apart on the Irish question. On
Monday, Mrs May suggested the US/Canada border could act as a model. But the Irish
have already ruled out this kind of border
and it clashes with the UK’s commitment to
avoid ‘any physical infrastructure at the border’. The Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney’s dismissal of the idea of exempting
small-, micro- and medium-sized businesses from customs checks suggested that the
Irish government and the Commission’s real
aim is to keep the UK in the customs union
and highly aligned with the single market.
But it is hard to see how May could present
such an arrangement as being compatible
with the referendum result.
There is also a risk that even if a withdrawal agreement can be reached, the trade
talks could collapse if the EU tries to insist
on tying the UK into a lopsided agreement.
In her speech, May warned that the UK ‘will
not accept the rights of Canada and the obligations of Norway’.
There is, perhaps, a problem that one of
the few beneficiaries of a no deal scenario
would be the Commission. It would receive
80 per cent of the tariff revenue if the UK
was left trading with the EU under World
Trade Organisation rules. This would make
a significant contribution to filling the hole
left in its budget by Brexit.
But those in the EU who would like to
push the United Kingdom over the cliff
should reflect on what that would mean. Yes,
it would deter other countries from leaving but it would also fundamentally change
Britain’s relationship with Europe. Either
Britain would find an alternative economic model that would be almost the opposite
of the European one, or this country would
become poorer. In those circumstances,
would Britain really carry on meeting Nato’s
2 per cent of GDP target for defence spending? The sterling devaluation of 1967 was
rapidly followed by the retreat from east of
Suez. This time, economic difficulty could be
followed by a retreat from east of Lowestoft.
Brexit was Britain’s decision. The EU
is right that the onus is on this country to
come up with proposals for how a balanced,
future partnership could work; and the government has taken too long to do that. But if
the EU chooses to make this split as difficult
as possible, then it should expect Britain’s
view of its broader, European responsibilities to change too.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Charles Moore
lmost eight million people have now
watched Cathy Newman’s Channel
4 News interview with Jordan Peterson.
This figure must be unique in the history
of Channel 4 News online. Only a few
minutes were broadcast on the original
news programme, but Channel 4 then
put out the full half-hour on YouTube,
perhaps miscalculating the effects of
watching the allegedly ‘transphobic’
Canadian clinical psychologist whose
book 12 Rules for Life is selling out.
I think what the majority of the eight
million appreciate is that Peterson’s
performance is noble. He attempts a
clear exposition of his views about the
differences between women and men.
Despite every effort by Cathy Newman,
he succeeds. Her method is to try to
reduce his nuanced remarks to a hostile
caricature, so she begins sentence after
sentence with ‘What you’re saying is…’.
He is never saying what she says he is
saying, and he patiently explains why.
It is riveting. I don’t agree with those
who say that Cathy Newman is being
nasty. There is a moment when Peterson
catches her out about what it is to be
‘offensive’ and cries ‘Gotcha!’: she
charmingly admits she is flummoxed.
Her problem is rather that she is in thrall
to certain received ideas and therefore
literally cannot understand Peterson.
Auden ends his great poem on the
death of W.B. Yeats with the lines ‘In the
prison of his days/ Teach the free man
how to praise.’ Jordan Peterson is that
free man. Poor Cathy Newman is the
prisoner of the age.
aolo Gentiloni, who may now have
to step down since his Democratic
party got only 18.7 per cent of the vote in
the Italian elections, is the fourth Italian
prime minister in a row not to have
been chosen by the electorate. Voters
have shown a repeated disinclination
to support the candidate of Brussels, so
Brussels has found ways of imposing
one. Italy has not had the prime minister
of its choice since Silvio Berlusconi was
brought down, with the support of EU
leaders, in 2011. After the latest result,
when that 18.7 per cent represents the
only uncritically pro-EU section of voter
opinion, Brussels is in a quandary. Try
changed so that parents can be made
welfare deputies solely on a calculation
of the best interests of the child. They
deserve to win. There is a peculiar,
though unintended cruelty in the law
insisting on your adult autonomy when
you cannot attain it — depriving you,
as it does so, of the help of those who
love you the best.
to sustain Mr Gentiloni in some awkward
coalition, or suborn one of the other party
leaders? I strongly suspect Gigi di Maio,
the dapper young leader of the Five Star
Movement, of being the EU’s best target.
Like Alexis Tsipras in Greece, he could
be the anti-Brussels man who then
collaborates. He has the air of wanting to be
Italy’s Emmanuel Macron. He must have
much less chance than Macron, however.
Italy has had too many years of hurt.
hen you are an adult, you are rightly
responsible in law and in fact for
your own decisions. But what happens to
those adults who, through no fault of their
own, cannot take on such responsibility? I
recently heard of a diabetic, extremely fat,
mentally handicapped adult in a group
home who is eating herself to death because
she has a legal right to her money and
insists on spending it on vast quantities
of doughnuts. No one is allowed to stop
her, though she cannot look after herself.
Problems often arise about accommodation.
If you have learning disabilities, and are
over 18, you can be placed under a care
regime in ‘supported living’ (or in a home)
which is quite unsuitable. Your parents
might have no say at all. This happens more
often now than in the past because cashstrapped councils want to slough off the cost
by sending adults with learning disabilities
into supported living, since central
government pays for that. The Code of
Practice of the Mental Capacity Act
permits parents to become their children’s
‘welfare deputies’ only ‘in the most difficult
cases’. Yet a vulnerable adult who is not
a ‘most difficult’ case could nevertheless
be devastated by being wrongly housed.
Our friend Rosa Monckton and two other
mothers are bringing a test case to the
Court of Protection. They want the rules
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
n the row about Max Mosley and the
racist leaflet from the 1961 by-election
in Manchester Moss Side, the unnoticed
significant fact is that Mr Mosley was
the election agent. Under electoral law,
being the agent is not a nominal task.
The agent is responsible for observing
the rules, keeping within the spending
limits and for everything published
under the candidate’s name in the
constituency during the campaign. It
is perfectly permissible that the agent
might not write the election literature,
but impermissible that he not see and
approve it, since he is its sole legal
publisher. Agent Mosley would have
approved the leaflet. All politicians know
that these rules are real, so Tom Watson
— and the Labour party — will know
exactly what Mr Mosley must have done.
nother election rule which matters
is that the voter is who he (or she)
says he is. In the coming local elections,
photo ID will be required in some pilot
areas. This has provoked protests from
an alliance of several charities and
the sinister Electoral Reform Society.
They fear that identity checks will put
off some poorer voters. They point out
that there were only 28 accusations of
impersonation in 2017 and only one
conviction. This proves little, however,
since it is hard to detect electoral fraud
if there are almost no checks. In the
EU referendum in 2016, I illustrated
this problem by ‘voting’ in two places,
once casting a real vote and in the other
spoiling my ballot to expose how easy
fraud was. Rather than acting on the
problem, the Electoral Commission
condemned me. I can find nothing on
their website in which they alert voters
for the need for ID. If they were doing
their job properly, they would want to
get this right.
The prince of PR...
Mohammad bin Salman is not as revolutionary as he seems
his week, Mohammad
bin Salman, also known
as MBS, is on his notquite-state visit to Britain. A
parade down the Mall and a
state banquet could only be
afforded to his father, old King
Salman, who made MBS crown
prince last June and has given
him unprecedented latitude to
liberalise Saudi society, lock up
his enemies and light fireworks
abroad. MBS arrived in London
on Wednesday fresh from visiting one friend, Egypt’s General
Sisi, and will go on to see another, Donald Trump, on 19 March.
Theresa May’s aim will be to
show that Britain can thrive outside the EU,
but she should think twice before co-opting
this new strongman who reputedly encourages his courtiers to call him Iskander —
the name by which Middle Easterners know
Alexander the Great.
MBS is an exacting prince, as was shown
last November when he locked up much of
the country’s business elite in the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh and amid allegations of corruption recovered billions of dollars. He has
wrested control of public morals from the
conservative sheikhs, introduced VAT, cut
petrol subsidies, dismantled rules concerning gender segregation and invested some
of the country’s sovereign wealth in Uber,
the Hollywood movie industry and Neom,
a planned $500 billion megacity on the Red
Sea described in the literature as ‘an aspirational society that heralds the future of
human civilisation’. All the while he is fighting a bloody war in Yemen and diplomatically squeezing the governments of Qatar
and Lebanon — though he is being embarrassed in these regional endeavours by Iran.
Jared Kushner and David Petraeus are
fans of the restless prince. So is Boris Johnson. In a recent interview with Al Arabiya,
the Saudi TV channel whose owner, Waleed
al-Ibrahim, was among those arrested in
November, the Foreign Secretary lauded
the ‘very exciting period of change’ inaugurated by MBS. The words ‘arms’ and ‘deal’
did not pass Boris’s lips, nor did he mention
the British-made Typhoon jets and Paveway
IV bombs doing such a sterling service in
Yemen. Instead he stressed his admiration
for MBS’s gender policies — under which
women will be allowed to drive — and his
plans to ‘replenish the aquifers’.
Boris, Kushner and the others are not the
first westerners to go gaga over an eastern
arm-twister. From Muhammad Ali Pasha,
Egypt’s reformer for most of the first half
of the 19th century (he ended the plague,
smashed the power of the Muslim clerics
and built canals with Pharaonic disregard
for the lives of his workers), to Iran’s Reza
Shah (1925-1941) who introduced western
legal codes and banned the hijab, nothing
warms the western ego like emulation.
The trouble is, Mohammad bin Salman’s
campaign is even more piecemeal and
impetuous than those earlier examples. And
it is unmediated by the checks and balances
that widen ownership and generate consensus around modern reform projects, whether
they happen in a formal democracy or not.
As for the 32-year-old princeling, a tad
paunchy, his teeth often bared in a smile
as dazzling as the taps at the Ritz-Carlton,
MBS is an old-fashioned despot whose
power comes from his limitless brief and the
fact he has demolished the old consensual
form of Saudi royal politics (each branch
of the family had a share of power, including perks and peculation), and replaced it
with himself. For all the triumphalist PR
(‘He is bringing change to
Saudi Arabia,’ proclaims the
advert on pages 26 and 27 of
this magazine), MBS is in Britain to save his plan. Barring an
implausible long-term rise in
oil prices, the kingdom desperately needs foreign investment
if it isn’t to burn off its reserves
in welfare spending and plunge
into a financial crisis. The economy contracted 0.7 per cent
last year, while the population
grew at 2 per cent. Unemployment continues to rise, in part
because of MBS’s success in
getting women into the jobs
market. And while the prince is
the man with ideas, he may also be an impediment to their implementation. Nothing
scares asset managers more than asset grabs.
Institutional accountability would moderate the stripling’s excesses, but away
from dinner at Windsor Castle and dutiful parley with Mrs May at No. 10, the one
place where he might actually learn something, the Houses of Parliament, he won’t be
visiting. That would mean passing the statue
of Cromwell and the rowdier supporters of
Jeremy Corbyn in Parliament Square; their
vocal opposition to civilian casualties in
Yemen and executions in Riyadh could be
embarrassing. Indeed, MBS’s contact with
ordinary Britons is likely to be so fleeting, he
might as easily have asked Sophia the robot,
an android that was recently awarded Saudi
citizenship, to represent him. Ms Robot is to
be one of the first inhabitants of Neom.
MBS’s hosts hope that while he is in
London he will ratify a pending order for
some 48 more Typhoons. They would also
like him to announce that the planned flotation of Aramco, the world’s biggest oil
company, will happen on the London Stock
Exchange, though New York also has a
strong claim. Beyond all this, the trip will be
about Iran. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel
and the United States agree that the Islamic
Republic should be destabilised so it cannot range malignantly over the Arab world.
They cheered the Iranians who protested in
January against the sick economy, and the
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Emiratis have been staunching the flow of
dollars into the country, weakening the riyal.
Neither Mrs May nor Boris had a personal hand in the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
They are more hawkish than their respective
predecessors. That Iran is light years ahead
of Saudi Arabia in political culture and
technological know-how; that its Shia coreligionists across the region have for years
been the victims of Sunni fundamentalism
of the Saudi variety; these are unimportant
details when set against MBS’s trillions.
Towards the end of the Obama presidency, it looked as though America would
favour a power balance in the Middle East
— as the then president put it, the Saudis
and Iranians should ‘share the neighbourhood and institute some sort of cold peace’.
Unless Iran and Saudi Arabia tolerate each
other’s regional aspirations there will of
course be no stability, but Trump, MBS and
Benjamin Netanyahu have killed the idea.
The US’s policy towards Saudi Arabia
was summed up by Philip Gordon, Obama’s former regional point-man: ‘Buy more
American weapons, announce investments
in the US, pledge to fight Islamic extremism, and, in return, we will give you unconditional support — for your confrontation
The princeling is an old-fashioned
despot whose power comes
from his limitless brief
with Iran, war in Yemen, isolation of Qatar,
and whatever domestic practices you see fit.’
Now Europe seems powerless to stop
the nuclear deal it so carefully put together
from unravelling. This will probably happen
in May, when Trump, required to extend his
waiver of nuclear-related sanctions against
Iran, declines to do so. That will leave the
Europeans to protect the shreds of the
deal, which won’t amount to much given
that pledges of big investment in the Islamic Republic — the West’s side of the bargain — haven’t been kept. The question for
Britain is whether we should edge away
from the European posture of neutrality in
the Saudi-Iranian conflict and adopt Trump’s
policy as our own. It would be the sexier
path, to bet on the Saudi enlightenment and
make money, but it would also be pusillanimous, cynical and heedless of history.
Britain’s policy-makers and businessmen were mesmerised by the last Shah of
Iran (Reza’s son Mohammad Reza) in his
oil-fuelled and increasingly unhinged final
phase. Boris and Kushner love MBS for the
same reasons: he buys stuff and is bringing
his country into the modern world. But the
Shah’s project went to cinders and MBS’s
might too. Don’t hug too tight.
... and of progress
Actually, the crown prince is the real deal
n an interview this week, Mohammad
bin Salman offered an extraordinarily
frank assessment of how to combat terrorism. It means rooting out Islamist ideology, he said, as much as sharing intelligence. He presumably would take this
blunt message to MI5 and MI6 in his meetings with those agencies, as well as to Theresa May’s National Security Council.
This should provide plenty of food for
thought to the cynics who argue against
being taken in by his much-trumpeted
embrace of a more moderate Islam. We
have a Saudi crown prince who is being
more frank about Wahhabi-inspired terrorism than the British. Just last year,
the UK government saw fit to suppress a
report that found a link between Saudifunded mosques and Isis-inspired terrorist
attacks. It was kept quiet because we didn’t
want to upset the Saudis. So not only does
bin Salman have a thicker skin than his
predecessors, he has inadvertently shone a
bright light on the cowardice of our own
political leaders.
Western intelligence services and top
diplomats are in fact already in receipt of
a draft Saudi initiative that outlines how
Riyadh plans to end the kingdom’s financial support for Wahhabism around the
world. This will take place in tandem with
eradicating the menace at home. The latter process, of course, is already well under
way, with the easing of restrictions governing the segregation of the sexes in public,
Christopher de Bellaigue and Sir Sherard
Cowper-Coles on the prince’s visit to Britain.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
‘Nice to see the kids out playing in the snow.’
a massive investment in public entertainment venues, the marginalisation of the
religious police and the encouragement of
women to enter the workforce.
It’s not that a certain amount of scepticism isn’t normally justified — indeed, it’s
absolutely necessary — when it comes to the
historically double-dealing House of Saud.
I know that as well as anybody. Few other
Middle East commentators have highlighted more consistently over the past few decades — including in The Spectator — the
moral hypocrisy at home and terror-funding
abroad that has for so long defined the way
the Saudis have done business. And I have
long since grown tired of the lofty promises of political reform promised by new
leaders after they were handed the reins of
power, which invariably came to nothing.
With Bin Salman, though, things are
different. For a start, he is not spouting
reform rhetoric by sucking up to critics in
the West, who naively see progress in terms
Bin Salman appears to understand
that the last thing his country needs
is a quick transition to democracy
of introducing western-style pluralism and
democracy. Thus far, he has made no such
commitments. Nor should he do so, at least
in the medium term.
We in the West are rightly appalled
when crazed Wahhabi clerics stand in our
midst, calling for the implementation of
sharia. But somehow we fail to see the
hubris of our own evangelical promotion
of an equally alien liberal democracy in
their part of the world, not infrequently at
the barrel of a gun. As a Saudi commentator recently reminded an intrepid western
correspondent, moderate Islam doesn’t
mean no Islam at all.
And, truth be told, if it is Islam that got
the Saudis into the almighty mess they find
themselves in, it is probably Islam that will
get them out of it. The Arab Spring has
shown how choosing the path of pluralistic
democracy leads inexorably to chaos and
bloodshed, and to the better-organised
Islamist parties triumphing at the ballot
box, even in historically secular countries ›
like Tunisia and Egypt. Thankfully, Bin Salman appears to understand that the last
thing his country needs is a quick and messy
transition to democracy, and that there is a
third way open to Saudi Arabia. This is hinted at by the proposed $500 billion mega-city
that symbolises the Saudi Vision 2030 plan
that Bin Salman has pinned his country’s
hopes on for economic transformation.
In the promotional videos, it looks like
Singapore on steroids. Could it be that Bin
Salman has ambitions to be a kind of Arab
version of Lee Kuan Yew? He could certainly do much worse than emulate that benevolent dictator, who famously oversaw the
rapid transformation of the Asian city state
— From Third World to First, as the title of
his book had it — by restricting westernstyle democracy, freedom of expression
and political participation. During its own
momentous period of transition, Saudi Arabia, too, needs political stability and a strong,
authoritarian leader, one who is guided by
the Singaporean philosophy that political
He has the overwhelming support
of a youthful population desperate
for greater freedoms
liberalisation can only happen slowly and in
the wake of strong economic progress.
The risk of revolutionary upheaval in
Saudi Arabia, in any event, is hugely overblown. Unlike Iran under the Shah before
the 1979 revolution and Egypt under
Mubarak before the Tahrir uprising in 2011,
Saudi Arabia does not have a large industrial sector with organised trade unions. Immigrants do most of the crap jobs. Nor does the
kingdom have a plethora of political parties,
ranging from communist to Islamist. Or a
vibrant opposition media. Street demonstrations, workers’ strikes? They are unheard
of. The Islamists, rather than waiting in the
wings as they were in Iran and Egypt, are on
the royals’ pay roll or jailed.
There is poverty and unemployment, but
the statistics are not too different from what
you find in southern Europe. Per capita
income is the same as the United States. Nor,
more to the point, is Saudi society anywhere
near as brutal and cruel as were pre-revolutionary Iran and Egypt. Sure, for anyone
who crosses the line of what is permissible,
torture can become a reality. However, for
everyone else, even seeing a police officer
when you are out and about is a rarity.
Most importantly, Bin Salman is not
hated in the way that the Shah and Mubarak
were. In fact, he has the overwhelming support of a mostly youthful population who
are desperate for greater freedoms but also,
like him, by nature conservative and enamoured of tradition. In short, anticipating a
massive backlash is to misunderstand how
Wahhabism, like communism in the Soviet
Union, has been used in Saudi Arabia to
oppress, rather than pacify, the masses. Out14
Grief Across the Water
In exile, Ovid wrote his greatest poems
About the Art of Love. Back in his prime
He was always a head taller than the rest
On that score, the most gifted of his era,
But not yet quite himself. It took complete
Defeat to seal his triumph. Sheer despair
Supported by the slow drum-roll of destiny
Is what gives his late work its lofty sweep.
He’s out of it, and, saying so, he touches
On the greatness that Augustus must have wanted
To deny him, if the emperor still thought
At all about a merely banished pest.
Of that we’re sure: that the sidelined poet was
A miscreant the emperor wanted punished,
If only through neglect. The last great poems
About love add up to a stricken plea
For attention, and the sad thing is, nobody
Is listening out there. Almighty Caesar
Is occupied with other things, and at the most
Must have given the new stuff a casual glance,
Perhaps while Livia peeled him a grape.
So what did Ovid do wrong in the first place?
Nobody knows. The scholars go on guessing
Age after age. By now two thousand years
Have gone by and it’s still a puzzle. I
Myself, though not a scholar, feel the need
To know, if just to know for sure the greatest
Poet of his time was sent to languish
In the social dead zone of the lower Danube
For something worse than talking out of turn:
Which is what poets do, and have done always.
Nail them for that, you’d have to nail them all.
— Clive James
side of its birthplace in the central Najd
region, the masses never bought into it.
I worked as a journalist and editor in the
kingdom for three years in the early 2000s,
when I was allowed to travel wherever I
liked and talk to whomever I pleased (without the usual government-appointed minder). During my numerous trips, from the
big cities to the most remote regions, what
struck me most, apart from the extraordinary warmth and hospitality of the people,
was the remarkable resilience of cultural
identities: how they flourish in private and
in the local, strongly rooted communities,
despite the strange, faceless rule of the Wahhabis over all public life.
Today, I am not in the least surprised
that the vast majority of Saudis are eager to
break free of the shackles. We should back
Bin Salman as he guides them away from
the Wahhabi nightmare toward a freer and
hopefully more prosperous future.
John R. Bradley is the author of Saudi
Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in
Crisis, published by St Martin’s Press.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
f or
d i s c e r n i n g
t r av e l l e r s
Join our good friend, and passionate Francophile, James Tamlyn, for a relaxed gastronomic walk through the ‘real’
France, which will introduce you to not only the beautiful landscapes, historic châteaux and charming local villages
of his favourite regions, but also the finest local food, wine and producers – from truffle-hunters to fromagiers and,
of course, winemakers. Each of these holidays consists of a week-long walking party – accommodation is included at
charming, hotels and châteaux or private houses – and a two night stay in a Kirker hotel with flights and transfers.
The Way of St James
A nine night holiday departing 1 September & 8 September 2018
Following in the footsteps of mediaeval pilgrims in the south of France, our St James’ Way itinerary comprises two alternative walks – the first starts
in Le Puy-en-Velay and takes the most historic route started by Bishop Godescalc in 951 AD and the second
continues from Figeac, finishing in the mediaeval city of Cahors in the Occitane region. Both walks take in
countryside dotted with oak woods, fortified villages and dramatic cliffs and accommodation throughout will
be in properties ranging from rustic farmhouses to local charming hotels. The final two nights will be spent in
Toulouse at the elegant Grand Hotel Opera before flying home.
Price from £3,448 per person for a 9 night holiday including return flights to Toulouse, 7 days of gentle walking on
the Way of St James, 7 nights accommodation with breakfast and dinner, picnic lunch on each walking day, excellent
local wines with each meal and 2 nights accommodation with breakfast at the 4* Grand Hotel Opera in Toulouse.
Dordogne & Haut Quercy
A nine night holiday departing 24 May & 13 September 2018
This nine night holiday begins with two independent nights in the fascinating city of Toulouse which is located on the banks of the Garonne. You
will then head off to the Dordogne and less well-known neighbour, Quercy – two of the most picturesque regions of rural France and epitomised
by rolling countryside studded with ancient villages, gentle flowing rivers and spectacular caves – and they are also renowned for some of the finest
culinary ingredients in the country. Each day takes you from prehistoric caves, impressive mediaeval châteaux
and immaculate towns such as Sarlat, to the unspoilt flora, fauna and handsome local houses of the tranquil
Quercy valleys. Our itinerary includes ample opportunity to sample local wines, including visits to two excellent
world-class vineyards in Saussignac and Cahors.
Price from £3,492 per person for a 9 night holiday including return flights to Toulouse, transfers, 2 nights accommodation
with breakfast at the 4* Grand Hotel Opera in Toulouse, 7 days of gentle walking with accommodation in manor houses
in the Dordogne and breakfast, lunch (some will be picnics) and dinner each walking day with excellent local wines.
Treading the Grape
A nine night holiday departing 12 October 2018
Flying to Toulouse, this holiday starts with two independent nights at the 4 star Grand Hotel Opera before joining the walking party for the seven
night wine tour. It is a relaxed itinerary that is perfect for expert oenophiles and amateur wine enthusiasts alike, providing an intimate insight
into the wine-making process with James and Minette Constant, Master of Wine.You will enjoy visits to a wide variety of vineyards, from small
producers to well-known chateaux: highlights include two wine-tastings with Minette, and a visit to some of the world-class wine makers of the
region such as Richard Doughty whose ‘Coup de Coeur’ dessert wine has been compared to 75% Yquem and
25% Climens… You shall also enjoy some excellent local cuisine, paired with carefully-chosen wines, and meet
a number of wine-makers who will explain some of the finer points of the art and science behind their craft.
Price from £3,565 per person for a 9 night holiday including return flights to Toulouse, transfers, 2 nights
accommodation with breakfast at the 4* Grand Hotel Opera in Toulouse, 7 days of gentle walking with accommodation
in comfortable rural châteaux-hotels, two wine tastings, breakfast, lunch (some will be picnics) and dinner each walking
day with excellent local wines.
Speak to an expert for full details or
a tailor-made quotation:
020 7593 2283 quote code XSP
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The populist revolution has only just begun
hy aren’t children called Roger
any more? I wondered this when
reading about the sad death of Sir
Roger Bannister. Coincidentally, the evening before, my young daughter had been
watching The Great Escape and most of the
Englishmen in it seemed to be called Roger.
The only time you hear the name is in early
episodes of Midsomer Murders, the ones
produced before they were forced to have
black people being killed in a ludicrous fashion alongside the whites, to demonstrate our
commitment to equality.
It does have an awkward connotation
with sex — but then it always did, Roger having been a slang word for penis right back
to the 17th century. I suppose it has simply
drifted out of fashion, along with common
decency, emotional continence and heterosexual marriage. The UK website BabyCentre does an annual poll of the top 100 baby
names for boys and Roger did not figure at
all. Muhammad came first in two out of the
last three years. It is a great shame: there is
something steadfast and comforting about
the name Roger and it has appealing European roots, deriving from the French and
before that, old German, hrod — which
does in fact mean steadfast. Perhaps nobody
wants to be steadfast any more because it is
seen as being a boring quality to possess. Ah
well, I look forward to the day when parents
will no longer have to agonise over what to
call their offspring because everybody will
be called Muhammad. Apart from the chicks,
of course. But even there I have high hopes
that Muhammadette will take off.
I don’t think the Italians are looking forward to the day everyone is called Muhammad. Their election results would suggest
otherwise. It was, of course, a dog’s breakfast, as Italian elections tend to be (the country being no worse off as a consequence of
this tradition). But the Italians voted overwhelmingly for populists and, even more
so, populists who are at best sceptical of the
European Union. By and large the message
was this: if a party is anti-immigration, not
too keen on the EU and not liberal, we will
vote for it.
A caveat: the main winners, Five Star,
sometimes show a vague aspiration to be
liberal and they certainly at times espouse
populist left-wing policies. But they have
been fairly outspoken on the issue of immigration, calling for an immediate end to the
arrival every week of North African Muslim
migrants trafficked over from Libya and the
rest of the Maghreb. The party has also previously supported a referendum on membership of the euro. The other big winners were
Lega, which is even more reliably anti-immigration and anti-EU, and finally the neo-fascists reconfigured as radical conservatives,
Fratelli d’Italia, which doubled its share. All
three are avowedly populist parties. The proestablishment liberals were all but wiped out.
These election results will have come as a
grave shock to Justin Welby, the Archbishop
of Canterbury. In his new book, Reimagining
The people of Europe do not want
any more immigration on the scale
we have seen in the past five years
Britain, our spiritual guide and leader castigates populism: I hope the Italians feel suitably chastened. But he was far from alone.
The morning after the election results came
in, a writer at the Times suggested that the
first consequence of the outcome would be
that all Italian children would immediately
die of measles.
This interesting hypothesis was predicated on Five Star’s worries about the MMR
vaccine. The writer concluded: ‘This cause is
dangerous, ill-informed and insular. It flies
in the face of evidence, ignores progress and
puts others at risk. In that sense it is a perfect reflection of populist parties.’ Well, yes,
of course it is. Aside from not liking immigrants, populist parties will kill your children
because they are all thick and uneducated.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
‘Was the lecture cancelled due
to snow or snowflakes?’
You will have noticed the echo in this
arrogance of the stuff which emanated
from the liberal elite during our own referendum, and even more so after. The furore
which greeted the Italian elections, though,
has been heightened by the sudden realisation that 2017 has gone, disappeared — and
with it the illusion that after the horrible,
terrifying tumult of 2016, things had at last
got back on track. The liberal order had reestablished itself. The liberals, with the idiotic Welby among them, were immensely
cheered by 2017, primarily by the victory
of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential elections, but also by the failure of
Geert Wilders to make much of a dent in the
Dutch elections, as well as the bloody nose
afforded to Theresa May in June of that year.
But this ignores the fact that three of
the leading candidates who contested the
French elections were avowedly populist,
even if the eventual winner was merely
faux-populist. It ignores the fact that in the
Dutch elections the establishment liberals
were once again annihilated.
And it ignores the fact that the only
unambiguously pro-Remain party in England, the Liberal Democrats, managed to
capture a total of 12 seats in our own general election. It ignores Angela Merkel’s
humiliations and the rise of the AfD in
Germany, and the Austrian election results.
So the tide had not turned, as they believed.
It is still coming in and will be coming in
for the foreseeable future. If you think the
populist revolution which has gripped continental Europe and the US is finished,
think again. It has only just started.
An opinion poll back in October suggested that 60 per cent of Italians wanted very
tough restrictions on immigration into their
country. That is absolutely in line with other
opinion polls across Europe. It is remarkable that Europe’s liberal elite has not
grasped this fact; even if Merkel has of late.
The people of Europe do not want any more
immigration on the scale we have seen in the
past five years. That is the principal reason
they are voting for populist leaders and why
they will continue to do so.
The argument continues online.
The goods of war
The real war on women
Why are activists trying to silence my campaign group?
The presenters of
the BBC 2 programme on civilisations
seem unable to decide what civilisation
is. Socrates would therefore wonder how
they could make a programme about
it. Still, that’s academe for you. Let the
Romans help out.
First, the root of ‘civilisation’ is Latin
civis, ‘citizen’. That implies a law-bound
society. Secondly, in his epic Aeneid,
Virgil described how Aeneas, fleeing
Troy in flames to found the Roman race,
consulted his father Anchises in Hades
on the future that awaited him. Anchises
duly ‘foresaw’ the whole history of
Rome down to Virgil’s day, and defined
Rome’s mission: the arts and science,
he said, were for others (he meant the
Greeks), but Rome’s raison d’être was ‘to
rule an empire, teach the ways of peace,
spare the defeated and overpower the
arrogant’. No civilisation, then, without
peace — which could be won, in the
ancient world, only by war — and the
fruits of war, wealth.
‘Law-bound society’, ‘peace’ and
‘wealth’ added up to the conditions
under which civilisation could flourish.
What then would be its product? Otium,
Latin for ‘leisure’. For the plebs, that
meant state-sponsored bread and
circuses (= circuits, i.e. chariot races).
We might call that — within its limits
— enlightened social policy. For the
educated, otium meant high culture,
learnt from the Greeks: the freedom
to speculate about the wonders of the
natural world, study literature and the
arts, argue about e.g. history, ethics,
justice and so on; and commission
superb works of art and literature.
The whole package came under the
term humanitas.
At this point there will be the usual
pious howls about slaves and women
and the poor and human rights. But our
‘enlightened’ world still has much to
learn here. Even Jeremy Corbyn could
not disagree with Cicero that justice
arose from ‘love of fellow humans’
or that humanitas demanded that the
‘comfort, safety and needs’ even of
barbarians should be respected.
Wonderful works of art can, of course,
be produced under any conditions.
But civilisation is far more than works
of art: it includes the best that Man
has thought, said and created, and the
freedom to engage with and build on it.
— Peter Jones
ow hard is it for women to talk freely
about sex, gender and the law? Not
very, I used to think. I’d heard about
a few no-platforming incidents on campuses,
where speakers including Germaine Greer
were blocked from appearing because of
their views. What I hadn’t realised was just
how far the problem has spread. In the past
few months, I’ve discovered firsthand that
political debate is narrowing for everyone —
and that fear and intimidation are being used
increasingly to curtail free speech.
I am one of a small group of women who
get together to discuss proposed changes
in the law on sex and gender. We’re called
Woman’s Place UK. But because of the content of our discussions, certain activists want
us closed down. They’re doing their best to
make it happen. The managers of the venues
we book are harassed, our attendees are
abused, our organisers are threatened. For
our most recent meeting, held in London last
week, we had to disclose the location only a
few hours before it started, just to be safe.
And it’s all because we want to ask questions about changes which could have serious consequences for us as women, for our
children, and for society as a whole. We want
to talk about gender and the differences
between men and women, and whether or
not the law should be rewritten to allow
people to change their legal sex more easily.
The government says it is committed to making ‘self-identification’ easier. That means
whether you are legally male or female is
purely a matter of choice. It would be nothing to do with your biology or your socialisation. At present, there are rules: to designate
yourself female you need to live as a woman
‘I can’t keep up with how out of date I am.’
for at least two years and have your transition confirmed by a doctor. Some see this
as unreasonable, and object to having what
they see as a matter of personal identity
The MPs pushing for reform hope to
amend the 2004 Gender Recognition Act
to mean that any man who declares ‘I am a
woman’ will have full access to all the rights,
protections and places that women have
fought for and won over the past century. Some of the momentum for this reform
comes from the Women and Equality Select
Committee, which is led by the Conservative
MP Maria Miller. As well as backing self-
It is not bigoted to defend
the right of women to have
boundaries that protect them
declared gender laws, this committee has
also proposed that laws allowing some services and jobs to be reserved exclusively for
what we call natal-born women should be
removed. It was the combination of these
two proposals that rang alarm bells for many
women. So we started asking questions.
Should someone born and raised male,
who is therefore reasonably perceived as
male, be included in spaces reserved for
women — changing rooms, domestic violence
shelters and prison wings? How would the
changes affect women of certain faiths who
rely on single-sex exemptions to enable them
to access services they might otherwise have
to avoid? Should all-women shortlists (used
by Labour and the Lib Dems) be put at risk
by including people who are legally male,
purely because they say they are a woman?
Most transgender people, I am sure, are
as decent and kind and open-minded as anyone else. But a small, aggressive group of
activists — not all of them trans, by the way
— want to establish a new norm of debate:
that anyone who disagrees with them, or
even asks questions, ought to be silenced,
sacked or both. They do this by branding
us as ‘transphobic’ bigots, and by going to
astonishing and worrying lengths to disrupt
our meetings. As soon as Woman’s Place UK
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
announces a meeting, the venue
starts getting hassled and harassed
— with phone calls and social media
messages accusing them of hosting
a ‘hate group’ — as if a bunch of
women talking about the law are
dangerous subversives. But you’d be
surprised (or perhaps you wouldn’t)
at how toxic the charge of ‘hate
speech’ can be. Most of the venues
haven’t been swayed, because they
believe in free speech. But when
there has been the threat of violence and the police have had to get
involved, we’ve moved the event.
People attending and speaking
are also targeted. A common tactic
is to send messages to their employers accusing them of transphobia
and inciting hatred. Personal details
are posted online. At the meetings, we’ve had activists arrive with
their faces covered, shouting and
swearing at women as they arrive
and leave. Some of our conversations are about domestic violence
and abuse: they are now held while
people outside bang drums, having
sworn at the women on their way in.
A lot of women are understandably
scared. The people who support us aren’t
battle-hardened activists but working mums,
students, grandmothers and others coming
to attending a political meeting for the first
time in their lives. Some women have told
us they would like to attend but they’re
terrified of what will happen if their
names are known. Others use pseudonyms. No one wants their employers or family being bombarded with
emails and messages calling them a bigot.
After all, it is not bigoted to make
a distinction between sex and gender iden-
tity. It is not bigoted to defend the right
of women to have boundaries that protect them. Single- sex spaces are, by
definition, exclusionary — the question is where the line is drawn and who
gets to decide. Do our meetings
‘exclude’ trans people? Hardly. There
are trans people who agree that women-only spaces should be upheld and
our rights defended. They have spoken
at our meetings.
The women worried about these
changes in the law come from all parties and none. We don’t want to silence
the transgender campaigners who disagree with us: they have every right to
be heard. But they have no difficulty
with being heard — since wealthy charities, prominent politicians and media
figures make their case frequently and
loudly, often while calling for us to keep
quiet. The people who run the country
hear their voices daily. All we ask is that
they have the chance to hear ours too.
The approach of the people who
want to stop us is to attack, slur,
abuse, harass, bully — but we’re not
going to take it. We find ourselves
fighting for the right to discuss our
views — and the fact that this is becoming
so hard in Britain in 2018 ought to alarm
everyone. We have three more meetings
scheduled, in Birmingham, Cardiff and
Oxford, and there will be more in the pipeline. It’s far riskier than we ever imagined,
but we’re going to keep talking.
MONDAY 26 MARCH | 8.30 A.M. – 12.30 P.M.
The inaugural Spectator Health Summit, chaired by Alastair Stewart, is a unique opportunity for health and care leaders to
examine solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing the NHS and social care.
We will discuss the following questions:
How can the NHS improve its use of new technology?
How can we make social care sustainable?
In association with | 020 7961 0044
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
The Russia problem
It’s time for May to take back control from Moscow
ischief and mayhem work better for Russia than steady cooperation with the western powers.
This at least is what the Kremlin leadership decided a decade ago, after Putin had
accommodated the American wish for an
Uzbekistan base for its Afghan war only
to find that President George W. Bush continued to criticise him for the brutal way
he brought Chechnya to heel. From then
onwards he searched for a different frame
for foreign policy. This meant reaching out a
hand of friendship to China and other developing countries. It licensed Russia’s ministers, especially those responsible for national security, to be as rude as they liked about
America. It spelled out that Russia would
achieve its re-emergence as a great power in
its own chosen fashion.
Around the world, Moscow spread its
propaganda networks. Russkiy Mir cultural
institutes were established. The RT television channel was created. Russia hosted successive Formula 1 grands prix and the 2014
Sochi Winter Olympics and prepared for the
2018 Fifa World Cup.
Russian ‘soft power’ worked well for the
Kremlin until the decision to occupy Crimea
shortly after the Sochi Olympic competitors had flown home. As western economic
sanctions came into effect, Putin pondered
whether to continue with the path he had
chosen. From his standpoint, it was a pointless question. The Americans had applied
other sanctions after the death in custody
in 2009 of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who
had exposed official malpractices. Putin
reckoned that the United States would continue to go after his administration regardless of how cooperative he tried to be. He
promoted a paranoid picture of world politics in which the ‘hegemonic’ superpower
— America — would always victimise his
He and the Russian security leaders
decided that if Russia wanted respect, it
had to be feared. In his second presidential
term he signed into law a bundle of vaguely
defined measures that endorsed action by
Russian secret services beyond the national
frontiers. This was little more than a confirmation of past practice. When Putin himself
had briefly headed the Russian security service the FSB in 1998-1999, he had boasted
to the State Duma of secret operations on
foreign soil to punish wrongdoers.
Back then, he had limited himself to
claiming FSB’s right to engage in extraterritorial activity against Russian economic
crime. As president, he widened the scope
for such measures. In particular, he aimed
to free — indeed to oblige — the secret
services to hunt down and destroy terrorists and extremists who worked in groups
based outside Russia. The assassination of a
Chechen rebel leader, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, in the Qatari capital Doha was the
FSB’s work. Putin endorsed this kind of
Colonel Skripal lived quietly, never
raising his voice or lifting a pen to
tear into the Russian administration
retribution because Yandarbiyev had been
touring the Gulf States to raise money for
jihadis in Chechnya. And when in November
2006 the former Russian intelligence officer
Alexander Litvinenko met a horrific death in
central London through a dose of polonium210, the finger of blame was pointed again
at the FSB.
The Metropolitan Police gradually ran
down their investigation. Successive cabinets appeared to prioritise attracting Russian money to the City of London. In 2015, as
Anglo-Russian relations were going through
another of their periodic dips, home secretary Theresa May set up a judicial inquiry.
Exhaustive proceedings, some of them held
on camera, led Judge Robert Owen to the
damning verdict that the order to eliminate
‘So Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you.’
Litvinenko had ‘probably’ come directly
from the Russian president.
There have been instant suspicions that
the FSB has attempted to repeat its murderous work, this time against the former
military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal.
As yet these are only suspicions, but naturally the UK counter-terrorism authorities
are impressed by the similarity between the
outrages of 2006 and the present day.
Before we think we have seen it all before,
however, it is useful to consider an important
difference. Alexander Litvinenko had spent
years exposing malpractice in the FSB leadership, including his charge that the Russian
secret services were responsible for the 1999
Moscow apartment bombing. This was the
bombing that provided Putin, who was prime
minister at the time, with the premise he
needed to relaunch Russia’s war in Chechnya. Litvinenko also claimed that Putin is a
paedophile. It is hard to imagine what more
Litvinenko could have said to enrage Putin.
By contrast, ex-Colonel Skripal lived quietly in Wiltshire, never raising his voice or
lifting a pen to tear into the Russian administration. He served a term of imprisonment in Moscow before becoming part of
a multiple spy-swap in 2010 when the Russians traded him for the FSB sleeper ‘Anna
Chapman’. Whereas she eagerly became a
Russian media celebrity, Skripal laid low.
Perhaps the most he did was to continue to
supply MI6 with valuable information on
the basis of his experience.
Putin has made no secret of his hatred
of traitors. He himself oversees security policy. If Sergei and Yulia Skripal really were
targeted by the FSB, no one can have confidence in any future agreement to live and let
live those spies who obtain their freedom by
bilateral governmental assent. And if true,
it would seem that relatives of traitors are
regarded as fair game again (as, for instance,
Trotsky’s sons were in the 1930s).
Boris Johnson has blustered that we
could terrify Putin by withdrawing the English national squad from the Fifa World
Cup tournament in Russia. This would be
no more than a slap on the wrist. Johnson
might usefully consider how, in 1971, his
predecessor at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Alec Douglas-Home expelled
90 Soviet diplomats for espionage. Icy relations followed, but the British authorities
earned lasting respect and Moscow thought
twice about offending London.
Does London retain a priority for
engorging laundered Russian finance in
preference to planning for serious potential
retaliation? May’s cabinet has talked up its
ambition to seize back control of our country’s affairs. Control over the safety of UK
residents would make a good start.
The Last of the Tsars by Robert Service is
published by Macmillan. He is currently
writing a book on Putin’s Russia since 2012.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Girls should be taught how to spot a wrong ’un
e are becoming a nation of older
mothers. The average age at which
a woman has her first child is now
30, a fifth reach 45 without having a baby
and the usual busybodies are in a flap. The
government, which had anyway decided on
compulsory relationship classes, thinks the
answer lies in more of the same. If we only
explain to 11-year-olds how hard it is to conceive at 40, the creep towards geriatric motherhood can be reversed. Expect your small
daughter to bring home fertility awareness
posters designed in PSHE, perhaps papiermâché models of a deteriorating human egg.
The busybodies aren’t wrong to worry.
I first set about trying for a family just as
youth was crumbling into middle-age and it
was a very boring business. Three years of
blood tests, referrals, Harley Street; an endless uncapping of Mont Blanc pens and popping of pills. But in the end, my son.
I’m all for sparing future generations
this sort of expensive angst, but the more I
look about, the more I’m sure the government has it quite wrong about the causes of
late motherhood. Girls aren’t clueless about
biology. The very same study (by the Fertility Education Initiative) that set off the fuss,
also reported that most young people, nine
out of ten of them, are already well aware
that it’s trickier to conceive over 30.
Nor do I buy the usual millennial complaint that they don’t earn enough to support a family. That FEI study found that
most women, whatever their income, are
keen to have kids before they turn 30.
I hate to kick men when they’re down,
ducked beneath the parapet for fear of angry
feminists, but I suspect the real problem
here isn’t ignorant girls but unwilling boys.
I have several female friends in their
early thirties who’ve wanted a baby for a
while. Ninety-five per cent of girls do, says
the FEI. The trouble for them hasn’t been
the cost of childcare or a demanding career.
The trouble has been finding a man who’s
even halfway keen to settle down.
All my pals looking for Mr Right report
identical patterns of behaviour. Dating is
now all online. So they scroll through endless
profiles and eventually make contact with a
promising guy. Cue weeks of pointless texting followed eventually by an actual date.
The evening often goes well. There might
be a snog, more texting and another date
arranged. After that: nothing. The promising man, who’s caught wind of a woman
with family plans, submerges back into the
internet to scroll through the options again.
Why commit when Kate Moss might be
beckoning from behind the next screen? It’s
so much easier to imagine someone’s perfect
when you haven’t yet met them.
If online dating turns more men into
commitment-phobes, I don’t see why anyone
should be surprised. It’s women for the most
part who feel the urge to nest and breed —
If online dating turns more men
into commitment-phobes, I don’t see
why anyone should be surprised
as we all once quite freely acknowledged
before gender became a choice. Most men
don’t feel the same need to play house. It
took the threat of public shame, fear of God
and the censorious tutting of mutual friends
to chivy a man towards family life. Online,
dating strangers, who’s to see or care?
A decade ago, when I was single, I was
often kindly set up by my married friends.
Among the men on offer was a very particular type of feckless lothario left over from
the half-generation ahead, who’d run though
the girls in their peer group and were starting on the next lot down. They were handsome in a worn way and image-conscious.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
‘We’ve got you off your stabilisers — next
performance-enhancing drugs.’
They wore trainers with suits, played guitar,
and a wise girl steered well clear. These were
men who’d been teenage golden boys with
their pick of chicks. They’d never grown out
of self-absorption, because, I suppose, they’d
never had to. Any girl foolish enough to get
involved was pulled into orbit around the
narcissist, into endless conversations about
their progress in life, their neuroses, the
meaning of their dreams. The girls imagined
they could eventually persuade them to have
children. They never could.
Where I live, on the fault line between
Islington and Hackney, the coffee shops are
full of young people, of perfect breeding age
according to the FEI, discussing their lives.
I sit spider-like and listen, and I’ve found
to my slight horror that all the hallmarks
of the old feckless narcissist are present in
more than half the men I overhear. There’s
the over-concern with grooming: hair, beard,
tattoos. Then, after they’ve arranged their
avocado egg toast and photographed it for
Instagram, the endless talk about themselves.
They begin: ‘The thing about me is…’ Then
there’s no stopping them.
Last summer I listened to a good-looking
man of 30 talk for over an hour to an older
chap who turned out to be his life coach. Our
hero wasn’t happy, he said, but why? He’d
tried every self-improvement fad going.
He had a therapist, a personal trainer, a
NutriBullet; he’d downloaded the headspace
app… What could be wrong? Why not settle down, said the life coach, have kids? Well,
he’d tried, said the man, but every time he
looked at his girlfriend he began to agonise
over whether she was good enough for him.
He’d discussed it at length with her, he said,
but he just couldn’t make himself commit. ‘I
think the answer is to cut the negativity out
of your life,’ said the coach, nodding sympathetically. ‘Do something just for you.’
I have an idea for the new relationship
classes. I think it’s a winner. Girls from eight
years old, say, should be asked to create a
public awareness campaign in PSHE: how to
spot a commitment-phobic narcissist.
Then posters on the tube maybe: ‘Run.
Hide. Tell.’ I genuinely think the government
should consider it.
Two nations
In London, dinner parties and murder live cheek by jowl
ast month, a 17-year-old business student of Somali extraction, Abdikarim
Hassan, was knifed to death outside
a corner shop, 70 yards from my home in
Kentish Town, north London. At that very
moment, in a parody of middle-class life,
I was having dinner with friends, playing
bridge in my flat.
Less than two hours later, and less
than a mile away, another youth of Somali extraction, Sadiq Aadam Mohamed, 20,
was slashed to death with a samurai sword.
That same evening, a mile and a half from
me, a 17-year-old survived a stabbing and a
24-year-old was attacked, suffering non-serious injuries. Two people have been charged
in connection with the killings.
It later turned out that Hassan’s brother,
Mohamed Aadam, 20, was knifed to death
in September. And his cousin Mohamed
Abdullahi, also 20, was fatally stabbed in
the heart in 2013.
And what was the response of Camden Council, the police and local MP Keir
Starmer to this murder epidemic? They sent
every Camden resident a toothless letter:
‘Youth clubs in the area remain open with
increased staffing to support young people…
social work teams [will] provide emotional
support to children and families affected by
these stabbings… We intend to set up a community conversation meeting in your area.’
The letter gave the number of a Somali
Youth Development Resource Centre, but
it didn’t say that this is overwhelmingly a
lethal, mortal problem for Somali youths.
That’s the opinion of Ismail Einashe, another Somali who grew up in Kentish Town, or
what he calls ‘Somali village’. Like lots of
those trapped in this murder epidemic, Einashe was a child refugee from Somalia’s civil
war, which has raged since 1986.
Einashe left Somalia at the age of nine
and grew up in Camden in the 1990s during
the first murderous gang wars, when he saw
what happened to friends who had spent
their childhoods in battle zones.
‘Many of my peers who had arrived in
the 1990s graduated into a violent gang culture,’ Einashe wrote in the Sunday Times.
In 2006, outside Camden Town tube station, his friend Mahir Osman was stabbed
to death by 40 youths with bats, screwdrivers and knives. Twelve years on, and it’s got
worse. Knife crime in London increased by
18 per cent from 2016 to 2017. There have
been 16 knife killings in London so far this
year. The victims are disproportionately
male, teenage (five of them) and Somali in
Needless to say, none of those victims is
a white, middle-aged, middle-class bridgeplayer. And yet Camden Council, Keir
Starmer and the police waste thousands of
pounds on sending letters to people like me
‘to reassure every resident that the safety
of our communities is our highest priority
and we are directing all of our attention and
resources to keeping you safe’.
I know I’m safe. I’ve lived in Kentish
Town for 20 years, and no one has laid so
I’ve lived in Kentish Town for 20
years and no one has laid a finger on
me. But I didn’t grow up in a civil war
much as a finger on me. But then I didn’t
grow up in a civil war to the sound of gunfire; neither did I suffer from the gang wars
when I first lived in the borough, nor do I in
today’s renewed gang violence.
I’m completely safe, even though I live
at the interface between the two worlds.
I buy newspapers from the Saver’s Mini
Market on Islip Street, where Abdikarim
Hassan was murdered, yards from his home
on the Peckwater Estate (named after Peckwater Quad at Christ Church, Oxford, which
used to own the land here).
On the weekend after the killing,
I bought the Financial Times from the Mini
Market. By a cruel irony, that FT Weekend’s
House & Home supplement featured prop-
erty in Kentish Town, where ‘house prices
have almost doubled since 2007… [and
where] last year, the average cost of a second-hand home reached £805,000’.
To be fair to the police, they did place a
Section 60 order in Kentish Town after the
murders, allowing for expanded stop and
searches, resulting in eight arrests and the
seizure of knives and baseball bats. Before
the order, Camden had been low on the stopand-search list of London boroughs: 12th
out of 32, with Lambeth, Westminster and
Southwark carrying out the most stop and
searches from 2017 to 2018. The overwhelming number of stops across London in that
period were for drugs (70,000), as against
20,000 for ‘Weapons, points and blades’.
Spells of increased stop and search have
been effective in reducing knife crime in
Scotland and London, as Munira Mirza,
Boris Johnson’s former deputy mayor for
education and culture, wrote in these pages
last month, just before the Kentish Town
Nevertheless, the police are prevented
from doing the one thing that such a disproportionate number of killings of Somali
youths demands: concentrating on Somali
youths in their stop and searches. As a Metropolitan Police spokesman told me this
week: ‘Any profiling for stop and search on
the grounds of race is unlawful.’
In fact, this would be stop and search
based on national origins — Somali ones
— rather than racial ones. Refusing to concentrate stop and searches among those
communities that are most at risk increases
that risk — and wastes police resources that
should be focused on the most vulnerable
people. When I biked round the Peckwater
Estate the weekend after the murder, there
wasn’t a single policeman in sight, despite a
promise of 24-hour patrols in the letter to
me. That letter threw away money that could
have been spent on direct policing of those
people at risk of violent death.
Guns, thank God, aren’t easily available in London the way they were in Florida
to Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 at Marjory
Stoneman Douglas High School last month.
In north London gangland, guns don’t kill
people, knives do. And people who carry
knives are more likely to be killed by other
people with knives. The murder victim at the
bottom of my garden had been arrested for
carrying a ‘hunting-style combat knife’ at
the Notting Hill Carnival last August.
Donald Trump’s response to the
shooting of schoolchildren — more guns
for teachers — is crazy: literal overkill.
Our response to the stabbing of schoolchildren — sending out emotional support leaflets and outlawing targeted policing — kills
with kindness.
Harry Mount is author of Summer
Madness: How Brexit Split the Tories and
Divided the Country (Biteback).
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
What I learned about women
from a burst water pipe
t’s always me who gets the worst of it,’
said the Fawn, surveying the wreckage
caused by the burst water pipe. I did not disagree a) because I would have had my head
bitten off and b) because it’s true.
Though I wouldn’t say I was completely
useless: who was the first to spot the water
gushing through the ceiling of the guest bedroom, eh? And who was the first to find the
stopcock using the time-honoured method
of running up and down the stairs for ten
minutes screaming: ‘Where the hell is the
stopcock?’ But it’s probably fair to say that
the Fawn bore — and continues to bear —
the brunt of the crisis.
In theory a burst water pipe ought to
be largely in the male domain. But once
you’ve got the man stuff out of the way —
move furniture, place strategic buckets, call
a plumber and find he can’t come for three
days — the aftermath is pretty much woman’s territory.
I’m thinking of the business of dealing
with the mounds of accumulated sodden
linen, plus a weekend’s worth of unwashed
clothes; drying the mattresses; airing the
rooms; running a household with a crap
husband and two useless teenagers when
there’s no mains water.
For a whole weekend we involuntarily
conducted one of those TV-style experiments — the Elizabethan family — in which
we had to survive without being able to flush
the bogs or wash the dishes or fill the kettle
except using water laboriously collected in
buckets from our neighbour’s outside tap.
This is how it would have been for almost
everyone who lived prior to the 20th century.
The first flushing toilet wasn’t invented till
1596 — but you only got to use it if you were
Queen Elizabeth I. Even the White House
didn’t get running water till 1833. Throughout the Victorian era, washstands remained
the norm. It wasn’t until the 1900s that individual houses routinely had running water.
Can you imagine how tedious it would be
having to fill your baths using a succession
of water pots heated on the hob? How inordinately tiresome it would be having to rinse
the suds from your linen by hand? When you
experience it, it does concentrate the mind.
‘Do I really need to use that extra pot for
cooking, knowing how much of a pain it will
be to wash afterwards?’ you think to yourself.
But the most important lesson I learned
— or rather had reinforced, for I have never
really doubted it — during our weekend
without water was simply this: women have
had it so much worse than men through
99.9 per cent of history. That’s because, inter
alia, all the tiresome chores I’ve outlined
above would have been done by the womenfolk, while the men were off out doing man
For millennia, the more dangerous and
capable half of our species have been
held in check with endless chores
stuff like hunting, fighting, roistering, adventuring, speculating, inventing, and bringing
home the bacon.
Throughout history, women have complained about the unfairness of this. If I
were a woman, I would complain bitterly
about this too. (Not least because if I were
a woman, I would have been born with the
in-built complaining gene that comes with
your two X chromosomes.) But viewed from
an evolutionary biology perspective, you
have to admit that the Creator or Mother
Nature knew exactly what they were doing
when they thus apportioned our roles. Why
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
have women historically undertaken all the
drudgery? Because — though they’ll never
admit it — they’re just so much better at it
than men. They know that if they didn’t do
these vital household tasks, the tasks would
either get done late or done badly or not
done at all. And none of these options is
acceptable if, as most women do, you care
about not living in a house surrounded by
filth, about whether or not your husband
stinks, and about whether or not your children die of food poisoning.
I got a glimpse of these atavistic instincts
by observing the behaviour of my children
during the crisis. Girl studied the house
plumbing plan and researched on the internet to see if there were valves we could use
to isolate the broken pipe. Boy, meanwhile,
thought it would be a jolly wheeze to collect
saucepans of snow — freezing the house as
he tramped in and out, leaving the door wide
open — and heat them on the Rayburn, as
presumably he’d learned from Ray Mears
survival documentaries.
As I watched all this, marvelling at the
manifest superiority of the female species,
my warm glow of pleasure at my womenfolk’s wondrousness gave way to a shudder
of fear and cold dread. ‘Dear God,’ I thought
to myself. ‘What have we unleashed?’
For millennia, the more dangerous, cunning and capable half of our species have
been held in check with endless household
chores. Yes, they still do them to a degree. But
these chores don’t take up anywhere near
as much time and energy as they did before
we men foolishly invented all those laboursaving devices to free women from drudgery.
We thought they would love us for it. But
they didn’t. It will take more than a century
for that hard-wired resentment gene to
evolve out of the female system. And now
they have time — oh so much time, except
when the pipes burst — to devise ever new
ways to plot their revenge for all those millennia of injustice. For the sake of humanity
it’s not the atom bomb we need to go back
in time and un-invent: rather it’s the Hoover,
the dishwasher and the washing machine.
A very EU coup
Martin Selmayr’s astonishing power grab
artin Selmayr has always dreamed
of being known beyond the Brussels bubble. His wish has now been
granted, albeit in not quite the way he might
have hoped. It has arrived in the form of a
brilliantly executed coup that has handed
this 47-year-old German bureaucrat neartotal control of the EU machine.
The coup began at 9.39 a.m. on 21 February, when 1,000 journalists were sent an
email summoning them to a 10.30 a.m. audience with Jean-Claude Juncker. The short
notice suggested urgency — and for such a
meeting to be happening at all was unusual in itself. Since becoming President of the
European Commission, Juncker has held
hardly any press conferences.
His news was the surprise promotion of
Selmayr, his Chief of Staff, to the position
of Secretary-General, in charge of the Commission’s 33,000 staff. The reaction from the
journalists present was astonishment. No
one had been aware of a vacancy. There was
no sign that the 61-year-old Alexander Italianer had been thinking of retiring. But as
Juncker announced other appointments, it
quickly became clear what had happened.
Selmayr had taken control, and anyone who
resisted him had been unceremoniously
fired. Juncker had handed the keys of the
European house to his favourite Eurocrat.
Selmayr had served Juncker well — or
was it the other way around? Rather than
being a regular chief of staff, Selmayr acted
like a de facto deputy president. Juncker, who looks increasingly tired and worn
out, had been the perfect glove puppet for
Selmayr. Juncker was happy to let his Chief
of Staff do the work, and happy to thank him
by giving him a job of even greater power.
In the first few days of his new job,
Selmayr has left no doubt about how he
intends to rule. Last week, all Commission staffers were sent a letter from their
new Secretary-General — something that
is, again, highly unusual, as such letters are
sent only by the President. In his Urbi et
Orbi, Selmayr proclaimed that the EU civil
service ‘must not be satisfied with being the
machine to run our institution’, which is odd,
given this is exactly what the Commission is
supposed to be for.
But Selmayr declared that the civil ser-
vice (or, rather, he himself) would act as ‘the
heart and soul of the Commission’. With that
sentence, Selmayr reduced the role of the 28
European Commissioners to mere extras.
One commissioner who was present at
the meeting where Selmayr was promoted
later explained to me what happened (he
spoke on condition of anonymity, which is in
itself telling as he is supposed to be a heavyweight). They were called to a 9.30 a.m.
meeting where Juncker presented them with
nominations. Selmayr was named not as the
Secretary-General, but as the deputy — a
post that was known to be vacant. Selmayr’s
promotion was unexpected, but Juncker
assured them that all was above board.
Then came the coup de grâce. Having appointed Selmayr as deputy, Juncker
announced that the Secretary-General —
ltalianer — had resigned. So Selmayr, having
Juncker will be gone next year,
so Selmayr needs to line up
a docile replacement
been deputy for just a few minutes, would
take his place from 1 March. ‘It was totally
stunning,’ the commissioner told me. ‘We had
witnessed an impeccably prepared and audacious power-grab.’ Before anyone else could
find out about this unprecedented doublepromotion, an email was sent out summoning
journalists to the press conference — where
Selmayr was confirmed. A fait accompli.
Why are the European Commissioners
not making more of a fuss? Perhaps because
Selmayr is preparing to give them a special
present. Retiring commissioners are entitled
to a generous ‘transition allowance’ of up to
two-thirds of their basic salary for roughly two years, up to about €13,500 a month.
Selmayr now plans to extend this to three,
or perhaps even five, years. On top of the
extra cash, they’d enjoy a series of benefits
in kind: an office in the Commission headquarters (previously a perk to which only
former presidents were entitled), a company car with a driver and two assistants. So
thanks to Selmayr, a departing European
Commissioner might receive double, if not
triple, what he or she currently receives. All
tax free, let’s not forget.
Selmayr’s manoeuvre would not have
been possible without the complicity of
Irene Souka, the European Commission’s
Director-General of Human Resources. She
has been amply rewarded for her efforts: last
month, her job was extended beyond compulsory retirement age (as was that of her
husband, Dominique Ristori, who is Director-General for Energy).
Only one mystery remains: why did
Selmayr move when he did? Why not wait?
Juncker will be President until October
2019: why would Selmayr not stay as chief
of staff (or de facto president) until then?
Or why not at least spend six months in the
Deputy Secretary-General job? One answer
is that Selmayr had to move before anyone
could work out what he was up to. France, in
particular, had its eye on the Secretary-General job, as two of the four great European
institutions (the Parliament and the Diplomatic Service) are managed by Germans.
Now, thanks to the Selmayr ascendancy, it’s
three out of four. Rather a lot.
But there’s an even bigger reason for
him to have moved. Precisely because
Juncker will be gone next year, Selmayr
needs to act now to line up a replacement
— someone just as docile. And he believes
he has found just the man in Michel Barnier. It’s thanks to Selmayr’s patronage that
Barnier ended up as the Brexit negotiator
in the first place. Selmayr’s next mission is
to put Barnier top of the list of the European People’s Party (a grouping of centreright MEPs), which means he’ll be in pole
position for the job under the Spitzenkandidat system that Selmayr did so much to set
up. Barnier is the ideal candidate because he
is (in Selmayr’s eyes), weak, malleable and
Selmayr is now accountable to no one.
Indeed, he has lost no time further consolidating his power. He has moved his office
close to the President’s. I understand he will
continue to chair meetings in the President’s
office and even plans to put the hitherto
independent European legal service under
his command. So all he needs now is a new
president as docile as Juncker has been and
he’ll have achieved his aim: before his 50th
birthday, and without ever having stood for
elected office Selmayr will become the alpha
and omega of the European Commission.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Pipeline politics
Sir: In his article ‘Putin’s gamble’ (3 March),
Paul Wood quite rightly mentions that
one of the key reasons why Russia played
hardball in Syria was Assad’s willingness
to block the efforts of Qatar to build a
natural gas pipeline through the country
to supply Europe. This would have
undermined Russia’s market power in
Europe, and weakened Russian leverage
over Europe when defending its actions
in Ukraine. Some of the strategic issues
at play in Syria exist in Libya, but to a
lesser degree. Libya supplies Europe with
gas from large offshore deposits through
the GreenStream pipeline to Italy. Qatar
tried for years to get Muammar Gaddafi
to agree to its investment in Libya’s gas
industry so it could undercut the Russian
position in the European energy market.
It failed and that explains why it poured
money and weapons into some of the forces,
notably different Islamic militias, which
succeeded in overthrowing Gaddafi in 2011.
This gas angle is one which few analysts
of Russian strategy on Nato’s eastern
and southern flanks seem aware of. When
Russia intervened in Syria, it had good
reasons for doing so.
Francis Ghilès
not xenophobic philistines. The reasons why
the majority voted to leave are complicated,
not least being that the economic boom
which has benefited the south has done
little to reinvigorate the north. London is
seen as a remote city-state, within which
successive Westminster governments have
neglected their responsibilities to the
regions. The vote was not anti-European
but more anti the EU administration, which
is regarded as a self-serving, unaccountable,
bloated bureaucracy.
I now live in London, a constituent
of Jeremy Corbyn, with neighbouring
constituencies being those of Keir Starmer,
Tulip Siddiq, Diane Abbott and Emily
Thornberry. In this rarefied milieu, the
subject of Brexit is discussed frequently,
and in terms similar to those described by
Mr Delingpole; yet hardly anyone is able to
pinpoint Sunderland on the map.
Craig Goldsack
London N7
University pensions
Sir: Andrew Marr (Diary, 3 March)
expresses ‘sympathy for the striking college
lecturers’ because ‘they didn’t have big
Non-alcoholic? Yes please
Sir: I disagreed in the main with Freddy
Gray’s observations about non-alcoholic
drinks (Spectator Life, 24 February).
Without wishing to virtue-signal, upon
giving up alcohol for Lent, I found an
excellent and economical non-alcoholic
beer called Bavaria Premium, which
delivers the requisite salty-sweet ‘hit’.
Additionally, I feel sympathy for the
oft-maligned millennial. They quite
understandably want a more grown-up
drink than Coke or orange squash but their
generation can’t afford to get drunk. Any
unwise comments or actions can these days
lead to social exclusion or even worse.
Di Newman
Faversham, Kent
Defence of Sunderland
Sir: I am a ‘disgusting, drooling, knuckledragging Neanderthal’ from Sunderland
and, for once, agree with James Delingpole
(‘Will Remainers ever learn to forgive?’,
24 February). I am fed up with the repeated
criticism heaped on my home town
simply because it was the first place to
declare after the EU referendum. People
in the north-east are generally kind,
straightforward, friendly and funny; they are
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
pensions to look forward to in the first
place’. University teachers who complete
40 years of service currently retire on half
their final salary. Not only is this indexed
annually to inflation, but if their spouse
or partner outlives them, they will receive
a half-pension for the rest of their lives. I
spent 21 years as a university academic. As
a result, I now receive a university pension
worth some £20,000 — £40,000 if I’d served
out my full time. Such a sum might sound
like chicken feed to Marr, but it comfortably
outstrips the £28,000 national average
salary for people who are still working.
Peter Saunders
Hastings, East Sussex
Short shrift
Sir: James Clunie (‘Merchants of doom’,
3 March) does a typical whitewash job
in defending the indefensible: the shortselling of borrowed shares. I wonder what
the many struggling buyers of Persimmon
Houses, already aghast at the millions paid
out to that company’s directors, think about
seeing another £200 million going to City
shorters? How can it benefit the owner of
a share to see its price artificially reduced?
The fact is that the underlying owners of
such shares have not knowingly given their
permission to have them lent: the question
is often buried in the small print. Many
fund managers decline to lend shares to this
faux market and it is to their credit.
So qui bono? The custodians of lent
shares pick up a broking fee. Does this go
to the benefit of the collective investment?
If so, it is arguably justifiable. If not, it is
reprehensible. But how many shareholders,
asked directly, would give permission for
their shares to be used for speculation? It is
time the financial regulating authorities had
a closer look at the whole contrived share
ownership shenanigans.
Lord Vinson
House of Lords, London SW1
The clap of the owls
Sir: Christopher Fletcher (‘Notes on
Otmoor’, March 3) refers to ‘the silent
beauty’ of short eared owls. He will,
however, be startled by a loud clap over his
head if he walks anywhere near their nest,
as they bring their wings together smartly
with extraordinary percussive effect above
their body to warn him off.
Elizabeth Roberts
Scotby, Carlisle
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street,
London SW1H 9HP
He is bringing
change to
Saudi Arabia
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman launched Vision 2030 to
Can Theresa May really find time
to be her own housing supremo?
heresa May has belatedly taken the
advice I offered her here last May and
named a supremo to tackle the housing crisis — which has been getting steadily worse since her campaign promise to ‘fix
the broken market’. But the supremo isn’t
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary who
is, the prime minister says, doing ‘incredible
work’ in this area; so incredible, she might
have added, that she and the Chancellor
have had to bin Javid’s more radical ideas.
And it isn’t Boris, who was my own cunningly crafted suggestion for the job. No, here’s
what she said in her speech on Monday: ‘I’ve
taken personal charge of meeting the housing challenge, leading a taskforce that brings
together ministers and officials from every
corner of Whitehall to attack the crisis on
every front.’
Oh dear. We’re back in the Tony Blair
mode of ‘eye-catching initiatives [with
which] I should be personally associated’.
But that can only play badly for Mrs May
while her energies are overwhelmingly taken
by Brexit. The housing story was barely even
making headlines by Tuesday, apart from
some mischief-making about a fake-brick
lectern that made her look as if she was
speaking out of a chimney.
But still it’s worth asking: what on earth
can central government do to accelerate the
number of new homes available at the low
end of the price range? In political terms,
this is the issue most likely to alienate voters
in their late twenties and thirties, who in any
previous decade since 1945 would by now be
first-time homeowners and thereby natural
Tories. They’re currently more likely to vote
for the catastrophe of Corbyn, and that’s
a big reason why the housing shortage matters to all of us. But are there any quick-fix
solutions or has Mrs May set herself up for
another failure?
Her approach was to take swipes both at
developers for ‘land-banking’, or sitting too
long on unbuilt sites for which planning has
already been granted; and at local authorities for failing to release sufficient land and
grant permissions quicker. Was she right
in either respect? I asked a veteran housebuilder: ‘We build as fast as we can once
we’ve got detailed permission. It’s a total
myth that we sit on “consented” land for
accounting gains. But there’s a limit to the
number of houses we can build and sell in a
year on any given site: it might be 100 to 150
— so a very large site will always take several years to complete. The real problem is
the time it takes to get detailed permission:
never less than two or three years, and on
one site in [a provincial city], whose planners have a tremendously difficult reputation, 23 years. In other places — Newcastle,
for example — planners are more switched
on and we build much faster.’
So one practical answer is to find the
most progressive local authority planning
departments and make them the benchmark
for the most obstructive and nimbyist. The
problem is, of course, that the latter are highly likely to be dominated by councillors from
Mrs May’s own party. But perhaps not after
local elections in two months’ time.
Stupid populism
On the matter of President Trump’s imposition of a 25 per cent tariff on US imports of
steel and 10 per cent on aluminium, I cannot
improve on the comments of the sage of
Washington, the former Bank of England
monetary policy committee member Adam
Posen, who called it ‘straight-up stupid’ and
‘fundamentally incompetent, corrupt or
misguided’. Indeed virtually all economically literate opinion was united in condemning a move which will hurt America’s
steel-producing allies in Europe and South
Korea without seriously impeding China’s
advance, and will surely provoke a salvo of
protectionist responses — contributing to a
slowdown of global cross-border trade and
investment that has been a visible trend
since the beginning of this decade.
It’s the kind of bone-headed blue-collar
populism embraced by the former Chrysler
boss Lee Iacocca in the 1980s when he was
briefly touted as a presidential candidate
and compared himself to the revolutionary
patriot Paul Revere: ‘I’m the only guy on a
goddamn horse saying “The Japanese are
coming, the Japanese are coming”… And
it’s all the fault of the dumb sonofabitch
who allowed them into our market free of
charge.’ Yes, globalisation leaves its trail of
victims; but a tariff war will ultimately be
worse for everyone, including the workforce of America’s already diminished steel
industry, with whom Trump has no genuine
empathy at all.
The picture it brings to my mind is of the
once mighty Bethlehem steelworks in Pennsylvania that was defeated by global competition in 1995, and whose site is now occupied
by an exemplar of the one business sector
Trump can truly claim to understand: a giant
casino, built to exploit a politically disappointed populace that has been left with no
other hope of prosperity.
Going Dutch?
Unilever, the consumer goods conglomerate
formed in 1929 by the merger of Margarine
Unie of Rotterdam with Lever Brothers of
Port Sunlight, is a model of cross-Channel
collaboration that pre-dates the European
Union we’re about to leave. So the decision
due this month as to whether the group will
no longer maintain dual head offices —
which means closing London but keeping
Rotterdam — will be highly symbolic. If the
move not only goes ahead but also entails
doing away with dual fiscal entities and dual
stockmarket listings, Unilever will henceforth be a wholly Dutch company with UK
subsidiaries. That status may afford cost savings and stronger protection against unwelcome takeover bids such as the failed one by
Kraft Heinz last year; but it won’t necessarily
please London-based investors who like to
see giant corporations kept on their toes by
fear of predators. And the loss of Unilever’s
listing would be a huge blow to the London
Stock Exchange, which is more and more
desperate to maintain its global status in the
run-up to Brexit. Watch this space.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Claire Kohda Hazelton
describes how the vast
battleship Yamato was so
bewildering its own crew
got lost on board
Sara Wheeler follows Doris
Lessing from communist
pioneer of free love to
asexual frump with a bun
Tibor Fischer wonders
whether anyone has
checked out John Ruskin as
a fit for Jack the Ripper
James Walton hails a
comedy triumph set in the
run-down council houses of
the Cotswolds
Lloyd Evans says there’s
much to adore about Old
Vic’s Fanny & Alexander
Deborah Ross discovers
Hedy Lamarr invented the
technology that forms the
basis of Wi-Fi and
‘Coterie Of Questions ’,
2015, by Lynette YiadomBoakye
Martin Gayford — p46
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Riding for a fall
For five years after Austerlitz, Napoleon seemed invincible. But his
relentless victories risked an inevitable backlash, says David Crane
Napoleon: The Spirit of
the Age, 1805–1810
by Michael Broers
Faber, £30, pp. 536
On 20 July 1805, just three months before
the battle of Trafalgar destroyed a combined French and Spanish fleet, the Emperor Napoleon ordered his chief-of-staff
to ‘embark everything’ for the invasion of
England that he had been dreaming of for
two years. ‘My intention is to land at four
different points,’ he explained to Berthier, ‘at a short distance from one another...
Inform the four marshals there is not an
instant to be lost.’
While there is possibly no saga in his
whole astonishing career — Russia included — that so vividly exposes the curious
and almost wilful blind spots in Bonaparte’s make-up, his enemies would have done
well to pay closer attention. It is impossible to say if the invasion was ever more
than fantasy; but those two years since the
collapse of the Treaty of Amiens had not
been wasted, and just a month after that
letter to Berthier, the Army of the Ocean
Coast, which for month after month had
been trained and drilled and hardened and
forged into the greatest army Europe had
ever seen, turned its back on its channel
camps and England to march on a world
hopelessly ill-prepared to face it.
The ‘Army of England’ was no more, and
the Grande Armée born. If the ‘good times’,
as Michael Broers put it in the first volume of this biography, were behind Napoleon, ‘the years of greatness’ lay ahead.
In his St Helena exile Napoleon would
always look back on the Civil Code as his
crowning achievement, but the Napoleon
of legend, the Napoleon who still so violently divides opinion — Hegel’s ‘spirit of the age’ or a Corsican Hitler — will
always be inseparably linked with the triumphs of Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstedt
and Wagram that form the core of this
second volume.
However it might look with the bene30
fit of hindsight, though, there cannot have
seemed anything inevitable about these victories when Napoleon performed his grand
pirouette and turned his army towards central Europe and Britain’s Austrian and
Russian allies. The aura of invincibility that
would soon cloak the Grande Armée was
still to be earned in the autumn of 1805, and
if Napoleon had the brilliant achievements
of the First Italian Campaign and the hype
of Marengo to feed off, no amount of propaganda, paintings, lies or self-promotion
could disguise the fact that his record was
a chequered one.
There were the horrors of Egypt and
Syria — unheeded warnings of what could
happen when armies that lived off the
land strayed beyond their natural ‘habitat’
— and more to the point, as Broer insists,
Napoleon had never actually commanded a force on anything like the scale now
demanded. It would seem, too, that he was
genuinely wary of a European war in 1805.
But whatever anxieties he did have about
the campaign could have lasted no longer than the dazzling enveloping triumph
of Ulm, which ushered in a new epoch in
European warfare.
There is precious little to be said about
Napoleon’s military genius — or the
wretched and divided leadership of his coalition enemies — that has not been said
before; and what is most interesting about
Broers’s account is the prophetic shadow it
casts over even the most brilliant of Napoleon’s achievements. It probably makes little
sense to try to distinguish between wars of
security and wars of aggression with a man
like Bonaparte; but whether it was manifest
destiny or a grimmer necessity that drove
him on, the fact was that every humiliation
he inflicted on Europe’s royal houses, every
crippling indemnity he slapped on a defeated nation, every tax and conscript he extorted from reluctant allies, every annexation
and victorious march that took him closer
to Alexander I’s Russia, was inviting its own
inevitable backlash.
Napoleon was hardly the first to try to
make his wars pay for themselves, to bleed
an empire or subordinate his allies’ interests to his own. But with the issue in 1806
of his Berlin Decrees, aimed at strangling
Britain through a continental blockade, he
took this to another and dangerous level.
It was certainly a measure of his strength in
the aftermath of Austerlitz and Jena that he
could legislate for Europe in this way; and
yet in his determination to bend a whole
continent to his will he had set in motion
a chain of events that would ultimately doom his family, marshals, armies and
resources to a bottomless Iberian sump and
set the empire itself on its fatal collision
course with Russia.
If this was ‘probably the single most
momentous act of Napoleon’s career’, as
Broers claims, its most pertinent interest
for the years covered here lies in the light
it throws on a mind ‘becoming habituated
to absolute power’. I don’t suppose there
are two historians who would agree a
timetable for such an inscrutable process,
but it is hard not to think that the curious
aberrations and miscalculations of these
triumphant years — the hegemonic ambitions, the over-extension of his power into
southern Italy, the stubborn refusal to see
Spain for what it was, the vindictive treat-
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz by François Gérard
ment of the Spanish Bourbons, the merciless hounding of the Catholic clergy, the
stupidity of his dealings with Pius VII —
are all, in their different ways, of a piece
with the authoritarian, self-defeating
hubris of his Berlin Decrees.
In 1810, though, when this volume ends,
it would have taken a brave man to predict where all this would lead. Three years
earlier, after their Tilsit summit, Alexander had prophesised that Napoleon
would ‘break his own neck’; but that was
still looking a long way off. A conservative, Catholic France might hate him and
his wars for the ‘blood tax’ he extorted,
but the conscripts in their hundreds of
thousands would still come. Wagram had
shown that Austria could learn from the
drubbings of 1805, as Prussia would from
Jena, but ‘the sun of Austerlitz’ was still
high in the sky.
Britain lay beyond Napoleon’s reach
— Copenhagen had rammed that home —
and the Mediterranean was a playground
for Royal Navy midshipmen, but north
of the Pyrenees Europe at last enjoyed
a peace of sorts. It was, as Broers says,
a peace of conquest unlike that of Amiens, a peace won at the point of the sword,
but however fragile, it was peace. And if,
after his divorce from Josephine, Napoleon could not get the Russian bride he
wanted, what could better encapsulate the
events of these years than the marriage of
a Hapsburg princess — the daughter of
the humiliated Austrian Emperor, a niece
of the guillotined Marie Antoinette — to
that ‘force of nature’ and ‘master of history’ that the Revolution had spawned? The
old was bowing to the new, the world of the
ancien regime to that of dynamic change
At the Tilsit summit of 1807,
the Tsar prophesied that Napoleon
would ‘break his own neck’
and merit, and there seemed nothing that
could be done to stop it. ‘The diadem of
Bonaparte,’ as an awed Edinburgh Review
wrote,‘had dimmed the lustre of all the
ancient crowns of Europe; and her nobles
have been outshone, and out-generalled
and out-negotiated, by men raised by their
own exertion from the common level of
the people.’
Murat, the son of a Gascon inn-keeper;
Ney of a barrel-cooper; Soult the child of
a village notary from near Albi; Bernadotte another Gascon raised from the ranks;
the mighty Lannes an apprentice dyer from
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Lectoure — the Edinburgh Review was not
wrong, and in Broers’s latest volume the
magnitude and import of the Napoleonic
achievements during these crucial years
of French ascendancy gets the recognition
it deserves.
So does Napoleon himself. What one
wants of a biography on this scale is the
scholarship without the show, and that is
just what Broers delivers. Given, too, that
this is a life already running to something
over 1,000 pages, he writes with a mercifully broad brush, charting the crucial
milestones in the vector — to borrow his
own term — of Napoleon’s ‘journey’, without ever clogging his narrative with detail.
There will, eventually, be an accounting
— moral, historical — to be done, but that
belongs to another volume.
His business here is to understand
Napoleon and not to judge. And if that
sometimes makes him more charitable
than he need always be — more tolerant
of the imperial bling, the ludicrous titles
and uniforms, the grubby divorce, the littering of the thrones of Europe with his
wretched family, than his subject deserves
— empathy, as in his first volume, never gets
the better of his critical detachment. This is
a biography to trust.
was his notoriety and the
power of his pen. The man
himself was poorly educated
and an early failure; in 1774,
at the age of 37, he was sacked
from his job at the excise, his
second marriage disintegrated and his goods were sold at
auction to pay off his debts.
He sailed for America,
arrived with a severe fever —
probably typhus — and began
a meteoric rise that took him
two years later to the heart
of the revolutionary movement. His pamphlet Common Sense, published in early
1776, helped to rouse popular
opinion towards independence; Paine himself estimated
120,000 copies were sold in its
first three months. Little wonder he believed that America
possessed the power to make
the world over again.
By the late 1780s, Paine
was using his literary celebrity in London to promote his
Spendthrift and slovenly, Thomas Paine was also a scrounger
design for a new iron bridge.
of epic proportions. When invited by a friend to Paris for a
When revolution began in
week, he ended up staying for five years
France, his Rights of Man
(1791), initially a counterblast
to Edmund Burke’s Reflections, was another huge bestseller, but led
to his conviction in absentia for seditious
libel. Paine himself was in France, where he
quickly fell out with Marat and Robespierre.
Thomas Paine: Britain, America and
The Age of Reason (1793), his tract against
France in the Age of Enlightenment
organised religion, was completed in jail,
and Revolution
and it too sold many thousands of copies. It
is quite a story.
by J.C.D. Clark
Part of the problem was that, as Adams’s
OUP, £30, pp. 512
letter suggests, Paine rarely retained the
‘We have it in our power to begin the world confidence of those who knew him. He was,
over again.’ Ronald Reagan made this on the whole, a remarkably unappetising
most unconservative of lines a leitmotif of figure: a great egoist, he acknowledged no
his 1980 presidential campaign, knowing teacher and disavowed the influence of othits radicalism would highlight his energy, ers. He was a spendthrift, of slovenly habits
personal optimism and desire for change. and latterly a drunk.
As it duly did.
He mounted an entirely dishonest camThe astonishing power over words of its paign to discredit Burke, having courted his
author, Thomas Paine, persists to this day. hospitality and enjoyed his friendship. He
In a letter of 1805, the former president vilified his former patron, George WashingJohn Adams said of Paine that
ton. And he was a scrounger of epic proportions; on one occasion his friend Nicholas
there can be no severer satyr on the age.
For such a mongrel between pig and puppy, Bonneville invited him to visit for a week in
begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf, never Paris, and Paine stayed for five years.
before in any age of the world was suffered by
His star faded during the 19th century,
the poltroonery of mankind, to run through but now shines brightly within a modern
such a career of mischief.
narrative which places him at the centre
Yet even Adams was forced to confess:
of what he called ‘an Age of Revolutions’, as
I know not whether any man in the world a pioneering opponent of religious superstihas had more influence on its inhabitants tion, advocate of universal rights and cosor affairs for the past 30 years than Thomas mopolitan citizen of the world. As such, he
Paine … Call it then the Age of Paine.
has been feted in a flurry of recent books
exploring his life and influence.
By that time Paine had long been
Into this melée steps the formidable figa household name on two continents, such ure of Jonathan Clark, scholar of Burke and
Polemicist of genius
Jesse Norman
Johnson and author of a brilliant study of
English society and the long 18th century.
This is not a brief life or coffee-table work,
and barely biographical. Rather, it is a very
substantial work of historical scholarship.
Over 500-odd pages, Clark examines every
element of Paine’s achievement and its
enshrouding ideology in context. Very little
survives his critical eye unscathed.
To paraphrase without nuance: Paine
is a polemicist of genius, but nothing
more. His thought is full of the certainties of simple common sense, but with
none of its accumulated wisdom. And it
veers around wildly: from being anti-government to proposing a national system of
poor relief, from despising hereditary monarchy to pleading vainly for clemency for
Louis XVI. He implied he had witnessed
the early revolution in France when he
had not, and smuggled 6,000 words by his
friend the Marquis de Lafayette into The
Rights of Man to fill the gap.
Scholars may disagree with these judgments. Is it really true that Paine has no
worked out theory of rights? Are his ideas
on, say, equal citizenship and pensions not
of huge interest, coming as they do more
than a century before the Lloyd George
reforms of 1908-9? Clark insists, rightly,
that we cannot judge the past by the present. But without that, we may miss part
of Paine’s remarkable continuing appeal.
A man, a boy, a bed
Kate Womersley
Paper Cuts: A Memoir
by Stephen Bernard
Cape, £14.99, pp. 208
Stephen Bernard has led an institutionalised life. Behind the doors of the church
presbytery, at public school, on hospital
wards after repeated suicide attempts, in
therapists’ offices, at Oxford University —
he has sought protection and cure. Some
Stephen Bernard can no longer listen
to Beethoven or Britten, nor has he
ever had a romantic relationship
institutions woefully failed, while others
revived Bernard from the appalling child
abuse inflicted by Canon T.D. Fogarty,
Latin teacher, priest and rapist. An account
of the open wounds left by years of assault,
Paper Cuts is also a memoir about the anxiety of seeking to belong, yet as a survivor
never quite finding a part.
We follow Bernard for a day, now aged
40 and an Academic Visitor at Oxford’s
Faculty of English. He has a looming
deadline to finish an article for the TLS.
Scenes of his abuse as a boy arise abruptly
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
between breaks from writing, while around
town (‘Fogarty’s semen on my back’),
remembering elegant friends from youth
(‘the boniness and weight of him in me. In
me’) and dinner at high table (‘I feel, when
I think of Fogarty, paper cuts’). Bernard
unsettles his readers’ assumptions about
which experiences are quotidian and which
exceptional. ‘A man, a boy. A house, a bed.
How very ordinary, and extraordinary too,’
he writes. The ‘mundane’ details, as he calls
them, of the abuse he and other children
suffered, are set against the rarefied privilege of the Bodleian library. Bernard does
not ask for straightforward sympathy from
us, nor are we permitted to come too close.
Paper Cuts demonstrates the ways in
which minds are authored by one another.
Along with trauma, Fogarty brought classical music, literature, ‘love and the law’
into Stephen’s life, which are now soiled
pleasures. Bernard can no longer listen to
Beethoven and Britten, nor has he ever had
a romantic relationship. As an academic editor, he is influenced by other voices that are
long dead. He finds the Augustans — Pope,
Dryden, Swift — remedial, and so too are
the18th-century newspapers he reads every
morning out of habit. But the voices of psychologists and psychiatrists, with their diagnoses and dismissals, have also left their
mark. Too many professionals, who were
trusted to help, have wanted to ‘build a lie
that explains things, that we can all live with’.
Bernard’s own voice is itself unstable. Passages of the text reflect his paranoid, manic
trains of thought. To temper these instabilities, he is given regular ketamine injections
as part of a drug trial for resistant bipolar disorder. Yet still comes the fear that ‘someone,
somewhere, has malevolent intent... is planning my destruction’. Despite a proven need
for treatment, Bernard is ambivalent about
whether medication’s effect is dishonest. If
‘the needle goes in, and the truth comes out’,
is truth deserting him or finally being heard?
The prescribed sedatives and antipsychotics drown out his delusions: ‘Swallow. The
self. In a bottle.’ By following the regimen,
he has ‘taken charge... let them take charge’.
These nine tablets are a daily reminder
that Bernard does not even fully belong
to himself.
Paper Cuts was written in a mere six
weeks. The prose speaks with immense
power as testimony, but as a whole, the book
does not quite hang together. ‘I wrote it for
myself,’ Bernard confesses, ‘but share it with
you now.’ Which is why it reads like a therapeutic object. The effect of this is somehow
to protect the work from aesthetic evaluation; or at least ensure an audience’s criticism is accompanied by guilt, as if they were
challenging a patient.
I found the passages intoned with wry
humour hardest to read. A ‘good rape’ has
‘a kind of architectural beauty, a musical
perfection’, Bernard tells us, that is ‘almost
impossible not to admire’. By making us
countenance this impossible thought, he
risks becoming unlikeable. However, he
quickly retorts: ‘I am not here to be liked,
but to be believed.’
It is a relief to be granted permission to
acknowledge dislike. Crucially, this is not
the same as disbelief. Paper Cuts is a timely reminder that public anger and censure
of a crime is not necessarily accompanied
by warmth towards its victim. And neither must it. The text has achieved its end
when Bernard finds repose on the final
page, reassuring himself as if still a child —
‘Sleep now, sleep. Rest, rest.’
Delusions of the deserters
Clare Mulley
Operation Chaos: The Vietnam
Deserters who Fought the CIA,
the Brainwashers and Each Other
by Matthew Sweet
Picador, £20, pp. 352
‘Keep my name out of it’, was the fairly
standard reply when Matthew Sweet started researching the story of the GIs who
deserted from Vietnam. People’s concern,
it turned out, however, was not about being
associated just with desertion, but with
a more complex story of duplicity, abuse
and insanity.
Over time, the American Deserters Committee (ADC), the welfare group established to support the deserters in neutral
Sweden, developed into a series of increasingly militant organisations. These were
then infiltrated by the CIA. Sweet tracks
the changing nature of desertion ‘from
an individual act of conscience or cow-
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
ardice to a political step that GIs could
take together’.
But as he tries to unravel the role of the
CIA and chart the changing beliefs, aims
and acts of the deserters, their supporters
and leaders over the following decades, his
book morphs into something more nebulous. ‘Often, while writing this story, I felt as
if I were recording a series of dreams,’ Sweet
admits, before reporting a confession of confusion by one of his interviewees, Michael
Vale, a former leader of the ADC. ‘Matthew,
to tell you the truth,’ says Vale, ‘what exactly
and specifically this book of yours is about
still eludes my grasp.’
To write ‘exactly and specifically’
is a tall order when telling a story about
people motivated by paranoia and delusion as much as politics and ideology. The
CIA’s aptly named ‘Operation Chaos’ was
launched as a counter-subversion project to
gather intelligence and break up the ADC’s
offshoots as they spread internationally, or
at least silence them by letting them know
they were under surveillance. Unfortunately,
this effectively fed the activists’ paranoia and
sustained their conspiracy theories.
By the end of the book, the Swedish
prime minister Olof Palme has been assassinated; a prime suspect has been murdered;
the American successor of the ADC has
developed into a global private intelligence
agency; and its leader, the extraordinarily
unstable Lyndon LaRouche, has been pilloried on The Simpsons and Saturday Night
Live for believing that Queen Elizabeth II
controls the world’s drugs markets. What
started off as a small anti-war movement
had evolved, without intelligent design, into
an independent, international fascist front,
advocating, among other things, increasing
weaponry in space.
Attempting to steer a navigable path
The music slides, conveying some
Lewdness connived at by the brass,
The chuckle of the timpani.
Out in front the solo dances,
An elite naughty girl twirling
Her dress. Quickly they encircle her,
Endorsing her pretty gestures.
The men in black and white rehearse
Their private feelings musically,
Sitting up straight meanwhile like children
In ranks across the stage, behaving
While the music obliges them.
A massed school photo with one girl,
All thinking of her. None looking.
— Patrick Hare
through this chaotic history, Sweet has
written in a Quest for Corvo style, making appearances throughout as he chases
up leads. This allows for a light touch as he
reports on meeting Vale, ‘his face as cracked
as a late period Walter Mathau’; decries
the ‘sadly inappropriate name’ of Eleanor
Hug; or interviews ‘a neatly dressed octogenarian with a Peter Lorre giggle’. In fact
the book is full of neat lines. Clandestine
leaflets produced to guide men through
the system are ‘Baedekers of desertion’;
Stockholm is ‘the Casablanca of the Cold
War’; and anti-imperialist youths march
through Sofia ‘looking optimistically into
a headwind’.
But Sweet’s tone doesn’t always hit the
mark. The wife of a deserter is described
as ‘warm, intelligent, a responsible adult’,
not a comment Sweet felt compelled to
make about any of the men. There are also
numerous asides to illustrate the difficulties involved in tracing this story, ranging
from Scandinavian myths and Sherlock
Holmes to the Victorian Crystal Palace
dinosaurs. In a story as complex as this,
such diversions are not always helpful.
Yet this is a serious book, exploring
some little-known history. In this age of
fake news, which can so easily solidify into
fake history, it is important that such stories are put on record, and we are indebted
to Sweet for the extent of his research.
The political progeny of the ADC
took various different names and forms.
Some people associated with them died
in difficult circumstances; some persist with their delusions to this day. For
a while LaRouche was delighted to have
engaged with the Reagan administration,
and repeatedly stood for president. Later
he was convicted of fraud and given a
15-year sentence.
Others involved eventually stepped
away and rebuilt their lives. Cliff Gaddy,
who deserted from a US Army Security
Agency base in 1970, and may or may not
have been a CIA plant all along, left Sweden just after the assassination of Palme,
and joined the Washington think-tank the
Brookings Institute. He later co-wrote
an influential book about Vladimir Putin
with the Anglo-American foreign affairs
specialist Fiona Hill, named last year as
Trump’s chief strategist on Russia.
‘What had any of it meant?’ Sweet
asks, before considering whether, having
become ‘enmeshed in the events of this
book’, he himself is complicit in some way.
This is a history filled with paranoid people loyal ‘to causes that were mad, meaningless and immoral’. Yet Operation Chaos
also highlights the potential reach of charismatic, manipulative leaders who, even
when they have a preference for fantasy
over reality, can still attract huge support,
divert state resources, and influence the
international political agenda.
Getting so much
better all the time
Sam Leith
Enlightenment Now: The Case for
Reason, Science, Humanism and
by Stephen Pinker
Allen Lane, £25, pp. 576
Steven Pinker’s new book is a characteristically fluent, decisive and data-rich demonstration of why, given the chance to live
at any point in human history, only a stonecold idiot would choose any time other
than the present. On average, humans are
by orders of magnitude healthier, wealthier, nicer, happier, longer lived, more free
and better educated than ever before.
Moreover, as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure noted: ‘Bowling averages are way up,
minigolf scores are way down, and we have
more excellent waterslides than any other
planet we communicate with.’
Some of the many graphs in this book
slant from the bottom left towards the top
right, showing the rise of Good Things, and
some of them (charting the decline of Bad
Things) go the other way. But the gist of
all of them is that something brilliant has
been happening over time, and since the
18th century it has been happening very
fast. It was pretty crap being alive in the
16th century, even if you were, say, the King.
Nowadays, most poor people live better
than even the potentates of old.
Is this obvious? Not as obvious as it
should be. Various cognitive quirks (Pinker’s academic specialisms are brain science and linguistics) incline us to gloom.
The ‘availability bias’ means that if we’ve
read about a bad thing recently we’ll
overestimate the likelihood of it happening to us. Pessimism — possibly an adaptive trait, since you can’t be too careful
— is baked into our worldview. Our news
cycles run in hours rather than decades,
and our news values (it bleeds, it leads)
favour gloom and doom. Catastrophists
and Jonahs — the people Pinker calls
‘progressophobes’ — make the intellectual weather. As he puts it ruefully, a pessimist sounds like they’re trying to help you;
an optimist sounds like they’re trying to
sell you something.
One of the most interesting things in his
book is his emphasis on what economists
call a Kuznets curve: a rebuke to the linear
simplicifications of progressophobes who
see industrialisation as heralding doom to
the environment and devil-take-the-hindmost plutocracy. As industrial capitalism
works its magic, inequality increases... but
in due course goes down again: once lots
of people are wealthy, they start to take an
interest in education, social welfare nets
and so forth. Likewise with the environment: society makes a great leap forward by
belching coal smog and poisoning rivers...
but once people are rich they start to take
more interest in not choking half to death
every time they step out of the front door.
(I simplify a little.)
Pinker was annoyed when, in response
to his previous book The Better Angels
of Our Nature, about the historical decline
of violence, critics sneered that he was being
‘Panglossian’. As he rightly points out,
Dr Pangloss’s claim that we are in ‘the best
of all possible worlds’ was — in context
— the creed of a pessimist: he was saying
that humans have no right to expect better
of a world ordained by the Almighty.
Pinker’s case is the opposite: we
can and should believe in progress, and
we can show it has been achieved, but
we shouldn’t be complacent. In order to
keep the trend going in the right direction
we should keep taking the medicine that got
us this far. This medicine, he calls ‘Enlightenment’ — and his book is a robust defence
of the values that characterised it: reason,
science, humanism and progress. These are
under threat from populists, authoritarians,
command-and-control socialists, antivaxxers, postmodernists (everyone seems to
hate postmodernists these days) and the noplatformers of Generation Snowflake. He
also admits that the threat of nuclear annihilation and/or the complete collapse of the
earth’s ecosystem would put a black fly in
his chardonnay; but he sees these as problems to be solved rather than apocalypses
meekly to be submitted to.
But what does he mean by ‘Enlightenment’? Historians would cavil — and have
cavilled — that there was no single Enlightenment. Here was something that happened, over more than a century, in several
different ways in several different countries,
and it didn’t come out of nowhere. There
were commonalities — a disregard for arguments from religious or political authority; a
strong interest in the use of reason and, associated, the scientific method — but to present it as a unitary and unproblematic thing
is to produce a bit of a straw man. Pinker’s
Enlightenment — which skates a bit around
the theism of the main thinkers of the
period, for instance — presents, as per
his title, a rather now-inflected version of
the Enlightenment.
But none of those objections do much
damage to Pinker’s argument: they simply
query the way he has framed it. He could
just as well have made a case that democracy, market liberalism, free exchange of
ideas, Popperian science, human-rights universalism and a secularisation of the public
sphere have made the world a much better
place for humans to live in, whether or not
you want to call them ‘the Enlightenment’,
and that we should have more of them.
No argument there.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
The Yamato wheels in a tight curve in an effort to avoid aerial bombardment
Going down in glory
Claire Kohda Hazelton
Battleship Yamato:
Of War, Beauty and Irony
by Jan Morris
Pallas Athene, £14.99, pp. 112
In April 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato — the largest and heaviest in history —
embarked upon a suicide mission. The ship
sailed to Okinawa, where a huge American
assault was taking place. Under extensive
enemy fire, it sank, as was expected, to the
bottom of the Pacific. With it, it took 2,280
of its crew. Survivors’ accounts exist and
continued to be taken until very recently.
They describe seamen lost even on board,
unable to find their living quarters because
of the sheer size of the vessel; arrows
painted on decks to indicate the direction
of the bow or stern; and the testing days
before what the crew knew would be the
battleship’s last mission.
Jan Morris, however, does not include the
human stories of the Yamato. Rather, in
this illustrated essay of sorts, she follows
the ship’s journey from a distance. She has
us watch with her, from somewhere above
the ship — perhaps like gods — as it sits
in wait off the Mitajiri shore, and from
‘across the darkening water’ as it prepares
to set out on its final journey. Rarely does
Morris venture on board; while she speculates about the tiny details of the ship and
conjures a sense of something that can
only be described as its character, she does
not linger on the moods or emotions of the
crew. The book, however, is no less human
for it, since Morris’s tremendous skill is
in breathing life into — and making it
possible to empathise with — the inanimate: buildings, cities, ports and, this time,
a ship.
The Yamato, built at Kure, on the Inner
Sea of Japan, at the end of the 1930s, was
a heavy, solid, angular and ultimately brutal machine, weighing 65,000 tons, and
measuring, in length, 263 metres. It was
armed with nine 45 Caliber Type 94 naval
guns, six 155-millimetre guns, 24 127millimetre guns and 162 25-millimetre antiaircraft guns. It was the most powerful warship ever built — ‘the ultimate battleship’
Morris writes, charmingly (and briefly)
shedding her usual elegance. A similarly
laid-out Japanese ship shows weapons on
vast mounts dwarfing the crew, who are
gathered for a group photograph.
Yet, for all of its bravado, the Yamato was not simply a brutal thing, but a
beautiful one, as described by Morris. It is
a beast, alive and with a destiny: a whale
— ancient in its design and purpose —
on a mission to beach itself; a ‘tiger on
a leash’ while it waits to set sail; and,
then, a ‘tiger, unleashed’ when under
attack, ‘tormented by insufferable insects
in hopeless conflict’. Its end is not a sinking, but a suicide. At this book’s close, when
Morris writes of the 1985 discovery of the
Yamato’s wreck at the bottom of the Pacific, we imagine, instead of corroded metal,
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
eroded bones — such is the power of
the imagery.
The Yamato is a symbol. We begin in
Morris’s own study where, on her desk,
are models of the English Prince of Wales,
the German Bismarck and the Yamato
— together, ‘the last word in battleships’.
‘They emblemise for me,’ Morris writes, ‘the
extinction of the imperialist ideology, the
right of one community to lord over another, a notion which the battleship was a prime
executor of.’ But the Yamato, especially, and
its sinking — which took place so close to the
end of the war — had significance all over
the world, not only in Japan. Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, the official historian of
the US Navy, wrote that it had ‘a sentimental interest for all sailors — when she went
down, five centuries of naval warfare ended.’
That the Yamato was Japanese is
incidental to this book. Morris is interested not in the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Japanese or of their weapons,
but in the global nature of both. The
Japanese are consequently not exoticised
or dehumanised (which they often are and
have been), or made to seem different to
any other fighting force at any other place or
time. They are, simply, people under orders,
as people have been for millennia.
Morris makes universal (or, at least,
more familiar to the West, specifically) the
Japanese experience of war — while barely
discussing it directly — by telling the story
of the Yamato through various paintings
(‘Washington crossing the Delaware’ by
Emanuel Leutze; ‘Guernica’ by Picasso), and
through pieces of classical music (Chopin,
‘with his streaks of something dark among
The Yamato’s crew were often lost
on board, unable to find their quarters
for the sheer size of the vessel
the ecstasies’ accompanies the Yamato while
it waits by the Japanese shore; Sibelius, Wagner, Mahler, as it approaches its destination
in the night). This is a book that does not
see enemies, allies, victors or losers. Rather,
the Americans and Japanese ‘contribute’ to
a ‘frenzy’; they do not strike each other but
are themselves struck by ‘Chaos’.
There is a photograph that encapsulates perfectly Morris’s immense powers of
description and evocation. In a birds’-eyeview shot of the Yamato evading enemy fire,
the ship lifts the surface of the sea into one,
curving, white crest, as a whale might. Were
we not to know the subject, we might suspect that it was a majestic, living, breathing
animal, putting on a show for the people flying over it.
In this book, which is as romantic as it is
informative, written as a poet might write
about his or her muse, Morris gives the pronoun afforded to all sea-vessels, ‘she’, new
weight and meaning.
A time for reflection
Amy Sackville
by Jessie Greengrass
John Murray, £14.99, pp. 198
The precarious stasis of late pregnancy
offers the narrator of Jessie Greengrass’s
exceptional first novel a space — albeit an
uncomfortable one — for reflection. She
sifts through her own immediate and past
experience: caring for her dying mother in
her early twenties; her relationship with her
partner Johannes; her childhood; the birth
of her first child.
This fragmented narrative is intercut
with the stories of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the inventor of the X-ray; Sigmund and
Anna Freud; and the 18th-century anatomist, surgeon and empiricist John Hunter
— along with other brief cameos from the
history of science, from the Lumière brothers to the engraver Jan van Rymsdyk. These
figures are not quite fictionalised; the narrator is always present, reminding us that this
is partly guesswork, that there are experiences she ‘can’t imagine’. And yet, through
a kind of sleight of hand, and with the aid
of what is evidently meticulous research (as
conducted by both narrator and author),
these scenes from the past are vividly realised. Admirers of the titular short story of
Greengrass’s collection An Account of the
Decline of the Great Auk, According to One
Who Saw It will find much to enjoy here.
Greengrass was a student of philosophy,
and this is a profoundly and unashamedly
philosophical book. What ties these disparate historical figures together, and to the
narrator’s own project, is the endeavour to
place faith in ‘the promise of the simplifying power of explanation, sight’; to find
meaning, structure, permanence, by making
ourselves ‘transparent’ or ‘explicit’ to ourselves, whether through the revelation, by
X-ray, of ‘all that would not rot’, or through
the scrupulous rigours of analysis. Doctor
K, the narrator’s formidable psychoanalyst
grandmother, believes in our ‘capacity to
trace our lives backwards and pick the patterns out’. We might think this is precisely
the task that the novel is enacting; but it is
as much about the failure to do so, to ever
be able to ‘look hard enough’.
If all this sounds rather chilly or abstract,
it isn’t. The narrative is (painfully, funnily)
rooted in the quotidian. The banality of
bereavement is felt in the demands of the
deceased’s dishwasher, and radiators, and
boiler. The bizarre bodily, emotional and
intellectual estrangement of pregnancy —
‘a kind of fracture, the past lost and the
future suddenly made opaque’ — is subject to the same unflinching and visceral
analysis. The prose is unsentimental, measured, breathtaking in its elegance, but never
precious or mannered. Paragraphs over
several pages, page-long sentences, move
with extraordinary cadence towards devastatingly bathetic or utterly heartbreaking
Physical contact is upheld as a means of
genuine connection with another human
being; a way for the narrator to be ‘less
apart’, and to find ‘[her] place, and where
its edges are’ within her family. Touch, as a
way of knowing, is set against the primacy
of the visual, of ‘seeing’ as ‘understanding’.
Other people are as unknowable to us as we
are to ourselves, but these brief moments of
intimacy go some way to compensate for
the gaps between us, the physical barriers —
the skin, the cell-thick placental membrane
that separates a child from its mother, even
in the womb.
And the book is also about, in part, the
necessity of that separation; the ongoing
and ever-unfinished coming into being of
a person. It brings all these things together, loosely and delicately, in a way that is
unexpectedly and remarkably moving.
Listing or sinking?
Juliet Nicolson
Elisabeth’s Lists: A Family Story
by Lulah Ellender
Granta, £16.99, pp. 336
The arrival at a new foreign posting for
a junior diplomat’s wife in the first half of
the last century was no glamorous picnic, as
she grappled with a ceremonial sword in a
golf bag, three months supply of toothpaste,
a crate of hot water bottles and enough safety pins for every emergency. Born in 1915,
and having lived in Brussels, Paris, Latvia,
Persia and China as a diplomat’s daughter, Elisabeth Knatchbull-Hugessen, aged
In one month in Beirut Elisabeth
attended 13 tea parties, 60 cocktail
parties and 63 lunches or dinners
24, married Gerry Young, a man from her
father’s profession. With marriage she continued the familiar routine of packing and
unpacking, and arriving at, and departing
from, different countries. As the unpaid
‘two-for-the-price-of-one’, she accompanied Gerry on postings to 1940s Spain during the aftershock of the Civil War; to Beirut
in 1944, riddled with Anglo-French tensions;
to exotic but politically riven Rio in 1947;
and finally to the glamour of Paris in 1956.
Each country involved adventure,
unpredictability, hurdles imposed by new
languages, danger and the tedium of official sociability. One month in Beirut she
attended 13 tea parties, 60 cocktail parties
and 63 lunches or dinners and was served
‘stuffed intestines, yards of them’ as well
as ‘rats turned inside out’. At times she
encountered heat, cold and bedbugs and
a sense of shifting identities, of not knowing where she truly belonged. Throughout
this two-decade-long peripatetic existence
Elisabeth made lists in ‘a small red-brown,
marbled hard-back journal’, fulfilling ‘the
human impulse to seek order and clarity
through the act of writing things down’.
These lists in Elisabeth’s neat handwriting, reproduced throughout the book
in facsimile, form the spine of Lulah Ellender’s biography of her grandmother, a story
of vulnerability, resilience and love, quietly
and beautifully told. Each list represents a
significant marker of a moment, of shifting
priorities, of the ebb and flow of the private
and the public life of a grandmother who
died 15 years before Ellender was born.
Lists, as Ellender points out, have
always ranged from the practicality of
grocery shopping to profundity, as when
we ‘lasso our grief, madness and dreams
with neat lines’. Elisabeth makes lists of
wedding presents; of ‘things’ that once
belonged to a much-loved but tragic, complex brother; lists of clothes to pack for
new, tiny children; lists of close friends to
contact in times of great need; Christmas
presents lists; lists of eggs laid by ambassadorial chickens; a list of recipes headed
‘simple cooking’; and a list written after the
birth of a baby when she was suffering from
severe, undiagnosed postnatal stress headed ‘Things that worry me’. And within this
process of making order out of confusion,
rationalising loss, helping memory not to
slip through the gaps, ‘a form of autobiography’ is slowly revealed.
Although the challenges and stuffy
monotony of diplomatic life are enlivened by the humour of the captivating Elisabeth, she is also tossed by
a sequence of emotional waves that threaten to submerge this gutsy, buoyant woman.
Post-natal depression, homesickness,
alcoholism, homosexuality, sibling suicide
and her own mental instability all ripple
around her and occasionally threaten to submerge her.
As Ellender researches, uncovers, interprets, comments and responds to the life of
her grandmother with uninhibited insight,
she also finds herself working out her own
place within this narrative. Early death
has straddled two generations of women,
and Ellender is suddenly confronted by
the realisation that a hereditary gene may
bring illness into her own life and that of
her children. It is here that the real poignancy and originality of this book emerges:
not so much in the backward look at a past
generation living in an apparently rarefied world, but in the stark immediacy of
the present as the threat of the cancer that
Ellender’s adored mother Helen has been
suffering for a while begins to accelerate.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
They fill you with the
faults they had
Tibor Fischer
Writers and their Mothers
edited by Dale Salwak
Palgrave Macmillan, £19.50, pp. 257
You attempt to write a review with a stiff
dose of objectivity, but it’s hard not to start
with a degree of fondness for an anthology
put together by a magician who has performed in North Korea. Dale Salwak also
has a sideline as a professor of literature at
Citrus College in Los Angeles, and Writers
and their Mothers is a collection of 22 pieces
he has edited, by novelists, poets and literary critics, some biographical and analytical,
some autobiographical.
In his introduction, Salwak makes reference to an assertion by Georges Simenon
that writers are ‘united in their hatred of
their mothers’, an assertion, I’d suggest,
that tells you much more about the whoremongering Simenon than about writers
in general.
The first contribution is Hugh Macrae
Richmond’s ‘Shakespeare’s Mother(s)’. It
makes sense to start with the boss, but I
would have thought that a showman like
Salwak would have played a stronger
opening card. Richmond’s reflections are
a respectable, if a slightly index-like run
through of Shakespeare’s works, which
does remind one that Shakespeare was
much better at women than Marlowe or
Jonson — which is perhaps why he’s no. 1.
However, Richmond indulges in the
almost inevitable academic overreach. The
fact that Shakespeare married a woman
eight years older than himself ‘suggests
front reveal that Walt Whitman
was close to his mother and that
Robert Lowell definitely wasn’t.
Rita Dove provides a brief cheatsheet to her poem ‘My Mother
Enters the Work Force’.
There are some distinguished
families here, such as the Lindberghs and the Updikes, although
in the latter’s case I suspect many
readers will pay more attention to
the references to John than to his
long-suffering wife, in the tribute
from their son, David.
The novelists in the collection
tend to come out best. Margaret Drabble has a highly entertaining examination of Samuel
Beckett’s friction-filled dealings
with his mother, whom Drabble
believes ‘forged his genius’. That
may well be true, but I’d maintain Joyce was nevertheless the
greatest influence on Beckett’s
style, simply because he didn’t
leave his disciple anywhere else
to go but Waiting for Godot and
First Love.
There are strong autobiographical submissions from Ian
McEwan, Martin Amis, Catherine Aird and Tim Parks.
McEwan really vivisects himself
and spills his guts in his portrait
of his mother in ‘Mother Tongue’
(something that will doubtless
provide fodder for doctorates in
decades to come).
Both his mother and his ‘wicked stepmother’, the novelist Elizabeth Jane
Howard, get a sympathetic write up from
Martin Amis, a chronicle that at the same
time unfurls a great deal about himself
Just as her grandmother’s lists created
structure in the rootless life of a diplomatic wife and mother, so the gradual creative process of writing this book becomes
a receptacle in which Ellender can store
and secure her own thoughts, and especially the precious but potentially evanescent
memories of her mother. As the chances of Helen’s survival recede, and as her
life unravels ‘in increments’, the book of
Elisabeth’s lists becomes for Ellender ‘an
essential companion, something to protect
me’ while her fear of loss is ‘like walking
along a rotten wooden bridge suspended over a raging river’, the edges of her
life ‘blurry and uncertain’. But, she says,
‘I can’t look away now.’
As she perseveres with a story that
travels between past, present and future,
it is Ellender’s own courage at confronting and living through these painful
truths that makes her book so powerful
and enriching.
John Ruskin as a boy, seated beside
his mother, listening to the sermon
acceptance of female superiority in sexual
relationships’. For all we know, Shakespeare
might have been pulling some heavy 50
shades action on Anne Hathaway, or indeed
Elizabeth I.
I’ve never had much time for John Ruskin’s writing, but his life was a hoot. Anthony Daniels explains that ‘he lived with his
mother most of his life, until her death aged
90 in 1871.’ Ruskin was famously subjected to divorce proceedings on the grounds
of non-consummation and when he ‘was
lodged as a student in Oxford, his mother
took lodgings herself on the High Street,
to which her son repaired each evening,
until he left the university’. Has anyone
checked out John Ruskin as a fit for Jack
the Ripper?
Am I alone in this? Is it just me? I simply can’t bear to read anything more about
Sylvia Plath’s life. Ever. Under any circumstances. Just leave the poor woman
alone, no matter how well you do it, Adrianne Kalfopoulou. Similarly, we may be
reaching peak Larkin, as even in the slick
account by Philip Pullen of Eva Larkin, we
get more about Larkin and Monica Jones,
who are shaping up to be the new Ted ’n’
Sylvia of poetry exegesis.
Further investigations on the poetry
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Has anyone checked out John Ruskin
as a fit for Jack the Ripper?
and Kingsley. Catherine Aird summons
up the harshness of the war years, and as
you would expect from a crime writer, has
a marvellous anecdote about her mother
meeting a complete stranger in the street,
who is wearing what are indisputably her
mother’s clothes.
Tim Parks closes with ‘Her Programme’,
a description of his mother’s funeral service.
It’s certainly the most powerful piece in the
collection, one that is very moving and that
gives a distinct sense of his mother’s character: a narrative that manages to be both
visceral and artful.
Writers as a group are, typically, overendowed with ego and willing to commit
almost any transgression for a good sentence or line; so it’s heartening to see how
they are generally cowed and humbled by
maternal love, and are grateful for it.
First novels
Shadows of the past
Stuart Evers
The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow
by Danny Denton
Granta, £12.99, pp. 368
by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Oneworld, £14.99, pp. 443
by Emma Glass
Bloomsbury, £12.99, pp. 112
The Shangri-Las’ song ‘Past, Present and
Future’ divides a life into three, Beethovenunderpinned phases: before, during and
after. Each section turns in on the next, binding them together with devastating effect.
It is one of the oddest and most radically structured moments in pop, and one
that came to mind when reading these
three very different debut novels. With
similar temporal concerns to the LieberButler-Morton lyric, each traces the
implications of past action on the present —
and how these in turn could shape the
coming years.
The future is most notably explored in
Danny Denton’s brilliantly conceived The
Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow, a polyphonic trawl through the murky waters of a permanently raining Irish dystopia. The plot,
in precis, looks suspiciously conventional: a teenage runner for a crime syndicate
decides to escape a life of violence, rescue
his daughter from the head of the family and
fulfil the promise he made to his now-dead
girlfriend. But what could have been a
standard-issue, sub-Clockwork Orange tale
of unlikely redemption becomes a daring and
tightly orchestrated story of myth, narrative
and love.
The prose is a firecracker in the cloudburst; sentences twist one way and the other,
Joycean wordplay meeting street slang and
invented parlance. But Denton’s ability to
create a fully rendered cityscape and a varied
series of communities is equally impressive.
His drowned Dublin is authentic and meticulous, cinematic and sensuous; his characters,
whether fleeting or part of the principal cast,
are rounded, full and bloodied. And while
this is a violent, unforgiving novel, its tender
For the One Only
As we walk, she says she hears
waxwing, fieldfare and redwing;
you seldom see them now, she says,
but, if you listen, you can hear them sing.
Above, the clouds accumulate
to what may yet become a storm.
The brambles stretch across the path
to slow us down.
We’re coming closer every day
to where things end, that gulping beast
which swallows everyone
as if we didn’t matter in the least.
And who’ll go first, you or me?
Me, who worries if you go alone
to town? You, afraid I might indulge
(old fool) in this or that, too much, too soon?
Think of something else, you say, something nice.
The oaks have held their leaves
later than the ash, though colours merge –
and somewhere far away a raptor grieves.
— C.J. Driver
depiction of friendship and family help counterbalance the unremitting darkness of the
future. Hope, Denton implies, is always there,
no matter how grey the sky.
If hope underscores The Earlie King,
then fear is the primary driving force of
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu: specifically, of the long arm of the past on the
shoulder of the present. In 1750, on his way
to pay homage to the new leader of the kingdom of Buganda, Kintu Kidda commits a
murder that will curse generations of
his descendants.
Epic both in intention and execution,
Kintu contains a vast number of characters,
avenging ghosts and portentous visions —
and, in Uganda, there is no shortage of history to navigate. But though one might expect
Idi Amin to feature prominently, Makumbi
resists the temptation. Amin is there (just as
the Aids epidemic, colonialism and tribalism are all present and correct) but only in
as much as his regime weighs on the characters’ lives.
It is just one of many judicious narrative
decisions that gives Kintu a sense of purpose.
Some sections are weaker than others; Book
I, for instance, focusing on the original Kintu
Kidda, seems airless and hidebound with
research. But the final coming together of
the entire Kintu clan, arrived at with precision and intricacy, makes for a satisfying and
thoughtful denouement.
While Denton and Makumbi play fast
and loose with time, Emma Glass’s Peach
unfurls in a more constricted framework.
It opens in the aftermath of an attack on the
narrator, Peach, and closes a few days later
at a family gathering. What happens between
these events — and how Peach deals with
her assault — is related in an urgent, rhythmic unspooling of language. Internal rhymes,
alliteration and onomatopoeia dominate
the short, insistent sentences, suggesting a
woman recreating the world entirely from
words that immediately present themselves
to her.
This improvisational style comes with
many pitfalls, which Glass generally dodges,
only fleetingly hitting a discordant note with
an overstretched motif or bout of alliteration. Peach’s voice is unsettling, idiosyncratic and discomforting, as well as being moving
and utterly absorbing.
Glass never quite lets the reader settle
on what is actually happening (or what has
happened) and what is Peach’s invention.
The latter’s infant brother appears, literally,
as a jelly baby; her boyfriend is part-tree; her
biology teacher a blob of custard; only her
parents, a hilarious pair of libidinous solipsists, appear as conventional human beings.
This sense of radical domestic fantasy gives the novel a raw power, as well as
provoking multiple interpretations. It may
occasionally confound, but Peach is a bold,
memorable novel — gripping, strange and
utterly singular.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Doris Lessing in her mid sixties
Flitting from flower
to flower
Sara Wheeler
Free Woman: Life, Liberation
and Doris Lessing
by Lara Feigel
Bloomsbury, £20, pp. 336
‘I am interested only in stretching myself, in
living as fully as I can.’ Lara Feigel begins
her thoughtful book with this assertion by
Anna Wulf, the protagonist of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and it rather sums up the whole endeavour of the
volume. Feigel weaves close readings of
Lessing’s prose, both fiction and non-fiction,
with accounts of her own self-stretching.
Feigel, an academic, had read Lessing
as an undergraduate, but, returning to her
in her thirties, she discovered in the books
a stimulating discussion about ‘how as a
woman to reconcile your need to be desired
by men with your wish for sexual equality’. She is particularly interested in the
way Lessing ‘placed sexual fulfilment at the
centre of women’s lives’.
There are big questions here. Lessing,
says Feigel, ‘had allowed me to see my own
sense of the inextricable nature of body and
mind, of the personal and political, as the
basis for thinking about life’. She follows
Lessing geographically — to Zimbabwe, for
example — and in her pursuits, including
‘brushes with adultery’ and psychoanalysis. (Ronnie Laing naturally steps on stage.)
In Los Angeles, Feigel interviews Clancy Sigal, with whom Lessing had a serious
love affair. He once said, ‘compared to her
writing, cooking was her real genius’. Philip
Glass, with whom Lessing worked and on
whom she had an unrequited crush, refuses
to meet the author. So she goes to hear one
of his operas instead.
Feigel ranges over the prose, the letters
and diaries (many in a Sussex archive),
and the life of her prey. Descriptions of the
farm in the Banket District of the maizegrowing region of Lomagundi where
Lessing grew up in what was then Southern Rhodesia are wonderfully evocative.
Feigel understands the importance of specificity: we hear Lessing’s father’s wooden
leg banging as he climbs up and down
mine shafts in a futile attempt to find gold
on his land.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
She examines how Lessing ferried
ideas about how to be a free woman into
her fiction. Other writers pop up, notably
D.H. Lawrence, though concerning identity rather than being a woman.Through
it all Feigel reflects Lessing’s ideas back
on herself. ‘In order to be truthful,’ she
writes, ‘and therefore in order to be free, I
had to expose, both in person and in print,
the side of me that was dislikeable.’ That
is brave.
The arrangement of material is roughly chronological, from Lessing’s childhood, through two marriages, the move
to London in 1949, communism, a 30-year
dalliance with Free Love (Lessing said
she liked ‘flitting from flower to flower’),
Sufism and the post-menopause adoption
of an identity of asexual frump with a bun.
I only knew Lessing personally in that latter role and, reading this book, I’m sorry
I missed the earlier years. Then, of course,
the call from Stockholm. Regarding the
communist interlude, Lessing reluctantly
left the Party after Hungary, but she didn’t
give up on it altogether for several years.
There is much debate over her famous
decision to abandon her first two children. Feigel is even-handed, citing all that
Winnicottian nonsense about ‘maternal ambivalence’ (the concept isn’t nonsense, but Winnicott’s opinions were). Is it
wrong, she asks, ‘for writers to claim a special privilege when it comes to maternal
ambivalence?’ Yes, in my view, it is wrong,
but Feigel does not trade in glib answers.
Everything is this book is seriously handled. Through Lessing and other writers,
for example, Feigel traces the evolution of
attitudes to mothering.
Orgasms feature quite a bit. Some
readers might feel less information would
have been preferable. In discussing the
slow disintegration of her own marriage,
Feigel describes an episode when her husband withdraws from coitus at the crucial
moment against her wishes because he
doesn’t feel ready to have another child
with her. Is this information for the public
domain? Of course, she is following Lessing,
who, in her autobiography and in her fiction,
did not shrink from such details. Remember
Anna Wulf describing her period at wearying length in The Golden Notebook?
Feigel’s previous books include The Bitter Taste of Victory, about love and art in
the ruins of the German Reich. She is an
accomplished writer, and able to acknowledge the ‘patchiness’ of Lessing’s prose,
while freely admitting that her relationship with the novelist has amounted to an
‘obsession’. Free Woman is not a biography, but the same artistic process is at work:
as a biographer, you think you are going
to possess your subject, but they always
end up possessing you. It’s fertile ground,
and Feigel a fine explorer. I really enjoyed
this book.
James Woodall on Picasso at his
creative – and carnal – zenith
y 1930, Pablo Picasso, nearing 50,
was as rich as Croesus. He was the
occupant of a flat and studio in rue
La Boétie, in the ritzy 8th arrondissement,
owner of a country mansion in the northwest, towards Normandy, and was chauffeured around in an adored Hispano-Suiza. He stored the thousands of French
francs from the sale of his work in sacks
deep inside a Banque de France vault, like
a ‘country bumpkin who keeps his savings
sewn into his mattress’, someone once said.
Married since 1918 to one of Sergei
Diaghilev’s ballerinas, Olga Khokhlova,
Picasso was coming to dominate the art
world in a manner no painter has before or
since — including, increasingly and importantly, New York. But by mid-1931, he had
worries. After the pioneering profligacy of
his cubist period some 15 years before, followed by the gigantist neoclassical works
of the 1920s, he had begun to sculpt — as a
hobby, really — and was no longer painting
with quite the verve and daring of his twenties and thirties.
This, of course, is relative. An astounding ‘Crucifixion’ of February 1930 and his
jagged ‘Seated Bather’ from later that year
are, by any standards, masterpieces. But he
was, in his own mind, in hiatus. Picasso was
pursued throughout his long life by a pathological dread of death, specifically of dying
before he had created what he considered a
proper legacy.
It was the Picasso paradox: turning 40
in 1921, his fame and earning power were
assured and growing. Yet as the 1920s wore
on he became highly acquisitive, a hoarder, terrified of not doing enough and being
returned to the abject poverty he’d suffered
in his early Paris years.
In 1930, moreover, his mother had been
robbed in Barcelona of 400 of her son’s artworks, a miserable episode that would drag
on for eight years, and which saw Picasso
frequently attacked for self-publicity and
for keeping his mother in penury (he didn’t).
His wife Olga, meanwhile, was sliding into
mental decline, her marriage to the demonic,
dismembering artist characterised from the
mid-1920s by rows and hysteria, her physical
health undermined by frequent gynaecological haemorrhaging.
As his sixth decade approached, something flipped in Picasso. He would stop at
nothing either to renew himself or get richer. The signal public event of 1932, the year
being celebrated at a monumental Picasso
exhibition at Tate Modern — an expanded version of a recent four-month hang at
Paris’s Musée Picasso — was the first major
show of his career.
‘Why,’ Picasso was reported as saying in
mid-June of that year, ‘should I deny myself
the joy of seeing once again everything that
I produced over a third of a century? So
here I am, reinvigorated and full of life, taking care of an exhibition of my works for the
first time [at Paris’s Galeries Georges Petit],
like a lad of 20. It feels as if I’m witnessing a
retrospective vision of myself ten years after
my death.’
Reinvigorated and full of life he certainly was. An unslakeable thirst for work lies
behind Picasso 1932 — Love, Fame, Tragedy. Along with numerous drawings, prints
and bits of sculpture, he produced 64 individual paintings in his 51st year. He knew
his worth. Three months into 1932, a 1906
canvas, ‘La Coiffure’, sold in Paris for a then
record 56,000 francs (£200,000 today). (By
the mid-1930s, the vast wads of cash in the
bank vault required more than one strongroom.) The milestone birthday on 25 October 1931 released in him energies that would
have been startling enough in a lad of 20.
Here, right from the start of 1932, are
serene, voluptuous portraits of a woman
sleeping, resting, reading and dreaming. With a phallic brush, Picasso obsesses repeatedly over a classical Greek-like
female head; sensual, octopoid, with frondlike limbs; spherical breasts and enfolding vaginal apertures — to say nothing of
bulbous penile rods and shafts. The oneiric
images are set sometimes on a beach but
most often in an interior. In the frame there
is frequently a mirror, an armchair, a plant.
Chasing girls was another of Picasso’s
weapons against death
Most of the pictures pulsate with sexual
adventure and bodily contentment. One,
‘Bather with Beach Ball’, shows the same
woman as a kind of pneumatic angel, reaching athletically for the moon. It’s one of the
seminal oil paintings of the 1930s. All are
probing, radiant works.
What of sex? Tellingly, the Musée Picasso show’s subtitle was ‘Année érotique’. At
the start of 1927 the then 45-year-old artist
had spotted the blonde 17-year-old MarieThérèse Walter in a Paris street. He simply
picked her up and announced they were
going to do ‘great things together’. She’d
never heard of him, so to convince her
Picasso marched her to a bookshop where
various volumes about him proved that he
was a famous artist. Five years later she
had become his regular model, muse and
mistress. She lies plumb at the heart of the
Andalusian’s 1932.
Outwardly, he and Olga lived a life of
conjugal parity. In Paris they attended opera
premières and concerts, though not, interestingly, the vernissage on 16 June of Picasso’s
first retrospective. It’s probable that the
shock for his wife of being confronted by so
many concupiscent images of Walter would
have caused ‘an ugly scene’ claims Picasso’s
biographer John Richardson. It’s also likely
that Olga knew about the girl by that point.
For their assignations in Paris, painterly and
sexual, Picasso had rented a Left Bank flat.
He also had her stay frequently — when
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Cherchez la femme: ‘Reclining Nude (Femme nue couchée)’, 1932, by Pablo Picasso
Olga was absent — at the unheated country
mansion, Boisgeloup. There, plump and formally dressed, Picasso behaved with his family ‘like a quintessential bourgeois husband
and father’, Richardson writes, ‘the antithesis of the priapic polymorph he would turn
back into, after his wife and child returned
to Paris’.
He was also chasing girls in Paris. It was
a habit from his promiscuous youth: another of his weapons, now, against death. Little
about the girls in question is known, though
one was a Japanese model, of whom two portraits were made in the summer of 1932. Olga
put an end to the affair, something she never
attempted with Walter. Picasso was insatiable. In company, Richardson observed,
‘everyone had to be seduced’ by him. ‘He’d
imbibe all that stolen energy and stride off
into the studio and work all night. I can’t
imagine the hell of being married to him!’
It wasn’t all sex for the 50-year-old,
though there was clearly lots of it, matched
only by the unremitting pace of work. Darkness descended at year’s end, when Picasso produced the most astonishing series
of prints and drawings of the crucifixion,
inspired by Grünewald’s late 15th-century ‘Isenheim Altarpiece’. These clattering,
boney pictures cover substantial wall space
at Tate Modern and seem to stand as a corrective to the lush sensuality that has gone
before. Picasso sensed that every carnal
pleasure is inevitably, existentially, followed
by mortal pain. Everything must end; this he
painted throughout his career.
The ‘tragedy’ of Tate Modern’s title
refers in part to Walter losing her beautiful tresses in late autumn 1932 after swimming, or possibly kayaking, in the Marne.
She caught a spirochetal infection from rats
in the river. For Picasso, who produced a
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
number of haunted pictures of his girlfriend
being saved from the water, this too was an
end. A spell was broken. Nonetheless, within
two years she was pregnant by him. A girl,
Maya, was born in September 1935 (and is
still with us). Picasso then took a new lover:
Dora Maar.
Shrewdly, Tate Modern has mounted a
detailed show that displays this half-man
half-monster at a creative zenith. Picasso
was drawing on his brilliant past while laying foundations for an even more extraordinary future. His 20th-century masterpiece
‘Guernica’ lay five years away. But as picture after picture at Tate Modern shows,
Picasso at 50 felt younger than ever; and,
one might add, hornier.
The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love,
Fame, Tragedy is at Tate Modern until
9 September.
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Grade: A
Here we are in that twilit zone where
post-techno and post-ambient meets
modern classical, a terrain that has its
fair share of tuneless charlatans and
chancers. Frahm is not one of those.
There are of course the repetitive
synthesiser arpeggios familiar to
anyone who has had the misfortune
to sit in some achingly hip Dalston
café: slightly too many for my liking
on ‘#2’, which Frahm may consider
the centrepiece of this album. But
the German is obsessively attuned
to nuance. Beneath those Glass-like
riffs there is plenty going on: descant
melodies, counterpoints burbling
up out of the ether. He stretches
himself, too, using wordless vocals on
‘The Whole Universe Wants To Be
Touched’ (yes, the titles are almost
all unforgivable) and elsewhere
trumpets and marimba.
Fortunately for the listener,
though, he is still in thrall to the
acoustic piano, the instrument that
brought him to prominence. On his
recent UK gigs he performed one
piece, from the 2011 album Felt, by
hitting the piano strings with toilet
brushes, a rather arch nod to Henry
Cowell. Here, instead, he plays the
piano by pushing down the keys
with his fingers, as you’re meant
to, on the beautiful ‘My Friend The
Forest’ and ‘Forever Changeless’.
These impressionistic little tunes
manage to be sparse and romantic,
the kind of thing Erik Satie might
have come up with if he was idly
tinkling at the piano while waiting
for his Morrison’s Signature Range
cauliflower cheese to microwave.
That’s just fine by me.
Yes, Frahm is clever with textures.
But as the title implies, it’s the
melodies which drag you in.
— Rod Liddle
Ladies first
Kate Chisholm
You can’t move for women’s voices on the
airwaves at the moment — Julie Walters on
Classic FM leading off its new big series on
turning points in music. Kate Molleson and
Georgia Mann joining Sarah Walker and
Fiona Talkington on Radio 3 (which this
week also gave a big nod to female composers such as Amy Beach, Florence Price and
Sofia Gubaidulina). Emma Barnett spicing up the political interview on Radio Five
Live. It feels a bit like tokenism, too much
too late. As if it’s going to make up for all
those centuries of men in the driving seat of
life. But the effect of hearing women’s voices
almost whenever you switch on is like drinking fresh lemonade on a hot day, slightly
acidic but invigorating.
Take Carla Bruni on Radio 2. Not exactly
a feminist icon. And to begin with her latenight series on Wednesdays, Carla Bruni’s
C’est la Vie (produced by Paul Smith), was
all a bit soupy as she talked about falling
in love with her husband Nicolas Sarkozy.
I never expected to last the full hour but
found myself drawn in by Bruni’s intimate
way of talking as if to me alone, her connection with the microphone, her voice so soft
and sultry. She brought a completely different tone to the nation’s favourite station. It
was like being taken direct to Paris.
Her choice of music was not exactly eclectic, and her own tracks featured
perhaps a mite more than was necessary (including a rather ghastly version of
Tammy Wynette’s great anthem ‘Stand By
Your Man’). But she did also give us Jacques
Brel, Françoise Hardy, Leonard Cohen and
of course Serge Gainsbourg (so overrated).
It’s impossible not to succumb to her deftness of touch, her straightforward love of
harmony and melody; nothing jars, no hard
feelings. It’s as if in the world of Bruni nothing bad ever happens, which in these times is
infectiously refreshing (although next week
she is focusing on melancholy). Along the
way, we heard about her meeting with Bob
Dylan a few years ago. He gave one of his
harmonicas to Sarkozy. ‘I don’t know why he
gave it to my man. But I tell you it went right
into my pocket as soon as I got into the car.’
A meeting between Bruni and Val Wilmer, the music journalist, photographer and
historian, whose work was featured on Sunday night on Radio 3 (produced by Steve
Urquhart), would be something to witness,
Bruni, I rather suspect, being minced by
Wilmer’s sardonic tongue. Wilmer became
one of the foremost chroniclers of AfricanAmerican musical culture through her writing about the great black jazz musicians of
the 1960s and 1970s. Her working life began
aged 14 when she took a photograph of
Louis Armstrong at London Airport. She
got into jazz when she stumbled across Ray
Charles singing ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ on Radio
Luxembourg while sitting at the kitchen
table revising for exams. It was, she says,
‘The most arresting, dramatic sound I’d ever
heard.’ She had grown up singing ‘Nymphs
and Shepherds’ in the school hall. From that
to Charles was, she says, ‘quite some leap’.
As a teenager she wrote to the musicians
she liked listening to, mostly black, and
through the letters she received back from
them she found stories which she began
sending to music magazines. Memphis Slim
had a meal with her family in Streatham; so
did Charlie Mingus. All because of her letters. At the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1969, the
journalist Richard Williams remembers how
Wilmer was greeted as a friend by all the
members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
To get the stories she later told in books such
as As Serious As Your Life she didn’t, she
says, ‘ask complicated questions’, but simple
things like ‘Where did you get your saxophone?’ or ‘Who did you play with first?’
Not for the first time, but still a rarity,
Composer of the Week on Radio 3 featured a
woman, Rachel Portman, best known for her
film scores (she was the first female composer to win an Oscar, for Emma in 1996). In
conversation with Donald Macleod, Portman revealed how for her first commission
she had just three-and-a-half weeks to provide 45 minutes of music. Recently she’s
been studying psychotherapy and sees a
link between her two professions: ‘Whenever I’ve been working on a project I’ve really had to understand a character, a world, a
place. You have to really attune to it… to
someone’s psyche.’
The music we heard was fantastically
varied, with great textures and a variety of
instrumentation (for the film of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, she was told by the director
not to use any western classical instruments).
But what really cut through the airwaves
was her account of moving with her two
young children to LA while working on a
film. One day she came back and realised
the house had been broken into. She called
the police who entered the building but soon
came out ashen-faced. ‘There’s a body in the
pool,’ they told her.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
laurence edwards
The maquettes
All Roads, 2012
Loaded, 2012
IYVUaL¶UVVMHZLYPLZVM __JTZ À8 x 491À4 x 161À8 ins
Sylvan Study, 2017
Chase, 2009
14 March –
6 April
These maquettes are works of real artistic intimacy and power – as working studies
they have the gift to reveal the artist in the act of making creative decisions, sometimes
trying risky ideas – which means they are communicating an exciting, personal
After winning a Henry Moore Bursary, the Angeloni Prize for Bronze Casting and an
Intach Travelling Scholarship, in the summers of 1989 and 1990 Edwards travelled to
Fully illustrated catalogue with informative text – £15 inc p&p.
2 8 C ork Street , L ond on W1S 3 N G
Tel: + 4 4 ( 0 )2 0 74 3 7 5 5 4 5
w w w.mes sums.c om
Save the children
Lloyd Evans
Fanny & Alexander
Old Vic, until 14 April
Harold and Maude
Charing Cross Theatre, until 31 March
Fanny & Alexander opens like a Chekhov
comedy and turns into an Ibsen tragedy.
Ingmar Bergman’s movie script, adapted
by Stephen Beresford, has been directed
for the stage by Max Webster. The children,
Fanny and Alexander, belong to the famous
Ekdahl acting dynasty who live in Bohemian
chaos. Their home is full of jokes and pranks
and sophisticated merriment, and the family
business is overseen by their grandmother
(Penelope Wilton), who runs their theatrical
affairs with a benignly imperious eye.
Then disaster strikes. The kids’ father
dies of a brain haemorrhage while rehearsing the Ghost in Hamlet. Their mother,
Emilie, is comforted by the sinister Bishop
Edvard who marries her and moves the children into his chilly episcopal palace. It’s like
I’d hesitate to take a youngster to
this production because the editing
has been botched
a prison camp with nice oak furniture. Meals
consist of dry bread and mulched turnips.
This diet suits the bishop’s crippled mother who wears aviator sunglasses and sucks
up her gruel with accompanying Dyno-Rod
noises. The effect is comic and disgusting but
also genuinely terrifying because the bishop
is a certifiable psychopath. He wants to control everyone around him because he can’t
control himself. When Alexander commits
a footling offence the bishop thrashes him
savagely and forces him to express thanks
for his punishment.
Meanwhile, the Ekdahl relatives plot to
spring the children from captivity. Their plan
falters. More twists follow. There is much to
adore about this show. Tom Pye’s painterly sets look marvellous. Penelope Wilton
and Michael Pennington are on great form
as a pair of elderly lovers. And the tale is
deliberately calculated to appeal to adults
and children alike. Grown-ups will be deliciously horrified at the contrast between
the warm-hearted Ekdahls and the brutal
asceticism of Bishop Edvard. And the role
of Alexander (amusingly played by Misha
Handley on press night) is a gift for any
11-year-old. He opens the play with a jokey
monologue and he gets to rant and rave,
and even to swear vulgarly, at the adults
who terrorise him. And yet I’d hesitate to
take a youngster to this production because
the editing has been botched. Serious cuts
Shall we dance: the cast of Fanny & Alexander at the Old Vic
are needed. The show runs to three-and-ahalf hours (including two thumb-twiddling
15-minute intervals), which places it well
beyond a child’s endurance.
Harold and Maude is a 1960s relic written by the late Colin Higgins who directed
the hit movie 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton.
This sketchy effort belongs to his apprentice years. The tale opens with Mrs Chasen, a
moneyed New Yorker, trying to find a bride
for her handsome but idle 19-year-old son
Harold. She uses a computerised service to
select suitable women but Harold sabotages every date by attempting suicide in front
of his prospective girlfriend. This is a covert nod to Harold’s homosexuality. Ignoring his mom’s dynastic yearnings, Harold
strikes up a Platonic friendship with Maude,
a dotty Austrian countess who enjoys climbing trees, liberating zoo animals and attending the funerals of people she’s never met.
She’s 79 and she offers Harold a moral education. Life is about embracing fresh experiences, she says, it’s about building bridges
and destroying the fences and walls that separate people.
The play has many of the faults, and
some of the virtues, of the 1960s. It’s disorganised, childish, a little preachy at times,
far too ready to forgive its own failings, and
conspicuously self-deluding. Maude may be
a charming old dear but she’s also a thief.
She keeps a set of purloined master-keys in
her skirts which she uses to steal cars whenever it suits her. The script asks for all kinds
of off-beat flourishes: musical solos, har-
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
here from Sheila Hancock as the whimsical drifter Maude. Mrs Chasen, a sort of
muted Lady Bracknell, is performed by the
excellent Rebecca Caine whose dictatorial
manner conceals real warmth and humour.
Joanna Hickman, brilliantly funny, plays
the full harem of comic girlfriends spurned
by Harold. The costumes by Jonathan Lipman are a sumptuous collection that do
ample justice to the multicoloured hippie
aesthetic. Had I put money into this show
I’d be in two minds about it. Delighted at
the better-than-expected results and yet
dismayed that I’d thought it worth bothering with.
Gallic pieties
Michael Tanner
monised songs, exploding cupboards and
strange sound effects, including a policeman
who barks like a seal. These tricky details,
potentially ruinous, are done very stylishly
and the piece has a commendable integrity. It succeeds in capturing the crazed optimism of the 1960s when youngsters in the
west seriously believed that universal happiness, like technological innovation, might
not just be attainable but inevitable. Maude
embodies that aspiration.
Director Thom Southerland deserves
top marks for delivering an excellent version of a wonky script. The first half is too
slow and Harold’s failed suicides become
drearily predictable. But the action in the
second half is crisper, much funnier and full
of good surprises. There’s excellent work
My two attempts to see Poulenc’s Dialogues
des Carmélites at the Guildhall School were
frustrated by the weather. Forced back on to
my DVDs and CDs — vinyl, even — I took
the opportunity to survey some of the manifestations and investigations of religious
feeling in 20th-century French music.
I began with Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal,
an opera he composed in 1895 which used
to be referred to as ‘the French Parsifal’.
Refreshing my memory of the plot by
looking it up in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, I was struck by the writer’s
insistence that, while the work is heavily
influenced by Wagner, ‘[d’Indy] had a better sense of dramatic pacing than Wagner,
and more essential humanity’. That sent
me back to my private recording of Fervaal, the only one there’s ever been, and
two hours of mild amusement at the flagrancy of d’Indy’s indebtedness to what all
Frenchmen were by then calling the wizard
of Bayreuth, and my fairly strong boredom
at how little purpose he put it to.
The French were naturally better at
being decadent than anyone else, but
though the phenomenon fascinates as a
concept, decadent art itself soon becomes
a bore, as no one shows more conclusively
then Huysmans. The atmosphere of sickly
revulsion from the flesh and the appeal
of Catholic ritual at its most ornate was
something that French composers, in the
main, reacted against too little and too late.
Even such a genius as Debussy, who wrote
no music of, or about, religious feeling
except for Le Martyre de Saint-Sebastien,
was deformed by these sentiments. He was
aided by the text by d’Annunzio, and you
can’t get more gamey than that. The result
(I love the fact that Ida Rubinstein was to
dance the title role, but was banned by the
Archbishop of Paris from doing so because
she was not only female but also a Jew) is
Debussy’s dreariest score, which could nev-
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
ertheless only have been composed by a
genius misusing his gift. Aside from trying
to enjoy being wicked yet somehow holy,
French religious music of the last century
tended towards gentility and threadbare
consolation as manifest in Fauré’s Requiem
and even more so in his disciple Duruflé’s
work of the same genre. That is until neoclassicism came to the rescue.
Poulenc, though hardly a revolutionary
figure, still creates a considerable, and positive, impact with his own religious works,
which can be exultant, as in the exhilarating Gloria, or as anguished as the Four
Motets for a Time of Penitence. When it
comes to his largest work, Dialogues des
Carmélites, he is treading a tightrope, and
induces the feeling, at least in me, that if he
falls off it will be into either Catholic campness or mere bathos. When a production of
it succeeds, as several that I have seen do, it
is one of the most moving of 20th-century
operas, deserving of a far higher reputation
than it tends to have. How many passages
in opera of any time are more harrowing
than the prioress’s death agonies and vastation? The affection that Poulenc shows
for Sister Constance’s inability to be as
How many passages in opera are
more harrowing than the prioress’s
death agonies and vastation?
grave as her calling requires, and Blanche’s
perpetual anxiety, often bordering on hysteria, seems to me to be at least as genuine as anything in Britten’s operas. The
final scene, with the swishing of the guillotine and the progressive reduction in the
number of singers, if done with simplicity,
provides a conclusion that manages to be
moving without any bid to shake us to our
foundations — in other words, not German.
No one will be converted to Christianity as
a result of listening to the Carmélites; that
isn’t its point. But it emphatically does not
exploit religious feelings in the way that,
say, Suor Angelica does.
For a French opera that is not only
about religion but is itself a religious act, we
need to go, obviously, to Messiaen’s Saint
François d’Assise. I count the four performances I have been to, three in San Francisco and one at the Proms, as among the
most momentous in my musical life. Here,
at last, is a work untouched by doubt, insistence or sentimentality. It’s only a pity that
its demands are so extreme, in terms of the
number of performers required and the
stamina too, both sides of the footlights.
Yet at a time when people flock to endless
operas by pretentious minimalists, and ones
that make equal material demands without
making any spiritual claims — which are, in
fact, negations of the spirit — couldn’t this
uniquely uplifting opera have more than
the once-in-a generation airing that is its
present fate?
All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a
Century of Painting Life
Tate Britain, until 27 August
Faulty connections
Martin Gayford
In the mid-1940s, Frank Auerbach
remarked, the arbiters of taste had decided what was going to happen in British art:
Graham Sutherland was going to be the
leading painter. ‘Then downstage left, picking his nose, Francis Bacon sauntered on.
And the whole scene was changed.’ But
how did it alter? What happened to figurative painting in London in the decades after
Bacon exploded on to the scene? This is a
question with which All Too Human at Tate
Britain grapples.
It is an old problem. When in 1976 R.B.
Kitaj proposed that there was an important group of figurative artists at work here,
a ‘School of London’, he defined them as
‘a herd of loners’. Some, but not all, drank
together and socially — at least until they
fell out, which often occurred spectacularly
if Bacon was at one of the parties. But artistically, for the most part, they were sui generis.
Consequently, the exhibition is full of
odd couples and incompatible pairings. One
half of a gallery is hung with pictures by
The exhibition contains magnificent
pictures, but ill-assortment runs
through it like a leitmotif
Michael Andrews and the other with works
by Kitaj himself. These are two idiosyncratic figures, both of whom are, in hall-of-fame
terms, pending.
Kitaj’s reputation plummeted after a
misconceived retrospective in 1994, and the
disproportionately violent critical response
that followed. Michael Andrews, in contrast
to the abrasive and articulate Kitaj, tended
to fly beneath the radar when he was alive,
and was accorded a fine posthumous exhibition at Tate to which unfortunately almost
nobody came. Only now is the idea dawning
that he might have been a truly important
figure. And so might Kitaj, after all.
It must have been tempting to put
Andrews and Kitaj together. A text on the
wall points out, correctly, that they both
owed something to Bacon. But in practice,
Kitaj’s tendency to bright, slightly bilious
colour and jangling compositions fights with
Andrews’s elusiveness and subtlety.
Even when painters have a real affinity their works may not help each other.
William Coldstream was a highly influential teacher of, among others, Euan Uglow,
whose works are hung beside his. But this
juxtaposition obscures the individuality of
Uglow, who evolved into an extraordinary
‘Melanie and Me Swimming’, 1978–9, by Michael Andrews
amalgam of Coldstream, Piero della Francesca and the White Knight from Alice (his
models would pose, often very uncomfortably, amid plumb lines and contraptions of his
own devising, designed to aid precise observation of their bodies).
Still, there is a strong connection between
Coldstream and Uglow. But putting the
young Lucian Freud in the same room with
them is just misleading. It is true that Bacon,
after he and Freud had quarrelled, delighted
in describing the latter’s work as ‘the very
epitome of the Euston Road School’ — that
being the label given to Coldstream and his
followers (Bacon meant this as an insult).
But though Freud also worked from close
observation of a model, he was interested in
matters such as their mortality, the impact
of their presence and what was ‘going on
in their heads’, which didn’t concern Coldstream and Uglow at all.
Nor did Freud have much to do with
Bacon aesthetically, close friends though
they were for 25 years. Freud invariably
worked ‘from life’ — in front of the subject;
Bacon virtually never. Bacon habitually used
photographs, Freud hardly at all. And neither
is there much connection with Francis Newton Souza, an Indian painter who moved to
London in 1949, who gets a room to himself
(though some strained links are suggested).
Souza’s work looks closer to Parisian art brut
than anything else done in London.
The most convincing pairing is Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, but even then only
in their earliest years. After a while quite
distinct painterly personalities emerged.
This is perhaps why the subtitle of the show
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Uglow and Andrews among them — is not
yet in. Bacon liked to point out that time is
the only great critic, which lets the rest of us
off the hook — at least a bit.
Fashion victim
James Walton
— ‘a century of painting life’ — is so vague.
‘Painting life’ could mean anything.
Although the exhibition contains many
magnificent pictures, and draws attention to
some unjustly neglected figures, ill-assortment runs through it like a leitmotif. It begins,
reasonably enough, with Bomberg and Sickert — who really did have an effect on what
came later in London – but also unexpectedly throws in the Russian-French-Jewish
Soutine. It is good to see a group of younger painters in the last room — Jenny Saville,
Celia Paul, Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye — as a sort of coda. But you
can’t help noticing how different they are.
Of course, the arbiters of what is happening in art, including Tate curators, often
get it wrong. The final verdict on many
of the artists in All Too Human — Kitaj,
By common consent, including Bafta’s, The
People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime
Story was one of the best TV dramas of
2016. Produced by Ryan Murphy, it laid
out the story in a beautifully clear, largely
chronological way that made us appreciate,
all over again, just how strange the whole
O.J. business was — not least thanks to the
wider social forces at work. Now, we’ve got
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (BBC2, Wednesday), also
produced by Ryan Murphy and also tackling an event from the 1990s that manages to
seem both shockingly particular and neatly
revealing of more general trends.
At which point, all similarities end,
because here Murphy (who also directed the
first episode) takes a far more fragmented
and less viewer-friendly approach. The show
hops backwards and forwards in time, showing us scenes and several unnamed minor
characters that are yet to be linked, and
for quite long stretches it appears perfectly content to leave us somewhere between
intrigued and baffled.
Last week’s first episode, for example,
began with a long, pre-credits sequence that
intercut scenes of Versace’s highly agreeable
life in his (literally) gilded Miami Beach villa
with regular sightings of a handsome young
man beside the ocean, alternately reading a
history of Vogue and fondling a gun. The man
then headed to the villa, saw Versace returning from a morning stroll and shot him dead.
The sequence certainly established the programme’s ability to blend sumptuous visuals
with the slow cranking-up of something very
sinister indeed. But it also demonstrated an
equally characteristic willingness to be deliberately enigmatic about what on earth was
going on — and, more specifically, why.
Two episodes on, and we’re not much the
wiser. We do know that the killer, Andrew
Cunanan, had already murdered four men
when he arrived in Miami Beach a few
weeks before Versace’s death in July 1997.
Yet, the details of his background, crimes
and motives still remain distinctly mysterious. Admittedly, Cunanan was a fantasist,
a compulsive liar or both, telling different
people different stories wherever he went.
Nonetheless, the drama could presumably
have set at least some of the record straight
by now. So why hasn’t it? The reason, I’d
suggest, is a pretty good one: to make us
realise that, when it comes to a man as
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
weirdly malevolent as this, being somewhere
between intrigued and baffled is an entirely
justified response.
Meanwhile, the snapshots of Cunanan’s
past also served as snapshots of gay life in
the late 1990s, a time when a treatment for
Aids had finally been found, and when,
it seems, the obvious sense of relief was
combined with a feeling of mild incredulity, as people slowly recovered from a collective trauma. For their part, Versace and
his partner Antonio were faced — perhaps
not uniquely — with the choice of whether
to throw themselves cheerfully into their
old promiscuous ways or to opt for cosy
Despite the strength of the individual
scenes, Darren Criss’s fantastically unsettling performance as Cunanan and an
impressive supporting cast — including
Penelope Cruz as Versace’s sister Donatella and Ricky Martin as Antonio — it’s clear
that for viewers of The Assassination of
Gianni Versace a certain degree of patience
will be required. Luckily, those very same
things also give us enough confidence in the
show to believe that our patience will ultimately be rewarded.
The spoof documentary This Country began last year on BBC3 (it still exists,
A handsome young man beside the
ocean alternately reads a history of
Vogue and fondles a gun
apparently), where it became such a
deserved word-of-mouth hit as to earn itself
a BBC1 slot, albeit tucked away after Match
of the Day. Now, it’s back for a slightly more
prominent series on BBC1 — and, if Tuesday’s episode is anything to go by, poised to
take its rightful place as an all-conquering
comedy triumph, rather than a cult success.
The setting is the Cotswolds, but very
possibly as you’ve never seen them before:
not the backdrop to some lush Sundaynight heart-warmer, but a place of run-down
council houses and overwhelming boredom,
where the people we meet lead lives that the
average Beckett character might consider a
bit uneventful.
The show is written by Charlie and Daisy
May Cooper, a brother and sister who themselves grew up in the area and whose motives
here seem to be a winning mix of defiance,
vengeance and reluctant affection. They also
star as the young cousins Kurtan and Kerry,
who hang out together a lot because… well,
what else would they do?
Almost every line Kurtan and Kerry
speak is a miraculous fusion of the inadvertently comic and the inadvertently tragic
— and all without a trace of writerly condescension. In lesser hands, the result might be
almost too bleak to bear. In the Coopers’, it
not only turns out to be one of the funniest
things on television, but at times comes inexplicably close to the joyous.
His dark materials
The director Michael Boyd may be drawn to nightmarish and morbid themes but Lloyd Evans
finds him surprisingly cheerful
If you wanted to cast someone as Spooner, the literary vagrant in Pinter’s No Man’s Land, you’d struggle to find a closer
match: director Michael Boyd
e looks like an absent-minded
watchmaker, or a homeless chess
champion, or a stray physics genius trying to find his way to the Nobel Prize
ceremony. He’s in his early sixties, tall and
stooping, a bit thin on top, wearing a greatcoat and a crumpled polo-neck jumper. A
blur of whiskers obscures the line of his jaw.
He has a bulbous, Larkinesque skull and battleship-grey teeth; and if you wanted to cast
someone as Spooner, the literary vagrant in
Pinter’s No Man’s Land, you’d struggle to
find a closer match. This is Michael Boyd,
former director of the RSC, who was knighted in 2012 for services to drama. We meet
in a dressing-room in a west London studio
where he’s rehearsing the Cherry Orchard
for Bristol Old Vic.
He has deep roots in the Russian theatre. After graduating in the 1970s, he studied
directing at the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre in
Moscow before taking up a post as assistant
director at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. Yet he has never before directed Chek-
hov. He dislikes seeing the plays done in a
‘floppy-hatted English style, all atmosphere,
not properly rooted in place’. During his
earlier career, when he ran the Tron Theatre, in Glasgow, he found ‘there was no need
to programme Chekhov, I was happy to let
others do it.’ He rates the play as Chekhov’s
finest and he likens it to Lear. ‘Each author
puts humanity to the most extreme test.
Under the most extreme sandblaster that
he can produce, he winnows humanity to
the bone. The poetry of the writing is spare
and simple — in the same way that Picasso
gets to the root of humanity and, with a very
few gestures, captures what it’s like to live in
a human skeleton with a beating heart and
living muscles.’
Unsurprisingly, he was given an open
brief by Tom Morris who runs Bristol Old
Vic. ‘Do it the way you want it,’ was his only
instruction. I ask for some rudimentary
details about his approach. Will it be in period or contemporary costume? He pretends,
perhaps playfully, that he hasn’t yet finalised
this decision, and he changes the subject by
telling me about a version of Turgenev’s A
Month in the Country staged in Russia. ‘I was
invited to the dress rehearsal, which began
informally with the cast in jeans and opennecked shirts, very relaxed behaviour. But as
the plot intensified, the actors started to put
on parts of their formal costumes. The lovers got trapped, and so on came the corsets
and the wigs and they ended up in period
costume, as if they were in prison. There was
one actor, very bald, who looked absolutely
trapped in his wig. I thought, “this is genius!”
But then I went to the first performance, and
it was in period dress from the word go.’
He got into directing by accident or perhaps by instinct. As a student actor he had
far stronger opinions about the production
than the rest of the cast. ‘I was perhaps quite
annoying,’ he admits. He can detect signs
that an actor has potential as a director ‘if
they come up with great ideas in rehearsal
or offer advice to less experienced cast members’. He says the best actors ‘are their own
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
best editors, able to get under the skin of the
character, and make choices at high speed’.
I ask about the changes he’s witnessed
over a 40-year career in the theatre, and
he assumes (wrongly) that I’m fishing for
good news. ‘Actors and directors are more
likely to come from a wider variety of backgrounds so there are more voices, more stories being told. And theatre has very nimbly
absorbed influences from other creative
forms — from art, from sculpture, from film,
— so the level of visual skills is terrific.’ It
takes me quite an effort to coax him on to
negative territory. ‘The slightly toxic obsession with celebrity culture is not always a
benign influence,’ he says. And he talks of
over-conceptualised shows in these terms.
‘The problem with some productions is that
you feel this isn’t telling the story, it’s telling the story of its own theatricality.’ He
mentions the Arts Council’s budget and the
cuts to regional theatres that started to bite
deeply after 2010. But even there he finds
cause for optimism. ‘It’s made them focus
on different ways of appealing to their community.’
His schedule is booked up for at least
two years. He recently directed a macabre comedy, The Open House, at the Print
Room in Notting Hill. In 2020 he’ll revive
his production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Boyd finds cause for optimism even in
Arts Council cuts to regional theatres
Onegin at Garsington. This autumn he’s
directing a new show, The Circle, at the
Dorfman. It’s a musical based on a David
Eggers novel about a digital future in which
the social-media giants have merged into a
vast, oppressive monopoly. He seems drawn
to nightmarish and morbid themes in drama,
and he talks of The Cherry Orchard as a dystopian vision of the terrible changes that
were about to engulf Russian society.
‘There’s a tremendous sense of new
money taking over. The cherry trees will be
chopped down and replaced with a great
new estate. So the play is about how to bring
about change in a deeply unequal world, and
how to cope with that change.’ He says this
resonates with today’s political culture. ‘In
the play you hear the voice of the disenfranchised knocking on the door and threatening privilege in a way that liberalism is under
threat, or is reported to be under threat,
throughout the western world.’ He says this
reflects ‘the conversation around privilege
[that is] going on throughout the UK.’ The
play may even foment discussions about
Britishness. ‘What is Britain, what is Englishness, after Europe?’
He seems closely engaged with UK politics and he describes our current socioeconomic structure as ‘skew-whiff’. He’s
aggrieved by ‘obscene bonuses’ and by the
income gap between the chief executives and
the auxiliary staff at large firms. His solution
is redistributive taxation which he says, perhaps optimistically, must be ‘done cleverly’. I
ask if he favours a maximum wage? ‘Yes’. My
next question is easy. ‘More or less than what
you earn?’ ‘Oh, more,’ he shrugs, ‘and a damn
sight more than I earned at the RSC.… Millions!’ Oddly, he seems Mandelsonian in his
attitude to the accumulation of large personal fortunes. Then the crunch question. ‘Will
Jeremy Corbyn win?’ ‘I hope so.’
The Cherry Orchard is at Bristol Old Vic
until 7 April.
Hammer horror
Deborah Ross
You Were Never Really Here
12A, Nationwide
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
12A, Key Cities
You Were Never Really Here is a fourth feature from Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin)
and the first thing to say is that it is exceptionally violent. I don’t say this disapprovingly but if your threshold for violence is
as low as mine — I incurred a paper cut
the other day and passed clean out — it
will prove an 89-minute ordeal. Still, it has
been described as ‘the Taxi Driver for the
21st century’, if that is of help while you’re
bracing yourself for the next hammer blow.
Personally, I found it of no help at all. Also,
it’s untrue.
The film stars a bulked-up Joaquin Phoenix as Joe, a tortured hit man, and it opens
as it means to go on. That is, not prettily. Joe
is in a Cincinnati hotel room with a plastic
bag over his head self-asphyxiating, although
whether this is auto-erotica or a suicide
attempt isn’t made clear, just as little is ever
made clear. It’s horrific to watch, as the bag
sucks in, blows out, sucks in, blows out. But
then he rips it off — thank God! — and
moves on to his next task, which is washing
a bloodied hammer. (Oh.) He’s concluded
a job, we can assume, and exits the hotel’s
back entrance where an attacker seems to
be lying in wait. But you don’t mess with Joe.
Crunch! That’s the attacker, getting a headbutt for his trouble. Next, it’s back home to
Queens, where Joe lives with his mother (a
fabulous Judith Roberts) and is hired for his
next job: finding a senator’s missing 13-yearold daughter. (Always a missing child; never
a missing cheesemonger.) Joe seems to specialise in rescuing sex-trafficked girls, and
this one is holed up in a Manhattan brothel, which he enters politely, after wiping his
feet. Nope, out comes the hammer. He loves
a hammer, does Joe.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames,
the film has the casual, sadistic violence of
a Tarantino film, but none of the narrative inventiveness, as far as I could fathom.
Or narrative clarity. I was often muddled.
It is aggressively non-expositional, with
sparse dialogue and no back story beyond
Joe’s hallucinatory flashbacks, which are
often bewildering. (I think I got his violent
upbringing, but a dying child’s foot twitching in the sand?) I don’t wish to be spoonfed, but the violence is gratuitous unless
there’s sufficient psychological ballast to
help us understand, connect, perhaps sympathise. That just does not happen here.
It does come with a terrific Jonny
Greenwood score that replicates, presumably, the brutal jangle in Joe’s head. Phoenix is a powerful presence, and there’s some
wonderful cinematography, but it’s hardly
genre-busting. Joe is the damaged loner
we’ve seen umpteen times before. And it’s
hardly Taxi Driver, as I never felt it was say-
This has the casual, sadistic violence
of a Tarantino film, but none of the
narrative inventiveness
ing anything beyond violence begets violence, so here’s 89 minutes of it, and a tooth
being extracted with pliers.
And now Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr
Story, a documentary about the one-time
Hollywood star — the most beautiful
woman ever, according to Mel Brooks. It’s
a proper story alright, and a fascinating
one, and you don’t have to brace yourself
for hammer blows, which is always a relief.
The film covers her Austrian childhood,
her several marriages, her career (the
first on-screen orgasm; uppers and downers from MGM) and… and… what else?
Drums fingers. Has a think. Oh yes, she
was always scientifically minded, and during the war invented ‘frequency hopping’,
which would keep the enemy from interfering with a ship’s torpedoes. Although it
was never taken up by the American navy
(stupidly), it has since formed the basis
of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and all the other
stuff we have today. ‘A crime-fighter by
night’ is how one current Google employee describes her.
So there’s that but, as written and directed by Alexandra Dean, this is just as much
an essay on beauty. How no one will take
you seriously when you have it but, even so,
when you lose it, so painful. I felt her pain
more than I ever did Joe’s. When Hedy
Lamarr could no longer be Hedy Lamarr
she became a recluse, and if you watched
HBO’s Feud, you’ll know this happened to
Joan Crawford too (and Garbo, I suppose).
I was minded of Joan Collins who once said:
‘The problem with beauty is that it is like
being born rich and getting poorer.’ Better,
perhaps, to be born poor and stay poor. I
may well be living proof…
The Katherine Mansfield House
By Nigel Andrew
ne of the more surprising attractions
of Wellington, New Zealand’s small
but perfectly formed capital city, is
what might be described as England’s farthest-flung literary shrine — the Katherine
Mansfield House. The author’s birthplace
and childhood home, this modest house in
the relatively plush suburb of Thorndon is
open to the public — and who could resist
the allure of a building described by Mansfield as ‘that awful cubbyhole’, ‘the wretched
letter box in town’ and ‘that horrid little
piggy house which was really dreadful’?
She also described the place as ‘dark and
crowded’. Dark it still is, and horribly crowded it must have been. In the five years the
family occupied it, three generations lived
together in this two-storey Victorian minivilla — Katherine (née Kathleen Beauchamp) and her two sisters (more siblings
were to come), her banker father, her mother, her maternal grandmother and two young
aunts. Visiting now, it’s hard to imagine how
they all fitted — and all too easy to share
Katherine’s claustrophobia.
The house, built of New Zealand timbers, was restored in the 1980s and returned
to its former layout, with original features
preserved or faithfully reproduced, and
some Beauchamp furnishings reinstalled,
along with family possessions, pictures, and
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) in about 1920
a Katherine Mansfield archive. The result
is a convincing recreation of the kind of
gloomy, cramped domestic setting the rebellious, artistic, self-dramatising Katherine
would have found intolerable.
Images from her early years there crop
up a lot in her short stories, especially the
later ones where she returns to — and to
some extent reconciles herself to — her New
Zealand roots. It seems you could take the
girl out of Wellington (or rather, she took
herself out as soon as she was able, helped
by a generous allowance from her father)
but you couldn’t take Wellington out of the
girl. The early years, the home ground, are
always in some way fertile soil.
In Mansfield’s case, it was the death of
her beloved brother Leslie in the Great
War that turned her stricken mind back
to scenes from her early years in Wellington, which inspired some of her finest short
stories (‘At the Bay’, ‘The Garden Party’,
‘Prelude’, etc). In these works she took
a very European form, transported it to the
alien soil of New Zealand — and created
some of the most brilliantly effective stories of the 20th century. Reluctant Kiwi and
eager exile though she was, you could say
that in her writings New Zealand (and Wellington in particular) first became a locus
of world, rather than provincial, literature.
Katherine was very fond of flowers —
her writings are full of them — and the
gardens of her childhood home have been
restored and replanted, very pleasingly, with
1890s favourites. When I emerged, blinking, from the house, I walked round to the
small back garden, loud with the chirring of
cicadas — and there was a Monarch butterfly feeding on a tall viburnum. The majestic butterfly seemed every bit as exotic and
out of place in suburban Wellington as the
young Katherine Mansfield must have done.
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‘Ruth Rogers is married to Richard
Rogers, creator of the Queen’s angriest
ever public facial expression’
— Tanya Gold, p62
High life
The muffled sound of falling snow is everpresent. It makes the dreary beautiful and
turns the bleak into magic. Happiness is
waking up to a winter wonderland. From
where I am, I can’t hear the shrieks of children sledding nearby but I can see the odd
off-piste skier and the traces they leave. I
can no longer handle deep snow, just powder. But I can still shoot down any piste once
I’ve had a drink or two.
For amusement I listen to the news:
flights grounded, trains cancelled, cars
backed up on motorways, people stocking
up on food and drink as if an atom bomb
had been detonated over the Midlands. In
Norway it snows every day of the winter and
half of the days of autumn and spring. The
last time a train was cancelled there was during the German invasion in 1940. Switzerland was neutral during the war, hence the
trains have always run on time and still do,
even though it snows almost as much here
as it does in Norway. Go figure, as they don’t
say on Virgin’s inefficient, slow, extremely
crowded train services.
The white blanket that covers us makes
you want to get out and exercise. Throw
snowballs, run up a steep hill, schuss down
a mountain, get drunk on the terrace of
a sleepy inn and then ski down bleary-eyed.
What I haven’t done enough this year is
cross-country skiing. The reason is easy to
guess. The sport has caught on around these
parts as fat rich people try to lose weight.
The young and the fast skate cross-country.
I am a traditionalist, which means I ski
the old-fashioned way, with skis on a trace.
The trace is more often than not blocked by
the obese. About five years ago, a ghastly
man had stopped on the trace and was on
the phone. As I was getting near, I yelled at
him to clear the path. He seemed shocked
and continued with his conversation. So
I pushed him out of the way and you can
guess the rest.
Mind you, snow in the city is less fun.
It turns to grime quicker than you can say
Harvey Weinstein. But when it first falls
it beautifies any city, including Belfast on
a Sunday evening. Nothing, however, gets
close to Dagenham, where the bores that
rule our lives nowadays told children not to
touch the snow. That was as ludicrous as the
French forcing a man who wolf-whistles at a
babe to pay a €350 fine.
Just think of it, dear readers. The bores
who rule us advise our kids not to touch
snow, and fine those who like to whistle at
girls more than the cost of a medium-priced
hooker. These are the same punk-bores
who demand a second referendum, or heap
abuse on the Donald because he’s crude but
is getting the job done. This week I’m going
down to Zurich to hear a speech organised
by Weltwoche — the Swiss version of The
Spectator — given by Steve Bannon. He has
asked to meet me afterwards and you will
be the first to know what he and your correspondent had to say to each other. Zurich at
night can be fun because it’s in the German-
outrage, and the more anguished the handwringing, the greater the concern for material rewards. All these Remainers and Trump
haters really want is moolah, and by advertising their wares on television and in various articles they hope soon to be in Gstaad
enjoying themselves in the sun and snow.
But I’m not so sure I’ll be rubbing shoulders with them. An incident took place at
the Eagle Club this week, one that proves
gentlemen and lowlifes do not mix well.
I shall wait to see the results, and if cowardice prevails, you will be reading about it in
these here pages. As the late, great Nigel
Dempster used to sign off: watch this space.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
I’m looking forward to getting drunk
with Steve Bannon after he and
I break bread
speaking area of Switzerland, not Frenchspeaking Geneva, the EU-arse-licking part.
I’m looking forward to getting drunk after
he and I break bread.
In Greek tragedy, Cassandra’s role was to
utter unutterable woe. As a child I regarded her as rather a comic figure and her
announcements of unmitigated grief preposterous. A reminder: I was a child. Now
the Fourth Estate, especially in America, has
become Cassandra-like. What is more, her
load of perpetual terror fills the networks
and the pages of newspapers, not to mention
those other horrible platforms Twitter and
Facebook. (Neither of which, God forbid, I
have ever used or begin to know how to use.)
Separating what’s true from what is not
has become increasingly impossible as the
media bias against Trump has spiralled out of
control. False rumours and outrageous speculation are dressed up by papers such as the
New York Times and the Washington Post as
authoritative by citing ‘sources close to the
President and White House insiders’. These
‘sources’ are totally and completely made up
and then presented as facts by editors higher
up the chain. This has been going on since
day one. The Donald, of course, does not help
his cause by ratcheting up the volume.
Never mind. The louder the screeches of
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Earbuds in. Speed walking to Grant Lazlo’s
‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’. A corridor, a left fork, a moving walkway, a rack
of free newspapers — from which I extracted an Evening Standard without stopping
— and here, sooner than I’d imagined, was
Gate 52. It was a quarter past five in the
evening. The Gatwick to Nice easyJet flight
was scheduled to take off at 17.40. Looking
through the plate-glass windows, I could see
that all vestiges of snow had disappeared
from the runways, which were dry and lit by
evening sunshine.
The cross-country journey to Gatwick last
Wednesday had begun at 9 a.m. in a blizzard
in Devon. The taxi driver — pressed shirt
and tie, Remainer convictions of evangelical
proportions — was breezily confident we’d
make it through the country lanes to the railway station without a problem, which we did.
The train from Plymouth left on the dot and
arrived at Paddington half a minute early.
I spent the three pleasant hours in between
staring out of the window at a deserted, frozen countryside waiting for Aslan’s return.
The Bakerloo line was subject to ‘severe
delays’ but my arrival on the southbound
platform coincided with the rolling thunder of an approaching train. At Victoria,
snowfall somewhere south of London had
put the Gatwick Express rail service into
a turmoil and the platform noticeboards
were ominously blank. However a passing
train driver confidentially advised me that
‘the red one over there is probably going
soon’. So I went and sat in it, the only passenger on a train 200 yards long. The doors
closed almost immediately and the train
moved off, albeit at a cautious walking pace.
Gatwick, miraculously, was snow-free.
Aeroplanes were landing and other aeroplanes were taking off. In spite of the apocalyptic travel and weather warnings on my
phone throughout the day, I’d done it. The
thought of being catapulted above the capital’s freezing chaos, then swinging southwards and stepping out two hours later
among the Emperor palms and black Mercedes taxis of Aéroport Nice Côte d’Azur
was an attractive one. I celebrated it with
a scoop at the bar.
The young easyJet woman at gate 52 had
not yet begun to check passports and boarding passes. A queue formed. Grant Lazlo’s
‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ gave way
to His Royal Highness Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
Mr Perry was having a party and planning
the guest list. The World Bank was going
to be there. I scrutinised the faces in the
queue. They expressed a mixture of relief
and exhaustion, presumably as mine did. I
extracted my passport and got my boarding
pass up on my phone. Seat 23E. A middle
seat again. No matter. It was a short flight.
When the trolley came around I’d have a
Bombay and Fever-Tree and be thankful.
Now the easyJet woman was speaking on
the phone. Usually there were two members of staff checking passes. Maybe she was
reminding the other one that it was time she
was here.
Another minute passed. Come on!
I thought. Then she called for attention and
addressed the queue. She had a piece of
paper in her hand and referred to it. Calling
for Speedy Boarders and those with young
children, no doubt, I imagined. Bloody
Speedy Boarders and their complacent
faces, I thought, pushing themselves to the
front and being curtseyed to.
But no. Judging by the horrified faces
in the queue, she had not been calling for
Speedy Boarders. It must have been something else. What could she have been saying?
Prompted by a cruel, insane or nationalist
whim, had she perhaps read out Max Mosley’s 1961 by-election campaign leaflet for his
Union Movement candidate word for word?
Then, as Mr Perry urged his party guests
to bring plenty of weed, everyone suddenly
surged past the desk without having to show
anything, and many of us sank down into the
fixed rows of extra-hard seats reserved for
those passengers who aren’t Speedy Boarders. Many, I sensed, were sitting down to help
them absorb a shock. I unpicked the earbuds
from my lugholes, turned to the woman sitting next to me and asked her what was
going on. ‘Cancelled,’ she said brightly. ‘Bad
weather over France.’ ‘Come far?’ I asked
her. ‘Only Chichester,’ she said. A Frenchman was giving vent to a torrent of his language’s limited range of obscenities, aimed
at no one in particular. The easyJet woman
was explaining and being listened to with
interest and politeness. I screwed my earbuds back into my earholes.
Then we were shepherded along more
corridors, then through immigration and
before long I was back outside in the chaotic
toilet that is Gatwick airport railway station.
The lady announcer was telling passengers
about one cancelled train after another.
‘This is due’ — then a pause, as though she
was consulting a list of excuses — ‘to snow’.
Real life
Melissa Kite
‘I bet Brian May isn’t lying on his back in
a field shelter wondering how long it’s going
to take for the snow to cover him and whether the horses will just poo right on top of his
frozen head,’ I thought.
Then, groaning in agony, another annoying thought surfaced in the annals of my
resentment banks: ‘I bet Ricky Gervais
hasn’t just schlepped a 30-litre container of
water from his upstairs shower to a field of
horses because the troughs are frozen and
not refilling.’
Basically, it was tormenting me almost
as badly as the pain in my wrenched back
thinking about all the lefties applauded as
‘animal heroes’ at stupid awards ceremonies, just because they’ve posed, gurning,
with a picture of a badger (not a real badger
because that would eat their hands off).
‘Where are all the so-called animal
heroes when it’s time to schlepp water to
livestock in winter?
‘And why am I thinking all this when
I’m lying on the ground in a field unable to
I shifted around so I could get my hand in
my pocket. My phone wasn’t in it.
‘Fine, so the phone is in the car. And the
car is on the horizon, five acres away on the
track. And it’s 3 p.m., and the farmer has just
driven past in his tractor on his way home.
And no one else is coming to this field until
tomorrow. And I can’t move.’
These are the thoughts that run through
your head when you’re not an ‘animal hero’,
comfy at home in your celebrity mansion,
admiring the lefty awards on your mantel-
piece for cuddling pictures of badgers, toasting your warm lefty toes by your roaring
lefty artificial real flame-effect fire…
‘Stop! Stop thinking about Brian May
and Ricky Gervais. You need to deal with
that resentment and move on. You’re going
to freeze to death! Think! What are your
A few hours earlier, I had filled the container in the shower and heaved it down the
steep stairs of the cottage. I had loaded it
into the Volvo and driven it to the field. I
had humped it out of the car into a wheelbarrow and wheeled it to the camel tubs in
the field shelter, where I hoped the water
would stay thawed longer.
All had been going fine, until I tried to tip
the barrow up with the uncapped container
on the edge and misjudged the angle. The
precious water splashed clear of the tub. So
I grabbed the container, lifted and twisted
round at the same time and a muscle deep
in my lower back went ping. The pain tore
through me.
I fell to the ground gasping. After a few
minutes, I looked round. Grace and Tara
were happily munching their hay.
‘They might notice me later, or possibly not. I’ll be covered in snow soon, with
these drifts coming sideways into the shelter.
Even if they do notice me, it’s not as though
they’re going to go for help like Lassie.’
I tried to move and the pain sliced
through me like a knife. I tried to roll. Holy
cow! I didn’t have even an inch of movement in me. The sky darkened. The snow
enveloped me.
‘I have two options. I can lie here and die.
And the worst bit about that is I won’t get an
Even when I am dead Rod Liddle will
slag me off for not liking wolves
award. And even when I’m dead, Rod Liddle will slag me off for not liking wolves, and
for being upper middle class, which would
be bearable if it were true. Stop! I need to
get over it. Option two: I flip over, somehow,
and crawl on my front to the car — about an
hour away, I reckon, if I take the straightest
route, through that pile of poo.
‘Option three? Come on, there has to be
an option three.’
Think Bear Grylls. Use what you have….
And then I realised. The ice!
I reached out into the water tub and
smashed what was left of the frozen remains
with my gloved fist.
Then I pushed a shard of ice inside the
waistband of my jeans. ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I
yelled like Meg Ryan. The pain melted away.
After five minutes, my lower back was
sufficiently frozen to allow me to get to my
knees and there I performed my emergency
back realignment manoeuvre. One knee up,
one on the ground, tip the pelvis, and bingo.
‘Come on!’ I cried triumphantly, straightening slowly through the agony into an
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
upright position. With another chunk of ice
wedged inside my pants I was able to tip the
fresh water into the tub so the horses had a
drink, then I limped back to the car.
‘I’m just so humbled to receive this…
and from Brian! Stop it, you fool. It’s never
gonna happen.’
Wild life
Aidan Hartley
Off Madagascar the other day the Indian
Ocean gave birth to a little storm called
11S. As its gyre turned clockwise over the
sea, 11S gained momentum until it was a
huge vortex of thunder and lightning christened Tropical Cyclone Dumazile. Like
a naughty lover yanking away the shower curtain so that everything in the bathroom is sprayed with hot water, Dumazile
pulled the entire weather system of mainland Africa eastwards. The effect was to
suck the clouds from the steamy jungles of
Congo’s river basin across the equator and
dump their entire contents over our farm in
highland Kenya.
There was I enjoying the dry season.
‘How’s the farm?’ asked people through
February. ‘Dry,’ I said. Around this time
of year I always say, ‘It’s dry.’ My teenage children get bored of hearing me say
it and roll their eyes. ‘Yes, Dad, we know.’ I
secretly enjoyed the dry season. It reflected my mood after three tough years. Prolonged drought suited me. I had even given
up alcohol. Every damn thing in my life
was dry.
The rain chart I have obsessively compiled over 14 years shows we have a seven
per cent chance of rain in February — and
it had not even drizzled a millimetre since
November. Everything was heat, dust and
blue skies. Strange birds arrived from the
north, as they always do in this season. The
land was tawny and dead. We were using the
drought to get jobs done, furiously building
new fences and preparing a new field for
alfalfa. The dams were empty, ready to be
dredged out. Boniface fired up the tractor
and was excavating a new irrigation reservoir. For months the land had been asleep,
our tropic winter.
In mid-February, while dressing before
dawn, I was perplexed to find a toad in
my boot. That, I thought, should not happen for weeks. In the valley the wait-a-bit
thorn suddenly blossomed white and fra-
grant, always a harbinger of rain. A gang of
elephant burst through the perimeter fence
and went about smashing trees for a few
days before moving on south. They never
come before time. Bee-eaters appeared
in the garden tree branches and tortoises
began copulating loudly under the bedroom window. Dragonflies started pointing
east as they hovered over dwindling bodies
of water, preparing for their mysterious jetstream migrations to India. Mud tunnels of
termites zigzagged across the ground, millions of capillaries bursting alive on the
desiccated dead soil.
All these were signs of impending rain
but the satellite maps of Kenya showed
not a cloud, not a drop of rain until April. I
chuckled at the mistakes Nature was making, knowing that the drought would continue. Storm 11S was still off out in the
ocean somewhere. At that stage Dumazile
was just a twinkle in Neptune’s eye. And
yet the sausage flies were buzzing against
my desk lamp at night! The euphorbia trees
had burst into flower! Looking back, I am
always amazed at it all, the way the signs
tell you what’s about to happen long before
technology can.
On the last day of February the sun came
up and as usual the cerulean skies had not
Bee-eaters appeared in the branches
and tortoises began copulating loudly
under the bedroom window
a fragment of white in them. ‘Dry,’ I said.
Early afternoon I noticed a few clouds —
and then suddenly there it was, the scent
of rain. In Laikipia the ‘petrichor’, a lovely
word suggesting the blood of the gods full of
ambrosia and nectar, is a smell that is so delicious after drought that you drink it in. It is
so fleeting and impossible to apprehend, yet
one of the loveliest you can know. It came to
me long before I felt even a droplet of rain
fall on my head.
After tea dust devils rose up off the
land. Clouds appeared out of nowhere,
changing from white to grey to dark blue.
Storm dragons leered down out of the great
mass, lightning, thunder — and the cumulonimbus split open and columns of water
splashed down. These were high-budget
special effects. Everybody on the farm was
running around clearing drains, ditches,
gutters and furrows, trying to make water
go where it should into tanks and reservoirs. Splashing around in mud and rain
trying to make water go down the channels
you want it to has to be among the most
enjoyable of all activities. Dams swelled,
the house thatch leaked, and all was wet
and dripping and sodden. As night fell bullfrogs assembled choirs. Every wild animal
brayed or roared in the dark.
That was a week ago. It is still raining,
as Cyclone Dumazile runs giggling towards
the Antarctic Ocean.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Susanna Gross
I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had
some years ago with the talented, blunttalking Norwegian player Espen Erichsen.
We were discussing the dangers of getting
demoralised at the bridge table. You make a
couple of idiotic mistakes, your confidence
takes a knock, your judgment grows cloudy,
and soon you’re playing worse than ever.
We’ve all been there.
Well, not all. Espen is a top professional: he would never succumb to those sort of
emotions. But he recognises them in others.
And far from expressing any sympathy, he
gave me a piece of advice which I must say
took me aback: ‘When a man is down, you
must kick him.’
I suppose that’s what you call the killer
instinct, and it’s what makes champions. But
Espen shows no mercy even when his opponents are waving the white flag; he just can’t
help himself. I recently played in a match
against him, and our team was losing heavily.
By the time the last board came, we had no
chance. That didn’t stop Espen taking time to
inflict the maximum possible injury:
Dealer South
NS vulnerable
z A7 5 3
yK 9 8 5
w6 2
z 84
y Q J 10 6
X 10 7 6 2
w9 8 5
z Q10 9
y A7 4
X9 8 5
(*Jacoby raise)
w Q J 10 7
6 2
Espen’s partner led the yQ. I won with
the yA and played a spade to the ace and
another spade. Espen won and started
thinking. Many people would lazily switch
to the wQ — giving me time to establish
the y9 for a diamond discard. Not Espen.
He played West for the only useful card he
could plausibly hold: the X10. At trick four,
he returned a low diamond. West’s X 10
forced dummy’s XQ, and when West gained
the lead in hearts, a diamond return …well,
all I can say is ouch!
Raymond Keene
This weekend the Candidates tournament
commences in Berlin to decide the
challenger who will face Magnus Carlsen
for the world title in London later this year.
The favourite is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov,
with a rating of 2814, and this week’s puzzle
shows a sample of his trenchant style.
Although he is not the highest-rated, my
money is in fact on triple Olympiad gold
medallist Levon Aronian (2797), who is
capable of reaching great heights when on
form. The rest of the field, in rating order,
is as follows: Vladimir Kramnik (2800),
Wesley So (2799), Fabiano Caruana (2784),
Ding Liren (2769), Sergei Karjakin (2763)
and Alexander Grischuk (2767).
#RONKCN5JORě: Gibraltar Masters 2018;
English Opening
EG0EF0HH This early advance
of Black’s f-pawn demonstrates that the British
grandmaster was in an aggressive mood. 4 g3
0EFGThis response is the natural reply
to White’s break in the centre. F0GAlso
possible is 6 ... exf3 7 dxc6 bxc6 8 exf3 when White
has slightly better prospects since he will be the
first to occupy the e-file with a rook. Ì0WG
FWGI(see diagram 1) Not only does White
lose a tempo with this advance he also potentially
disrupts his own king’s flank. 8 Bh3 is more sedate
and more normal. 8 ... Bc5 9 Qb3 Nf6 10
3D0FJPlayed not so much as to
launch an attack but to prevent the black queen
from landing on h4. 11 ... a6 12 Qb3 e3
Sacrificing a pawn temporarily but Black swiftly
regains it. 13 Bxe3 Bxe3 14 fxe3 fxg4 15
Short continues in buccaneering style. With the
text move he clearly has a piece sacrifice in mind.
Safer, though, is 18 ... Qe7 19 d6 cxd6 20 cxd6 Qe6
when White’s passed d-pawn can be contained.
Ì0I$IJ(see diagram 2) 20 ... Nxh5
The point of Black’s previous play. After the
alternative of 20 ... Bf7 White continues with 21 h6
when the prophylactic measure he introduced
with his 11th move is suddenly converted into a
weapon of attack undermining Black’s king’s
White to play. This position is from MamedyarovSavchenko, Moscow 2015. White’s forthcoming
tactic led to a decisive material gain. What did he
play? Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday
13 March or via email to
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.
.CSěVGGL¥SVKNNGR Tim Leeney, Hartfield,
East Sussex
Six plus
Lucy Vickery
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
flank. 21 Nxh5 Rf2 Black has offered a
piece to stir up various threats. Sadly, the
concept is not fully sound and Aronian now
presses home his advantage by means of a
careful consolidating network of defensive
resources. 22 Bf1 Qf8 23 Ng3 Qxc5+ 24
Qc3 Qe7 25 e4 Qg5+ 26 Kb1 Qf4 27 Ka1
Rf8 28 Rg1 The only possible danger for
White is that Black somehow energises his
kingside pawns. However, Aronian’s careful
play ensures that this never happens. 28 ... Rf7
This creates a mate threat on f8. 32 ... h5
In Competition No. 3038 you were invited
to provide a (longer) sequel to the six-word
story ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn’.
Long before Twitter, so legend has it,
Ernest Hemingway crafted this mini masterpiece in response to a bet that he couldn’t
write a novel in half a dozen words. This
turns out to be a load of old cobblers — at
least according to Frederick A. Wright who,
in a 2012 essay, concluded that there was no
evidence that Papa was responsible for the
story. In fact, versions of it had been in circulation from 1906 (when Hemingway was
seven years old).
Regardless of who wrote it, the six-word
story seemed to capture your imagination
inspiring sequels that ranged far and wide,
from Scandi noir to Conan Doyle. The winners, printed below, are rewarded with £30.
‘They bought it,’ said Myra.
‘Them,’ corrected Frank.
‘No, no, the idea. They fell for the suggestion
that the littl’un was dead.’
‘You don’t say.’
‘So,’ Myra continued, ‘if we want to get shot of
the car, say…’
‘…we suggest that family tragedy is behind it!
Brilliant! Both owners have lost a leg in a car
crash! Sale!’
‘Better a train crash, Frank. Don’t want them
‘For sale: a garden, never glimpsed.’
‘Blindness has struck! Not a dickybird, a
tragedy, lawn untrodden! Ker-ching!’
The postman’s rap was vigorous: he had sacks
of cheques for them, a measure of local, national
and even international sympathy. And the cards,
pastel pinks and blues, so sorry for their loss.
Their judge (who may or may not have been
called Hemingway) was a literature graduate.
‘Implication is not actuality,’ he insisted. ‘Keep
your millions.’
It was the begging letters that finished them.
Bill Greenwell
I know golfers with every iron who never put in a
round and gourmets whose kitchens are equipped
with everything but food. Yet when I tell people
that my wife and I have all the trappings of a child
without the thing itself, they edge away.
Those unworn baby shoes started it. The
advertisement was the first thing to interest my
wife after we’d decided that our respective jobs
running children’s charities would leave us no
time for a family. If I wasn’t enthused at first —
romper suits and feeding paraphernalia hardly
excited paternal instinct — I came into my own
decorating the nursery and choosing toys and
games for the cupboard. People think we miss a
lot but we’ve had tremendous fun buying a
bucket and spade for the seaside, tickets for the
‘And Christmas?’ people ask, gingerly. The
presents pile up, beautifully wrapped yet
unopened; it’s better to give than receive.
Adrian Fry
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
She passed the card across the desk. It wasn’t the
kind of small ad to start a customer stampede.
But so what? I was paid to investigate, not secondguess a client. Especially when trade was slow.
‘You say this was written by Hemingway?’
I asked.
‘That’s what I want you to prove.’
‘It’s typed.’
‘He used a typewriter. I looked it up.’
‘I can see there’s no throwing dust in your
eyes, Mrs Arbogast. To level with you, it’s a tad out
of my usual line —’
I stopped because her hands had begun
raiding her purse. Her fingers crept out full of
folding money.
She was a rich lady with a holy wish and I
needed my phone reconnected. I could play her
along, concoct a report and make two people
happy. Face it — push come to shove, not even a
principled PI can be moral every time.
Basil Ransome-Davies
D.I. Lund surveyed Nyhavn from the discomfort
of an Ektorp Valhöll chair in her dark Trolles
Gade flat. One candle lit the gloom, which was
decidedly un-hyggelig. Nielsen’s bleak, menacing
Fifth Symphony compounded her feeling of
foreboding. Even her Carlsberg tasted bitter.
Outside, it was snowing heavily. The sky was
black. What did it all mean? Notes selling
unwanted baby shoes, Lego models of
Kierkegaard, bodies mutilated…? Her mobile
rang. It was Knut Knutsen.
‘Need to see this, Ma’am. We were ordering
back the tide. Found another body.’
‘Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark,’
Lund muttered, not for the first time. ‘No feet?’
She knew the answer.
‘No legs neither,’ double-negatived Knutsen.
‘But there’s more…’
Lund arrived at the Bridge, smiling grimly at
probably the ugliest duckling in the world. Then
she saw the body. Of course, no need for baby
shoes. ‘It’s…!’ she gasped.
‘Yes, Ma’am. A little mermaid.’
David Silverman
They were the woman’s choice, as soft and pink
as the satin men use for coffin linings. These are
things of death, he told her. They are not for
learning about the hard earth, how to walk tall
and understand how the earth moves. They are
not for learning cojones.
She had looked away at that.
He flicked his line over the water. It was good
fishing. When he went home with his prize the
shoes would be gone. She would have the money.
Then she would cook and play with the child.
She could play with the child until he was ready to
walk with his strong bare feet, this child of his
loins. Perhaps tonight they would move the earth.
It was not a big fish but it would do. He thrust
it at her. The shoes, she said. You know your child,
she is a girl. Remember.
D.A. Prince
2349: Novel
by Pabulum
Clockwise round the grid from
3 run the names (7,4,5,6,8,8,5,6)
of four characters in a novel
followed by the initials of its
author. Two pairs of unclued
lights (20/39 and 11/26) each
combine to form an anagram
of the novel’s title.
8 Aged saint keeps working
a long long time (5)
9 Weed with shoot and bit of
leaf (7, hyphened)
10 Tattoo’s ending as
spectators exit (7)
12 Digest fish with butt of
wine (4)
14 In Gabon Herbert
developed bleaching agent
15 Fat Inez reduced after
plain cycling (8)
18 One fifth of journos worry
about columns (5)
19 Utterly trust vacuous boy
on oath (7, two words)
22 Put up with trendy
nationalist (3)
25 Newspaper exhausted one
29 Dropsy made earl ill (5)
31 Run with youth through
most of Norman city (7)
32 Restore sausage I left
around (5)
33 Joints of lanky me (not
athletic, I) (8)
34 Short-lived heroes bumped
both sides off in battle (10)
36 Rat from part of Oxford?
37 Game cop after illicit drug
38 Print of waterfall over
canal (7)
In honour of Muriel Spark, born 100 years
ago, you are invited to provide a poem entitled ‘The Ballad of [insert place name of
your choice]’. Email entries of up to 16 lines
to by midday on 21
March, please.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
1 Scholar gives beetle a
collection of anecdotes (7)
2 Weird rich European (4)
3 Awfully ill Angelo takes
drug for disease (10)
4 Up in court camel hides
head (turned over beast’s
home) (7, two words)
5 Commercial a flawless
person almost saw (5)
6 Mineral occurs again in
Delaware (8)
7 We make reparation in
pound notes (7)
13 Communist up close to
China (5)
16 Trim cardinal somersaults
17 Lampstand in tin with
bizarre lead support (10)
21 Meal with water and small
whisky virile guy snubbed
23 Magnifying glass Hank
talked about (5)
24 Ukrainian lass meets
poetic Eve (7)
27 Mister in woman’s clothing
leaving America (3)
28 Nupe sprinkled
revolutionary sugar (7)
30 Maiden more meek wants
husband who speaks softly
33 Mac’s outstanding sons
ground oats (5)
35 Celebrated mouth organ
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on
26 March. There are two
runners-up 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 2349,
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen
Street, London SW1H 9HP.
Please allow six weeks for
prize delivery.
The unclued entries are all names for pontoon; extra words
in 27, 31, 33, 34 and 36 needed the letters S, G, O, U, R to
CONTRACT. Auction, auction bridge, bridge, bridge whist,
contract, contract bridge, solo, solo whist and whist are all
card-games listed in Chambers. PONTOON is a BRIDGE.
(KRSěPRKYG Rhiannon Hales, Ilfracombe, Devon
4TNNGRSTP John Renwick, Ramsgate, Kent;
R. Dickinson, Lewes, East Sussex
No Sacred Cows
We’re being destroyed
by tribalism
Toby Young
my Chua’s latest book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct
and the Fate of Nations, is a
difficult read for anyone who is concerned about the current state of
British politics. Chua is an American
law professor and her previous book,
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was
about the effectiveness of the Asian
approach to bringing up children. In
that book, she praised her own parents for giving her a sense of pride in
her Chinese heritage, claiming that
one of the reasons Asian-Americans
are more successful than other ethnic
groups is because they feel that to fail
would bring shame on their community. In Political Tribes, she takes a different tack, arguing that the ascendancy of identity politics on the right
and the left of American politics is
threatening to destroy the Republic.
Before discussing the rise of tribalism in the US, she devotes a chapter
to Hugo Chavez’s electoral success in
Venezuela and attributes it, in part, to
the fact that he wasn’t a member of
the country’s light-skinned social and
political elite. For years, educated Venezuelans maintained that racism didn’t
exist in their country because everyone
is a mestizo — mixed blood. However,
that ignores the fact that Venezuelans
of African and indigenous heritage
are, for the most part, poorer and less
successful than Venezuelans of Euro-
Politics should
not be about
an ‘in group’
trying to shame
members of an
‘out group’
pean heritage, a form of hierarchy
known as sociedad de castas.
Chavez succeeded because he was
a rarity in Venezuelan politics, a darkskinned candidate. He had, in his own
words, a ‘big mouth’ and ‘curly hair’,
which he liked to draw attention to
because they proved he had African
ancestry. Chavez won the presidential
election in 1998, and the three subsequent elections, because he rejected
the myth that Venezuela was a multicultural paradise and looked and
spoke like the vast majority of the electorate. He was victorious because he
took on the liberal elite, exacerbated
simmering racial tensions and mobilised the silent majority by appealing
to their sense of tribal identity.
Chua argues that what happened
in Venezuela is now happening in
America, with Trump galvanising
the white majority instead. And just
as Venezuela is now teetering on
the brink of becoming a failed state,
America could go the same way if this
tribalism is allowed to go unchecked.
Chua has plenty of bad things to
say about Trump, but she also blames
the politically correct professional
class for creating a cultural climate
in which white people increasingly
feel as if they have no choice but to
embrace the identity politics of the
progressive left. Imagine you’re a
white working-class American who
is constantly told that it’s OK to feel
proud of your racial identity if you’re
non-white, but if you’re white you
should ‘check your privilege’. Sooner
or later you will reject that message
and embrace a political candidate
who tells you to feel the same pride
in your heritage as the other races do.
Chua’s analysis is hardly original
— conservative voices have been
decrying the decline of universalism in American politics for decades
— and it’s difficult not to see it as
excessively alarmist, particularly if
you read it alongside Steven Pinker’s
Enlightenment Now. Chua ignores the
part that Chavez’s socialist policies
played in destroying the Venezuelan
state, as well as Pinker’s charts and
graphs showing how life is slowly getting better for the mass of ordinary
people. The Republic will probably
survive Trump’s presidency.
But as an explanation of why
American politics has become so sectarian and polarised, Chua’s analysis
feels spot-on. And it is increasingly
relevant to our politics as well. Since
the election of Jeremy Corbyn, who
has exacerbated the rise of identity
politics on the British left in spite of
being white, male, heterosexual and
privileged, and the EU referendum,
the UK has begun to fracture into a
welter of warring tribes.
That’s the context, I think, in
which I was recently attacked by
Labour MPs and their outriders in
the media for being a ‘misogynist’, a
‘homophobe’ and, bizarrely, ‘despising working-class children’. As Chua
says, politics should not be about an
‘in group’ trying to de-legitimise and
shame members of an ‘out group’ by
calling them names. Rather, it should
be about the clash of ideas — about
justice and fairness and the trade-off
between freedom and equality. And
the more tribal our politics is, the
less rational and enlightened public
debate has become.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
something called a ‘therapeutic use
exemption’, which is cycling’s equivalent of a sick note. But if you use
a sick note at work when you aren’t
sick, that is effectively cheating. And
if a top cyclist uses a TUE to take triamcinolone and he wasn’t especially
sick, isn’t that the same? (Wiggins
insists he was prescribed triamcinolone based on medical need but records
weren’t kept so we can’t know.)
Wiggins and Brailsford may have
played within the rules, but if this
stuff is so dodgy why isn’t it banned?
That way they wouldn’t have to worry
about crossing any ethical line. They
have known this is a big problem:
when the story about the mysterious
‘jiffy bag’ delivered to Wiggins first
started to break, Brailsford offered
the Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton an
incentive not to publish. ‘If you didn’t
write the story, is there anything else
that could be done?’ Brailsford asked.
Spectator Sport
Knighting Wiggins so early
was just asking for trouble
Roger Alton
he incomparable Roger Bannister, whose passing marks
the end of our links with a vanished age of sporting innocence, could
have been knighted in 1954, such
were his achievements in that year.
He was eventually knighted 21 years
later, in 1975: he could have been
knighted for services to medicine or
athletics, or both. We have started to
play fast and loose with knighthoods.
Bradley Wiggins and David Brailsford were both knighted at the end of
2012, the year of the London Olympics and Wiggo’s epic win in the Tour
de France. Not looking such a bright
idea now though. Wiggo and Brailsford are perfect examples of the
rule that sports people shouldn’t be
knighted while still on active duty. It’s
just asking for trouble.
Sport has always been about rules
and laws; now it seems to be about
‘ethical lines’, too, more particularly
the one that Wiggins crossed by getting pumped full of a steroid called
triamcinolone just before the 2012
Tour and apparently on several other
occasions. This was permitted under
If you use a
sick note at
work when
you aren’t
sick, that is
he Australian cricket team’s vicecaptain, David Warner, would
never be described as the world’s
most likeable person. Warner’s latest stramash was with the normally
sleepy-eyed Springbok Quinton de
Kock, who had said something disobliging to Warner towards the end
of the first Test in Durban. Warner
had to be restrained in the tunnel by
his teammates, which wasn’t a bad
idea as in the CCTV film of the incident Faf du Plessis, the Boks skipper,
emerges in his towel looking fit and
extremely ready for action. Faf and
the boys have probably drunk protein
shakes bigger than Davey Warner.
What this preposterous fracas
reveals is a deeper problem for Test
cricket: scarcely anyone was watching in the ground, and if there is one
thing top sports people don’t like it is
performing to an empty house. If the
players were bound up in the action,
they wouldn’t be messing around with
handbags in the tunnel. Test cricket
must watch out: there’s trouble ahead.
And it’s not David Warner-shaped.
ext year will be a good time to be
the best rugby team in the world.
New Zealand are in decline, Australia aren’t that good, South Africa are
in turmoil, Wales are only close, Scotland are fun but erratic and France
are, well, France. That leaves England and Ireland in a great position to
pick up the pieces in Japan. England
have been winning, but not smashing
teams; there are selection issues and
the opposition are beginning to work
Eddie Jones out. That leaves Ireland:
solid, together and an easy selection choice from two provinces, plus
Ulster and Connacht. Ireland will
win the World Cup not because they
are outstanding but because they are
heading in the right direction at the
right time. If I am correct, they will
beat Wales on Saturday and England
the week after. But let’s see.
know that if some friends I knew
better (and liked more) had asked
for the same details, I would have
handed them over without a
murmur. What should I do?
— Besieged, Derbyshire
Q. Recently I held a party at which
some people were meeting each
other for the first time. One socialclimbing couple, who I do not
know well and invited only to pay
them back for their own recent
party, subsequently emailed to ask
for the contact details of the most
influential and elevated of my
acquaintance. I resisted replying,
but then they emailed again
suggesting that they hold a dinner
and invite my social lions, along
with my husband and myself. I am
feeling somewhat under siege,
as well as mildly outraged. But I
A. The social world would lose
all momentum if ‘climbers’ were
unable to pick off the most elevated
new people they meet at someone
else’s house and invite them to their
own. There is no crime in climbing
itself — the climbees can always
say no. What would be a breach of
etiquette, though, would be to invite
the new people without inviting
the host who first introduced
them. Since the climbers intend to
invite you and your husband as
well as the social lions, it would
be absurd for you to withhold the
contact details requested. First, as a
courtesy, run their request past the
prominenti in question.
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
Q. Following the discussions in
The Spectator (by Messrs Jones
and Sutherland) about quiet
carriages on trains, might I suggest
a simple remedy: Isolate mini
earplugs (costing about £25)
reduce noise by approximately
30 decibels and are favoured by
professional musicians.
— K.K., Canterbury, Kent
A. Since you are known as a
distinguished commentator on
both music and new technology,
readers are well advised to google
the tidily sized product in question.
Q. My 34-year-old daughter
has a new boyfriend who is not
on social media. He’s not on either. I do not
want to be a helicopter parent
and she would be furious if she
thought I was snooping, but
obviously I would like to do a bit
of due diligence. What do you
suggest, Mary?
— Name and address withheld
A. You can’t research online. If
you know people in his Venn
diagram, you can only find this
out through industrial chatting
and throwaway lines which
prompt people to reveal more
— e.g. ‘Are you talking about the
John Smith who went to Oxford,
who’s in his thirties… really goodlooking and brilliant?’Response:
‘No. I didn’t mention John Smith.
The only John Smith I know is
that fortune-hunter who keeps
trying to pick up heiresses at
the bridge club.’ Unless you
have reason to believe he has
unsavoury intentions, you should
stay out of it. Don’t make the
mistake of going on Linked In.
The system will alert him that you
have been researching him.
Italian without the heat or drama
Tanya Gold
illy Cooper’s fictional hero Rupert
Campbell-Black has ‘never been to
Hammersmith’. I have but I wish
I hadn’t. I love the Westway because
it takes you away from Hammersmith. Even so, it possesses the River
Café — it is not a café — a famous
and influential Italian restaurant. It
was ten when Tony Blair came to
power, but inside it is as if he were
still here, playing air guitar while
chatting about PPP.
It is inaccessible, taunting its clientele to go to Hammersmith. It feels as
if it takes more than an hour to get to
the River Café from anywhere that is
not Hammersmith. How do they get
there — by helicopter? There is a heliport at Battersea but what then? The
295 bus, apparently, and then a short
walk. Or you could go on the way to
Heathrow airport, as recommended,
in all seriousness, by a guidebook. You
wouldn’t know you weren’t in an airline lounge. Or you could go by boat,
if you are Cardinal Wolsey.
The River Café was founded by
Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray.
Ruth Rogers is married to Richard
As far as
restaurants go,
the River Café
is important,
and it knows it
Rogers, the architect responsible for
the Millennium Dome and, therefore,
among other things, the creator of the
Queen’s angriest ever public facial
expression. To celebrate the River
Café’s 30th birthday last year, Lady
Rogers gave an interview in which
she said: ‘I don’t get angry with people who don’t know what asparagus
is’. Which I think means she does. To
be rich and have a social conscience
is a terrible fate. The lefties who loved
her have gone. Her values dangle
on a string.
Lord Rogers built this house. He
took an oil storage facility called
Duckhams — tall and brown, in brick
— and made a ‘canteen’ for the architects in his nearby practice. It is tall
and light, with huge windows and blue
windowsills. The river here is interesting to look at: late middle-aged, brown
and wide, with nothing to enchant it.
Henley is behind us and the Tower is
yet to come. It looks bored. It knows it
is in Hammersmith.
Inside, it is calm, clean and soothing and it doesn’t feel like an Italian
restaurant at all. How could it when
there is no heat, and no drama? It
feels like an architectural practice
that serves poised and expensive
food. There is a large clock on the wall,
for control of time, and a long, clean
open kitchen.
Here, in the mad words of another
guidebook, ‘knighted creatives’ dine.
But not by themselves; there aren’t
enough of them. That gave me hopes
of Ian McKellen, but he isn’t here.
I thought I saw a famous footballer
— dining with his publisher? — but
I can’t name him. If it looks and feels
familiar, it is; everyone has copied the
River Café. Thus it is judged a success.
The baskets of carrots clinging to mud
in Shoreditch; the heartless renovation
of industrial buildings; Google HQ;
Heathrow Terminal 5; CBeebies —
they are all, oblivious or not, descendants of the River Café. The food, too,
is influential; there were never so
many oversized pepper pots in suburban Italian restaurants after 1987.
It is as if they were taken in the night.
As restaurants go, it is important, and
it knows it. You could stir the hubris
with a stick.
So we eat calm, controlled Italian
food — excellent tagliatelle al ragù
(with rabbit, veal and pancetta) and
nothing else. I’d rather go to Italy,
which is slightly more accessible than
I think again of Jilly Cooper. She is
a woman moved to create fairylands,
and Ruth Rogers does the same. But
it’s a tight, cracked fairyland selling
£19 plates of pasta, and in Hammersmith. Still, the river washes on.
The River Café, Thames Wharf,
London W6 9HA, tel: 020 7386 4200.
‘He had a pretty good run.’
Wrap up warm
In June 1873, Oswald Cockayne
shot himself. He was in a state
of melancholy, having been
dismissed by King’s College
School, after 32 years’ service,
for discussing matters avoided
by other masters when they
appeared in Greek and Latin
passages, ‘in direct opposition
to the feeling of the age’. No
improper acts had occurred.
Cockayne was a clergyman
and a pioneer philologist
whose pupils included the great
W.W. Skeat and Henry Sweet.
His father’s name was Cockin.
Perhaps he had changed the
spelling to avoid offending the
‘feeling of the age’. The word
cocaine was not invented until
1874. But the Land of Cockayne
was a medieval fantasy world
of pleasure.
Cockayne, as an early amateur
of philology, had his weaknesses,
yet his edition of a 10th-century
manuscript is still quoted more
than 150 years after it was
published in 1865. He gave it the
title Leechdoms, Wortcunning
and Starcraft. Leechdom is
‘medicine’, but I don’t know
that starcraft was ever used for
‘astronomy’ in Anglo-Saxon
England, and wortcunning for
‘knowledge of herbs’ seems to
be his invention. You can see
the manuscript online, nicely
written in a square minuscule:
just search for British Library
Royal MS 12 D.
Anyway, in the Oxford
English Dictionary one
quotation from his edition is
Bewreoh the wearme. Bewreoh
means ‘wrap up’, and the is ‘thee’.
So we have been saying ‘Wrap
up warm’ for a thousand years.
Every time the weather man
or woman says ‘Wrap up warm’,
my husband calls out ‘Sleep tight’.
When it was cold a week ago, he
called out quite often. Most wives
would have found it annoying.
Not I. He was right to notice the
infantilisation: we must be told
to button up our overcoats when
the wind is free. Secondly he was
right to imply (if he meant to)
that both warm and tight in
those contexts are adverbs. It is
no crime to say ‘Sleep tight’, ‘Sit
tight’, or ‘Wrap up warm’. The
same applies to loud and clear,
thick and fast. It can be raining
hard or blowing hot and cold.
I’ve mentioned before (21 July
2012) that adverbs need not end
in -ly. Don’t shout at weather
forecasters on that account.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 10 march 2018 |
TUESDAY 15 MAY 2018 | 7.30 P.M.
For one night only, Rod Liddle at the
London Palladium in conversation with
Fraser Nelson. Book now to avoid
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