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The Spectator - November 04, 2017

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Is Trump trapped? Paul Wood
4 november 2017 [ £4.25
God: the early years Alexander Waugh [ est. 1828
The sexual reformation
UAE AED34.00. USA US$7.20.
Lara Prendergast u Douglas Murray u Lionel Shriver u Rod Liddle
established 1828
The Brown delusion
ordon Brown has pitched his memoirs as the honest confessions of a
decent man. He failed to win the
one general election he fought, he asserts,
due to a personality that was unsuited to
an age of Twitter and emotional displays.
His is the Walter Mondale response to failure — the former US vice president said of
his defeat in the 1984 presidential election:
‘I think you know I’ve never really warmed
up to television, and in fairness to television,
it’s never really warmed up to me.’
Admitting to poor media skills is not
genuine self-examination on the part of
Brown, more an attempt to shift the blame
for his failures on to something he considers trivial. He continues to believe that he
had the better philosophy and ideas — just
that they were too dry and too complex to
be absorbed by an impatient, perhaps shallow, British public. ‘I failed to persuade the
British people that the progressive policies
I pushed for, nationally and internationally,
were the right and fairest way to respond.’
The Labour party has always been far
better than the Tories at talking about —
and defining — recent history. Tories tend
not to bother, thinking that facts speak for
themselves. The trouble is that they don’t, as
Sir John Major found out when an extraordinary economic recovery was of no help to
him in 1997. If Labour starts to define the
2010s as a decade of austerity and misery,
it will set the scene for a Labour victory in
2020. That makes it worth looking at Mr
Brown’s analysis of the 2010 general election, and what followed.
His policies were not ‘progressive’. He
had vastly expanded the size of government,
running up massive debts. He fractured the
banking regulatory system, letting the City
of London run riot. His refusal to reform
welfare trapped millions on the dole, even
in good times. When his debt-fuelled boom
turned to bust, unemployment soared. It was
precisely in pursuit of progressive policies
that voters turned to David Cameron and
the Conservative party.
The nation’s recovery then began. It
was a time of austerity: half a million public
sector jobs were cut back, but private sector employers created eight jobs for every
one shed by the government. Britain experienced an employment boom the like of
which had never been seen before. Education reform saw hundreds, then thousands
of schools become self-governing academies.
The number of children in schools marked
‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ran to a record high.
Pupils in the best 300 state schools are
It was precisely in pursuit of
progressive policies that voters
turned to David Cameron
now achieving better A-levels than in the
best 300 private schools.
The Bank of England had to revise
down its estimate of ‘natural’ unemployment because the Tory tax cuts for employers and employees meant more people were
employed than economists ever envisaged.
These cuts were focused on the lowestpaid, forcing income inequality to its lowest rate in 30 years. The top rate of tax was
cut for the best paid, which had the effect
of squeezing even more tax revenue out of
them. The best-paid 1 per cent now contribute 28 per cent of income tax and the
0.01 per cent contribute 4 per cent — statistics that the Treasury has never published,
which is odd seeing that they vindicate the
principle that lower tax rates lead to higher
Any list of Britain’s richest people will
show how many job-creators choose to live,
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
work and pay tax here. The lower-paid half
of the British workforce is now asked for less
than 10 per cent of total income tax. Never
has so little been asked from so many. It’s
quite true that Britain became a magnet for
EU nationals whose governments struggled
to create jobs — but even that hasn’t sated
the demand for workers. One of the biggest
problems businesses face now is a lack of
people to hire. It’s a problem, but a problem
of success. If Britain had refugees camped
in Dover, risking their lives to get to Calais
and start a new life in France, we would have
greater cause to worry.
Wages have been slow to recover, but
lower taxes mean that disposable income
is nonetheless at a record high. Crime has
been rising recently, yet it remains lower
than in any of the Labour years — a testimony to the professionalism of the police,
who (like local government officials) have
found new ways to achieve more with less
money. The word ‘austerity’ is often used to
suggest a dark era of penury. But any graph
of incomes since 2010 shows that those on
the lowest incomes are thriving, and those
on the highest incomes faring the worst. It
would be better if everyone did well, but it’s
hard to argue that the proceeds of growth
have been unfairly distributed.
Had Gordon Brown achieved any of
these things we would never have heard
the last of it: it would have been reeled off
across the dispatch box every time he stood
up to speak. Yet the Conservatives mention
almost none of their successes. Some details
need to be prised from the government via
Freedom of Information requests. The Tories
seem to be as ashamed of their achievements
as Labour was of its failures; its MPs have
started to talk and act as if the next election
is already lost. It isn’t, but it will be if enough
of them believe it to be so.
Purge of the pervs, p14
Tunnel visions, p54
Bolt from the blue, p61
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary Why I refused to sign a
university ‘free speech’ contract
Peter Hitchens
10 Politics Returning jihadis
James Forsyth
11 The Spectator’s Notes
The weaker sex, puffins and Fr Brown
Charles Moore
17 Rod Liddle Sexual politics
22 Barometer Lynx on the loose,
white collar crime, votes for prisoners
25 Lionel Shriver When did fiction
become so dangerous?
26 James Delingpole On Twitter,
you reap what you sow
27 Letters Educational tyranny, Lady
Muck and who’s got more islands?
28 Any other business Putin’s pals
and Gordon Brown’s revelation
Martin Vander Weyer
46 Alexander Waugh
God, by Reza Aslan
12 The sexual reformation
A new schism is opening up
between men and women
Lara Prendergast
48 Roy Foster
Gerry Adams,
by Malachi O’Doherty
13 Les Murray
‘Steam Bath World’: a poem
Candy Neubert
14 Blurred lines
Sexual freedom has turned to fear
Douglas Murray
‘metal’: a poem
49 Richard Emeny
on James Ravilious
18 The Wasp’s sting
Robert Mueller closes in on Trump
Paul Wood
50 Helen R. Brown
Winter, by Ali Smith
21 Notebook
The irony of Netanyahu’s triumph
Peter Oborne
51 William Leith
Why We Sleep,
by Matthew Walker
Ruth Scurr
22 Despot hero
Meet Liberia’s Lady Macbeth
Colin Freeman
A Revolution of Feeling,
by Rachel Hewitt
24 Class wars
What’s happened to Scottish schools?
Madeleine Kearns
52 Gary Dexter
Writers’ Letters: Evelyn Waugh on
Auberon Waugh
29 Spectator Money
A 16-page section featuring
Elliot Wilson, Louise Cooper,
Christopher Silvester, Ross Clark
and others
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Roger Latham, Stokoe, Kipper Williams, Geoff Thompson, RGJ, Grizelda, Percival, Robert Thompson,
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Street, London SW1H 9HP
Editor: Fraser Nelson
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Cannibals and corruption, p22
Liam goes solo, p64
Glorious monochrome, p58
54 Lara Prendergast
The forgotten ‘Poster Girls’
69 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
56 Opera
Rodelinda; The Consul
Michael Tanner
71 Real life Melissa Kite
72 Wild life Aidan Hartley
73 Bridge Susanna Gross
Wine club Jonathan Ray
Life after death
Peter Hoskin
58 Exhibitions Monochrome
Martin Gayford
60 Theatre
Young Marx; The Lady from the Sea
Lloyd Evans
61 Television
Exodus; Blue Planet II
James Walton
66 Notes on…
Dinner at Modigliani’s
Jenny Coad
74 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
75 Crossword Lavatch
62 Music
Benjamin Johnson; Benjamin Appl
Alexandra Coghlan
63 Cinema The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Jasper Rees
64 The listener
Liam Gallagher: As You Were
Rod Liddle
76 Status anxiety
Toby Young
Battle for Britain
Michael Heath
77 The Wiki Man
Rory Sutherland
I savour the playful electric frisson
between sexes — the passing
dalliance, the fleeting reciprocal
attraction that will evanesce, but
which still puts a spring in your
step walking home
Lionel Shriver, p25
If all bad, tasteless jokes require
a public apology, where will we
end up? Everyone involved in
Armando Iannucci’s dreadful film
The Death of Stalin would be saying
sorry for the rest of their lives
Peter Hitchens, p9
It is an incredible feeling to walk
around the farm these days and feel
that I can walk without a weapon,
that I might not get shot.
Aidan Hartley, p72
Your problems solved
Mary Killen
78 Drink Bruce Anderson
Mind your language
Kate Chisholm
Dot Wordsworth
65 Francesca Steele
The death of cosy Christie
Lara Prendergast, who
writes about the sexual
reformation on p12 and the
London Underground’s
poster girls on p54, is
The Spectator’s online editor.
Madeleine Kearns writes
about the state of Scottish
education on p24. She is a
former Spectator intern and
moonlights as a classical singer.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Alexander Waugh, who
writes about God on p46, is
the author of The House of
Wittgenstein: A Family at War.
Richard Emeny, who writes
about Devon on p49, is the
author of A Fragile Beauty:
Art on the Blackdown Hills,
1909-1925. He has also written
a biography of the poet
Edward Thomas.
Francesca Steele writes
about the passion of
Hercule Poirot on p65. She is
a senior writer at the Times.
great ferment of accusations of sexual
impropriety was made against people
in Parliament and out of it. Bex Bailey, a
Labour party worker, said she was raped,
not by an MP, at a party event in 2011 and
a senior Labour official discouraged her
from reporting it. Jared O’Mara MP had the
Labour whip withdrawn while claims were
investigated that he had called a woman he
met ‘an ugly bitch’. Tulip Siddiq, a Labour
MP, said that cases of sexual misconduct
cases at Westminster could run into
hundreds. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence
Secretary, was even driven to apologise
publicly for putting his hand on the knee of
Julia Hartley-Brewer during dinner 15 years
ago, although she said that she had not been
‘remotely upset or distressed’. Anthony
Rapp, an actor, said that in 1986, when he
was 14, the actor Kevin Spacey (then 26)
had, after a party, lifted him on to a bed
and climbed on top of him, Mr Spacey said:
‘I honestly do not remember the encounter
… But if I did behave then as he describes,
I owe him the sincerest apology.’ Netflix
halted production of the House of Cards
series in which he starred. Tariq Ramadan,
Professor of Contemporary Islamic studies
at St Antony’s College, Oxford, denied
accusations by two women that he had
raped them in France in 2009 and 2012.
A dolphin, or perhaps a harbour porpoise,
was filmed in the Thames at Putney Bridge.
he Bank of England said 75,000 jobs
could be lost in financial services
following Brexit. The EU’s European
Investment Bank said it would not fully
repay UK holdings after Brexit until 2054.
The government proposed giving people
in serious debt six weeks’ breathing space
from further interest charges. Derek ‘Red
Robbo’ Robinson, the Communist shop
stewards’ convener at British Leyland’s
Longbridge works in the 1970s, died aged
90. Patricia Llewellyn, who turned The
Spectator’s cook Jennifer Paterson, into
one half of the Two Fat Ladies, died of
breast cancer aged 55.
he Royal Navy dismissed nine sailors
serving in the nuclear-armed submarine
HMS Vigilant after they tested positive for
using cocaine. Richard Kemp, the Liberal
Democrat leader in Liverpool, called for
Coca-Cola lorries decorated for Christmas
to be banned from the city because, he
said, ‘30 per cent of our 11-year-olds are
obese’. People aged 16-24 were found to
be spending only 3.8 hours a day on their
phones, compared to 3.9 hours last year.
arles Puigdemont, the president of the
Catalan parliament, with five of his
ministers, fled to Brussels. The Spanish state
prosecutor had said that he faced charges of
rebellion and sedition relating to the Catalan
declaration of independence. The Spanish
Senate had voted to invoke article 155 of
the constitution, suspending Catalonia’s
autonomy and allowing the Spanish
government to dismiss the government
of Catalonia, dissolve its parliament and
call regional elections for 21 December,
the results of which Mr Puigdemont said
he would accept. The Guardia Civil, the
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Spanish paramilitary police, raided the
offices of the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra
police. Hundreds of thousands demonstrated
peacefully in Barcelona in favour of a united
Spain. The economy of the eurozone grew
by 0.6 per cent in the three months to
September, making its growth in the past
12 months 2.5 per cent.
n Manhattan, eight people were
killed when a pick-up truck ran down
pedestrians and cyclists on a cycle path;
police shot and arrested a man from
Uzbekistan who had been living in America
since 2010. George Papadopoulos, an adviser
to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign,
pleaded guilty to making false statements
to FBI officers investigating Russian
interference in the American presidential
election in 2016. US prosecutors brought
charges of money laundering and tax evasion
against Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former
campaign chairman. Fats Domino, the rock
and roll performer, died aged 89.
or the first time in more than a year,
food aid reached 40,000 starving
civilians trapped in eastern Ghouta, a
besieged rebel-held area outside Damascus.
In Mogadishu, two bombs went off and
armed men stormed a hotel, leaving at
least 20 people dead in an attack claimed
by al-Shabab. President Uhuru Kenyatta
of Kenya won 98 per cent of the vote in a
rerun of the election in August annulled by
the Supreme Court; this time the opposition
boycotted the election and the turnout was
only 39 per cent. The Hong Kong Stock
Exchange closed its trading floor and moved
to electronic trading.
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Peter Hitchens
here better to be than in Liverpool
on a crisp autumn evening,
haranguing an open-air meeting of
students? I hadn’t done a soapbox
speech since my Trotskyist days 45 years
ago, and had forgotten how exhilarating
it is — the questions sharper, the
audience more alert, the tempo brisker,
and the missionary feeling of spreading
the word. Also, the students didn’t cough
all the time, which they tend to do in
stuffy lecture rooms.
ut I had never meant to do this.
Months before, Tom Willett, of
Liverpool University’s politics society,
had asked me to come and speak about
my favourite subject, the fact that
there is no ‘War on Drugs’. It should
have been inside in the warm, not in
lovely Hope Street next to the poignant
Suitcase Sculpture, where it actually
ended up happening. In fact, from Tom’s
correspondence with the Student Guild,
I see that it very nearly took place in
the Mandela Room. But then the Guild
asked me to agree to its conditions for
speakers. These were breathtaking in
their effrontery. I would have had to
accept (for example) that they were
entitled to see my speech in advance,
to inform the police of the meeting
and even to record the names of those
attending. I have since learned that
student officials also did a little probing
into my past utterances, showing special
interest in my non-mainstream views on
same-sex marriage and ‘addiction’.
They actually prepared a lengthy
risk assessment in which ‘concerns’
were expressed about these opinions.
Who and what do these people think
they are? Where do they think they
live? When I told Tom I couldn’t accept
these conditions, he bravely agreed to
go ahead anyway, on private premises
and outside the student union’s control,
risking his own money to book a room.
And nobody would ever have heard
of all this, except that providence
intervened on the side of liberty. The
person who was supposed to come and
unlock the room didn’t turn up. And so
I decided to speak in the street, and our
small battle against the Thought Police
became (as it ought to be) a public issue.
Do other people give in to these rules?
Plenty of universities have them.
masterpiece, which would make them
gasp with wonder if they bothered.
am puzzled that more people don’t visit
Liverpool for its own sake. It is crammed
with fine architecture, possesses a joyful,
exhilarating seaport zing and has plenty of
good places to eat, drink and sleep. Above
all, it has the greatest treasure of English
20th-century architecture, the stupendous
Anglican cathedral. People will go round
the world to see the Taj Mahal or to
Barcelona to see Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada
Família. But they will not take a two-hour
train journey to see Giles Gilbert Scott’s
020 3823 8826
Go to
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
ind you, I have trouble with the
Pendolino trains between London
and Liverpool. They make me quite
badly seasick. I can only avoid this if I
do not look at the view, or if I do not
read. Reluctantly, I chose to read and
skulk in one of those horrible seats up
against a bulkhead with no window at
all, and emerged at Euston annoyed but
not nauseated.
ow, I can’t say I thought all that
much of Michael Gove’s laboured
joke about Harvey Weinstein and
John Humphrys. But what about his
apology? If all bad, tasteless jokes
require a public apology, where will
we end up? Everyone involved in
Armando Iannucci’s dreadful, crude
and trivialising film The Death of Stalin
would be saying sorry for the rest of
their lives, for instance. Also, surely the
people who laugh at these things ought
to be made to say sorry, too? Should
the BBC round up the Wigmore Hall
audience who laughed at the Gove
joke, and not let them go till they have
provided written regrets? Those of you
who chortled at home might make a
donation to an ‘appropriate’ charity.
like the TUC general secretary,
Frances O’Grady, the most effective
and persuasive holder of that job for a
long time, with whom I did the paper
review on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House
last Sunday. Perhaps it’s because, like
me, she was an Oxford townie in her
childhood, a curious experience that
stays with you for life. But I also can’t
see why the cause of fairness and justice
at work should be the exclusive concern
of the left. On the other hand, I wish Ms
O’Grady would make more of the fact
that she went to what was still a girls’
grammar school when she arrived at
it. Just as the right should worry more
about the many, the left is foolish to
defend comprehensive schools which
entrench the privileges of the rich, and
slam the door of knowledge in the faces
of the poor.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist for
The Mail on Sunday.
What to do about returning jihadis
n normal times, the reported return of
400 Isis fighters to Britain would be the
biggest story out there. But with policymakers preoccupied by Brexit, and the
press examining the sexual culture of Westminster, this news has not received the
attention it deserves.
The return of these fighters has profound
implications. The security services are struggling to keep up with all the possible terrorists at large. Notably, Andrew Parker, the
director-general of MI5, has warned that
plots are being devised at the fastest rate he
can remember in his 30-year career. Though
he stressed that the security services have
prevented seven attacks since March, he
also said they cannot foil every effort.
This is simply down to capacity. A frequent feature of recent terror attacks has
been that the perpetrator had appeared
on the security services’ radar, but that
they hadn’t been under close surveillance
because they weren’t an immediate threat.
The security services have the ability to
monitor only about 3,000 people at any
moment. So there are around 20,000 people who have previously been investigated
but are not currently being watched. Add a
returning hard core of several hundred —
who will undoubtedly radicalise others —
and you can see how this problem becomes
even more unmanageable.
The obvious answer to this question is
for the state to do everything it can to locate
the returnees and lock them up. Islamic
State is a murderous death cult. Why should
people who chose to leave this country to
work with such a murderous group be treated with anything but the utmost severity?
But strangely, some are making a more
lenient case. Max Hill QC, the government’s
independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, recently argued that it was right not to
prosecute all of those who had joined Isis.
He said that those who had ‘travelled out of
a sense of naivety, possibly with some brainwashing along the way, possibly in their
mid-teens and who return in a sense of utter
disillusionment’ should be kept out of the
court system.
This is a naive remark, to say the least.
We struggle as a society to understand that
Islamist extremists really mean it. Their
ideas seem so alien to us that we think we
must have misunderstood them. Even when
they leave this country and travel to Syria
and Iraq to join forces with fanatics, we fail
to let their decision speak for itself. But who
could have been confused about the true
nature of Islamic State?
It is overwhelmingly in the public interest to prosecute those who went to link up
with Isis. First, it is important for the sake of
justice itself. Those who aligned themselves
with this group should face the legal consequences. Secondly, it is important as a deterrent. The idea that you can sign up with a
terrorist group which is fighting, among
others, the British military — and beheading British and Syrian civilians — but not be
prosecuted is extremely harmful. Then there
is community cohesion to think of. It would
It is overwhelmingly in the
public interest to prosecute those who
went to link up with Isis
be a gift to the far right if they could claim
that many who had gone to fight with Isis
had just been allowed to come back home
It is not just on this matter that Hill has
been naive. Last Friday, he met with Cage
— a fringe Islamist group whose research
director referred to so-called ‘Jihadi John’
as ‘a beautiful young man’. Hill has written in
defence of his decision, arguing that he is not
part of the government, needs to hear what
everyone thinks of anti-terror laws and has
noted that his predecessor saw Cage. But by
sitting down with them, Hill lends Cage a
credibility they don’t deserve. His decision
to see them so early on in his tenure makes
them look like leading actors in this debate,
rather than the fringe figures they are. One
is left wondering what possible proposals
Cage could make that Hill would want to
listen to.
His remit doesn’t extend to the counterextremism Prevent programme, as he
acknowledges. But Hill’s foreword to a
report by the NGO Forward Thinking comes
close to climbing on the bandwagon of criticism of this vital effort. He writes: ‘Whilst
I always made clear that I do not accept
that Prevent is a “spying” programme, it
was clear to me that these community concerns are deep, they are prevalent across the
country and urgent attention is required to
address them.’
There is huge frustration in government
at Hill’s behaviour. When it appointed the
lead prosecutor of the 21/7 attackers to this
job, it was not expecting grandstanding. As
one senior government source laments, the
previous reviewers of terrorism legislation
‘got down to the job and explored everything in private before going public. He does
the whole Twitter thing.’ There is a sense in
government that Hill is straying beyond
his brief. As one Home Office source
puts it pointedly: ‘He doesn’t do policy.’
What is more worrying is the sense that
the government has lost clarity on the Islamist threat. By the end of David Cameron’s
time in government, Downing Street was
doing a good job of ensuring that the government didn’t undercut moderate Muslims
and reformists by engaging with even nonviolent exponents of grievance-mongering
Islamist ideology. Since Cameron’s resignation, much of that focus has gone. The problem has been compounded by the departure
of May’s two chiefs of staff since the general
election; they had been with her at the Home
Office and were familiar with the issue.
Combatting Islamist ideology in the
United Kingdom is one of the great challenges of our time. It should give this country pause that so many hundreds of Britons
were tempted to go and fight with Isis. Ultimately, the only way to reduce the number of
potential terrorists is to deal with the problem upstream. Theresa May must be true to
the commitment she made after the London
Bridge attacks — that ‘We cannot and must
not pretend that things can continue as they
are. Things need to change.’
Hourly updates from Parliament and beyond.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Charles Moore
oor Gordon Brown. He embodies
the problem traditionally associated
with being male, which is that our sex
finds it difficult to understand human
feelings. Mr Brown recognises, he says
in his forthcoming autobiography, that
he was not suited to a touchy-feely age.
Perhaps it was just as well, because
once men, particularly Members of
Parliament, start touching and feeling
they get into even more trouble, and
discover — often too late — that not
everyone they touch and feel welcomes
it. They are, you might say, groping
in the dark. Once upon a time, a high
percentage of women understood this
defect and usually forgave the opposite
sex. But now the quality of mercy is
strained by the age of equality. This
trend is understandable, but also sad.
dam Nicolson gave a beautiful
talk in our village hall on Saturday,
arising from his new book, The Seabird’s
Cry. He evoked the pathos of the
appearance of the puffin, illustrated with
‘before and after’ pictures. Before, the
bird looked gloriously, as Adam put it,
Edwardian — glossy in its black morning
coat, with an eye elegantly shaped as
if by make-up, and a confident, posh
beak. After, the undecorated eye peered
nervously from an emaciated face, the
feathers stared and the end of the beak
resembled a dried red chilli. What made
the difference, Adam explained, was sex.
The good look was for May, and mating,
the sad one came with the ensuing winter.
Male MPs now look like winter puffins.
indsor has always had two stations
— Central and Riverside — a fact
which causes multiple inconveniences.
Considering that it is the most visited
tourist site outside London, it is absurdly
badly connected. I recently met a man
who thinks he can solve this, and do much
more besides. George Bathurst wants to
overcome the 19th-century monopoly
system which had all trains coming in and
out of London like branches of a tree,
and develop, instead, a net. His Windsor
Link Railway (WLR) scheme would
create a single Windsor station (putting
the historic buildings of the old ones to
other uses). Its first phase would link
the Great Western region with the South
Western, going from Slough, via Windsor,
into Waterloo. Its second phase would
create a spur from the Windsor line which
passes only two miles from Heathrow’s
Terminal 5, thus obviating the need for
new, separate rail links to the airport and
getting two for the price of one. It would
even, via Slough, create a further link to
the north-west. The space freed up would
permit high-quality residential architecture
on a Regent’s Park model. Mr Bathurst has
the plan and the investors ready. Having
been cited in the Hansford ‘contestability’
Review, helpfully commissioned by
Network Rail, the WLR hopes to become
the first privately funded new rail link
for over 100 years. What it still lacks is
the government go-ahead. The transport
secretary, Chris Grayling, is enthusiastic
for private investment, but the wheels turn
slowly. Yet there is a political opportunity
here. At present, Jeremy Corbyn makes the
running by calling for renationalisation, but
the current franchise system has, in many
ways, the faults of nationalisation thinly
concealed by private branding. Here is
an alternative approach which could look
enticing by the next election. The officialese
for ideas like the WLR is ‘unsolicited bids’,
as if they were intrinsically unwelcome.
There needs to be a nicer slogan for private
enterprise which helps the ‘just about
managing’ travelling public much more
ingeniously than does state-driven predictand-provide. ‘Only connect’?
he parliamentary constituency in
which we live is called Bexhill and
Battle. This seems to us natural enough,
since our village is in East Sussex, close to
Battle, quite close to Bexhill and shares
the same local authorities. Now, however,
the Boundary Commission, tasked with
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
losing 50 seats of the current 650,
has decided to move us. We and our
neighbouring village of Ticehurst will
henceforth be in a new invention called
Mid-Kent and Ticehurst. This is oddly
upsetting. We have little to do with
Mid-Kent. County boundaries are far
more psychologically and historically
significant than all other divisions of
rural England. Without wishing to be
rude to our neighbours, we don’t feel
even slightly Kentish. With a mere 3,000
or so voters between us, we fear our
Sussex voices will be drowned out by the
80,000 or so from across the Kent Ditch.
We are not placated by having Ticehurst
in the new constituency’s name. Broadly
speaking, it is a good idea to have similar
numbers of voters in every constituency,
but what the Victorians called ‘mere
number’ should not exclude every other
consideration. We are Bexhill and Battle,
B & B, born and bred.
ast week, Father Brown’s funeral
took place at Westminster Cathedral.
Nothing to do with Chesterton’s creation
— except for being, like him, humble
— Fr Norman Brown was a priest at
the cathedral for many years. He stayed
because he was blind. In pre-Vatican II
days, there were strict rules about the
physical condition of ordinands, because
the idea of priests imitating Christ was
taken literally. Blindness was classified as
an ‘irregularity’. Norman lost all but his
peripheral vision in the early 1960s when
he was training for the priesthood. He
was allowed to go forward for ordination
only after a dispensation from Pope John
XXIII. For me, this was a great blessing
because, more than 30 years later, he
instructed me before I became a Catholic
and prepared me for my reception in the
cathedral. He was a dear man who, in his
dealings with people, always understood
the value of the phrase ‘the benefit of
the doubt’. He was the second blind man
who has greatly helped me in my life,
the first being the late journalist T.E.
(Peter) Utley. It is hard not to believe
(though Peter indignantly rejected the
thought) that blind people understand
things better than the sighted. I love
the line which Shakespeare gives poor
Gloucester: ‘I stumbled when I saw.’
The sexual reformation
A new schism is opening up between women and men
ell Minow, an American film critic, recently described how in 2010
she had interviewed the Friends
actor David Schwimmer. When the noise in
the restaurant grew too loud, he asked her
whether she might like to move to a room
upstairs with him, and if so, would she like
a chaperone present. She praised him for
this behaviour. ‘He understood what it is
like to have to be constantly on the alert
and he wanted to make sure I understood
I was safe.’
When I read Minow’s story,
my reaction was to think what a
patronising arse Schwimmer must
be. A woman journalist shouldn’t
need a chaperone when she is
doing her job. But, in the fallout
from the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it has become clear that,
for many women, safety is starting to trump liberty. We are moving towards a chaperone culture,
in which women, delicate lambs
that we are, must be protected at
all times.
A new schism is opening
up between men and women.
Women are incessantly told to
be vigilant of predatory men and
are increasingly scared to be out
in public. Men, meanwhile, are
becoming more nervous around
women for fear that their very
nature is itself threatening to the
opposite sex. The wrong words,
gestures or body language might
now render them guilty of one
of the new crimes popping up
on social media — for example,
‘creeping’ on someone or being
‘too handsy’. The spotlight is on Hollywood
and Westminster — or ‘Pestminster’, as it
has been dubbed — but it will soon turn
to other industries. More sex pests will be
exposed or their peccadillos gossiped about
on WhatsApp groups. The internet jury will
then make its decision.
It’s not hard to see why this is happening. There have always been rapists and
men who exploit women for kicks, and the
sexual revolution of the 1960s has done
nothing to stop them; worse, perhaps, it
has given them licence to operate without
the old boundaries. We live in a time that
is almost defined by seedy characters such
as Donald Trump and Weinstein, so it’s
natural that women feel they must be on
their guard.
Sexual abuse allegations are coming
thick and fast. If real crimes are uncovered
because women feel emboldened to come
forward, that can only be good. It should
go without saying that any woman who has
been the victim of sexual abuse deserves
sympathy and to be believed. Unfortunately, that still has to be said, because too
many women are not believed when they
tell their stories. And if they took a while
to speak, they are doubted because of the
delay or told not to cause trouble. Just
this week, activist Bex Bailey claimed that
she was raped by a senior Labour official
six years ago — but was advised by a party
official not to report it in case it damaged
her career.
But if you look beyond the current hysteria, something sinister is happening. Barriers between men and women that had been
knocked down by feminists are being resurrected — in the name of feminism. Whereas
it used to be religious groups that enforced
sexual morality, in our modern, secular culture, the loudest voices on the internet are
taking over that responsibility.
Think of it as a new sexual reformation. Five hundred years ago,
Luther posted his 95 theses on the
door at Wittenberg; today, prominent women have begun issuing edicts about appropriate male
behaviour. Like Luther, these
women think it is their mission to
change the world.
Earlier this month, the writer
Helen Rosner published a guide
to ‘20 things men can do to support women, beyond just literally
ceasing to sexually harass us’. It
included suggestions for men such
as ‘seek out women to be your
heroes’, ‘talk less. At all times’ and
consume ‘ethical’ porn made by
women, queer people and people
of colour. I wonder what Luther
would have made of that.
A lot of this boils down to that
boring ancient impulse to separate
men and women. There is political chatter about the possibility of
‘women-only carriages’ on trains.
The orthodoxy of ‘safe spaces’ —
which began as part of the women’s
movement before becoming a university campus cliché — is starting
to infiltrate public life.
Last year, a survey showed that 70 per
cent of British women have taken steps to
guard themselves against harassment. The
poll included ten different strategies those
polled had used, including avoiding parks
or public transport, missing school or work
or taking a chaperone. ‘Modesty wear’ —
clothing which offers an alternative fashion
for those who want to cover up — is becoming more popular on the catwalks. In Febru-
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
ary, more than 40 designers took part in the
first ‘London modest fashion week’.
The old feminist trope says that it is not
a woman’s responsibility to worry about her
own safety; it is a man’s job not to harass
her. Yet women are clearly taking increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves because a small number of vocal
campaigners are telling us that all our worst
fears about men are true — and we must
take action. And if this means reinstating
old-fashioned segregation at the expense of
hard-won freedoms, so be it.
The #MeToo hashtag, which trended on
social media in the days after the Weinstein
story broke, revealed just how many women
considered themselves victims of sexual
abuse. But also, how alarmingly wide that
definition ran. On my own Facebook feed,
the experiences described stretched from
rape to ‘feeling as if a man once looked
through me’. The implicit message of all
these confessional posts was clear: if it hasn’t
happened to you yet, you’ve just been lucky.
Steam Bath World
North, towards Polaris
primates born near zero
soak in volcanic water
glass melting in their fur,
apes of Hokkaido
and red-faced humans tip
buckets on scorching rock
under hides or timber
and burst out, nude and limber
rolling in birch-tree shock.
Iceland, Russia, Finland
Turkic speakers and Indio
tie a rank culture-headband
round the Earth’s high forehead
Their trusty towel is snow
In the military, some officers have
been advised that they should film a
woman giving consent on their phone
Or perhaps you are in denial. It’s as if a new
feminist movement is advocating victimhood, rather than equality. And women who
protest about this new reality are denounced
as traitors to their sex.
The paranoia isn’t confined to women.
Understandably, plenty of men are starting to feel anxious about what this might all
mean. Each day brings fresh stories in the
newspapers of prominent figures tumbling
from positions of power because of a major
— or minor — misdemeanour. A sexual
abuse accusation, or even a snifter of gossip
published online, has the power to sabotage
a career and ruin a life.
So men are also starting to think about
how best to defend themselves. Nobody
wants to be daubed with the pervert brush.
Older men tell me that they are nervous that
something in the distant past that would
once have been dismissed as silly behaviour will now be dredged up as damning evidence. Younger men, meanwhile, seem even
more reticent about approaching women
or making a move. I heard a story recently
about a woman who had been on a date with
a man who was younger than her. After a
few drinks, they ended up back at her house.
The woman was keen to go to bed with him,
but he refused because he was so worried
about doing something that might later lead
to recriminations. In the current climate,
who can blame him?
Professional life is becoming a nightmare. Young women feel uneasy about the
lay of the land. What career can you choose
that won’t involve creeps? And men in positions of authority will inevitably become
that arch Rome never took to.
Sweat’s their archaic soap.
— Les Murray
more anxious about hiring women. It must
just seem easier to hire other men, who are
less likely to interpret a clumsy comment as
sexual assault. Across a wide range of industries, men are being given guidance as to how
they should behave so as to avoid getting
caught out by this new sexual counter-revolution. Consent classes have been compulsory at British universities for a few years,
but law firms and banks are also starting to
introduce them. In the military, some officers have been advised that they should ask
for a woman to give them consent, filmed
on their phone, before taking things further.
It’s a surprise, really, that anyone is
having sex these days, given the reputational
risk involved. One single girlfriend tells me
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
she is worried about what this all means for
her hopes of finding a husband. What sensible man would try it on after a few drinks?
Then again, what happy romantic relationship didn’t start with a lunge? Sexual relations are never black and white.
The paradox is that all this paranoia
comes during an era of intense sexual libertinism — the decade of Fifty Shades of Grey,
one of the bestselling books of all time. We
live in an age of chemsex parties and ‘hitech sex toys’. Hard-core porn is always a
few clicks away. It’s never been easier to
hook up, via dating apps or the internet.
While embracing so much freedom, society
is moving towards prudishness. We all talk
about sex all the time, but the safest sex is
no sex at all.
This new sexual reformation may leave
women feeling safer in a domestic environment, surrounded by other women — or
chaperoned when out in public. So what
started off as an attempt to give support to
abused women mutates into a movement
that undoes everything women’s rights campaigners have fought for. Men, too, may cut
themselves off, retreating into the company
of other men, and we will be back where we
were a century ago. How’s that for a sexual
‘I’d like to work in a field that isn’t
overrun with sexual predators…’
Lara Prendergast, Douglas Murray and
Katy Balls on the new sexual politics.
Blurred lines
Sexual freedom has turned into sexual fear
e are in the middle of a profound
shift in our attitude towards sex.
A sexual counter-revolution, if
you will. And whereas the 1960s saw a freeing up of attitudes towards sex, pushing at
boundaries, this counter-swing is turning
sexual freedom into sexual fear, and nearly all sexual opportunities into a legalistic
The rules are being redrawn with little
idea of where the boundaries of this new
sexual utopia will lie and less idea still of
whether any sex will be allowed in the end.
It is partly whipped along by the fact that
each episode in the revolution is so grimly
fascinating, and each has its own internal
propulsions. For instance, nobody outside
Hollywood could regret the disgrace of an
overpraised toad who spent far too long
surrounded by overly attractive people.
After Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, who
could not enjoy the resulting sweep of Tinseltown for DNA evidence — or mere hearsay — exposing that whole rotten, preachy,
liberal façade?
Since then the exhilarating and powerful weapon of social media has whipped
this along in every unpredictable direction.
A journalist from GQ magazine was given
the heave-ho after that famously prim publication learned that he had made an ungallant pass some years ago at a lady who was
not his wife. How that hack’s opponents
and competitors rubbed their hands with
glee. Around the same time, a preachy hack
from a left-wing website was found to have
behaved grimly with women and his career
too was dashed to the floor by people high
on the octane of unreflective moral outrage.
This week the urge to purge the pervs
has turned on the Houses of Parliament,
with stories about ‘the Weinsteins of Westminster’ moving from the blogosphere to
the newspapers. So far this has centred on
a list of 27 MPs alleged to have behaved
inappropriately towards women and 13
towards men. There is talk of investigations
and firings. But this — it must be remembered — is not a list of people alleged to
have committed crimes. It is a compilation
of people heard to have been in some way
forward with male and female researchers.
Among all this are stories which may
need not only a focus but a criminal focus.
Some now-public allegations will require a
police investigation and maybe even prosecution. If the outing and shaming of sex14
ual predators encourages other men and
women who have been the victims of actual
crimes to come forward then good should
come from it.
But it is away from the law — tied up
in the ‘#MeToo’ movement that followed
Weinstein’s downfall — that the real revolution is happening. Accusations of genuine and monstrous abuse are being mixed
with news that a cabinet member touched
a woman’s knee many years ago. This week
The Crown actress Claire Foy was forced to
issue a statement saying she had not been
offended after angry Twitter users pointed
out that actor Adam Sandler had touched
her knee — twice — during their appearance on The Graham Norton Show.
If deeds are so dangerous, what can be
said about words? Sad to say, not all men
are pitch-perfect in vocabulary and timing.
Some are crass, some incorrigibly so. A BBC
journalist recently revealed that in a restau-
‘Feminism’ isn’t producing guides
for helping men. It is producing
manifestos for torturing them
rant some years ago a male colleague had
told her: ‘I’m unbelievably sexually attracted to you. I can’t stop thinking about you.’
This was from a colleague twice her age, she
said: ‘I had experienced sexism in the workplace before, but not in such an overt way.’
But was that really sexism?
A new generation is being encouraged
to redraw the lines of acceptability in a way
that goes too far. What once was gauche has
now become unacceptable. And from unacceptable it is being made sackable and then
elided with the criminal. That is a long way
to go in a very short time.
When the sexual revolution began in the
1960s it reframed sexuality in the direction
of greater freedom and licence. But for all
the good that movement did, who wishes it
hadn’t been more thought through?
At the most extreme end, the pro-paedophilia groups which fixed themselves among
the gay and women’s rights movement not
only seriously damaged those movements
but demonstrated how hard it is to sort
good claims from bad amid the stampede
of the crowd. Likewise, the present événements are picking up claims which should
be treated with deep suspicion.
Are we comfortable with the idea that
whenever sexual interest is expressed it
must be fully reciprocated at the risk, when
declined, of utter ruin? We might expect
people in public life to behave well, but are
we certain that we want to create a situation
where everyone there (however tenuously) must be either monogamous or celibate? Would the public like this morality to
trickle down to them? The morality of the
sexual revolution certainly did, so they can
be assured that the effects of any counterrevolution will come to them too.
Worse lies beneath these presumptions.
Not least the whipping up of fear and loathing between the sexes. A loathing familiar
to male students who now appear to be
treated as at best rapists-in-waiting.
Foremost propeller of this is a form of
modern feminism which is in fact barely disguised misandry. Take an essay from
the sociology professor Lisa Wade, which
argues that ‘We need to attack masculinity
directly. I don’t mean that we should recuperate masculinity — that is, press men to
identify with a kinder, gentler version of
it — I mean that we should reject the idea
that men have a psychic need to distinguish
themselves from women in order to feel
good about themselves.’ Or, as Lara Prendergast has noted on page 12, other women
writers have taken it upon themselves to
issue strict instructions for men on how they
must behave. This ‘feminism’ isn’t producing guides for helping men. It is producing
manifestos for torturing them.
If we are to enter this strange new puritanical era, then at least let us not enter it
silently. Allow it to be admitted that many
women as well as men are happy to use
their looks and wiles when these work to
their advantage. It is not always victimblaming, but a mere statement of fact that
attractive people attract unusual amounts
of attention and that not all find this a disadvantage. Actors and models of both sexes
— as much as parliamentary assistants —
know this and so does everybody else. And
unless we decide that only a super-class of
beautiful people are allowed to seek sex, we
should accept that people in the lower to
middling ranges of attractiveness should be
allowed the odd punt too.
None of this justifies men in positions
of power behaving like pigs towards people who work with them. If there is good
to come from this then it would be in such
behaviour being deemed more unacceptable
than it has been. But sexual etiquette is not
a science. It is improvisation in a very imperfectly set-up battlefield. Only at the most
extreme end does the law have anything to
say. Everywhere else we are talking about
the exercise of manners. True, we may currently be rethinking those manners. But let
us not do so in the midst of a moral panic,
high on counter-revolutionary retribution.
Or if we must, then let us still worry a little
about where this stampede may yet take us.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
“Every morning I drive
past the Chinooks in the
hangars and it makes
me feel proud.”
—Lucy Brown, Boeing Contracts & Pricing
“Every morning I drive past the Chinooks in the hangars and it makes me feel proud. They’re the backbone
of the UK military. They provide emergency response, carry troops, and if ever I needed to be rescued,
I would want to hear one of those in the background. My team is responsible for making sure the Chinooks
are maintained, modified and upgraded. Being even just a small part of this bigger picture is really rewarding.”
So what attracted you to that powerful man?
omewhere towards the end of the
1980s I was suddenly promoted three
grades upwards in my job at the BBC;
a bit like going from the middle of the old
fourth division to the top of the Championship. Yay. The immediate consequences
were more money, more power and almost
endless opportunities for sexual intercourse.
Women who had hitherto been averagely amiable work colleagues became much
friendlier — and in a very different way. It
was as if I’d been transformed overnight
from Marty Feldman into Orlando Bloom.
What a delightful period of my life that was.
I was happily reminded of it when the
actor Martin Clunes stepped into the current sexual harassment debate, perhaps
unwisely, suggesting that actresses flirted
with producers in a most unseemly manner, which he likened to prostitution. Perhaps he is right, although I don’t think so.
I think a less contentious reading would be
that women are hard-wired to be attracted to powerful men. Or perhaps they have
been schooled to be so by the inequalities
in our society — although I doubt that. It
seems to me utterly intrinsic. Back at the
BBC, the average gap in grades between
men and women who were ‘in a relationship’, or shagging one another, was about
three. And the male was always in the senior position. Female presenters did not do
the cute researcher, even if he was the same
age as them or older. Male presenters did
the cute female researcher. And so on, all
the way up the food chain.
I’m not sure what light this sheds on the
current situation, except to suggest gently
that there might, in some cases, be two sides
to the story. This is a dangerous thing to
suggest, because it leaves one open to the
accusation of ‘victim shaming’ — indeed, so
absolutist is the screeching and the furore
that any attempted caveat, any nervously
muttered ‘Um, but on the other hand…’ will
incur a vilification every bit as extreme as
if one had committed these acts of harassment oneself. Simply to hold such a thought
would make one an ‘abuse denier’. Denier!
Denier! Has any word been more traduced
in our current century?
I am not denying that sexual harassment
— and worse — has happened, in Holly-
wood, in the BBC, in Parliament and probably in every office in the land, and that in
almost all cases it should be roundly condemned. Simply saying that at the milder
end of the spectrum, what is today called
harassment may once have been — and
might still be — the way in which men and
women relate to one another in a working
environment. Given the long and proud
march of women into employment since
the early 1970s, the workplace — rather
than one’s home town, or place of education
— has become the arena in which we find
our partners: assortative mating. The ladies
flutter the eyelids, the gentlemen offer to
buy them a drink, or perhaps put an arm
around the shoulder. Lord Rennard ask-
I myself was once a young Labour
researcher and would have greatly
appreciated a spot of cougaring
ing an aspiring young Lib Dem politician if
she would like to join him for a coffee in his
room. Harassment? I really don’t think so.
Take a look at the Harvey Weinstein
case. He seems to me to be a repulsive, odious human being. One’s sympathies are
surely with the Italian actress Asia Argento,
on whom the gargantuan slob ‘forcibly’ performed what the papers refer to as a ‘sex act’.
And perhaps our sympathies should still
be with her when we learn that she then,
um, went on to have a five-year relationship
with Weinstein which involved quite a few
more of those ‘sex acts’, I would guess. But
should we not at least wonder a little at the
real nature of their relationship? That all is
not quite how it is presented to the press?
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
That Ms Argento’s anger has been somewhat slow to disclose itself?
And so to Parliament. This one will
run and run, I suspect. And in many cases
it is a good thing that arrogant and sexist
male politicians get their comeuppance. If I
were a woman I would not like to be called
‘sugar tits’ by Mark Garnier, or to be despatched by him to buy his dildos. It is true
that cabinet ministers are very busy and
may not have time themselves to nip out of
the office in pursuit of dildos. One answer
may be for the House of Commons souvenir shop to stock appropriately tasteful dildos, embossed with the official portcullis
trademark, alongside their awful boxes of
chocolates and bottles of whisky. Whatever,
it is certainly boorish and arrogant behaviour. But Michael Fallon putting his hand,
very briefly, on the knee of the journalist
and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer? An
intrusion for which Fallon apologised once
he had received an earful from the excellent
Hartley-Brewer, and the two remain good
friends? This was a front-page story. A hand
on the knee. OK, I would not do it. I don’t
think I’ve ever put my hand on a woman’s
knee, not even my wife’s — there’s something seedy and kind of Leslie Phillips about
it. But should we get outraged about it?
Meanwhile, there are also reports that a
senior female Labour MP has been enjoying extramarital relationships with young
male researchers. Ah, the exception that
proves the rule. I was once a young Labour
researcher and would have greatly appreciated a spot of cougaring from some
benevolent female member — although
at the time I was there my options would
have been limited to Margaret Beckett and
Judith Hart, so maybe not. But why should
this mysterious politician be caught up in
the hoo-ha? Isn’t her alleged infidelity a
matter for her and her husband? And did
the researchers not enjoy their supposed
liaisons? And in these transactions, where
resided the power? Once you’ve asked that
question and hazarded your way towards an
answer, the whole basis for these outraged
complaints begins to slowly unravel.
The argument continues online.
The Wasp’s sting
Special counsel Robert Mueller is closing in on Paul Manafort – and Trump
efore he was Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort
worked for the president of Ukraine,
Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych started
out as a petty thief in the bleak Soviet city
of Donetsk. He stole fur hats from men
using its outside toilets. He would reach over
the door as they squatted, defenceless, and
flee while their trousers were still around
their ankles. Even among the criminals of
Donetsk, this was thought low behaviour.
‘It’s hard to imagine now that we had such a
character as a president of the country,’ said
Alex Kovzhun, a Ukrainian political consultant. Kovzhun joyfully put this story on thousands of mock newspaper front pages during the 2004 presidential campaign. Yanukovych lost that election and, Kovzhun told
me, decided then to get expert help with his
image. He had been using Russian political
consultants; he thought he needed an American. Enter Paul Manafort.
The sophisticated American ‘bedazzled’
Yanukovych. ‘Manafort did wonders for
him. He created a classical Soviet persona:
the older, good-looking guy in a suit with a
fatherly smile… They taught him, you have
to smile when you shake hands. It became a
Pavlovian reflex. Shake hands, smile. Shake
hands, smile.’ With Manafort’s help, Yanukovych won the presidency. ‘Yanukovych
was a violent crime figure who brought all
the knowhow from the crime world to the
state. He organised a system of absorbing
money from the country, and scaring everybody shitless.’
Yanukovych got rich. He lived in a luxury dacha outside Kiev with his mistress
and his two Thai masseuses. The house has
been a museum ever since he fled to Moscow in 2004, a monument to bad taste and
excess. There is a garage with 50 luxury cars;
a painting depicts Yanukovych in heroic
pose as a rally driver. There’s a stuffed lion
and a grinning alligator, suits of armour and
parakeets, marble and mahogany, Swarovski
crystal and Persian carpets.
The man who helped make all this possible, Paul Manafort, liked the good things
in life, too, if his indictment in the US this
week is any guide: $934,000 on antique
carpets; $1.3 million on home entertainment systems; a tailor’s bill of $849,000…
the indictment states that $18 million was
secretly funnelled into the United States
and never declared to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It claims that $75 million
from Manafort’s businesses passed through
offshore accounts in Cyprus and the Caribbean. This is the first indictment brought by
Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating (alleged) Russia interference in the
US election.
On the face of it, none of the charges
relate to what Manafort did then. Instead,
he is accused of tax evasion, money laundering, and failing to register as a lobbyist
for Ukraine. The President tweeted, gleefully: ‘Sorry, but this is years ago, before
Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign… why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the
Dems the focus?????’
Next to Manafort’s name was a figure:
$12.5 million. Days later, he resigned
as Trump’s campaign manager
Mueller has been looking at a lobbying firm run by a prominent Democrat,
Tony Podesta, brother of John Podesta,
chairman of Hillary’s campaign. The firm
is referred to, though not by name, in the
Manafort indictment. Trump’s base got a
whiff of Democrat blood in the water when
Tony Podesta resigned from the firm to
concentrate on answering Mueller’s questions about his work for Ukraine. Trump’s
friend and adviser Roger Stone has long
been pushing a story that the other Podesta
— John, the campaign chairman — is guilty
of laundering Russian money through the
Clinton foundation.
But for Trump’s future, the crucial issue
is where exactly Manafort’s millions came
from. Can the money be traced back to
Kremlin loyalists in Ukraine? In August
2016, the New York Times published pages
from a ledger belonging to Yanukovych’s
Party of the Regions. Next to Manafort’s
name was a figure: $12.5 million. Days later,
he resigned as Trump’s campaign manager.
In Kiev last week, I met a senior official who
has seen the secret report into this produced
by Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service,
the SBU. His job is so sensitive that he has
to log any meetings arranged with foreigners. We had to ‘accidentally’ bump into one
another in a park, like characters in a Cold
War spy novel.
He told me there were three ledgers, representing three separate ‘black’ funds being
run by the Party of the Regions. In each
case, he said, the money was actually supplied by a different oligarch, all with ties to
Moscow. This may be the story that Mueller
and his team are trying to prove: Russian
money in Ukrainian politics buying influence with Manafort and through him with
Donald Trump. The SBU managed to infiltrate Manafort’s operation, I was told. They
say they can show that Manafort was paid
$600,000 a month over four years, $28.8 million in total. This was far more than claimed
in the original New York Times story — and
it is the figure from just one of the three
funds. They believe the final total was higher still. The FBI has all this information.
Manafort’s lawyer says the documents
have been forged, while a former member
of his team in Ukraine told me such sums
were what you would expect to be paid for
a big political operation. I spoke to Manafort himself a year ago, when I first learned
he was under investigation. He sounded
wounded. ‘I was just trying to bring Ukraine
closer to the West,’ he told me. In Washington, a friend of Hillary Clinton’s scoffed
at that. The Russians must have known
Manafort was hiding millions offshore, he
said, and could have used this knowledge
to blackmail him. ‘The suspicion would
naturally be that they were a driving force
behind his volunteering to serve the Trump
campaign for free. Their objective would
have been to gain a foothold deep inside
the Trump camp.’
This is far ahead of anything in this week’s
indictment, which was a tax fraud and money
laundering case. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, declared
from the podium: ‘Today’s announcement
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
has nothing to do with the President.’ One
of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, told CNN:
‘I’m not concerned about this at all, and
no one else is either.’ The President’s team
sounded almost relieved. The White House
had long known the Manafort indictment
was coming. The media strategy was clear:
‘Nothing to see here.’ Trump himself tweeted: ‘There is NO COLLUSION!’ Then
Mueller delivered a sucker punch.
The special counsel announced that a
young adviser to the campaign, George Papadopoulos, had admitted lying to the FBI
about his contacts with various Russians.
His plea agreement makes it clear that the
campaign knew about the hacking of Democratic party emails a month before it was
publicly revealed. Suddenly ‘collusion’ was
back in what they call ‘the conversation’ in
Washington. ‘Mueller perfectly understands
how to play the Washington DC media
game,’ said Rick Wilson, a political consultant. ‘He’s been around it for 40 years. They
kept Papadopoulos concealed and basically turned him into a guided missile. That’s
going to ramp up their [the Trump team’s]
already extreme paranoia into the stratosphere.’
Wilson is a Republican but also a fierce
critic of Trump. ‘The guy doesn’t understand
what exactly is happening to him. It’s like
a Greek tragedy.’ Trump’s supporters had
‘Bugger. The female unicorn turns
out to be a transitioning male.’
‘actually come to believe that when Donald
Trump tweets something, it’s real’. But: ‘The
tempo of the game is going to be decided by
Bob Mueller… Mueller doesn’t care about
Donald Trump’s tweets except so far as they
incriminate Donald Trump. He ignores the
static, and presses on towards the target.’
Another Washington insider told me:
‘What you have to understand about Bob
Mueller is that he is the ultimate Wasp. He
believes in the rules and God help you if you
break them. I wouldn’t like to have him after
me.’ Trump’s friend Roger Stone told a conservative website that the President’s ‘only
chance for survival’ in office was to neutralise Mueller. Speculation is rife in Washington
that Trump will try to fire Mueller, a night of
the long knives to eclipse the one in Watergate. That, or start a war with North Korea.
Ominously for Trump, Papadopoulos
was described in his plea deal as an ‘active
co-operator’. The American media took this
to mean that he had been wearing a wire.
That thought may have some members of
the Trump campaign team in a cold sweat.
Papadopoulos, once described by Trump as
an ‘excellent guy’, was trashed by the President on Twitter as ‘a proven liar’.
Papadopoulos says he went to the Russians to get ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. Trump’s
eldest son, Donald Jr, has already admitted
he held a meeting with a Russian lawyer
with a similar aim in mind. Mueller is surely investigating that. It may also be significant that the Manafort indictment makes
no mention of his work for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Manafort’s emails,
now turned over to investigators, show him
offering ‘private briefings’ to Deripaska
during the campaign. Mueller is surely looking at this too. All of this is about ‘collusion’,
not just money.
Mueller appears then to be moving
steadily, relentlessly closer to Trump. No one
expects that this week’s indictments will be
the last in the Russia investigation.
Paul Wood is a BBC correspondent.
What is the future
of the Tory party?
Monday 27 November, 6.30 p.m.
Emmanuel Centre, Westminster, London
Having so disastrously misread the public mood at the last election,
are the Tories – divided on Brexit and much more – now hurtling
towards defeat at the next one? Can they stop Jeremy Corbyn?
What should they stand for and who should lead them?
Join The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson and a special guest panel for
a lively discussion on the future of the Conservative party.
Spectator subscriber rate: £25
Standard rate: £30
020 7961 0044
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Peter Oborne
here are many reasons political
journalists get so many things
so badly wrong. One is our tendency
to overvalue liberal politicians. This
explains why we have misunderstood
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime
Minister, who has flown to London this
week to join Theresa May at a dinner to
celebrate the centenary of the Balfour
Declaration. Frequently dismissed as a
political thug, Mr Netanyahu is arguably
the most successful Israeli premier of
all time. If he wins the next election,
he will overtake David Ben-Gurion,
Israel’s father figure, as his country’s
longest-serving prime minister. He has
seen off all his domestic rivals. He faced
down Barack Obama, and anticipated
the rise of the alt-right. He has secured
international alliances that would have
been unimaginable a few years ago.
Saudi Arabia is today one of Israel’s
closest allies, while Prime Minister
Narendra Modi of India recently visited
Israel without even bothering to travel
to the Palestinians in Ramallah. Inside
Israel, the peace process is dead. Not
even the Israeli Labour party bothers
to complain about the settlements. This is
a staggering achievement.
become part of the basic economic,
infrastructure and security apparatus
of the Israeli state. This means that
the two-state solution which Britain
has claimed to support for so long
has become impossible. Netanyahu’s
triumph means that very soon a onestate Israel must choose between
democracy and apartheid.
miles away and his ancestors have been in
the area since time immemorial.
n many conversations like these, I
grasped something I had not previously
understood. The settlements have
hould we celebrate Balfour?
Britain has honoured the first half
of Balfour’s letter, which promised to
deliver a Jewish homeland. But we have
miserably failed to keep our second
promise to protect the civil and religious
rights of Palestinians. Last month I
visited East Jerusalem and the West
Bank. Above the Jordan Valley I spent
an afternoon with a Bedouin chief for
whom Balfour has been a disaster. He
told me how he tried to build a school,
but the Israelis knocked it down. So he
tried to construct a road to the nearest
school, but the Israelis destroyed the
road. They bulldozed his encampment.
They have taken his water supply. He
told me the army had confiscated his
livestock, and when that failed, shot at
his farm animals from jeep helicopters.
He is told that he has no rights to his
land, but his grandfather is buried a few
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
suffer from insomnia, which makes
me grateful for Audible, an amazing
product which means I can listen to
actors reading books on my mobile
phone. Audible has sent me a message
saying that last year I was one of its
best customers, having spent 400
hours (the equivalent of nearly twoand-a-half solid weeks) enjoying its
products. I have listened to the first six
volumes of Pepys’s diaries, Boswell’s
Life of Johnson (several times), a life
of Genghis Khan, great chunks of the
Bible and the Koran, the Mahabharata,
the poems of Tennyson, Kipling’s Kim,
The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Wind in the
Willows, Roger Scruton’s How To Be a
Conservative, Ralph Richardson reading
Keats and a great deal besides. I am also
using Audible to learn Arabic. Last night
I listened to William’s Happy Days, read
by the incomparable Martin Jarvis.
ary Wakefield was too gloomy
about universal credit in The
Spectator last week. It is a good system
that is working well and should in time
restore the British social security system
to the humane principles embodied in
William Beveridge’s famous 1942 report
on the welfare state. Unfortunately, it
has powerful enemies. The Treasury,
under George Osborne and now Philip
Hammond, has long been determined
to wreck it. When Iain Duncan Smith
was in charge, he had the guts and
political weight to stand up to Osborne.
Unfortunately, David Gauke, the
current Work and Pensions Secretary,
has neither. If the Treasury is allowed
to destroy universal credit, history
really will regard the May government
with contempt.
Despot hero
Liberians so love the murderous Charles Taylor
they want his ex-wife to rule
Lynx on the loose
— A Eurasian lynx escaped from a zoo
in Wales, pre-empting plans to introduce
six of the animals to Kielder Forest in
Northumberland. The animal was once
native to Britain, becoming extinct around
the year 700, earlier than the wolf (possibly
1290) or the brown bear (around year 1000).
— However, in continental Europe and
near-Asia, numbers have been growing since
a low of 700 between 1930 and 1950. There
are now believed to be 50,000, spread from
Uzbekistan in the east to Germany in the
west. Of the smaller Iberian lynx, restricted
to Spain and Portugal, numbers fell to 100
in 2002 but now stand at about 400.
Collaring white collars
Gordon Brown said more bankers should
have been jailed for actions related to the
banking crisis. What are the figures for
white collar crime?
Reported offences Prosecutions
Source: Pinsent Masons
Losing big
Some facts and figures on Fixed-Odds
Betting Terminals (FOBTs):
— There are 34,388 of them in the UK,
according to the Gambling Commission.
— The gross yield from the machines is
£1.8 billion.
— The maximum stake allowed is £100,
the maximum prize is £500 and there is a
limit of four to be installed on a premises.
— It is theoretically possible to lose
£18,000 in a single hour on an FOBT.
— However, the average customer spends
£11 an hour on them, according to the
Association of British Bookmakers. 74 per
cent of users play once a month or less.
Prisoners’ votes
When can and can’t prisoners vote?
General ban.
Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary
General right to vote, but courts
can impose ban in individual circumstances.
General right to vote,
except where inmates have committed
crimes which are judged to have
undermined democracy.
Disenfranchisement based
on length of sentence.
Individual states have right to
debar criminals from voting, even after
they have completed their sentences —
with five million prisoners and ex-prisoners
across the US banned from voting.
Norway, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Finland,
No ban.
Albania, Switzerland
ames Sackie would make a good frontman for a campaign to help ex-child
soldiers. At the age of 17, he was pressganged into one of Charles Taylor’s juvenile
militias. Twenty years on, he talks movingly,
in his matter-of-fact pidgin English, about
the dreadful things he saw, including the day
he had to stop his own baby son, JR, being
whisked away as lunch for a general called
Eat Human Being.
But ask Sackie about Taylor himself and
he changes. Taylor is a war hero, not a war
criminal, James insists. And if he were freed
from his jail cell in Britain, where he’s currently serving 50 years for war crimes, James
would welcome him back as leader of Liberia. Not the kind of talk that gets donors
reaching for their chequebooks.
‘Pa Taylor’ remains a big talking point
ahead of next week’s Liberian elections,
where voters will choose a successor to
donor darling Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has
been president since 2006. By most measures, the election should be a rather cheery
landmark. Ebola is no more. The Liberian
capital, Monrovia, is safe for foreigners. And
‘Ma Ellen’ is doing the decent democratic
thing and stepping down after two terms, as
constitutionally required. The worry, though,
is that just as Liberians bid farewell to one
powerful, formidable woman, they will say
hello to another — who just happens to be
Taylor’s second wife.
Jewel Howard Taylor, 54, who was married to him during his 1997-2003 presidency,
is vice-presidential candidate for footballstar-turned-politician George Weah, in what
‘My client was born bad but he
now identifies as good.’
some see as a Hillary Clinton-style dry run
for the top job itself. For some voters, it’s the
perfect blend of brawn and brains. Weah,
who played for Chelsea and Man City, is
much-liked but not too bright, while Howard Taylor, like Johnson Sirleaf, has a clutch
of degrees in banking and finance and is
considered one of the smarter women in the
Liberian senate. For other voters, though,
the Weah-Howard Taylor ticket is akin to
having Wayne Rooney run the country
along with, well, someone who was First
Lady to one of the world’s most bloodthirsty despots. Mrs Howard Taylor, they
fear, might become Liberia’s Lady Macbeth.
Mrs Howard Taylor,
they fear, might become
the country’s Lady Macbeth
The first round of voting on 10 October
saw the Weah-Howard Taylor ticket take
a narrow lead over the other main favourite, Johnson Sirleaf’s current vice-president,
Joseph Boakai. Both camps face a run-off
vote in the coming week, with Weah-Howard Taylor the favourite. Yet the fact that
the Taylor name can even stand a chance
on a ballot paper in Liberia speaks volumes
about the country’s ambiguous relationship
with its past.
In ex-Taylor strongholds like Bong
County, the rainforested rural backwater
where I met James last month, nostalgia for
Taylor’s time in power is the norm, not the
exception. Under his rule, they got a gun and
a belly of cheap rice a day, more than many
in Liberia’s neglected interior had before.
And as the biggest, baddest gangster on the
block, he also offered a degree of protection
against other thugs.
‘When my son was abducted by General
Eat Human Being, it was one of Taylor’s
Small Boys Units that rescued him,’ James
says. Wouldn’t it have been better if there
were just no militias at all? He points to the
forest and quotes a local proverb. ‘When two
elephants fuck in the jungle, the grass gets
flattened.’ This translates roughly as: ‘Civilians always suffer when Big Men fight. Get
over it.’
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
It’s this lingering affection for the nation’s
abusive father which explains Weah’s alliance with Howard Taylor, who, as current
senator for Bong County, brings with her
a hard core of Taylor support. Many even
think she’ll get him freed if she wins power.
EU diplomats in Monrovia even felt compelled to point out ahead of the elections
that Taylor’s sentence was not going to be
‘overruled because of a change of president’.
Outside of the metropolitan elite, though,
the notion that Taylor belongs behind bars
is not one that enjoys much consensus.
‘The elite know the level of injury Taylor
caused, and are pleased he’s in jail, but many
ordinary people don’t see it that way,’ one
Liberian government official told me. ‘Why?
Because he had the largest militia in Liberia,
and in the chaos of the civil war, many grew
up knowing him as their only father.’
True, the former Mrs Taylor insists she
won’t bring back the bad old days. Having sparked alarm by saying she wanted
to return to her ex’s ‘agenda’, she clarified
recently that this meant education and
development, not chopping off limbs. Rather less clear, though, is just how much she
really knew what he was up to.
In an interview five years ago, when
asked about his sponsoring of the Revolutionary United Front rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone, she sounded vague, saying
‘Bloody awful reception.’
that as she’d never been to Sierra Leone, she
‘didn’t know what happened’. The charitable interpretation of this ignorance is that
Taylor — admittedly a master manipulator
— kept her in the dark. The less charitable
version is to ask why someone as educated
as her hadn’t since found out.
Then again, Mrs Howard Taylor isn’t the
only candidate in the race who prefers not
to dwell too much on the past. Other candidates in the first round included Taylor’s
one-time ally Prince Johnson, whose men
tortured and executed Liberia’s previous
dictator, Samuel Doe, in 1990.
In what is perhaps one of the most dubious product endorsements ever, a grainy
video from the time shows Johnson sipping a Budweiser at his desk while his goons
slice off one of Doe’s ears. Yet despite this
seemingly incontrovertible evidence, he
has never been put before a court, or even
banned from holding office. Johnson has
now also urged his supporters to back the
Weah-Howard Taylor ticket in the second
round, a move that will make the chances of
his prosecution even slimmer.
Instead, what pressure there is for justice
comes from outside — as happened back
in June, when another former Taylor wife,
Agnes Reeves Taylor, now a lecturer at Coventry University, was arrested by Scotland
Yard’s war crimes unit. Acting on a dossier
from Civitas Maxima, a Swiss human rights
organisation, prosecutors have charged her
with four counts of torture between 1989
and 1991, two of them in Bong County.
Ms Reeves Taylor, who has been
remanded in custody, has denied the allegations, telling her initial hearing that she was
‘unaware of what was going on’. It means
that while one Taylor ex-wife may be about
to become the country’s second most powerful politician, another is at risk of joining
him as a guest in Britain’s prison system.
Colin Freeman is the author of Kidnapped:
Life as a Somali Pirate Hostage, published
by Monday Books.
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the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Class struggle
Scotland used to have the best school system
in the world. Then devolution happened
nce one of the best in the world, Scotland’s education system has been
steadily marching backwards for the
past ten years. From the outside, it seems baffling: why, given that Scottish spending per
pupil is among the highest in the world, are
things going so wrong? From the inside, it’s
far easier to understand. You can explain it in
three words: Curriculum for Excellence.
I’d heard stories about it before I started
training as a teacher. By the time I qualified
— in April last year — how I wished I’d listened to them. The story starts in 2010, when
the new system was introduced with four
aims: to create ‘confident individuals’, ‘successful learners’, ‘responsible citizens’ and
‘effective contributors’. Perhaps the meaning
of these phrases was clear to those who came
up with them. But as I found out, many teachers can’t recall — let alone explain — them.
Picture a grey Glasgow sky and underneath, a cosy school staffroom. ‘What are
they called again? Successful contributors?
Effective learners?’ one teacher with 30
years’ experience asks. ‘No, no. It is the learners who are successful; the contributors are
effective!’ a student teacher replies helpfully.
The idea of teaching had been turned on
its head. Rather than stick to a topic — like
English or chemistry — we had to mix them
up according to a bizarre formula created in
the devolved parliament. In 1999, the new
MSPs had been given power over the school
system — so decided to use it. When the SNP
came to power, the shake-up began. Devolution made a nation’s children into guinea pigs.
So instead of straightforward maths lessons, we’d have ‘interdisciplinary learning’.
Bar charts would be shoehorned into lessons
about Shakespeare. For a teacher to perform
‘active learning’, the ‘learners’ had to be constantly entertained. Then came the demand
for ‘collaborative learning’, which means
group work, where nothing gets done.
Exams were to be judged by classwork,
which of course created plenty of scope for
New Work by National Humanities Medal
Recipient—Lewis E. Lehrman
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- Prof. Richard Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of
American History at Oxford University
Available in Hardcover and on Kindle
foul play. And not only by pupils. One experienced teacher told me of ‘the pass factory’ in her school, a place where pupils go
for unlimited attempts on core assessments.
Gaming the system is particularly noticeable
in middle-class areas, where children pay for
private tutors in order to be coached through
exams. In some cases, tutors actually write
the coursework for them.
In English, graphic novels crept their way
into classrooms. Literature and media studies were fused. Presumably to cater for this,
Penguin even published an emoji series of
Shakespeare’s plays. This is new, certainly,
but is it progress? Glaring ignorance of world
geography or history is not just permissible,
but expected. In history, for example, it’s normal for pupils to study the second world war
year after year, and merely be assessed at different levels, constant assessment being the
SNP’s only guarantee. The number of pupils
studying French or German has halved.
All of this was supposed to empower
teachers and give them more say. But the
SNP failed to do its homework, and it didn’t
quite turn out like that. And so, despite
teachers’ sceptical willingness, the whole project has become seen as a sick joke. In the
staffroom, the Curriculum for Excellence is
known as the ‘curriculum for excrement’.
My final teaching exam led me to cater
my lesson to the 20 pupils in front of me, of
whom 18 had various ‘additional support’
needs (autism, dyslexia etc). Trying to fulfil
the curriculum’s bizarre demands on top of
these challenges made my lesson a circus. In
the end, I qualified. But I walked away from
teacher training with a smoking habit and a
resolution never to return. I later found out
that four in ten newly qualified teachers leave
the profession within a year. Which is a tragedy: all of my fellow trainees entered wanting to help pupils, as we had been helped. But
it’s hard, once you find out that you’ll be taking part in the dumbing-down of a nation’s
schools and the betrayal of its children.
I know quite a few of the dropouts now.
There’s the Frenchman with a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne, who stormed out
of our school placement after a disagreement
about the quality of his teaching. A fellow
secondary school teacher who, due to unmanageable stress, now tutors young offenders
rather than return to the classroom. A once
enthusiastic primary teacher who said to me,
‘I’d rather do anything — anything — than
go back.’ At the last count, there were almost
700 vacant teaching posts in Scotland. That’s
around 21,000 pupils who are missing teachers.
In the staffroom of one school where I
taught, there was a poster. It read, ‘Being a
teacher is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except
the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything
is on fire. And you’re in hell.’ Sometimes, on
breaks between classes, I would sit and stare
at it. I did not see the funny side; for the teachers, or for the pupils, who are the principal
victims of a system that is so visibly failing.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
When did fiction become so dangerous?
he assignment of books for review
has always been haphazard. Fellow
fiction writers can be tempted either
to undermine the competition, or to flatter
colleagues who might later judge prizes or
provide boosting blurbs. There are no clear
qualifications for book reviewing — perhaps publication, but most of all, because
reviewers are paid for their text but not for
the many hours it takes to read the bleeding books, a willingness to work for atrocious wages.
Mitigating the gravity of this matter?
Aside from the authors whose work is on
the block, almost no one reads book reviews,
and I say that as someone who writes a
fair number. It’s a publishing truism that
‘reviews don’t sell books’ — although negative ones can un-sell books. With lose-lose
odds like that, why books are ever shipped
out for review is anyone’s guess.
The lofty New York Times seeks to
prevent literary back-scratching by making reviewers swear on pain of excommunication that they are not friends with
the author (the test being whether you’ve
dined together). With young adult titles,
Kirkus, an American trade journal that can
influence library and bookshop orders, has
raised the moral purity bar still further.
YA fiction reviewers must identify
all characters by race, religion and sexual orientation. (Kirkus reviews are only
200 words. After all that ‘African-American, lapsed Buddhist, male-to-female
transgender with a foot fetish’, I’m amazed
there’s any wordage left.) Should authors
have been stupid enough to include a
‘diverse’ cast, their books will be assigned
to ‘own voices’ reviewers — that is, other
African-American, lapsed Buddhist, maleto-female transgenders with foot fetishes —
the better to ‘call out’ writers guilty of any
crimes of the imagination on the burgeoning list of progressive no-nos.
Laura Moriarty’s American Heart is a
dystopian tale about a white 15-year-old girl
who meets an Iranian academic on the run
and comes to realise that America’s corralling all its Muslims into internment camps is
not very nice. Thus the Kirkus editor-in-chief
assigned the book to a female ‘observant
Muslim of colour’. The Muslim reviewer
gave the novel an enthusiastic notice, which
merited the coveted Kirkus star.
Something peculiar seems to have happened amid YA readers in particular. Even
for our fevered times, the social justice outrage in this ‘community’ rapidly reaches
a pitch that could shatter crystal. Crusaders on social media (most of whom hadn’t
read the book) denounced Moriarty’s
novel as promoting a ‘white-saviour narrative’. Kirkus took the review down. Asked
if she would please like to reconsider her
appraisal in light of the frenzy online, the
reviewer rewrote her review to be more
critical. Kirkus posted the new version. It
retracted the star.
I’ll reach for an adjective grown painfully fashionable; maybe in an era of hyperbolic huffing and puffing, commentators
welcome its ambience of understatement:
troubling. This story is troubling.
The ‘own voices’ policy conveys to
There’s no reason why sensitivity
on steroids will remain restricted
to young adult fiction
reviewers that their primary job is not to
assess a book’s storytelling, but to rate its
adherence to a left-wing catechism (the
fairness of whose tenets is presumably selfevident), to identify authorial heretics, and
to stick the apostates’ heads on spikes along
the digital public highway. Reviewing for
Kirkus is now a cross between penning literary criticism and joining a shooting party,
a sufficiently athletic undertaking that it
really should pay better.
I’ve despaired previously of YA publishers’ use of ‘sensitivity readers’ to screen
manuscripts for politically objectionable
content, of which this practice is an extension. Since reviewers sent searching for sin
redeem their existence by becoming offended, what makes the American Heart story
extraordinary is the fact that the original
reviewer, a practising Muslim, thought a
novel by a white writer, with a Muslim as a
main character, was wonderful.
There’s no reason why sensitivity on
steroids will remain restricted to YA fiction.
Across the genres, the sanely self-protective
response to this scrounging for sacrilege is
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
surrender. For writers to create a ‘diverse’
cast of characters is not worth the risk. The
YA author Justine Larbalestier has already
bannered proudly online that she will no
longer use ‘persons of colour’ as ‘protags’
— a usage alone so horrifying that it should
really disqualify the woman from writing
about anybody.
m I the only one to find the #metoo-ing
over Harvey Weinstein a little creepy?
Bandwagons always make me want to
jump off. And talk about kicking an asshole
when he’s down. I resent being made to feel
sorry for the man.
Now that the confessional groundswell over sexual harassment has moved
far beyond this one Hollywood toad,
we seem to be losing the distinction between
actual sexual assault and mere poor
taste. The theatre director Max StaffordClark’s remark to a staff member that he
would be ‘up her like a rat up a drainpipe’
in his friskier days sounds like the arm
chancing of an earlier generation, and at
76 he was unlikely to have made a young
woman feel threatened. He was in a wheelchair, for pity’s sake. So was George H.W.
Bush, when rumoured to have patted the
odd behind. An increasingly senile old goat
with reduced inhibitions couldn’t have
been that scary. Bush Sr doesn’t have much
power to abuse, either. There’s a big difference between the ‘sex pest’ whom you can
bat away, and the kind you can’t.
I worry, too, that in the extremity of our
reaction to the Weinstein case, we women
are frightening men to such a degree that
they will never venture an off-colour aside
in mixed company (since none of us prudes
have a sense of humour). Much less will
they ever dare to lean over a dinner table
that tad too far when you’re both married
and ought to know better.
I treasure a little lightheartedly suggestive banter that you both realise will never
materialise into anything dangerous. I
savour the playful electric frisson between
sexes — the passing dalliance, the fleeting
reciprocal attraction that will evanesce, but
which still puts a spring in your step walking home. Mutual flirtation could become a
bygone art, and a bygone pleasure.
On Twitter, you reap what you sow
he nastiest person on Twitter has
quit Twitter. Because I’m so generous I shan’t mention his name. All I’ll
say is he that he co-wrote one of the 1990s’
warmest, funniest, daffiest sitcoms — which
is possibly what made his attack-dog vitriol so especially hurtful. It was like being
stabbed with a fork by Gyles Brandreth,
kneed in the groin by your vicar, given the
middle finger by the Queen. What, you kept
wondering, could possess someone you were
predisposed to admire to make them behave
like such a dreadful heel?
Because social media makes monsters
of us, unfortunately. Some people, at any
rate. We discussed this at the weekend at
the Battle of Ideas festival in London at an
event called: ‘We need to talk. The vices and
virtues of social media.’ One of my fellow
panellists, Alex Benson, a club promoter,
described the terrifying sensation of having once been caught in a Twitter storm and
feeling so universally hated that he scarcely
dared venture outdoors. But when he did
so he discovered something odd: in real life
(IRL) everyone was as perfectly affable as
ever they had been. All that rage had been
confined to the social media bubble.
As Benson noted, people say things on
Twitter that if voiced in a pub would get you
a punch in the face. This is partly because the
140-character medium encourages you to be
pithy, provocative and nuance-free in order
to grab other users’ attention. And partly
because taking out someone when you can’t
hear them squeal is much easier than killing
them with your bare hands.
Many find the experience so unpleasant they quit in disgust, as Stephen Fry
announces he’s done, from time to time.
This is exactly the right thing to do. At its
worst Twitter can feel like Stalingrad: houseto-house, mano-a-mano, bashing your enemies’ brains out with whatever entrenching
tool comes to hand. But the key difference
is: you volunteered for this; you can opt out
at any time.
Or if quitting is too extreme, you can do
what some of the people I follow do: one
tweets about his efforts to match paint at
National Trust properties; another details
his adventures researching papers on the
first world war navy in the archives; one just
tells you what a jolly day she’s having. Guess
how much hate they get?
So up to a point, on social media you reap
what you sow. If you have a strong opinion,
and you want to put it out there and submit
it to the judgment of your Twitter peers, then
don’t suddenly act all surprised and wounded when they tell you exactly what you don’t
want to hear.
It’s why I have limited sympathy for
the Twitter cry-bully brigade, most of them
either attention-seeking female Labour
MPs or activists for ineffably tedious social
justice warrior campaign groups like the
Everyday Sexism project. I’m sure the deluge of ugly responses they get can be scary
Having survived the odd Twitter
storm myself, I know how awful it can
be when the mob descends on you
and painful, and I’m not defending the
deplorable language used against them.
But the cynic in me suspects that it all
rather suits their purpose: they want Twitter to be censored by people of a left-wing
persuasion like themselves; they want police
time to be wasted pursuing sad, lonely men
who live with their mums for supposed ‘rape
threats’ that were never meant to be taken
seriously; they want the papers to be full of
vivid, quotable, 140-character illustrations of
what neanderthals all men are, and of just
how much still needs to be done in order to
correct society’s terrible gender injustice.
It’s a very effective way of closing down
the argument: goading trolls and then using
their vileness in order to smear the case of
all those informed, decent, articulate men
who’d like to point out, ‘Um actually this
rape culture is a figment of your imagination’ and ‘By the way, that’s also true of the
gender pay gap…’
This is why I worry when I hear certain
Tory ministers joining in the predictable
demands from the left for more to be done
to police — i.e. censor — social media. It
may feel to them like they are addressing
a fashionable issue of public concern. But
what they’re actually doing is playing the
enemy’s game: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon,
Google and co are all controlled and run
by progressive types who don’t understand
conservative arguments and who therefore
feel under no obligation to protect them.
‘I believe in free speech but…’ is an argument one hears increasingly often from the
liberal left. That ‘but’ is the killer.
Having survived the odd Twitter storm
myself, I know how awful it can be when the
mob descends on you. It’s not an experience
I would wish on my worst enemies (indeed,
on occasion, I’ve risen to their defence when
it has happened to them). But the alternative — in which your every risqué bon mot
gets submitted to the red-pen judgment of
humourless, politically correct Ivy League
graduates; or the police come banging at
your door just because you’ve rather waggishly trained your pug to do the Heil Hitler
salute and put it up on YouTube — seems to
me infinitely more dangerous, nay fascistic.
Ultimately, as I told my wise, lovely and
generally assenting Battle of Ideas audience,
social media is the mob — and the mob has
always been there. When the mob smiles
on you and raises you up, nothing could be
more thrilling. You can become Caesar, or
Donald Trump, or even Gary Lineker, once
just a little-known crisp salesman, but now
elevated by his impeccably right-on observations on Twitter into one of the most celebrate SJW thinkers of our age.
When the mob turns on you, however,
you feel rather as Cinna the Poet must have
done just before he was torn to pieces by the
crowd who mistook him for Cinna the Conspirator to kill Caesar: ‘Why me?’ It’s cruel,
it’s unfair but it’s just the way things are. The
mob, after all, is just another word for us.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Equality of outcome
Build on brownfield sites
Sir: Rod Liddle exposes some deep flaws
in the way children are prepared to play
their part in adulthood (‘The kids aren’t all
right’, 28 October). But one in particular
merits further analysis. He is right to say
that teachers’ imperative is to raise the D
grade students at GCSE to a C, as a school
is judged on the number of A-C grade
passes it secures. So all the best teachers and
all the extra resources are focused on the
D grade children. An A grade student who
could, with a bit of help, achieve an A* and
thus begin their journey to Cambridge is
ignored, and if he or she achieves only a B,
that is a tick in the box; a success.
David Lammy accuses Oxbridge and
other universities of failing to award
places to students from disadvantaged
backgrounds. Universities can only award
places to students who are sufficiently gifted
intellectually, and they can only do this by
looking at the available evidence, principally
in the form of exam results. It was Mr
Lammy’s party in government which
introduced the target system and promoted
so rigorously the need for equality of
outcome over equality of input. It is hard to
see why this is in the nation’s best interests.
Jonathan Powell
Fakenham, Norfolk
Sir: In all the clamour about the need to
build more homes (Politics, 28 October),
is there any consideration of the effect it
might have on our island’s most precious
asset, its landscapes? With the population
set to rise to 70 million by the middle of
the next decade, it is one that has to be
addressed. Meanwhile, any doubts raised
about building on green spaces are all
too readily dismissed as nimbyism. If
build we must, it should be on brownfield
sites only, while there is a stock of already
existing urban buildings that should
be restored for use.
Christopher Arthur
The Middle East closet
Sir: I do not doubt the accounts of gay
liaisons in the Middle East by John R.
Bradley (‘Arabian nights’, 28 October).
However, his article misses the point. In
(most of) the West, gays can bring their
boyfriend or girlfriend home to meet the
parents. In Arabic society they cannot.
While the raunchiness of illicit encounters
Stock solution
Sir: The Spectator was the first to ask
quite how Generation Y is to believe in
capitalism when they have no capital. Last
week James Forsyth noted that Chancellor
Hammond is not one to pull rabbits from
hats, but is in need of something radical
in his budget (‘Hammond can build his
way out of trouble’, 28 October). An
obvious answer would be to exempt gifts of
shares from the current annual limits and
requirement for the donor to survive seven
years after making the gift. Received shares
could be traded for others, but if the money
is realised within, say, 12 months, then it
should be taxed as income at higher rate.
Such a policy would have three rapid
effects: inducing many to invest in the stock
market for the personal purpose of handing
wealth down; raising money, likely some
from overseas, for British firms in the runup to Brexit; and make Generation Y into
shareholders, thereby also shooting Mr
Corbyn’s fox. The details of such a policy
should be kept very clear and simple, but
for Mr Hammond it has the added benefits
of being radical, strategically useful and
likely to raise tax receipts as well. It is
above all, Conservative.
Dr C.K. Robinson
London SE10
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
may beguile, gay rights is about more than
scoring a hook-up. We should applaud the
guts of Hamed Sinno as one of the few
campaigners in the region.
James Campbell
London NW5
Lady Muck’s equal
Sir: I was very pleased to be reminded about
Lady Muck by Julie Burchill (‘The return of
Lady Muck’, 28 October). My grandmother,
who was born in 1905 and brought up in
east London, often used this memorable
term of disapprobation. Spectator readers
who might be anxious that it is sexist will
be pleased to know there is a male version,
also much used by my grandmother. He is
Lord Dunabunk, a representative of flashy
charlatan absconders.
Robin Ward
Make work pay
Sir: In his article about universal credit
(‘Destitute Britain’, 28 October), Frank
Field calls for ‘rewinding policies that are
destitution’s chief recruiter’. This is precisely
what the new system sets out to do.
Birkenhead, his constituency, is one of
the poorest parts of Britain. This is why
Peter Davies, a local bookshop owner,
expected staff would be grateful for extra
work when he offered them more hours.
But they turned him down, explaining that
they would lose so many tax credits that
they’d actually be worse off.
This, the unreformed welfare system,
is destitution’s chief recruiter. It wastes
money, it wastes lives, it ensnares millions
— and universal credit is set up to lead
people out of this trap. Yes, it has its
teething problems. Any major reform
would do. But so far, research shows that
those on universal credit (as opposed to
Jobseeker’s Allowance or tax credits) are
more likely to be in work, and are likely to
earn more in that work. When it comes to
fighting poverty and destitution, welfare
reform is the best weapon at our disposal.
Patrick Spencer
Centre for Social Justice, London SW1
Who’s got more islands?
Sir: Hugh Thomson starts his fine review of
Patrick Barkham’s book about the British
islands (Books, 7 October) by stating that
‘Britain has 6,000 islands. Not as many
as Sweden’s 30,000’. For an even more
dramatic contrast he might have mentioned
Norway, which has 239,057 islands.
Torvald Kambestad
Oslo, Norway
Yes, the City needs new global clients –
but should they include Putin’s pal?
n connection with the receding possibility of a London Stock Exchange listing for Saudi Aramco, I wrote that the
City authorities’ apparent eagerness to
accommodate companies ‘from places not
best known for their accounting standards,
business probity or general attachment to
democracy and the rule of law’ smacked
of Brexit-driven desperation. Russia was
one of the places I had in mind. Now along
comes a listing candidate that rings more
alarm bells than the secretive Saudi oil giant.
The company concerned is called EN+
Group, and it is the first Russian entity to
come to the London market since Russia’s
aggression in Ukraine and Crimea provoked US and EU sanctions in 2014. EN+’s
business is ‘energy and aluminium’; its controlling shareholder is Oleg Deripaska,
the Russian billionaire often described as
a member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle
and best known in the UK for entertaining
George Osborne and Peter Mandelson on
his yacht in Corfu in 2008. More topically,
Deripaska has a well-documented history
of dealings with Paul Manafort, the former
Trump campaign chief who has been indicted for money laundering.
Gossip aside, EN+ is clearly a big business, with revenues of $5.8 billion in the first
half of this year; and even if its published
numbers so far are no more than ‘highlights’,
we can expect advisers and listing officials to
do the necessary due diligence. Likewise in
reassuringly old-fashioned style, EN+ has a
lord on the board in the person of its recently appointed chairman, the former climate
change minister Lord (Greg) Barker. Its
$1.5 billion flotation will generate fees for
blue-chip banks such as Citigroup, Credit
Suisse, J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch, and
will tie in a major Chinese investor, AnAn
Group, of the sort that the City is also keen
to attract. So why be sniffy about a deal
which reaffirms London’s pre-eminence in
global capital markets?
Well, some might say that the City
shouldn’t be doing business with anyone so
close to Putin’s Kremlin; but such fastidious28
ness broadly applied to unsavoury regimes
might rule out trading with half the emerging world, which isn’t where we want to
be as Brexit approaches. More specifically,
EN+ says it intends to use the ‘primary proceeds’ of the share offering ‘to repay a portion of its debt’ — which is owed largely to
Russian banks such as VTB (also an EN+
shareholder) that helped bail out Deripaska’s businesses with Kremlin support after
the 2008 crash, and are currently subject
to US and EU sanctions. So London investors’ money will be flowing back into Putin’s
otherwise ostracised banking system.
Deripaska himself was rather scathing
about London’s continuing financial clout
after he chose to list his aluminium company
Rusal (now controlled by EN+) in Hong
Kong in 2010. Perhaps today he thinks the
City is turning into a soft touch.
Gordon’s revelation
I can’t wait to read Gordon Brown’s My
Life, Our Times, in which I gather he vents
his spleen at bankers’ delusional risk-taking
before and during the 2008 crash and offers,
as evidence of their madness, the revelation
that Barclays contemplated taking over the
shipwrecked RBS at the height of the crisis.
If true, that’s a fascinating nugget, though
there may have been many such ideas
tossed around in the heat of the moment.
But it didn’t happen and — however furious Brown may be that Barclays slipped
out of his bailout net by means of a Middle
Eastern capital-raising that belatedly led to
criminal charges — the one acquisition Barclays did pull off at the time, of the rump of
Lehman Bros, was an opportunist triumph.
By contrast, the one merger Brown himself
was instrumental in forging, between Lloyds
and HBOS, was an outright disaster. I wonder if there’s a chapter headed ‘Mea Culpa’?
Tiptoeing towards normality
There are occasions when an apparently
negative economic indicator is also in some
sense positive. September’s 9 per cent drop
in new car registrations compared with the
same month last year was no bad thing if it
means fewer people are loading themselves
up with debt to buy cars — and won’t hurt
British car factories that are part of a global supply chain. Likewise, falling London
house prices may carry a negative message
about international confidence in the UK,
but will help London workers to buy homes.
And a quarter-point interest rate rise, if it
has finally arrived, may look like a sign of
concern at the Bank of England and a worry
for mortgage borrowers, but is actually a tiptoe back towards the economic normality
we have almost forgotten.
Bon appétit, encore
I was in France again last week, so you’ll
expect me, comme d’habitude, to drop the
name of a good restaurant. Tackling a pig’s
trotter at Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard
Saint-Germain, I sensed a buzz. Not of tourists — the only English words on the menu
warn ignorant Americans not to order salad
as a main course — but of Parisian businessmen and their mistresses (so I surmised)
tucking in lustily, warmed by the thought
that their economy is on the up again.
Positive signals from manufacturing, construction and the job market are contributing to growth expectations of 1.7 per cent
this year, up from 1.2 per cent in 2016 and
slightly better than the current OECD forecast for the UK. After a sticky start, President Emmanuel Macron has embarked
on promised reforms of labour law and
wealth taxes. Of course, you might argue,
his programme hasn’t had time to make a
real difference yet; France still has 3.7 million unemployed and decades of underperformance to put right. So the new optimism
is partly no more than relief at the departure
of Macron’s dismal predecessor, François
Hollande. But it also demonstrates the energising effect of a fresh-faced pro-business
political leader with a clear plan that starts
with tax cuts. Would that we had one here.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
31 Chinese bonds are back in fashion...
But history warns they might never be repaid
Elliot Wilson
33 Will Hammond squeeze VCTs?
Venture Capital Trust tax breaks are at risk
Jonathan Davis
36 Peer-to-peer opportunities
P2P loans against invoices offer high returns
Christopher Silvester
39 Fair shares for small investors
Muscle in on the big boys’ private equity profits
Robin Andrews
42 Student debt is cruel
Scrapping tuition fees would be even more unfair
Hettie O’Brien
37 Property
Why the future looks bleaker for estate agents
Ross Clark
43 Reality Check
This week’s rate-rise decision is all but irrelevant
Louise Cooper
Broken bonds
Elliot Wilson fears that our pension funds and investment portfolios
will soon be crammed full of China’s risky corporate debt
Between 1900 and
1940, a series of
unstable Chinese
regimes flooded
global markets
with bonds: this
one is from 1911
Come the
2030s, maybe
a new emperor
will be on
the throne,
or maybe
China will
be a vibrant
are crammed with corporate duds.
Although Beijing wants its currency
to compete for global influence with
the US dollar, the yuan remains little
used beyond its borders.
But there’s one area of the financial world where China is set to lead
soon, and it isn’t where you think.
Chinese debt markets are a complete mystery to the casual investor
— yet the asset class is huge and it’s
the chosen form of funding for government, banks and big corporations.
So far, China’s bond markets have
flown under the radar, in large part
because Beijing controls which securities foreign funds can buy. Licensed
institutional investors have been
buying mainland equities for years
but government bonds aside, most
debt securities were off-limits. That
changed when regulators spotted a
sharp rise in capital flight. An estimated $725 billion fled the country in
2016: a mix of outbound acquisitions
and wealthy mainlanders squirrelling
money in foreign safe havens.
eptember’s annual IMF-World
Bank meeting in Washington DC was a strange affair.
Delegates fretted about Europe,
about Brexit and, given recent
weather events, about the escalating
threats posed by a warmer planet.
But hovering over everything was
the spectre of Donald Trump. The US
President was absent in person, yet his
views on America’s place in the world
filtered into every discussion. Bankers and ministers groused about him
all day, then reconvened in bars to
vent more steam after the sun had set.
Trump’s America seems destined
to be an isolated place. Since his election, he has removed the US from the
Trans-Pacific Partnership and questioned the future of Nato and the
North American Free Trade Agreement. At the Washington meeting,
Takehiko Nakao, president of the
Asian Development Bank, said the
US seemed ‘fatigued’ at having to
play the twin roles of global policeman and sovereign funder of last
resort as chief financial contributor to the World Bank and the IMF.
But with the US no longer willing or
able to lead the economic world, who
picks up the baton?
Britain is consumed by Brexit;
Europe is a non-starter; Japan is
too removed from global affairs.
Only China, with vast stores of foreign currency and huge clout as both
importer and exporter, can step into
the breach. Beijing sent a small army
of politicians and experts to Washington. Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China’s central bank, pledged
to continue opening his economy to
foreign investors. Jin Liqun, chairman of the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, said
America’s retreat ensured China ‘has
to play a bigger role’.
China is rich and powerful, to be
sure. Its ‘Belt and Road’ development strategy will help it channel
goods faster and cheaper to markets
in Europe, Africa and Asia. But it is
also playing catch-up after centuries
of under-performance, not to mention misrule. And while its finances
at a central level are strong, its financial markets are, to put it kindly, a
work in progress. Its stock markets
China’s industrial economy
relies on repeated capital injections
to maintain breakneck growth —
forcing its leaders to cast around for
new sources of cash. The only answer
has been to open their bond markets
to foreign investors, with Beijing quietly handing bond-trading licences to
lenders it trusts, such as Citi, JPMorgan and HSBC — and investors have
rushed to buy corporate debt.
According to the Bank for International Settlements, the value of
China-issued debt at the end of
June was $9.9 trillion, making it the
world’s third largest bond market
behind Japan ($13 trillion) and the
US ($38 trillion). UBS tips the asset
class to double in size over the next
five years, then double again. Citi
expects annual purchases of Chinese
bonds to hit $3 trillion by the mid2020s. You may not be plugged into
China’s bond markets now, but you
will be once insurers and fund managers begin to diversify their holdings.
Doubts remain, however. China’s
economy is more fragile than it looks.
Crisis will strike at some point — and
how will Beijing cope if bondholders react by dumping their paper
en masse? And what of defaults? A
few smaller corporates have failed
to meet interest payments on their
bonds: a solar-panel maker, Shanghai
Chaori, was first to do so in 2014. But
what if a major state-run firm defaults,
or a debt-laden government body?
Investors assume Beijing will backstop such events. But for answers, students of financial history might turn
to China’s last serious dalliance with
debt markets.
Between 1900 and 1940, a series
of unstable Chinese regimes flooded
global markets with bonds. In 1913,
the year after the fall of the last
Qing emperor, a rudderless state
sold £25 million worth of ‘gold loan’
bonds. But after Mao’s communists
took power in 1949, they refused to
meet previous debt obligations. The
worthless but elegant bonds became
collectors’ items of a different kind.
It may be hard to imagine the current iteration of Mao’s party, refined
and modernised as it is, collapsing
and being replaced by a new political movement. But come the 2030s,
maybe a new emperor will be on
the throne, or maybe China will be a
vibrant democracy. And one thing’s
for sure, my pension fund and your
wealth-manager-generated investment portfolio will contain a big bundle of Chinese bonds. Will China’s
new leaders honour the obligations
of their predecessors? Or will history
repeat itself? Only time will tell.
We strive
to go deeper.
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Please quote MINC S 26
Will the Chancellor squeeze VCTs?
Watch out for a budget clampdown on the tax advantages
of Venture Capital Trusts, warns Jonathan Davis
ealthy investors have a particular reason to keep an
anxious eye open for Philip
Hammond’s autumn Budget on 22
November. With pension contribution
tax relief sharply scaled back in recent
years, and interest rates still ultralow (even if we’ve seen a quarterpoint rise this week), there are concerns that the Chancellor may be
pushed into taking steps to tighten up
the rules on other favoured forms of
tax-efficient saving for the better-off.
Included in that list are Venture
Capital Trusts, one of three innovations — the others being the Enterprise Investment Scheme and the
launch of the Alternative Investment
Market — introduced in the 1990s
to encourage individuals to invest in
startup and early-stage businesses. All
three offer investors potentially handsome tax advantages in return for the
risk that the businesses they back will
struggle or fail, as many invariably do.
VCT tax benefits include 30 per
cent income tax relief on your initial
investment up to a maximum investment of £200,000 a year, dividends
free from income tax, and exemption
from capital gains tax on disposal.
These benefits are all dependent on
investors leaving their money in the
VCT for a minimum of five years: the
tax savings can be reclaimed by the
taxman if the investment is held for a
shorter time.
Financial advisers rate VCTs as
among the best options for higher-rate
taxpayers who have already maxed
out on their entitlement to pension
contribution tax relief plus their
annual £20,000 ISA allowance. VCT’s
ability to pay tax-free dividends
makes them particularly attractive,
not least because they are permitted,
exceptionally, to distribute not just
income but also their capital gains in
the form of dividends.
A VCT that issues shares at 100p
and pays an annual dividend of 5p,
which is a level that many established
VCTs target, will effectively yield
over 7 per cent per annum after taking account of the 30 per cent upfront
tax relief. In practice, most VCTs are
happy to see their share prices settle
below their issue price in order to maximise the tax-free dividend returns.
The thinking behind the VCT
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
Probably the
most famous
example of a
success story
is the property
website Zoopla
initiative was that government gains
more from spawning a new generation
of startup and early-stage companies
than it foregoes in tax receipts from
the investors concerned. That has
certainly been the case so far. VCTs
have spawned a number of successful
companies which now pay plenty
of tax on their profits and employ
thousands of tax-paying employees.
Probably the most famous example
of a VCT-backed success story is the
property website Zoopla.
Why then is there concern that the
Chancellor may have set his sights
on scaling back the favourable VCT
regime? One explanation is the Treasury’s evident (and hardly unprecedented) need for additional savings.
Whenever Treasury budget-drafters
look around for easy wins, eliminating tax reliefs always figures large.
The second is the announcement
earlier this year of the Patient Capital
Review, a Treasury-led initiative to
investigate ways to fill the so-called
‘equity funding gap’ that is widely
believed to have prevented many
startup businesses from growing into
the world-beaters that other countries
seem to be so much better at nurturing.
Why, the argument goes, do so many
of our best technology companies fail
to grow into our very own Googles
and Amazons and so often end up
being taken over by smart foreignowned businesses? Maybe government support for growing businesses
should be spent in other directions.
Jo Oliver, who manages Octopus Titan, the largest VCT — which
grew out of an earlier ‘angel investor’ network and has backed Zoopla among many other successes
— argues that VCTs are not part of
the problem. The gap that needs to be
plugged, in his view, relates to laterstage companies that have the potential to go global but are not yet big
enough to attract conventional backing from big banks, credit markets
and institutional investors.
A more plausible reason to tinker
with the VCT regime is that the portfolios of a number of established
VCTs have matured so far that they
are no longer in practice the pure riskcapital vehicles the tax concessions
were designed to encourage. Two
years ago, the rules governing what
VCTs are allowed to hold in order to
retain their tax-privileged status were
tightened up for this very reason. They
now have to invest in a higher proportion of higher-risk early startups, for
example. These restrictions might be
tightened again.
Where does all this leave this
year’s crop of VCT offerings? It is
indicative of the nervousness around
the sector that many providers of
VCTs are looking to raise more
money than they would usually do,
just in case the Chancellor hits them
with an adverse rule change — better
therefore, from their perspective, to
bank enough now to keep them going
for the next couple of years.
For would-be VCT investors
the equation is less simple. Would
the Chancellor dare to make any
clampdown on reliefs retrospective?
Probably not, but new rules could
be imposed from the date of the
Budget rather than the next financial year. Without knowing what form
any changes might take, it’s impossible to say how far they might alter
the risk-reward balance of VCTs. At
the time of writing the signs are that
many investors are buying the ‘Hurry
while stocks last’ message — which
Would Philip
dare make
on VCT
tax relief
rarely fails in the investment business. According to the Tax Efficient
Review, as at 30 October a total of
£261 million had been committed as
subscriptions to VCTs this financial
year, against a total fundraising target
of £672 million announced so far.
Alex Davies, founder of The
Wealth Club, a broking firm that deals
exclusively in tax-favoured investments, says he would not be surprised
if the total raised by VCTs this year
exceeds £800 million. That will make
it comfortably the sector’s best fundraising year to date, beating the £527
million raised in 2016-17, and potentially costing the Treasury £240 million
in foregone income tax. Whether he
does anything or not, Philip Hammond is already on course to become
the VCT salesman of the year.
Join The Spectator’s Andrew Neil,
Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth
for their autumn budget briefing
on November 22. Book tickets at
Venture Capital Trusts come in many shapes and sizes — some small and very specialised, others bigger and more generalist. As VCTs are high-risk
investments, the most prudent strategy is to spread your money across a number of the more established generalist and AIM VCTs. Some providers
manage a range of VCTs, often later consolidating them. Current offers include:
Up to 60
Up to 80
Octopus Titan
Up to 200
Unicorn AIM
Up to 50
Source: Tax Efficient Review, The Wealth Club
Past performance is no guide to the future, but these are among the best performers. The first three are generalist VCTs. Octopus Titan has the best
track record of finding innovative new businesses. Unicorn runs the best-performing of several VCTs that specialise in AIM shares (others include
Octopus, Amati and Hargreave Hale). Specialised VCTs are best avoided without professional advice. Note that VCTs can be sold after investment,
but the market is not very liquid, the spread between buying and selling prices can be wide, and many trade at a discount, although most trusts offer
to buy back shares periodically at a 5-10 per cent discount to Net Asset Value. Running costs are higher than with ordinary funds, with an average ongoing charge ratio of 3.4 per cent per annum for generalist trusts and 2.3 per cent for AIM funds.
Baronmead 2nd
Morbeus Income & Growth
Northern 2
Octopus Titan
Unicorn AIM
Source: Association of Investment Companies, as at 15 October
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
Invesco Perpetual Investment Trusts
Built on our legacy
of long-term expertise
in the patient, high conviction approach we
trusts. Whether relatively new or over 125
For more information on our products, please refer to the relevant Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive document (AIFMD) and the latest Annual or Half-Yearly Financial Reports.
This information is available using the contact details shown. Invesco Perpetual is a business name of Invesco Fund Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
TS IT 1a
Risks and rewards of peer-to-peer loans
Christopher Silvester explains how financing small fractions
of company ‘receivables’ can bring high returns
arly in 2016, Lord Turner of
Ecchinswell — chairman of the
Financial Services Authority
in the years before it was abolished
in 2013 — was quoted thus: ‘Losses
which will emerge from peer-topeer lending over the next five to ten
years will make the bankers look like
lending geniuses.’
Some months later he had what
looked like a Damascene conversion, telling the peer-to-peer (P2P)
industry conference LendIt Europe
in October 2016 that he had made
his prognostication of doom to a
BBC journalist after he thought
the interview had ended, and offering a much more nuanced version:
namely that while the credit assessment of individual investors on P2P
lending platforms might still be bad,
very few individual investors ‘select
specific portfolios of loans, and even
those investors rely crucially on the
platform’s centralised credit assessment of the relative riskiness of
different loans’.
Either way, P2P lending is an
activity to be undertaken only with
your eyes wide open and a proper
understanding of how the mechanism works. Sometimes known as
‘crowdlending’, P2P began in the
UK in 2005 with Zopa, and gained
momentum after the financial crisis
with the launch of Funding Circle,
Market Invoice, Platform Black
(since rebranded as Sancus Finance)
and a cluster of others. The pace of
development has been rapid, and
whereas Zopa started with personal
consumer loans, other companies
have gravitated towards lending to
small and medium-sized enterprises. If you’re an income investor in
search of yield, P2P lending offers
you a return of 6 to 8 per cent, usually on investments with a duration
of between six weeks and two years.
‘We’re taking business from the
banks, from the invoice discounters
and from the traditional suppliers
of finance, in ever larger amounts,’
says Angus Dent, chief executive
of ArchOver, a P2P lender that
launched in September 2014. ‘We
only lend to companies with strong
balance sheets and we only lend
against accounts receivable (ARs).
We will loan up to 80 per cent of the
value of the ARs. Once the loan is
made the ARs must be maintained
at 125 per cent of the value of the
loan, monitored by us on a monthly
basis. This provides a quickly realisable asset for our investors in case
P2P lending is
an activity to
be undertaken
only with your
eyes wide open
BI Intelligence
foresees strong
growth in UK
P2P lending
£ Billion
Compound Annual
Growth Rate 45%
the borrower gets into difficulties
over repaying for the loan.’ The minimum amount that ArchOver expects
clients to invest is £1,000 per project.
What gives ArchOver its USP is
that it uses credit insurance to provide extra security for investors.
The Hampden Group — a Lloyd’s
members agency with underwriting
capacity in excess of £2 billion — is
a shareholder in ArchOver as well as
an active lender across the ArchOver
platform. In addition, it has teamed
up with Coface, a leading global
credit insurer and expert in international trade risk, to create future
protection of up to £100 million.
For Anil Stocker, chief executive
and co-founder of MarketInvoice,
P2P lending against receivables
(amounts owed to a business) offers
a particularly interesting investment
class ‘because it’s of short duration,
a liquid product, with invoices typically taking 45 to 50 days to be paid.
There are no lock-ups, no minimum
fees, and the risk-return profile is
very attractive. Technically, investors are not lending to businesses;
they are buying an asset, a receivable,
which is transferred to them by way
of a true sale, so that in the event of
a delinquency there is a much higher
rate of collection because we can
go to the end-customer as well as to
the small business in the recovery
process. Our recovery rates have
been between 85 and 90 per cent.
This is the first time that investors
have been able to get into this asset
class. Invoice receivables have always
been factored through the banks,
which make healthy margins on that
activity, even though they have very
high cost bases.’
An income investor could buy,
say, British Airways corporate bonds
which might yield a couple of per
cent — or they could buy a receivable due to be paid by British Airways
to a small business and earn 7 or 8
per cent on it. Also, the investor can
diversify very easily by buying only
fractions of the invoices. So if there is
a £100,000 invoice to British Airways,
they can take as little as 1 per cent of
that one, and similarly small slices of
others with different counterparties.
‘You can actually build a very diversified portfolio of underlying invoices
from small businesses to end-debtors
and you can also limit your exposure
to the small business,’ says Stocker.
MarketInvoice has active investors who do their own due diligence,
take bigger exposures on certain
trades, and spend more time directly building their portfolios. However,
most of its investors are passive. They
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
put money into their account and set
up the ‘AutoBid’ tool which allows
them to build a portfolio without
having to bid manually each time.
They set criteria which allocate their
money into ten different risk bands.
They can also set limits for how much
money they wish to have outstanding
from any particular underlying small
Britain’s P2P lending sector has
fared well so far as a result of a regulatory approach that is pragmatic
and flexible; the Financial Conduct
Authority puts P2P lenders through
a rigorous process before granting
them full approval, but is keen to let
it be known that it is here to help, not
hinder. (In the US, by contrast, P2P
had to be squeezed into the corset of
a pre-existing regulatory model and
is nothing like as big or successful in
proportion to the size of the economy
as it is in the UK.)
‘It took us two years to get
through [the FCA] process and it has
taken others a lot longer than that,’
explains Angus Dent of ArchOver.
‘The FCA allowed us to apply for
interim permissions. We then had to
prepare an application for full regulation, which we submitted in September 2015. They reviewed it, we
changed it, and in April of this year
we got our full permissions.’ There
are now around 20 P2P lenders that
have been granted full permissions.
‘We’re just on £50 million of borrowing and lending matched,’ Dent
continues. ‘We’ve paid over £2 million
of interest so far. We have not lost any
money, nobody’s defaulted on any of
the loans. There are two businesses
we’ve had to work with. Although
they never missed a payment, our
monitoring picked up that there was
a bit of an issue and we needed to
help them out. Both have now repaid
the loans in full and are doing well.
Part of what we’re here to do is help
businesses through those problems,
not make a bigger problem.’
Though Lord Turner complained
of failures in credit analysis by P2P
lenders, it’s a fact of life that even a
good company can have a sudden
disaster. One problem ArchOver
encountered came when the director
of the borrowing company was in a
car accident. ‘How do you factor that
into your analysis?’ asks Dent. ‘He
wasn’t doing anything super-risky;
just driving from home to the office.’
For that reason investors need to
recognise they are getting returns of
6 per cent plus because they are taking real risks — and should only ever
put a sensible proportion of their
money into this asset class.
Estate agency is a
shrinking market
f there was ever an industry
crying out to be disrupted,
it was estate agency. Forever
bottom of the list of most
respected professions, the
Essex boys in white socks
who sell our homes have
long been a byword for
untrustworthiness. Why,
then, has it taken so long to
disrupt them?
The dotcom boom of 2000
wasn’t short of websites trying
to steal business from high
street firms. Yet none really
succeeded. The big online
success was Rightmove, but it
doesn’t sell houses: it merely
allows you to search for them
from multiple agents.
Finally, nearly two decades
on, a new generation of
online pretenders seems to
be breaking through — while
established agencies are
beginning to look sickly. In
fact, some of those listed on
the stock market are among
the worst investments you
could have made over the
past five years. Foxtons, often
seen as a bellwether of the
London residential market,
has tumbled from 400p in 2013
to just 78p now. Its market
valuation is just above half the
£370 million which its founder,
Jon Hunt, bagged when he
cashed out at the top in 2007.
Shares in Countrywide,
which owns high street
brands including Bairstow
Eves, John D. Wood and
Hamptons, were trading at
650p in 2013. They’re now
at 121p. Meanwhile, AIMlisted Purplebricks, biggest
of the online agents, has seen
its shares boom from £1 a
year ago to around £3.50
now, having touched £5 in
the summer. It reported in
September that revenues for
the first half of the year had
more than doubled compared
with 2016.
The big selling point of
online estate agents is that
they don’t charge a percentage
commission on sales. With no
high street shops to maintain,
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
they can afford to quote a
flat-rate fee. Purplebricks
charges £849, which covers
taking photographs, making
floorplans, organising
viewings, negotiating a price
and overseeing the sale to
completion. It you want
your ‘local property expert’
(Purplebricks has tried to
dump ‘estate agent’) to
conduct viewings it will cost
you another £300.
House Simple charges
a basic fee of £495 and
eMoov £795; Tepilo charges
£645 if you take your own
photographs and £895 for a
more comprehensive service.
In most cases these are vastly
lower fees than if you sell
There’s only
two thirds of the
business to go around
that there was
a decade ago
through a traditional agency,
which will typically charge
between 1 and 2 per cent of
the sale price — easily £2,500
on a bog-standard suburban
semi. It doesn’t help the image
of traditional agents that
four of them in Burnham-onSea, Somerset, were recently
fined a total of £372,000 by
the Competition and Markets
Authority for colluding to set
minimum fees of 1.5 per cent.
However, there’s a
snag with online agents.
Traditional estate agents
charge commission only on
a completed sale. With an
online agent you pay whether
the property sells or not. That
raises questions as to how
much incentive your ‘local
property expert’ has to find
you a buyer. But even if he
works his little white socks
off, in a slow market there
are inevitably going to be
unsuccessful vendors faced
with bills they would not have
had to pay had they gone to a
traditional agent.
That’s why I wouldn’t be
so sure about the fortunes
of online agents. Signs of a
slowing market persuaded
me to take my 150 per cent
profit in Purplebricks shares a
couple of months ago. I have
retained my holding in Savills,
the only other estate agency
share I own, because its
upmarket international profile
puts it in a different space.
Purplebricks has been a great
boom-time business, but one
that could fall flat on its face
in leaner times.
The entire estate-agency
sector is a shrinking market.
Over the past two decades
house prices have surged,
allowing commissions to grow
fatter. Trouble is, we’re moving
house a lot less than we used
to — thanks in part to steep
rises in stamp duty.
Before 2008, property
transactions were running
at 150,000 a month. In early
2009 that plummeted to just
50,000. But while prices in
most parts of the country have
recovered, the volume of sales
has not. They are running
steadily at 100,000 a month. In
other words, there is now only
two thirds of the business that
there was a decade ago to be
shared around the industry.
Throw in a load of budgetpriced competitors and it’s a
recipe for misery.
The one bright patch for
estate agents has been the
growth in lettings, as more
and more people are forced
into the private rented sector.
But here, too, there is a lot
of pressure through the
government’s proposed ban
on charging fees to tenants:
agents will struggle to recover
lost revenue by charging
landlords more.
The outlook for the
property market doesn’t look
great, but the estate agency
business looks far bleaker.
This might be one disruption
where the disruptors end
up getting just as hurt as the
people they are disrupting.
Fair shares for all
Robin Andrews explains how small investors can enjoy the
same rewards as the professionals by investing in private equity
t a recent gathering of the
venerable Company of Merchant Adventurers of York, I
listened to a sermon on the theme of
‘trust’ — the quality that enabled a
flourishing trade in cloth between the
medieval guild’s founders and Baltic
merchants. But, as we all know, ‘trust’
in business today has been superseded by a culture that requires lawyers
and reams of contract paperwork.
Likewise, the trust that underpins
share ownership by private investors
has been severely eroded.
According to figures from the
Office for National Statistics up to
2015, the proportion of the population that owns shares has fallen from
about 30 per cent in the heyday of
Mrs Thatcher’s friend Sid — star of
the British Gas privatisation campaign and herald of the ‘share-owning democracy’ — to less than 10 per
cent today. Money managers abound
who offer their clients in-house composite funds (and funds of funds)
designed to ‘protect’ them from risks
— but which, on account of their size
and make-up, are very unlikely to
perform better than the averages. So
the client is discouraged from invest-
ing directly in for example, smaller AIM stocks that might require a
modicum of research and judgment
before buying; but is also ‘protected’
from the reward that’s the other side
of the risk coin.
So one unintended consequence
of our non-trusting world has been
to distance the private investor from
a variety of equity investments —
often the most lucrative. It’s not only
AIM stocks; private equity funds are
an asset class that historically have
given better returns than publicly
traded investments — as are Venture
Capital Trusts, on which Jonathan
Davis writes in this issue. Comparisons are bound to be debated, as
returns depend on the average period
an investment is kept within a fund
and the size of each investment. But
what is clear is that a professionally
run private equity fund will do better
over the long term than an equivalent
portfolio of publicly traded shares.
This should not be surprising, as the
illiquidity implied in private equity
requires an additional reward.
Generally speaking, big infrastructure projects and high-risk-highreward venture funds are the preserve
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
A well-run
private equity
fund will do
better over the
long-term than
an equivalent
portfolio of
traded shares
of pension funds, sovereign wealth
funds and other large capital pools.
But the big battalions also have a grip
on the breed of smaller listed growth
companies that need constant injections of new capital. Very rarely is an
open offer or a rights issue available
to the small shareholder. Financings
are usually arranged quietly between
large institutions and often desperate
companies at a significant discount to
the prevailing market price — and not
entirely without justification, since the
costs and time required to produce
the necessary documentation and tick
the compliance boxes for a more public capital-raising can be critical for
a small company on the edge. Once
more, the smaller shareholder is at a
So my task here is to look for ways
in which a small investor can at least
share a level playing field with the
institutional investors, through private equity funds and shares. A preliminary and obvious caveat is that
the growth companies in private equity portfolios will always take time to
flourish — and many will fail. So the
smaller investor must also be patient
enough to share the long-term perspective of the institutions, and must
remember that ‘past returns may not
be an indicator of future ones’.
Bear in mind also that fee structures within such investment vehicles
will always give the richest rewards
to their managers rather than investors. But, with all those caveats, here
are half a dozen names readers might
care to consider as ways into the
exciting world of private equity.
the management team and consoled
by a steady tax-free dividend stream.
One for serious consideration?
Share price £9.46;
Market cap £9.2bn
3i is the ‘daddy’ of this sector. It’s
nearly as big as the next 20 Londonquoted private equity funds put
together and is the most venerable,
tracing its origins to 1945. Then
as now, there was a perceived
problem in matching the financial
needs of small and medium-sized
enterprises with existing capital
markets. So, with government help,
the major UK banks came together to
create the Industrial and Commercial
Finance Corporation, which was later
rebranded as Investors in Industry
then floated in 1994 with the catchier
name of 3i Group.
3i invests in private equity
throughout the world and has a
listed spin-off, 3i Infrastructure,
which it advises and with which it
sometimes co-invests. The latter’s
price (£1.97) has hardly moved since
it was mentioned here in February
2017. Infrastructure is a long-term
game; patience is required, but in
the same time the price of 3i itself
has improved by nearly 30 per cent,
outperforming most equity markets.
This being the case, we’re left
wondering if the defensive qualities
of a large portfolio of international
long-term investments will continue
to serve the investor so well when the
inevitable downturn comes along.
71p; £75m
This is one of four publicly traded
closed-end trusts that are managed
by NVM Ltd, a well-respected
Newcastle-based firm that was
started in 1988 and has supported
more than 300 small companies
and returned £500 million to
shareholders to date.
The four trusts tend to co-invest
in the same companies and all three
are presently raising additional
capital of £20 million each. The tax
advantages agreed by the Inland
Revenue can only be earned by
keeping shares for five years.
Nonetheless, liquidity is provided
by both the stock market and the
fact that each entity has a buy-back
scheme. All three companies return
capital to their shareholders through
a mixture of annual dividends and
capital repayment following a sale of
an investment — both tax-free. Once
more, the patient investor should be
encouraged by the track record of
EQUITY £3.50; £535m
Here is another stellar performer,
whose shares have appreciated
30 per cent this year. But with a
long-term portfolio that includes
infrastructure projects, rolling stock
for Bombardier trains on the South
Western franchise and private equity
deals throughout Europe, there is
surely more growth in store. Valuing
the assets of such funds is always
a stab in the dark, but managers
and auditors are likely to err on the
cautious side for obvious reasons.
So the published NAV per share of
£4.00 as at the end of August suggests
the share price could yet improve.
While waiting, a recently announced
dividend of 12p is a consolation.
An obvious
caveat is that
the growth
companies in
private equity
will always
take time to
£18.29; £700m
This company has shown one of
the best performances in its sector
— an annual return of 13 per cent
over the last ten years — but is
changing its corporate structure to
let the management team take a
more active role in its underlying
investments. Part of that change
involved returning more than
£2 billion to shareholders. Needless
to say, the share price reflects
this, having fallen from a high in
April of about £51. Last week, the
company announced a further £9.14
per share dividend leaving assets
and cash worth £11.14 per share.
The new structure will also reduce
management charges by more than
£28 million annually. The fact that
Witan Investment Trust bought a
further 1.6 million shares not long
ago should provide comfort to
private shareholders. Selling at a
discount to the residual asset value
(which might well be upgraded
at the end of the year), the shares
are a low-risk gamble on a proven
management team embarking on a
more hands-on approach to private
equity financing than in the past.
£17.45; £651m
It took me some time before realising
that this company’s name gave a
hint as to its origins. If I mention
Warburgs and that a knowledge of
chemical symbols might help, the
riddle should be solved. But the real
point is that its managers have been
around long enough to learn a few
tricks. In particular the company has
been an early investor in renewables
throughout Europe, including small
hydro schemes.
Net assets have grown by 63
per cent over the last three years,
putting it among the top four in the
sector. With offices in London and
Munich, Hg is well placed to get
close to private growth companies
throughout Europe — especially
in its specialist areas of technology,
media, telecoms and renewables. The
Hg Group that manages HgCapital
Trust has about £5 billion of private
company and infrastructure funds
under management: hence investors
can enjoy the benefits of a large
organisation with specialists in all
areas. On that basis, the annual
management fee of 1.4 per cent
seems good value.
With an asset value of £18 per
share, the discount at £17 is not as
large as some. Nonetheless, for those
prepared to take the usual longer
view and wanting a spread of private
equity investments throughout
Europe, this is a high-quality choice.
TRUST £1.00; £55m
And now for something different.
Downing takes the view that it is
not just the private equity market
that small investors can miss out
on. The trust has noticed that — as
I mentioned in my introductory
remarks — small public companies
are often forced into emergency
financings that are the preserve of
institutions only. It is also the case
that most brokers cannot afford to
research the smaller companies and
so private investors are left to their
own devices. Last May, Downing
Group floated its Strategic MicroCap
fund with £54 million of new funds to
be invested in companies worth less
than £150 million.
The NAV is 95p, so the current
premium, though small, needs to
be justified. So far Downing has
provided loans of £7.5 million to
Real Food, and bought shares
totalling £14 million in a portfolio
including Redhall Group (a classic
recovery stock mentioned here in
February), Adept Telecom, Braemar
Shipping, and Gama Aviation.
With nearly £30 million left in cash,
Downing is clearly anticipating a
downturn in the market and keeping
its powder dry. Some of us think it
could be right.
(All prices as at 27 October.)
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
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The burden of student debt may feel cruel, says Hettie O’Brien, but
Karl Marx was right – scrapping tuition fees would be even more unfair
n a letter of 1875, Karl Marx wrote
that making higher education free
would mean ‘defraying the cost of
education of the upper classes from
the general tax receipts’. He had a
point. Free education wasn’t really
‘free’ at all. Conversely, fees would
generate funding to subsidise tuition
for the less well-off.
Student loans have become a hot
political battleground. Jeremy Corbyn argues education should be ‘free’;
Theresa May hits back with plans to
raise the student debt repayment
threshold and to freeze fee levels.
But instead of meeting dissatisfaction
with populist notions or piecemeal
policies, politicians would do better
to instil confidence in the system by
making student-loan terms transparent and sticking to their promises.
Back-door changes to interest
rates, the scrapping of maintenance
grants and worries that repayment
terms will change again and again have
done little to convince students that
a fee regime can really make higher
education fairer and more accessible.
I graduated from St Andrews with
a degree in philosophy and then studied for a master’s at Cambridge, leaving with £32,000 of debt. My younger
brother, reading geography at Manchester, will graduate owing £50,000
to the taxpayer. Debt is a psychological weight that gnaws and grumbles in
the background, anxiety aggravated
by intimidating letters from the
Student Loans Company. The facts
are familiar: £9,250 in annual fees
and a 6.1 per cent interest rate mean
students rack up thousands in compound interest before they graduate.
Borrowing money has always been
morally charged; Germans have the
same word for debt, ‘schuld’, as they
do for ‘guilt’ or ‘fault’, and being
saddled with so much before you’ve
even started working is a bitter pill.
Yet the emotional and financial
effects of debt get mixed up. Opposition promises to scrap tuition fees
exemplify this confusion, courting
student votes with a policy that could
actually hamper access to higher
education. For young people, the fee
debate concerns the ultimate prize:
making university free. But taking a
closer look at the system shows that
it’s not the baby that needs changing,
but the bathwater.
What would happen if tuition fees
were scrapped? Yes, a weight would
lift from the shoulders of many
students. But the effect on student
numbers — particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds — is less clear.
Scotland provides a roadmap for how
offers a
lesson in how
scrapping fees
can actually
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
Degrees of anxiety
this works in practice. Lucy Hunter
Blackburn, a former Scottish civil
servant who worked on higher education funding policy, describes free
tuition as a feelgood middle-class policy. Far from being a beacon of higher
education, Scotland offers a lesson
in how scrapping fees can actually
entrench inequality, favouring those
from middle-class backgrounds who
don’t need additional support. The
impact of the policy confirms Marx’s
thoughts about free tuition; the welloff in Scotland are four times more
likely to enter university than their
poorer counterparts, compared to 2.4
times in England.
‘What’s often missed in the
debate about tuition fees in the UK
is the fact that this isn’t student debt,
but government debt. The government borrows the money and carries
the risk,’ says Mark Leach, founder
of the higher education thinktank
Wonkhe. Fees split the funding burden between tax-payers and students,
with the former stumping up a subsidy that covers the 29 per cent of
loans that will never be repaid, and
the latter paying out a sliding contribution according to their earnings.
Thanks to this arrangement, universities get more funding (the Institute
for Fiscal Studies estimates that fees
now generate 25 per cent more funding per student relative to the levels
in 2011) and the number of university
places continues to increase.
As Leach tells it, however, there
are ‘many ways to cut the cake’. In
practice, the drip-feed contribution from graduates’ future salaries
operates much like a tax. If the government implements its promise to
raise the amount graduates can earn
before they start repaying their loans
from £21,000 to £25,000, the public
subsidy will increase to an estimated
41 per cent — meaning taxpayers as
a whole will cover close to half of the
money borrowed to finance degrees.
With these facts in mind, the main difference between the current system
and its general-taxation predecessor
is the way it frontloads a contribution
on to students. Calling loan repayments a ‘graduate tax’ is an oftencited remedy — a semantic shift that
could remove the stress associated
with the unrepaid capital sum and the
fear of rising interest rates.
But any tinkering with this flawed
system is likely to be stressful. ‘What
if they change the terms?’ is the question many students regularly ask. The
hike in interest rates from 3.1 to 6.1
per cent earlier this year will have
little practical impact on low-earning
graduates who are unlikely to pay
off their loans in full. But this alarming portent killed off confidence and
made many panicked students fluent
in the difference between the Retail
Price Index (currently 3.9 per cent,
and to which the rate applied to post2011 loans is tied) and the Bank of
England base rate, still just 0.25 per
cent as I write.
For Australian economist Bruce
Chapman, however, the UK’s
income-contingent student loans are
a placid ‘kitten’ compared to North
America’s scary ‘crocodile’. Regardless of interest rates, British graduates
entering low-paid professions will not
be penalised with repayments, chased
by debt collectors or assigned bad
credit ratings — and their debt will
be wiped out after 30 years.
In contrast, the harsh world of US
student debt compels many graduates to take out private loans that
can bring devastating personal consequences: just Google ‘marrying someone with student debt’ to see the
pernicious effects.
We’re not there, but there’s still
room for improvement. If tuition fees
make students into quasi-consumers
then they should be treated as such.
That means the repayment terms of
loans should be fixed as they would
be with a private lending arrangement, where retroactive changes
would be illegal.
Selling off student debt to private
investors risks further eroding borrowers’ confidence — and investors
will only be sure of a decent return if
they are able to impose tougher terms
as bad debt levels rise. Moreover, universities should be transparent about
where the fees go. Revelations about
the astronomical salary levels of vicechancellors and of bloated management teams do not cast increased
tuition fees in a positive light.
Most importantly, if the point of
fees is to stabilise university funding
and increase the number of places,
the government should do more
than pay lip-service to access issues.
Ring-fencing a proportion of fees
for maintenance grants would make
the higher education system fairer —
and win the support of students. The
recent Diamond review in Wales provides one example of how this could
work, replacing a £5,100 universal
grant with a loan system, but on the
basis that places for poorer students
would be subsidised with a slidingscale state contribution.
Subsidising places for the poor
with tuition fees paid for by the betteroff? Now that sounds like a rare policy both Karl Marx and Conservatives
could agree upon.
This week’s rate decision
is all but irrelevant
The interest-rate decision
by the Bank of England’s
Monetary Policy Committee
on Thursday 2 November —
shortly after we went to press
— has been a will-they-won’tthey cliffhanger for weeks.
Pundits have hung on every
word spoken by governor
Mark Carney, searching for
stronger or weaker hints.
So I’m sorry to throw cold
water on all the excitement
by announcing that in
fact the decision is all but
irrelevant. If the Bank’s base
rate has indeed gone up a
quarter-point, as was almost
universally expected, it will
merely have been a reversal
of the knee-jerk emergency
0.25 per cent rate cut just
after the UK voted to leave
the EU last June. What is far
more important is the longterm path.
When, if ever, will rates
start to increase regularly in
a sustained series of steps?
And how high will those steps
take them before the next
Of all the big central banks
in the world, only one —
America’s Federal Reserve,
led by Janet Yellen — has
seriously begun the process of
tightening its monetary policy.
So what can we learn from the
US experience?
In December 2015, the
Fed raised its most important
indicative rate for the first
time since the financial crisis,
from 0.25 to 0.5 per cent. At
the time this was thought to
be the start of a ‘normalising’
of rates — taking them back
towards their long-term
average of around 5 per cent.
But this has not happened:
the ‘Fed Funds’ rate is still
extraordinarily low at just
1.25 per cent.
In total so far, the Fed
has increased rates only four
times, with a quarter-point rise
roughly every six months. This
meagre one percentage point
spectator money | 4 november 2017 |
total increase is far less than
was expected when tightening
began. At the time, the ratesetting committee gave
indications that it expected to
raise rates eight times up to
the middle of 2017. But we’ve
had just half of that, and these
hikes are far less than those
that occurred in the past.
Between the beginning of
1994 and the summer of 1995,
the Fed Funds rate increased
from 3 per cent to 6 per cent;
between the summers of 2004
and 2006, it increased no
fewer than 17 times, taking it
4.25 per cent higher in total.
So the current speed of
US rate-tightening is both
When, if ever,
will rates start to
increase regularly
in a sustained
series of steps?
far slower than had been
originally expected and far, far
slower than has happened in
recent history.
And the reasons behind
this are low inflation, sluggish
growth and an economy that
has become dependent on
cheap debt. That sounds very
similar to the situation in the
UK — with the exception that
our inflation rate has blipped
upwards. But even with that
factor in mind, our rate hikes
will probably be as meagre
as in America, and unlikely
to echo even the cautious
2.25 per cent rise the Bank
of England imposed (in ten
steps with one brief reverse)
between 2003 and 2007.
Although the latest UK
CPI figure, at 3 per cent, shows
inflation at its highest level for
five years, this spike is expected
to be temporary. It is mostly
due to the fall in sterling since
the EU referendum feeding
through to higher import
prices. Most economists are
forecasting inflation will fall
again next year.
And the key to all
this is wage growth. UK
unemployment is at a
42-year low of 4.3 per cent,
while the equivalent figure in
the US is 4.2 per cent. And yet
wage growth in both countries
is minimal.
Normally such low levels of
unemployment would prompt
wages to rise, and historically
that has been linked to higher
inflation. But neither wages
nor inflation are rising in the
way they have in the past.
That’s a mystery, according
to Janet Yellen, speaking
to the recent annual IMF
gathering in Washington. But
without wage growth and
the corresponding higher
inflation, interest rates are not
going to go up much. And that
means continued cheap credit,
over-indebted consumers and
a lack of savings — none of
which is ideal.
However the real question
is that if interest rates are not
going much higher, what will
happen in the next recession?
This recovery, which began
in 2011-12, is already five
years old. According to
historical patterns this would
suggest a downturn has to
be coming soon. But if rates
are not increased back to
more normal levels, then they
cannot be cut as a measure to
counteract the next recession.
So we’ll have to get out of
it by other means, whether
that’s another big bundle
of quantitative easing, with
its distorting effect on asset
prices, or fiscal measures and a
reversion to Keynesian public
Whatever happens, the
traditional and proven tool
of interest-rate management
isn’t going to be available.
And that is far more of a big
deal to the economy than
whether rates went up by
0.25 per cent this week.
The Old Mutual Gold & Silver Fund
When the going gets tough, should investors be
following the lead of the world’s leading central
banks and invest in gold?
Talk to your financial adviser about the Old Mutual
Gold & Silver Fund.
Please remember that past performance is not a
guide to future performance. Investment involves
risk. The value of investments and the income from
them can go down as well as up and investors may
not get back the amount originally invested.
Talk to your Financial Adviser.
For retail investors. This communication provides information relating to funds known as the Old Mutual Gold & Silver Fund (the “Fund”). This communication is issued
by Old Mutual Global Investors (UK) Limited (trading name Old Mutual Global Investors), a member of the Old Mutual Group. Old Mutual Global Investors is registered
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incorporated in England and Wales under registered number 3591 559. OMGI 07/17/0194. Models constructed with Geomag.
William Leith is kept
awake all night reading
about the importance
of sleep
Roy Foster suspects that
Gerry Adams now has his
eye on the presidency of
Richard Emeny celebrates
James Ravilious’s
photographs of a vanishing
James Walton flounders
before the awe-inspiring
thrills of Blue Planet II
Lloyd Evans says Kwame
Kwei-Armah’s The Lady
from the (Caribbean) Sea is
an update to savour
Francesca Steele thinks
that cosy Agatha Christie is
probably gone for good
‘A Woman in
Netherlandish Dress seen
from behind (Drapery
Study)’, 1521,
by Albrecht Dürer
Martin Gayford — p58
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Eat the forbidden fruit
Do not fear God, Reza Aslan tells us. You are God. But preaching
this form of pantheism can be dangerous, warns Alexander Waugh
God: A Human History
by Reza Aslan
Bantam Press, £18.99, p. 298
Eating human brains, burying one’s face in
dead people’s ashes and publicly deriding
the president of the United States as a ‘piece
of shit’ are not among the activities usually associated with serious religious historians. But Reza Aslan is something else. An
American academic born in Iran, brought
up as a Muslim, converted to Jesus by the
Jesuits and back to Islam through his own
free will, he came to prominence following
an interview on Fox TV to promote his book
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (2013). He was repeatedly asked how
being a Muslim qualified him to write about
Jesus, to which he responded by listing in
pushful, indignant tones all his academic
He claimed to be a ‘historian’ (which
strictly he isn’t); a ‘professor of religion’ (he
is actually a professor of creative writing)
and a ‘PhD in the history of religions’ (when
actually he is a doctor of sociology). This
interview, which reflected badly on both
participants, went viral on YouTube under
the title ‘The most embarrassing Fox News
interview ever’, and in consequence, Aslan’s
Zealot became a bestseller.
The excitement generated by the video,
together with Aslan’s boyish good looks,
led to his fronting a six-part religious series
on CNN, called Believer, in which he ate
the aforementioned brains, smothered
himself with the char, and from which he
was sacked for tweeting derogatively about
Donald Trump.
Each episode featured the sensational
and disgusting practices of fringe groups
connected to Hinduism, Christianity and
Judaism, which, unsurprisingly, offended
mainstream Hindus, Christians and Jews
who did not care to be associated in the
public mind with their pee-drinking, braineating, death-worshipping sub-sects. No discreditable customs of any Muslim sub-sect
were shown. Since Aslan has elsewhere gone
out of his way to dismiss Islamic terrorism
as less of a problem than ‘faulty furniture’;
has described jihadism as a mere ‘pop cul46
ture’; and has denied any link between the
Islamic religion and female genital mutilation, he soon found (no doubt to his delight)
that he had sharply divided America’s liberal progressive movement. On the one hand,
he was lauded for his defence of Johnny
Muslim against the odious advances of populist bigotry; on the other, he was accused of
failing to protect human rights and global
peace by diverting attention from the obvious threats posed by the spread of Islamic
Aslan explained that the purpose of his
Believer series was to reveal to the world
how everyone is ‘the same’. His detractors
From head to toe, God is reckoned
to be 1.298 billion km tall, according
to the ancient Jewish Hekhalot
interpreted this to mean that Christians,
Jews and Hindus should stop complaining
about the unappealing practices of Muslims because there are people doing equally
appalling things in the name of their religions too.
All this is useful background to anyone
intending to read God, a brief and lively
history of the development of the God-like
type over 12 millennia. Aslan writes in clear,
concise and attractive English. He is intelligent and has an uncommon ability both to
marshal and contextualise seemingly random facts, and is skilful at condensing complex ideas into short, effortless paragraphs.
But despite his claims to high scholarship,
he is at heart a popular historian. Even his
end-notes are fun.
The surface message of his book is simple. He repudiates the ‘humanisation of
God’, by which he means man’s historical
desire to portray him in his own image —
to give him a face, eyes, hair, hands, feet,
a tongue, lips, even a womb (Job 38:29)
and bowels (Jeremiah 31:20). The ‘Odes
of Solomon’ describe God with milk-filled
breasts: ‘The Father is he who was milked,
and the holy Spirit is she who milked
him’; while the ancient Jewish Hekhalot gives precise measurements of the
space between God’s thighs and his neck,
revealing that from head to toe he is 1.298
billion km tall.
Aslan has no time for any of this, but
considers it an aberration borne of human
arrogance that began when man started putting fences round animals. Prehistoric man,
he argues, worshipped animals as spirits; but
farming subjugated the beasts and so man
made God in his own image. Islam, according to Aslan, is innocent of all this. References in the Quran to God’s eyes, hands,
face and shin are to be read metaphorically.
Isn’t this also true of the Bible?
As Aslan’s commentary passes from
French and Spanish cave drawings to the
temples of Göbekli Tepe, and from ancient
Egyptian animists to the monotheistic
Yahwists, it becomes increasingly obvious to
the reader that his impatience is growing;
that the scholarly impartiality he vaunted
so famously in his interview on Fox TV is
starting to disintegrate and that he is now
bursting out of his chrysalis. He is an ambitious man who enjoys the limelight. He has
already played many parts — Christian,
Muslim, businessman, sociologist, lecturer,
editor, presenter, producer, public intellectual, scholar, historian, creative writing
tutor and performing clown. Now it looks
as though he wants to become a guru.
I don’t think it would be spoiling the
story (it’s not that kind of book) if I revealed
Aslan’s conclusion: ‘God,’ he writes three
pages from the end, ‘did not make us
in his image; nor did we simply make God
in ours. Rather we are the image of God in
the world — not in form or likeness, but
in essence.’ This he describes as a personal ‘epiphany’, arrived at through his ‘long,
and admittedly circuitous, spiritual journey’.
Only now does he reveal to his readers that
the history contained in the first 166 pages
of his book is a ‘mirror’ of his own ‘faithjourney’. His title, God: A Human History, might just as well have been God: A
History of Me. ‘The entire reason we have
a cognitive impulse to think of God as a
divine reflection of ourselves,’ he writes, ‘is
because we are, every one of us, God.’
And so this extraordinary book, which
started as an informative history of an idea,
transforms itself into a self-help manual and
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Reza Aslan: personable, charismatic and a keen self-publicist.
He could be wearing togas and flying around in a private jet in five years’ time
an autobiographical consecration, delivered
as a sermon from the pulpit of the author’s
personal epiphany. ‘God,’ he writes, ‘is not
the creator of everything that exists. God
is everything that exists’ — an idea which
leads him inexorably to his final remarks:
‘So then, make your choice. Believe in God
or not. Either way, take a lesson from Adam
and Eve and eat the forbidden fruit. Do not
fear God. You are God.’
Aslan’s theology, as well he knows, is
not original. It is called pantheism — an
ancient belief that God exists through his
creation — that the creator and that which
he has created are indivisible. Pantheism is
espoused in the philosophy of the Stoics and
Spinoza, in Zen Buddhism, and by a group
of Muslim thinkers known as ‘the drunken
Sufis’; it can be interpreted from the teachings of St Paul and even in the mystical
opening chapter of the Gospel of St John,
where Aslan (I think incorrectly) declares
that Jesus is ‘unambiguously recogised as
the incarnate God’. Pantheism underpins
the love of discovery — the desire to understand all of God’s creation in order to know
God and find the eternal life. It was precisely this impulse that drove the Knights Templar to donate all their money to learning
and religion and the Rosicrucians to devote
their lives to scholarship.
If Aslan is hoping to found a new religion based upon this ancient wisdom and
his own charismatic personality he may
succeed. He is after all articulate, handsome and a keen self-publicist, who already
appears to have a following of sorts. If he
plays his cards right he could be wearing
togas and flying around in a private jet in
five years’ time.
But he needs to advance with caution. If
hubris tempts him to fly too high, he could
fall victim to one of those vicious sub-sects
of Islam that he chose to ignore on CNN
— one, for instance, which still believes in
the death penalty for Muslim apostates,
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
or which threatens to castrate authors
who print pictures of Muhammad in their
books about God (I have personal experience of them). There was a wool-carder
from Baghdad, called Husayn ibn Mansur,
who stood up and shouted ‘Ana ‘l-haqq’
(‘I am the Truth’) which a number of furious Muslims interpreted to mean ‘I am
God’; so they seized him, tied him up,
tortured him, doused him in oil and set him
on fire.
Despite Aslan’s professing of the Muslim faith, he must know that some of his
ideas are not congenial to Islam’s sub-sects.
Human beings may be ‘all the same’; they
may even all be God; but Aslan would
do well to remember, as he lays the foundations of his first temples in the receiving soil of southern California, that ‘those
who annoy Allah and his Messenger shall
have a curse on them: and whenever they
are found, shall be seized and slain without
mercy’ (Quran 33:57-61).
Gerry and the
Roy Foster
Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life
by Malachi O’Doherty
Faber, £14.99, pp. 356
When I recently asked a sardonic Northern Irish friend what historical figures
Gerry Adams resembled, the tasteless reply
came back: ‘A mixture of Jimmy Savile and
Oswald Mosley.’ There are elements of both
archetypes in this new unauthorised portrait,
but it stops short of going the full distance.
Perhaps we should not be surprised.
The Savile reference is to the grisly theme
of child abuse in Adams’s family, leading to his brother’s conviction for offences
against his own daughter, and the revelation
that Adams père had also sexually abused
his children.
Though no such accusation attaches to
the Sinn Fein leader, these episodes have
affected him politically as well as personally. For one thing, the saccharine accounts of
poor-but-happy family reminiscences which
he published some years ago (Falls Memories and the like) now read even more oddly
than they did then. For another thing, he
seems to have heard about his niece’s allegations against her father long before he did
anything about it — having apparently forgotten a good deal in the interim. Again, no
surprise here: Adams’s memory is a capacious but unreliable thing.
His future reputation matters to him, and
there have been a number of previous biographies, most stepping pretty carefully — as
well as his own reminiscences, presented in
several ways (some of them served up as
lightly disguised fiction, some not). Mala-
chi O’Doherty is a contrarian and often very
funny journalist and writer to whom (as to
Newton Emerson) the province owes a lot.
He has a way with titles (The Trouble with
Guns; I Was a Teenage Catholic) and is no
respecter of pieties. But although there is
much insight in his latest book, his slippery
subject tends to evade him at the end.
The strength of the book is to establish
Adams’s pur sang Belfast-Republican background with sharpness and depth — and to
pattern against it the squalid revelations that
have been aired since. There is also fascinating material about Adams’s life in jail, and
the differing reactions to him by members of
the movement. Above all, there is the overarching question: why should someone so
authoritatively in the eye of the storm that
overtook Northern Ireland from 1969; so
all-powerful within the broad front of Provi-
Why does Gerry Adams keep
denying that he was in the IRA
and expect to be believed?
sional politics; so early brought to London to
negotiate terms with Willie Whitelaw; and so
able (as O’Doherty shows) to impose terms
on official-versus-Provo feuds — why should
such a person keep denying that he was in
the IRA and expect to be believed?
Part of the answer must lie in Adams’s
long game. Having repositioned and remarketed himself as a ‘man of peace’, with
an eye perhaps on the presidency of Ireland (which his colleague Martin McGuinness contested last time round), he is anxious
that the days of shooting policemen, bombing hotels, knee-capping recalcitrant juniors
and ‘disappearing’ inconvenient bodies fade
into obscurity. With younger voters, who
were born into a peace-process world, this
may well work: as it has done with admir-
Then something happens which is November,
her high white sides riding out of the fog,
each panel and rivet suddenly clear.
You phone a neighbour for no good reason —
talk to me, you say; let me fetch two cups,
your heart is emptying, you rub your chest,
sucked by the inexorable season.
How vast this ship, her engine pulling us
west, west, never mind the wood neatly stacked,
the swept floor, the ordered pots, the haircut,
spices neatly waiting in the kitchen,
she must advance no matter what you’ve done,
drawing us downwards, in. You answer me
as cheerful as you like, still she comes on .
— Candy Neubert
ing (and often very rich) Americans for decades. I once made the faux pas of trying to
explain to a Park Avenue matron that her
recent guest Mr Adams was not exactly Nelson Mandela and received very short shrift
O’Doherty has conducted many penetrating interviews, and used to good effect
the controversial recordings of participants
made by Boston College, where people said
more than they might have, under the mistaken impression that their confidences
were embargoed. The evidence of Brendan
Hughes and Dolours Price specifically stated
that Adams was the IRA supremo, but they
are now dead and he is not; and they had
their reasons to smear him.
The best part of this book analyses how
Adams thought, and why he succeeded as a
‘street warrior’ back in the 1970s:
General Tuzo had grasped that the IRA was
not necessarily representative of the community but had failed to grasp the implications
of it being a part of it. Adams, on the other
hand, more ambitiously sought to argue that
the IRA was the community and was representative of it.
Adams must be credited for realising that
the community which he claimed the IRA
was representing was not the only tradition
in Northern Ireland, and for belatedly realising that co-operation with Unionists was the
necessary first step to any kind of settlement.
But there is less here about his enmity to the
constitutional-nationalist tradition, and the
moderate Catholic element, represented
by the SDLP. The Provos reserved a special
hatred for the SDLP, and — a central part
of the ‘peace process’ — effectively expelled
them from politics (as Paisley’s DUP did the
Trimblistas of the Official Unionist Party).
More on the talks between Adams and the
SDLP’s John Hume, which began the process, would be welcome here. But the book
tends to peter out towards the end.
More energy might have been injected
by a fuller consideration of Adams’s record
and position in the politics of the Republic
where he now sits as a member of Dail Eireann. He does not seem much liked by colleagues from other parties, and his mixture
of sanctimonious piety and unconvincing sallies into folksy humour (often via tweet) are
grating. But Sinn Fein are stealing the clothes
of the Irish Labour Party as they stole those
of the SDLP. Adams is loved by his party, and
can nominate his successor — who will come
from the generation that does not remember, or care about, his early life and record.
To watch him receive their adulation at the
annual Ard-Fheis is to see the longest lasting
party leader in these islands still in ultimate
control. But — to return to that opening
comparison — watching him it is hard not to
remember what was said about Oswald Mosley by his son Nicholas. ‘His right hand dealt
with grandiose ideas and glory, while his left
hand let the rat out of the sewer.’
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Oak tree, Marsland Valley, Near Welcombe, West Devon, 1997. The tree reminded Ravilious
of Mondrian’s drawings of an apple tree, which are progressively more and more stylised
Another country
Richard Emeny
James Ravilious: A Life
by Robin Ravilious
Wilmington Square Books, £16.99,pp. 236
The Recent Past:
Photographs of Devon
by James Ravilious
Wilmington Square Books, £30, pp.66
In 1970 I wandered around an unfamiliar
part of West Devon. Down a grassy lane
I came across a farmyard in which stood
three circular hay stacks, each beautifully thatched. It resembled a picture by the
18th-century painter George Morland.
There was nobody about and the yard had
a haunted air. In a pub a few miles away, I
discovered that the settlement was called
Two years later James Ravilious started work for the Beaford Centre, recording
the society of this inaccessible and largely
unchanged part of Devon. Seventeen years
and 75,000 photographs later the project
was closed. Ravilious’s pictures now form
the major part of the archive, a unique
record of the everyday life of the area.
Nothing is missed: farming; schools; church
and chapel; vicarage teas; hunting; tramps;
weather, especially snow; doctors visiting
— in fact everything that gave life, and to a
degree still does, to this small rural enclave.
James Ravilious was born in August
1939 to the artist Eric Ravilious and his wife
Tirzah, herself an accomplished artist,
to be followed by John and Anne. In this
biography Robin Ravilious, James’s widow
and daughter of Laurence Whistler, the
glass engraver, tells the story of James’s
early life and their subsequent life together
simply, directly and affectionately. A more
intense and lyrical approach comes when
she writes of the West Devon countryside
that is part of her being.
Eric Ravilious waved to his son as he
left the family’s Essex home as a war artist.
James’s only memory of him was of waving
back. Eric was lost in a plane near Iceland.
There followed a childhood disrupted by his
father’s death, by war and lack of money. It
improved after his mother remarried the
kindly Henry Swanzy, but that too came to
an end with Tirzah’s death from cancer in
1951. Swanzy’s brother and sister-in-law, a
kindly and reasonably prosperous Warwickshire couple, became the children’s guardians. Materially the children were secure, but
were sent to a variety of schools, so that they
were frequently on the move. Everyone was
kind, but it was not an ideal childhood.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
With an assortment of ‘O’ levels, Ravilious was put into an accountant’s office,
but with the encouragement of old friends
of his parents he applied to St Martin’s
School of Art, using an assumed name so
as not to be recognised as Eric’s son. The
ruse did not work. Like so many children
of famous parents, he found it hard to
escape from his father’s shadow. Photography was to give him that independence,
while St Martin’s gave him a reverence for
the great masters of the past.
Following a solitary year in a cottage on
Barra, he returned to London, undertaking
part-time teaching, and in 1969 met Robin
Whistler. Her mother’s family owned the
Halsdon estate in West Devon, where she
spent much of her childhood. That year
was momentous for James in other ways:
he visited the London exhibition of the
work of Cartier-Bresson, where he was
overwhelmed by that photographer’s skill
and concentration on the subject matter
of ordinary life. He saw that it was transformed into art. More ominously, he was
diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
which he kept at bay for 30 years.
Two years after their wedding in 1972,
the compulsory purchase of their London flat forced a move and they decided
to live in Addisford, a small, thatched cottage belonging to Robin. Fortuitously, John
A cold coming
to Cornwall
Helen R. Brown
by Ali Smith
Hamish Hamilton, £16.99, pp. 322
In 1939, Barbara Hepworth gathered her
children and her chisels and fled Hampstead for Cornwall. She expected war to
challenge her passion for abstract form.
But her commitment deepened. The solid
ovoids she sculpted carried the weight of
grief and the hope of eggs. To Hepworth,
they became ‘forms to lie down in, or forms
to climb through’. They were
a means of retaining freedom whilst carrying
out what was demanded of me as a human
being… a completely logical way of expressing the intrinsic ‘will to live’ as opposed to
the extrinsic disaster of the world war.
Archie Parkhouse, with ivy for sheep, Millhams, Dolton, 1975
Lane, the prescient director of the Beaford
Centre, inspired by artists such as Thomas
Hennell and the writer H. W. Massingham,
offered James the post of photographer for
the Beaford Centre’s archive. As recorder
of an old-fashioned, traditional England,
Ravilious was an inspired choice. Emulating Cartier-Bresson by using a Leica
camera for black and white images, he
produced natural, unsentimental pictures,
each of which is a work of art.
He achieved this by being part of the
country society he photographed, Robin
and he being as poor as most of their
neighbours, and by his heredity. He was
diffident but would talk with anyone, and
his honesty and likeable charm won trust
and hearts. A picture of a French family
exemplifies this: he had met them for the
first time just a couple of hours earlier, yet
he was invited home and took the photograph as if he were invisible. Conversely,
he would wait for hours to obtain the right
picture; patience brought great rewards.
Despite their naturalness his pictures
show a debt to other artists: Morland, Peter
Breughel and Samuel Palmer. Like Palmer, Ravilious makes a paradise, not just of
landscape but of human normality within it
and that is his mastery. The camera can lie,
however, some of the rough edges being
absent; a video of some of his subjects
demonstrated the ubiquity of four-letter
words. No camera can show that.
These two books complement each
other: The Recent Past displays beautifully reproduced photographs by Ravilious,
while his widow’s biography is a moving
tribute which details the technical as well
as aesthetic side of his work. A nit-pick:
why are the same pictures published so
frequently? No doubt there are reasons of
ownership and copyright, but it would be
good to extend the variety to include more
of those he classified as ‘best’.
Cancer returned to Ravilious and he
died at the early age of 60 in his beloved
Devon. Other photographers have followed his style and methods, but he remains
the master.
References to Hepworth roll all the
way through Ali Smith’s new novel, Winter,
offering Hepworthian consolation to those
struggling to process the shock of current
world events, just as the lively brushwork
of the pop artist Pauline Boty invigorated its Booker shortlisted predecessor,
Autumn. The first in Smith’s promised
quartet of seasonally themed, interlinked
novels was widely hailed as the ‘the first
great post-Brexit novel’. It was. But also,
nothing like as boring or worthy as that
Autumn made a Hepworth sculpture of
Brexit. Smith’s airy, modernist prose gave
readers rare space to walk around the subject, lie down in it and climb through it.
She gave room to the voices of the young
and old: witty, serious, surprising, angry
and surreal. She let the words of Shakespeare, Dickens and Hardy blow like fresh
air through arguments that had staled and
hardened against each other. She made you
feel cleverer than all that. Made it obvious
that history and identity run deeper and
float freer than we think.
Autumn was only slightly marred by an
excess of wordplay. The flurries of words
disconnecting from their modern meanings
and drifting down to their roots was often
dazzling, but lines like ‘bagatelle it as it is’
may have cost Smith the Booker.
Winter cuts back on that sort of thing.
It’s a slightly calmer, cooler read, but still
a sparkler. It takes up the story of Sophia,
an ex-lover of Autumn’s elderly hero Daniel Gluck. Sophia is a successful former
businesswoman, retired to Cornwall. She
lives alone in the huge house where her
hippy sister once dwelt in a fug of dope
smoke and group think back in the 1980s
when the place was a derelict commune.
When Sophia’s son, Art, comes to stay
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
for Christmas (with a homeless Eastern
European woman he has hired to pretend
to be his girlfriend) he finds her catatonic
at the kitchen table. Sophia has apparently lost her marbles, although she believes
she’s actually found one. For Art’s mum
believes herself to be in the company of a
levitating stone sphere which has assumed
the appearance of a child’s head and smells
slightly fishy. (Even stone has a history —
this one was shell, thousands of years ago.)
Weird? Yes. But Smith makes it her
business to question what we allow to be
weird. This is a world, she reminds us, in
which a male member of parliament has
just ‘woofed’ at a female MP; and which
has elected a reality television star as leader of the free world. No wonder millennials such as Art — who writes a fake newsy
blog — feel frozen in an apolitical paralysis, caught between the Brexiteer pragmatism of his mum (who’s gone mad?) and
the impossible idealism of his aunt (who
keeps things running).
Art has to figure it out. Ha. You see
what Smith does there. You get the joke
and the weight of it at the same time. Winter
ends bleakly, in the ashes of Grenfell Tower
with a merry, white Christmas from Donald Trump. ‘God help us, every one,’ sighs
Smith. Halfway through her box set, she’s
got two seasons to go. Tune in to Spring and
Summer to see if art can save the day.
Sweet dreams
are made of this
William Leith
Why We Sleep
by Matthew Walker
Allen Lane, £20, pp. 360
I’ve read several books about sleep recently,
and their authors all tell me the same three
things. The first is that, in the modern world,
it’s hard to get enough sleep. The second is
that sleep is very important. Every night,
we pass out. Every morning, we regain consciousness, half aware that time has passed.
For a moment, we might have the impression
we’ve just been flying through the air, or that
we’re about to be executed. The whole thing
is totally weird. That’s the third thing.
Before I get into the weirdness, I’ll say
something about the importance of sleep.
Authors tend to think that what they’re writing about is important. But sleep authors
are a breed apart. They’re like sleep salesmen. And I’ve never come across a sleep
salesman quite as dedicated as Matthew
Walker. An Englishman, he is the director
of the sleep and neuroimaging laboratory at
the University of California, Berkeley. ‘I am
in love with sleep,’ he tells us. ‘I am in love
with everything sleep is and does.’
So: what is sleep? Well, it’s not ‘the
absence of wakefulness’. It’s the presence
of something, a different state — one that
heals you, increases your lifespan, helps you
to look slim and toned, makes you brighter
and more charming, more attractive, sharper,
better at maths and spelling, better at driving. I could go on for ages. Walker tells you,
over and over, of the benefits of sleep. Reading late at night, I turned the pages, fascinated, hour after hour. I kept wanting to go to
sleep. But not because the book is dull. It’s
like reading about the joy of swimming, and
wanting to jump into a lake.
It’s not just that sleep is good. It’s that
not sleeping — or even not sleeping for the
full eight hours — can be terrible. I knew
that five or six hours wasn’t great. Walker
tells us just how bad it can be. What’s the
worst sickness you can think of? Well, not
sleeping enough might give you that very
Sleep makes you more charming
and attractive, better at maths
and spelling, and a better driver
sickness. Sleeping too little, for instance,
ruins your immune system. Walker cites
an experiment in which people had a virus
sprayed up their noses; people who got a
good night’s rest were much less likely to
be laid low.
Not sleeping enough, Walker tells us,
can lead to many conditions: ‘Alzheimer’s
disease, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, stroke and chronic pain.’ Also:
‘cancer, diabetes, infertility...’ But he doesn’t
just list these horrors. He explains, at length,
how sleep wards them off. For instance, if
you imagine your brain as a city, it has a
sort of sewage network. When you use
your brain to think, your brain cells emanate waste matter. When you sleep, your
brain gets a ‘power cleanse’ — some of the
cells shrink, allowing cerebrospinal fluid to
flush out the debris. Some of this debris is
the type of protein that causes Alzheimer’s
disease. ‘Parenthetically, and unscientifically,’ says Walker, he can think of two famous
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
sleep-dodgers. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Maybe their sewage systems
backed up.
Every animal sleeps. Insects sleep.
Dinosaurs slept. Dolphins sleep by switching off half their brains, and then the other
half, but never both at once. Sleep, we keep
thinking, is not about doing nothing. It’s
like taking your car for a service. Every
part of you is spruced up. And dreams are
extremely important. Dreams enable you
to make creative connections. Incidentally,
you dream more as the night goes on. So
if you only have six hours, your creativity
will suffer.
When you dream, the connection is cut
between your brain and your muscles, so
you’re temporarily paralysed. This stops
you from thrashing around. Meanwhile,
your eyes roll around in their sockets. If
you suffer from PTSD, your brain might
be trying to process the bad memories; if
it fails, it might try again the next night.
Hence recurring nightmares, which might
ruin your sleep. Walker tells us about
his research into recurring nightmares;
it’s fascinating.
As is the whole of this book. Is there
a better book about sleep? I doubt it. He
tells us about hundreds of other things —
‘microsleeps’, falling asleep at the wheel,
the way light and screens trick our body
clocks, so we stay awake too long. And the
less we sleep, the shorter our lives are. Yes,
I thought, as I finished this book, sleep is
hugely underrated. Then I looked at the
clock. Could that really be the time?
A vanishing vision
Ruth Scurr
A Revolution of Feeling: The Decade
that Forged the Modern Mind
by Rachel Hewitt
Granta, £25, pp. 550
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert
Southey were undergraduates when they
met in June 1794, Coleridge at Cambridge
university and Southey at Oxford. One of
their earliest conversations concerned the
political implications of the passions. A
month later, on 28 July, the French Revolutionary Terror climaxed in the guillotining of the Incorruptible, Maximilien
Robespierre. Evidence from across the
Channel notwithstanding, Coleridge and
Southey were certain that
the passions are not vicious — ’tis society makes the indulgence of them so. They
resemble an assemblage of waters, destructive if they run wildly over the country, but
the source of abundance if properly guided.
With youthful utopian optimism they theorised an imaginary community with the
silly name of ‘Pantisocracy’ (derived from
the Greek pan and isocratia, meaning
‘equal government by all’).
At first, Coleridge and Southey hoped
their Pantisocracy could be established in
America, which sounded to them an ideal
place for a colony that would reform the
passions by radically redistributing private
property. ‘I have done nothing but dream
of the system of no property every step of
the way since I left you,’ Coleridge wrote
to Southey in July. A land agent claimed
that £2,000 would buy them 1,000 acres
across the Atlantic and cover the costs of
passage. They calculated that they would
need at least 16 ‘gentlemen’ subscribers
paying £125 each to realise Pantisocracy in
Pennsylvania. Southey was already planning his packing — two or three pairs of
‘common blue trowsers’, six brown Holland pantaloons and two nankeen — when
the project had to be scaled back to Wales.
Until 1794, America was neutral in
the French Revolutionary Wars, but
by the autumn of that year Southey
thought that America’s relations with both
France and Britain were deteriorating, and
crossing the Atlantic would be too dangerous. By early 1795, even Wales seemed an
unlikely location for Pantisocracy: ‘America is still the place to which our ultimate
views tend,’ wrote Southey, ‘but it will be
years before we can go. As for Wales, it is
not practicable.’
In A Revolution of Feeling, Rachel
Hewitt argues that the domestic, financial and personal disappointments that
destroyed the Pantisocracy pipedream
reflected the decade’s political trajectory. Hewitt’s first book, Map of a Nation:
A Biography of the Ordnance Survey
(2010), contributed to recent trends
for biographies of inanimate objects or
natural phenomena. Her new book is
a biography of the 1790s, focusing on
how the decade was shaped and experienced by radical thinkers in England.
Alongside Coleridge, Shelley, Godwin,
Wollstonecraft, Wedgwood and other
familiar figures — all of them already well
served by individual or group biographies
— Hewitt includes less celebrated radicals
and experimental institutions.
The physician Thomas Beddoes (1760–
1808), whose shortlived Pneumatic Institute in Bristol had overt political aims, is of
particular importance. Hewitt interweaves
Beddoes’s development of Hydraulic Theory with the rise and fall of Pantisocracy. Beddoes connected many forms of ill
health to political mismanagement and inequality. He considered violent, antisocial
passions the result of oppressive regimes
and believed that popular violence was the
inevitable ‘hydraulic’ outcome of the
accumulation of energy in the face of deprivation and low spirits. He thought that
‘sympathetic’ government was necessary
to ease popular tensions and envisaged
a key role for education in channelling
emotions into sociable and virtuous
manners of expression.
Beddoes became one of Prime Minister William Pitt’s chief accusers, painting
a bleak, dystopian picture of late 1790s
Britain ‘strewed over with ruins’ after ‘the
effects of popular indignation [had] burst
forth in all its undistinguished fury’. But
history proved hydraulic predictions false.
Hewitt notes that, contra Beddoes, after
the defeat of the 1798 United Irish Rebellion, radical political activism was stalled
for the first two decades of the 19th century. ‘Pitt achieved his ends, not through
education, but through the suppression
of free speech and the right to assemble,
the suspension of Habeas Corpus, and by
rounding up remaining radicals.’ In 1817,
Percy Bysshe Shelley reflected on the climate of post-1790s Britain: ‘Methinks,
those who now live have survived an age
of despair.’
Throughout her intricate but always
accessible book Hewitt argues that feminists have a special interest in the politics
of emotion or passion. In the past and present ‘emotional stereotypes are recruited to exclude women from positions of
power, and to compel women to take on
disproportionate responsibility for caring for children, the sick and the elderly’.
Hewitt claims that the de-politicisation of
emotion since the 1790s — the heightened
perception of emotion as an individual
rather than a social phenomenon — has
discouraged women from challenging
the way in which emotions and emotional negotiations are infected with highly
gendered inequalities of power. For this
reason she suggests, we still have much to
learn from the 1790s:
the decade when the passions were collective political experiences and forces, when
emotional regulation was a social negotiation
between individuals’ claims and desires, and
when revolutions were driven by feeling.
But even as she argues that the 1790s
have much to teach contemporary feminists, Hewitt is clear-eyed and amusing
about the limitations of Pantisocracy and
Hydraulic Theory. Southey was convinced
that women’s principal social role was to
uphold moral ‘decency’, especially in periods of political turmoil. ‘I am for Liberty
& Long Petticoats,’ he admitted. And for
Coleridge, marriage was the ‘sole propriety’ and the very nucleus of community,
despite his personal use of prostitutes. To
this day, Hewitt argues, Hydraulic Theory
remains a dominant ‘quack’ theory of gendered emotion ‘because it is founded on,
and justifies, male political, economic and
sexual supremacy’. The real revolution has
yet to begin.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Postgraduate Diploma in
Asian Art
Object-based study of the
arts of China, Japan & Korea,
India, Southeast Asia and the
Islamic world including access
to the reserve collections
in the British Museum and
Victoria and Albert Museum
Short courses also available
Further details from:
Dr Heather Elgood
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7898 4445
SOAS, University of London
Thornhaugh Street
Russell Square
London WC1H OXG
SOAS University of London
The female gaze
Lara Prendergast celebrates the ‘poster girls’, the little-known women artists
who helped to emancipate the London Underground
very weekday, I travel by Tube to The
Spectator’s office, staring at the posters plastered all over the walls. I like
looking at the plays and exhibitions that
have recently opened or wondering whether
that shampoo really will add more ‘oomph’
to my hair.
Often there is a pretty girl on the poster.
A picture of a woman can sell almost anything. I’ve rarely thought much about the
individuals who produce the posters. But
as a new exhibition at London’s Transport
Museum called Poster Girls reveals, there is
a rich history of female art running through
the city’s concrete veins. For more than 100
years, the transport network has provided an
exhibition space for some of Britain’s most
talented female illustrators and artists —
plenty of whom are quite unknown today.
Frank Pick is the man to thank for first
championing the ‘poster girls’. He was the
enlightened British transport administrator whose holistic civic vision transformed
London. Under his watch, the Underground
became an icon. He commissioned the
Johnston typeface, the Charles Holden stations, the red and blue roundel and Harry
Beck’s Tube map. He also encouraged a
wide range of artists to create posters to
promote London’s attractions. A century
on, Transport for London now owns a collection of more than 5,000 original posters.
To coincide with the anniversary of female
suffrage next year, the museum has chosen
to focus on the women artists who helped
brighten up the city.
Pick recognised that transport posters
needed to showcase an expansive mix of
artistic styles. There was no point sticking with
one style; passengers would quickly learn to
ignore the poster — and its message. So in
the first half of the 20th century, an extensive
array of different designs were commissioned
from both male and female artists. In 1910, the
first poster by a woman appeared on the network. It was painted by Ella Coates and urged
city dwellers to visit Kew Gardens by tram.
It’s the first picture in the show, but the drab
brown colours hardly make you want to rush
down to the botanical gardens.
But what came next certainly is exciting.
An advert from the 1920s for the ‘country
joy’s of London’s Underground’ shows the
goddess Flora gazing out across the city’s
more pastoral spots. Another poster for a
rugby union match depicts the players as figures on a piece of Greek pottery. One of the
most prolific female artists who worked for
London Transport was Anne Erica Thackery
Perry or ‘Herry Perry’, as she was known.
Commuters on the underground during the
1920s and 1930s would have come across her
poster advertising Derby Day, which adapted Uccello’s Renaissance masterpiece ‘The
Battle of San Romano’, or another design
declaring the start of ‘blackberry time’.
As well as providing useful information,
these posters offered a glimpse of some of
the most avant-garde artistic developments
of the period. Vera Willoughby incorporated
There is a rich history of female
art running through London’s
concrete veins
art deco and cubist motifs into her images
for the London bus network. Lilian Dring
and Dora Batty took their inspiration from
the futurists. ‘The Underground brings all
good things nearer’ reads the slogan on one
poster by Batty, which shows Persephone
returning from Hades — a fitting description of the Underground.
Many of the early 20th-century poster
girls were trained at the Central School,
which later became Central St Martins.
The school had been established a few
decades after the Underground and the
students and staff worked closely with
London Transport. Frank Pick was also a
close friend of William Lethaby, the Central’s first principal. They shared similar
ideals and wanted to encourage a closer
relationship between design and technology. A poster commission for the network
was ‘the plum that we all look forward to’,
wrote one artist. Most of the women who
created posters were middle class, but there
were exceptions. Sybil Andrews was a poster designer who worked as a welder in an
aeroplane factory in order to raise the fees
to pay for her art correspondence course.
While the stuffy, Victorian-era art schools
believed it best for women to concentrate
on flowers and animals, graphic design for
the transport network was more liberating.
Female artists were often given traditionally
masculine subjects, such as sporting events
or motor shows. By the time the second
world war broke out, women were being
commissioned to produce posters about the
war effort, which included pictures of Spitfires, battlefields and barbed wire.
Some of the women had a terrific sense
of humour. A poster from 1948 for ‘London’s open air’ suggests that there are ‘trees
for all moods and all seasons’. ‘The romantic can discover a quick delight in the silver
birches of Wimbledon Common,’ it says,
with a nudge and a wink. Another poster
from 1930 advertises Regent’s Park zoo,
and puts London’s most serious creatures
— Mayfair beauties, university undergraduates and parliamentarians — inside the
cages. ‘Danger. Do not tease these people’
reads the sign on the zoo gate.
Who were all these women artists?
Aside from Laura Knight and Mabel Lucie
Attwell, I must admit I had heard of very
few of them. Even the literature available
in the catalogue is fairly scant. What’s clear,
though, is that they brought a female sensibility to the transport network. In the wake
of the two world wars, many women found
themselves living alone. Posters were created that helped inspire ‘surplus women’ to
be independent and bold, so that they might
venture out alone. But by the 1950s, attitudes had shifted once more. As the writer
Susannah Walker says, during the mid century, ‘Any woman traveller would have looked
in vain to find herself represented on the
walls of London’s Underground.’
By the 1960s, the ad men had taken
charge. Posters began to be produced anonymously by advertising agencies rather than
by direct commission from London Transport. Female artists slipped into the background and male executives took credit for
much of the work. The 1980s saw a revival
of the fine-art poster tradition, and by the
1990s London Transport had revived its ‘go
places — do things’ message. But the later
posters in the show have a whiff of designby-committee. They lack the originality seen
in the first half of the century.
Transport for London still commissions
plenty of different posters, many of them by
female artists. I met Anna Hymas, a graduate of Central St Martins, who last year won
a commission — via an agency — to produce four posters about what to do in London after Christmas. ‘It is an illustrator’s
dream to design for the Underground,’ she
told me. Her posters have a gentle story-
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
book quality to them and are, I would have
imagined, what many people would like to
see on their way to work. I sense, though,
that London Transport is nowadays more
concerned with alerting people to the dangers of travel, rather than the joys of it.
Ominous adverts are everywhere, warning
of dodgy minicab drivers and cads prowl-
‘Regent’s Park
Zoo’, 1930, by
Arnrid Banniza
ing round the network, ready to slip a hand
up one’s skirt. Sensible, perhaps, although
hardly in keeping with the emancipated
spirit of the earlier poster girls.
A century ago, it would have been
unthinkable that every day, millions of
women would travel around London by
themselves. Yet they were encouraged to
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
do so by posters dotted throughout the
city, many of them designed by women. The
message was simple: come out of doors and
enjoy everything the city has to offer.
Poster Girls: A century of art and design is
at the London Transport Museum until
1 January 2019.
Unclear Handeling
Michael Tanner
Coliseum, in rep until 11 November
The Consul
Silk Street Theatre, until 6 November
ENO has revived Richard Jones’s production of Handel’s Rodelinda. It was warmly
greeted on its first outing in 2014, though
Jones was, as he remains, inveterately controversial. The opera itself seems to command
universal admiration among Handelians,
and widespread approval among those of us
who have never quite managed to call ourselves that.
The most unequivocally positive response
I’ve had to it was at Glyndebourne in 1998,
where it was produced as if it were an early
black-and-white film, and superbly conducted by William Christie. Viewing the DVD
has confirmed my warm feelings about it. My
chillier feelings about ENO’s in many ways
excellent account are prompted, first, by
Jones’s larkiness, and second by the uneven
level, as I hear it, of the work itself. The last
Handel opera I saw was Semele, a piece that
takes wings, musically, from the start (almost)
and remains airborne. Rodelinda’s Act I really can’t be said to do that. There is a lot of
expounding to do, and that means a string of
more or less interchangeable arias for many
of the main characters, whose endless flights
of coloratura do equally well for mockery,
threats, contempt, resolution and the other
emotions that pervade the work. Only with
Bertarido’s contemplation of his own memorial (he is thought to be dead) does Handel
achieve the poignant individuality which
is one of his major strengths. Tim Mead’s
assumption of the role is fine, if not exalted.
The cast is largely the same as in 2014,
though it is sad to report that both Rebecca
Evans in the title role, and Susan Bickley as
Eduige, one of those characters who change
their strongest feelings as if they were trying
on cardigans, have developed edges to their
voices which make it hard for them to sound
tender, and gives their acres of coloratura
a sense of strain. They are still superb performers, endowing their roles with as much
life as the work allows. Rodelinda is unusual
in having a major tenor role for the eventually repentant villain, wonderfully sung and
acted by Juan Sancho. Two more admirable
countertenors complete the singing cast.
There is a crucial silent part, for Rodelinda
and Bertarido’s pathetic little son, a pawn in
the power struggle between the heroine and
the chief villain. A typical Jones stroke is to
have him played by a fully grown young man,
who looks as if he should be fending for himself rather than letting vocalisers push him
around. Why does Jones do these things?
To be different, is one plausible answer. To
establish an unease as to whether we are seeing serious or absurd goings on is another.
Rodelinda, like many Handel operas, has
scenes which are easily seen as ludicrous, as
well as scenes of sly humour. Jones varies
the tone so much that no level of response
can be maintained for long, yet nothing is
gained from the ceaseless shifts except an
unwillingness to take any of it seriously.
Christian Curnyn’s stately but ascetic conducting doesn’t clarify the issue. Warning to
provincials: billed as lasting until 22.15, the
opera actually lasts about 40 minutes longer
than that.
Whatever else you may think of Menotti’s The Consul, it is never boring. It’s far too
distasteful for that. Menotti’s fall from popularity was as rapid and spectacular as any
operatic reputation ever, and this Guildhall
School of Music in its first-rate production
shows why. The Consul was a runaway success on Broadway in the late 1940s, with its
themes of immigration and crushing state
bureaucracy, so all the more reason for it to
be popular now. But the gap between will
and deed has never been greater than in this
opera, which sounds like bad Bernstein with
even more pretensions. The settings alternate between a depressing kitchen, complete with sink, and an immigration office
where hopeless people sit forever. John, a
wounded freedom fighter, is on the run; his
wife Magda and his mother are nursing his
sick baby, who dies halfway through and is
led off in a white coffin to a pathetic little
funeral march; Magda eventually gasses
herself and there is a ghostly dance, heavily
indebted to Ravel.
The music lacks identity, or rather borrows many. Magda, superbly sung on the
opening evening by Michelle Alexander, is
a close relation of Tosca, minus the tunes.
If anything keeps one on the edge of one’s
seat, it is when and how the thing is going
to end, because that is where Menotti will
make his final splurge, with a heartrending
all-stops-out orchestral summing up, then an
all-passion-spent whisper — followed, in this
production, by an immense pregnant silence.
Music never lies, George Steiner has said
more than once. He should go to this opera
and hear that he is wrong.
Life after death
Peter Hoskin
According to the accountants’ ledgers,
DVDs are dying. Sales of those shiny discs,
along with their shinier sibling the Bluray, amounted to £894 million last year,
which is almost a fifth lower than in 2015
and less than half of what was achieved a
decade ago. And last week we finally said
goodbye to the postal DVD service Lovefilm, too. The explanation for this decline is
the explanation for many modern declines:
digital is taking over. Nowadays, downloads
and streaming services make more money
than the old physical formats.
But accountants don’t know everything.
From a different perspective, through the
bloodshot eyes of a cinephile, DVDs are
thriving — and they’re doing better in
Britain than in most other countries. This
success is measured in quality rather than
quantity. A smallish band of homegrown
distributors is working to make more films
available in ever more wondrous editions.
Labels such as Eureka’s Masters of Cinema, Arrow Video and Second Run are now
familiar to movie fans all over the world.
Strangely, the decline of physical media
Through the bloodshot eyes of a
cinephile, DVDs are thriving –
especially in Britain
is helping to sustain these distributors.
There was a time — sometimes referred to
as ‘the Golden Age of DVD’ by weirdos
like me, who have collected thousands of
discs — when the big studios brought their
archives to home-video wholesale. Universal Pictures released dozens of old sciencefiction movies, right down to Monsters on
the Campus (1958) and The Leech Woman
(1960). Warner Bros. printed box set after
box set of films noirs. Fox went all out on
Charlie Chan. But then the economics
changed. The studios are now concentrating on digital, and leaving their archives to
the specialist DVD publishers.
A case in point is Arrow Video’s forthcoming edition of The Thing (1982). Several
years ago, Universal wouldn’t have dared to
loosen its grip on one of John Carpenter’s
most popular films. Now it is allowing a boutique British label to release a new restoration on Blu-ray, and collectors are shivering
with anticipation. Arrow is known for the
care that it puts into its releases. Its edition
of The Thing is overflowing with behind-the-
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
8th November – 1st December
The Taplin family home, set slightly back on a sandy
road leading down to the river at Wivenhoe, might easily
be renamed Cornucopia. Inside, past the faded painted
panelling, the low succession of rooms is chock-a-block
with extraordinary things. Outsized wooden sculptures,
model ships, flags, plates and paintings jostle for space and
light. It is a place of treats, where your eyes dart hungrily
from one thing to another; a place where the created object
has been judiciously savoured and hallowed, where the
sheer making of things is a joy to behold.
Catalogue £15 inc p&p
Robina Jack
Indian Dish
– Small Bowl
slip decorated earthenware
29 x 29 x 6 cms
113⁄8 x 113⁄8 x 21⁄8 ins
Guy Taplin
carved and painted driftwood
62 x 59 x 23 cms
243⁄8 x 231⁄4 x 9 ins
far right
Nancy Rose Taplin
L’Ouverier –
Barn Owl
gouache on paper
31 x 43 cms 121⁄4 x 16 3⁄4 ins
top right
Robina Jack
The Passing
painted wood panel
32 x 45 cms 125⁄8 x 17 3⁄4 ins
2 8 C ork Street , Lond on W1S 3 N G
Tel: + 4 4 ( 0 )2 0 74 37 5 5 4 5
w w w.messums.c om
Arrow Video’s The Thing is released on 20
scenes material and has sublimely illustrated
packaging. There’s a sense of luxury about it,
as though the Golden Age has become the
Platinum Age.
This transmutation isn’t solely a result of
smaller distributors delving into studio catalogues. It’s also because, 20 years after the
birth of DVD, more and more rarities are
coming to the format, making them rarities
no longer.
Last year, for instance, the British Film
Institute finally untangled the rights issues
that had kept Abel Gance’s Napoléon
(1927) shut up in film canisters for decades
and only let out for special occasions. Its
home-video release, last November, was a
triumph for many reasons — but especially
for its accessibility.
An even more totemic example is German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, which was also published by the BFI
in April. This documentary is composed of
footage shot by Allied cameramen — of the
survivors, of the perpetrators, of the corpses
— as the Nazi concentration camps were
liberated in 1945. It was intended to be
shown to German audiences at the time,
but that idea was abandoned and the film
was left unfinished and largely unseen. Yet
now, after years of reconstruction work by
the Imperial War Museum, we can watch it
in our own homes.
Digital streaming and downloads could
be just as democratic as DVD — maybe
more so. But they’re not there yet. iTunes
isn’t the sort of place to find Napoléon or
German Concentration Camps Factual
Survey. The more specialist outlets, such
as MUBI, have relatively limited libraries. Few offer the wealth of supplementary
material — from making-of documentaries
to director commentaries to booklets —
that discs do.
This will surely change. The accountants will make sure that digital delivers and,
when they do, it will be a moment of joy for
cinephiles, but also of sadness. Some boutique labels will find that their small niche
within the entertainment industry has
become too small to support them. Some
major films — perhaps including Erich von
Stroheim’s Greed (1924) — will never get the
DVD releases they deserve.
For now, however, this old format keeps
on keeping on. The most legendary label
of all, the Criterion Collection, has recently expanded into Britain from its home in
New York. Others, such as Powerhouse
Film’s Indicator series, are starting up for
themselves. More items keep on being
added to the list of amazing forthcoming
releases: new restorations of Buster Keaton movies, a Sacha Guitry collection, The
Colour of Pomegranates (1968) in high definition. If only all deaths were so full of life.
‘Portrait of a Lady (La Schiavona)’, c.1510-12, by Titian
All black and white
Martin Gayford
Monochrome: Painting in Black and
National Gallery, until 18 February 2018
Leonardo da Vinci thought sculpting a
messy business. The sculptor, he pointed
out, has to bang away with a hammer, getting covered in the process with a nasty
mixture of dust and sweat. In contrast the
painter can sit at his easel, dressed like a
gentleman, and portray the whole wide
world and everything in it. (Michelangelo, not surprisingly, disagreed.) Such spats
were by-products of the paragone — a sort
of Punch-and-Judy debate, much enjoyed
in 16th-century Italy, about which of the
arts was the most powerful.
Intriguingly, the National Gallery has
revived the paragone in one section of its
new exhibition, Monochrome. There are
no works by Michelangelo or Leonardo
included in this, but there are pieces by Jan
van Eyck and Titian addressing that very
same question: which can do more, painting or sculpture?
The latter’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ (c.151012) shows a young woman standing behind
a parapet. On this her profile is carved in
the manner of an ancient cameo. Titian imitates the relief to perfection in oils, but the
carving is cold and dry next to his depiction in living colour of her face, skin and
soft flesh. You can almost hear the Venetian
master quoting the lines of the old song to a
defeated rival, ‘Anything you can do, I can
do better’.
Van Eyck seems to be playing the same
game in his ‘Annunciation Diptych’ (c.14335). One of the arguments made by defenders of statues was that you could see every
side of them, whereas a picture could only
show one. Van Eyck got around this by using
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
reflections. He depicts a sculpted group of
the Madonna and Archangel Gabriel in grey
stone. But they are placed against a slab of
highly polished black marble in which you
can dimly see their back views reflected.
These figures are surrounded by a painted stone niche, around which is a real wooden frame. But van Eyck executed the very
bottom of the plinth on which the figures
stand on the real frame — so they seem to
be edging just a little out into the real world.
Among other paintings brilliantly
duplicating colourless carving are a huge
detached fresco by Tiepolo and Mantegna’s delicate pastiche of a Roman bas relief
‘Introduction of the Cult of Cybele’ (15056), each exercising great skill in a limited
palette (although Mantegna adds a rich
backing of trompe l’oeil marbles veined in
red and gold).
In the true spirit of the paragone there is
even a straight comparison of the two arts: a
painting by Bernardino Nocchi replicating
a relief of the ‘Deposition’ by Canova, and
next to it a copy of the same work in marble.
But there are other, and deeper, reasons
than one-upmanship for artists to restrict
the range of colour they use. Much of the
interest of Monochrome lies in the investigation of why so many artists should have
cut down their chromatic choices in this
way. Partly, of course, the explanation is
that the results can look magnificent.
Black is also a colour, as Matisse once
pointed out. But it is more than that, a whole
world of diverse shades; so is the grey-scale
known in art as grisaille. Some artists, such
as the young Bridget Riley and Frank Stella
produced masterpiece after masterpiece just
using black (there are examples by both in
the show).
There is one other great advantage to
turning down the colour knob. It changes
Turning down the colour knob
changes what we see, and makes us
concentrate harder
what we see, and thus makes us concentrate harder. This is neatly demonstrated
by Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Room for one colour’
(1997), an entirely yellow space lit by singlefrequency sodium lights. At first glance it
just looks like a piece of interior decoration
in a startling shade of egg-yolk.
Then you notice that your fellow visitors
— and you — are strangely transformed.
Every surface that is not sunshine-hued
becomes a bilious grey. This certainly
makes faces appear strange, but also forces you to notice things about them — the
twist of a nose, the sag of a jowl — that normally you might not (the artist encourages
photography inside this work, but selfies
are definitely not recommended to anyone
remotely vain).
Perhaps for similar reasons, Renaissance
artists such as Beccafumi sometimes did
monochrome sketches for paintings. Cutting
down on colour made it easier to concentrate on form, which must also be the explanation for van Eyck’s ‘Saint Barbara’ (1437).
This has long been a puzzle and source
of controversy among scholars because it is
hard to say just what it is. The picture is a
superbly fine drawing in ink, oil and silverpoint on a panel: a filigree spider’s web of
landscape, figures and intricate gothic architecture, framed exactly as if it were a painting. Just the sky is actually brushed in colour.
Is it unfinished, then? This seems unlikely, because it would be bizarre to begin with
such a phenomenally intricate under-drawing. The answer must be that van Eyck wanted us to concentrate on this linear detail as a
wonder in itself — which indeed it is.
With most exhibitions the problem is
that they are too big. So it is a tribute to
Monochrome that you leave wanting more.
It would have been good to have works
by such black on black specialists as Franz
Kline, John Virtue and Ad Reinhardt, for
example. This is a delightful and thoughtprovoking demonstration that — to adapt
an old slogan — black and white are beautiful (and grey is too).
From the Peaks to Kamikochi
8 November – 1 December 2017
Printed catalogue & pricelist available upon request
Monday - Friday 10.00-5.30
Saturday 11.00-2.00
Blossom beside River, oil on linen, 122 x 155cm
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Richard Bean and someone else. Up go the
lights. A fat square block is revealed representing the blackened tenements of London
in 1850. Marx and his young family are living
in a Soho garret haunted by debt-collectors,
police constables and crazy anarchists plotting to murder Queen Victoria.
This amiable show portrays the German revolutionary as a bumbling sweetie,
a shambolic, debt-ridden sponger, fond of
beer, cigars, and fornicating with the lower
orders. When he impregnates his maid, he
persuades his best friend Engels to claim
responsibility in the hope of neutralising
his wife’s suspicions. Nancy Carroll (underused) is good fun as Marx’s irascible missus.
Oliver Chris makes a dashing, hilarious and
strangely athletic Engels. The title role is
taken by Rory Kinnear, who is widely recognised as Nicholas Hytner’s first choice for
any male role not accepted by Simon Russell Beale.
Kinnear pays homage to the director’s
favourite thesp with a performance eerily
reminiscent of Russell Beale’s mannerisms
and vocal tics. The jokes are good, if sparsely scattered. When bailiffs burst into the
kitchen, Mrs Marx greets them hospitably.
‘Take a seat.’ They seize a dining-room chair
and remove it from the house. Marx’s bottom is visited by a rash of unexploded boils
The Nicks’ decision to launch the
theatre with a sparkler rather than a
sky rocket must be deliberate
One to savour: Nikki Amuka-Bird as Ellida in The Lady from the Sea
Not with a bang but with a
Lloyd Evans
Young Marx
Bridge Theatre, until 31 December
The Lady from the Sea
Donmar Warehouse, until 2 December
Bang! A brand new theatre has opened on
the South Bank managed by the two Nicks,
Hytner and Starr, who ran the National for
more than a decade. Located near a river
crossing, their venture bears the unexciting
name ‘Bridge’. If these two adopted a child,
they’d call it ‘Orphanage’. Visitors approach
along the Thames embankment and arrive
at a soaring cliff of glass whose revolving
doors usher them into a large anonymous
foyer. It feels like a student union bar or
a bit of an airport. Dangling from the ceiling are dozens of light bulbs, their radiance
muted with tea-stained shades that cast an
absolving glow over facelifts, hairpieces and
liver spots.
The performing area is a sort of Dorfman replica with the stalls expanded laterally to twice the size of the original. The 900
seats, made of leather and cloth, are comfortable and non-squeaky. Look down and
you’ll see black lino speckled with Pollocky blotches that might have been reclaimed
from a Jobcentre. The inaugural show is a
comic biography of Karl Marx written by
that compel him to work standing up in the
British Museum reading room. ‘They think
he’s an exhibit,’ quips someone. Elsewhere
there are slapstick-y bits, melodramatic bits,
snatches of political analysis and a sad twist
at the end involving a sudden death and a
weepy funeral.
The mishmash works well enough and
the BBC could easily turn this material into
a historical sitcom like Up the Women or
Upstart Crow. And that’s the level: lowermiddle brow. Which is rather puzzling. Any
commercial venture needs a big marketing
campaign and the easiest way to advertise
a new theatre is to mount a show that goes
on its travels. This lightweight script lacks
the sparkle and oomph to cross the Atlantic.
And the cast aren’t starry enough to carry a
New York opening. Yet it’s hard to imagine
the play completing a tour of England’s spa
towns and cathedral cities. A cast of eight
is too cumbersome for a peripatetic show.
This has a company of 17, not including
chaperones and understudies for the child
actors. The two Nicks are aware of all this, of
course, so their decision to launch the theatre with a sparkler rather than a sky rocket
must be deliberate. I wonder why.
Kwame Kwei-Armah returns from
America to take over the Young Vic next
year and he offers us an amuse-bouche with
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea. Many of the
great Nordic gloomster’s favourite motifs
are here: a widowed doctor, a deluded artist,
a dead child and a rebellious young woman
keen to assert her identity in a male-dominated world. The setting is a coastal town
where dull Dr Wangel is struggling to save
his marriage to Ellida following the death
of their first-born. A crazed castaway crash-
Paradise lost
James Walton
Anybody who wants to maintain a strong
and untroubled stance against mass migration to Europe should probably avoid
BBC2’s Exodus: Our Journey Continues.
In theory, the case for limiting the numbers
may be more or less unanswerable — but
this is a joltingly uncomfortable reminder of
what it can mean in practice. Any viewers
suspicious of the BBC’s pinko tendencies
will presumably have noticed that all the refugees we’ve met so far are completely lovely. Yet, faced with Thursday’s episode, even
they might have found it tricky to preserve a
steely primacy of head over heart. Or not to
notice that these are people very much like
us — only a lot unluckier in where and when
they were born.
As in last year’s Bafta-winning Exodus:
Our Journey to Europe, most of the filming is done by the refugees themselves, with
news clips and captions filling in the political background. This time, though, we join
them after they’ve reached Europe: a continent that in advance took on an almost
mythical significance as the solution to all
their troubles.
Ibsen’s deft handling of dramatic
nuance and fascination with human
frailty make this a compelling drama
es into town. He once was a mutineer who
murdered his skipper and had a wild fling
with Ellida. Now he claims her back. She’s
still smitten by his bad-boy allure but will
she forfeit her boring marriage and take off
into the surf with this swaggering sea-lord?
The story sounds like absolute hokum.
And it is. But Ibsen’s deft handling of dramatic uncertainties and his fascination with
human beings and their frailties make this
a compelling drama. Kwei-Armah updates
the action to a nameless Caribbean island in
the 1950s. And, for once, the chronological
transplant works. This is exactly the kind of
repressive society Ibsen set out to mock and
reform. And the costumes are far freer and
more glamorous than the Victorians would
have dared to imagine. One to savour.
Dame, for example, talked of how he’d
been arrested and tortured in Ethiopia for
carrying leaflets objecting to the mistreatment of the Oromo people. Now, he’d come
to Calais, because ‘I was told it was a nice
and peaceful place to live’ — a notion of
which he was soon disabused by life in the
Jungle camp and a spot of tear-gassing by
the French police. As a result, we watched
him scale the camp’s fearsome razor-wire
fence, while delivering an aphorism that
In advance, Europe took on an almost
mythical significance as the solution
to all refugees’ troubles
could stand as the series’ motto: ‘When it’s
a human versus a fence, the human wins.’
From there Dame got to Britain — in
a way that remained rather disappointingly unspecified — and made an appeal for
asylum that was rejected but apparently
strong enough for him not to be deported.
Forbidden either to work or to claim benefits, Dame is currently living on the impressive charity of a British family (although,
again, how he met them was left frustratingly unclear), who are putting him up in
their house, where we saw him help with
the washing up, play good-naturedly with
their son and confess to the camera that
he often cries in his room at night. All of
charles church
13th - 18th November 2017
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
which means that he’s one of the fortunate
ones. The newly married Ali and Shirin had
understandably left Afghanistan after Ali
was threatened with beheading for working
with foreigners. But they arrived in Greece
just after Macedonia, Hungary and Croatia
had blocked the way north by sealing their
borders with some thoroughness.
The couple did their heartbreaking best
to look on the bright side. ‘We think of this
journey as our honeymoon and we’re really
enjoying ourselves,’ Ali told us unconvincingly. But before long his ready chuckle felt
increasingly pitched somewhere between
rueful and mildly hysterical, especially once
some ‘terrifying’ smugglers had got them as
far as a camp in Serbia. ‘Shirin’s been having bad dreams,’ he chortlingly explained at
one stage. ‘She screams and wakes people
from their sleep.’ Meanwhile, in a spectacularly desolate railway yard near Belgrade,
Ali’s compatriot Azizula was battling with
temperatures of -15°C. He was also remembering the far-off days when ‘we’d talk about
how peaceful and wonderful it would be in
Exodus: Our Journey Continues was
filmed in 28 countries over three years —
The sheepshead wrasse transitioned
from a small female into a huge
bulbous-headed male
which in normal circumstances would make
it the most ambitious new documentary
series of the week. Not, however, this week
— because, as you may have noticed, Blue
Planet II (BBC1) started on Sunday night.
Now and again, fearing the march of middle-aged grumpiness, I think of things that
have got infinitely better over the past 20
years or so: from child actors to the ease of
finding out the Test score while on holiday.
Particularly high on the list, of course, are
wildlife documentaries — even though they
were already pretty astonishing when the
first Blue Planet went out in 2001.
‘Then something truly extraordinary
happens,’ said David Attenborough before
the scene where hundreds of bottle-nose
dolphins and false killer whales greeted
each other like the old friends they apparently were. But the same phrase, needless to
say, could justifiably have been used at virtually any point in the programme: when those
giant trevallies leapt from the water to catch
birds on the wing, say; or those orcas herded
millions of herrings into tighter and tighter
shoals, before flipping their tails with such
force that the shock waves stunned their
soon-to-be prey; or that sheepshead wrasse
transitioned from a small female into a huge
bulbous-headed male.
And this, sadly, is the main problem with
reviewing Blue Planet II. Watching it is such
an endless, awe-inspiring thrill that whatever
you might say about it will only ever really
translate as ‘Blimey! Did you see that?’
Follow the lieder
Alexandra Coghlan
Benjamin Johnson
Holywell Music Room, Oxford
Benjamin Appl
Wigmore Hall
If a symphony is, as Mahler famously put
it, ‘like the world’, then songs and lieder
are like seeing that world in Blake’s grain
of sand. Their span may be short, but their
emotional horizon is infinite — a lyric window on to an epic landscape. And yet there’s
something about a song recital that sets up
quite a different expectation.
Maybe it’s the venues. Entering the Wigmore Hall or Oxford’s Holywell Music
Room still feels like stepping into another,
older world. Politeness, not passion, is the
overriding sensation of well-heeled audiences with their well-thumbed programmes,
prepared for 90 minutes of just-enough-butnot-too-much musical excitement. Maybe
it’s the genre itself; you won’t hear much
lieder on Classic FM because apparently it
‘doesn’t test well’ with focus groups.
But perhaps that’s all part of the process
— an expectation set up, as by the closed
curtains of a theatre, which then rise to
reveal something quite unexpected. Symphonies may bludgeon out their emotional response, but songs are a stealth attack,
masked with a smile. The impact of that
attack depends entirely on the performer,
and this is where this genre comes into its
own — home, as it is, to a younger generation of artists whose talent is as fresh as
their audiences are, well, not. Two recitals
this week gave us a glimpse into the genre’s
future, and it’s a bright one, if only the concert-goers can survive to see it.
In dynastic terms the young German
baritone Benjamin Appl is lieder royalty.
The last private pupil of Dietrich FischerDieskau, he’s inherited not just the mantle
but many of the elder singer’s traits: his care
for text (diction that can cradle and caress
a word or propel it away, as from a pistol),
his thoughtful phrasing, his range of tonecolour. A long-term, exclusive contract with
Sony last year put the seal on his promise,
and if it’s still a voice-in-progress, it’s one
whose progress over the past few years has
been remarkably swift.
Themed loosely around the East, this
Wigmore recital with pianist Graham
Johnson offered an eclectic collection of
lieder from Brahms, Schubert and Schumann, but also Carl Loewe (the wonderfully generous Byron-setting ‘Alles ist eitel,
spricht der Prediger’) and Peter Cornelius.
Opening with a sequence of Schubert and
Brahms at their most bitter, a physically
uneasy Appl struggled to convert tension
into emotion. But the sense of warmth
and ease when he at last released it into
Brahms’s lovely ‘Wie bist du, meine Königin’ was worth the wait — rapt and heady
as it was with love (if not quite that tremor of lust that should shudder through the
suggestive final verse).
Having found his stride, Appl came into
his own in the narrative songs of the second
half. He’s a compelling musical storyteller,
alive to the smallest flickers of humour or
pathos in a text and Schumann’s ‘Belsazzar’, Wolf’s ‘Epiphanias’ and Cornelius’s
‘Drei Könige’ (the song original of the
much-loved Christmas anthem) all unfolded with meaning first, music a natural and
unforced second. Once he has a mezza
voce whose controlled fragility can balance his fullest resonance, Appl will be the
total package. Though for barihunk enthusiasts (check out the website) he probably
already is.
A stormingly strong turn as Eisenstein
in Opera Holland Park’s Die Fledermaus
last summer revealed a side we’ve not seen
before of British tenor Ben Johnson. That
same spirit of late 19th-century camp ran
through much of his Oxford Lieder Festival recital last week, whose Mahler songs
(obedient to this year’s festival theme) felt
like the sober headline under which were
smuggled in the real treats — works by
Parry, Elgar and Amy Woodforde-Find-
Two recitals gave us a glimpse into the
genre’s future – a bright one, if only
the concert-goers can survive to see it
en. There’s a real skill to delivering songs
whose language (both textual and musical) is of another age — bright with ‘jocund
fancies’ and frequent trips down ‘Rapture’s
roadway’ to the ‘hills of Dreamland’ — and
Johnson’s ardent, absolutely straight sincerity (the merest twinkle of amusement
would pop the perfumed bubble of Woodforde-Finden’s ‘Kashmiri Song’) and his
flexible, Italianate tenor served them well.
There’s an old-fashioned quality to Johnson’s singing — his precise vowels, the brightness of his tone, the lack of concealment of
the art-behind-the-art – that comes into its
own in this repertoire. At his best at full throttle, he thrived in the overheated emotion of
Parry’s ‘No longer mourn for me when I
am dead’ and Quilter’s ‘Fair House of Joy’,
while allowing just the right amount of rueful
amusement to shade the ‘Hey nonny nonnys’
of ‘It was a lover and his lass’.
Pianist James Baillieu, as much coconspirator as accompanist, was alive to
all Johnson’s play with text and mood,
dispatching these swooning, swaggering
accompaniments with bags of panache. This
may have been a recital steeped in nostalgia, but who needs modernity when you can
party like it’s 1899.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Hideously watchable: Nicole Kidman as ophthalmologist Anna and Colin Farrell as surgeon Steven
The gloves will come off
Jasper Rees
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
15, Nationwide
You know where you aren’t with director
Yorgos Lanthimos. The Greek allegorist
creates parallel worlds which superficially
resemble our own. In Dogtooth an overweening patriarch incarcerates his three
adult children in a state of infantilised innocence. The Lobster punishes those unable to
find a mate by transfiguring them into animals. His acerbic commentaries on flawed
modernity feel like lurid horror stories the
ancients forgot to write down.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer invokes
pagan sacrifice in its title. Iphigenia is even
mentioned in dispatches — the subject of
a schoolgirl essay that doubles as a mythological flare. The film opens on a close-up
of open-heart surgery in which a sickly pink
organ throbs garishly. After the operation
two bloodstained surgical gauntlets are
tossed into a bin. This is a film in which the
gloves will come off.
The surgeon is Steven Murphy (Colin
Farrell, bearded like a scraggy Pythagoras),
who is married to an ophthalmologist Anna
(Nicole Kidman) — hearts and eyes, theirs
are a pair of grimly symbolic specialisms.
They have a nice nuclear family spaciously
domiciled in suburban Cincinnati, the city
named after a Roman general. Not everything is sweetly functional in their marriage:
Steven likes to beat off to the sight of Anna
stripped and draped across the coverlet like
a lanky alabaster corpse.
But deeper shadows are lengthening
outside the home. Steven has secret, regular contact with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a
deadpan teen who has some kind of vice-like
hold over him. Is he the product of a previous relationship? An illegal squeeze? No,
he’s the son of a patient who earlier died
under Steven’s knife. It’s an unsettling liaison fuelled by unspoken blackmail. Steven
guiltily feeds Martin, and gives him time, literally in the form of an expensive watch. Steven attempts to normalise things by inviting
Martin to meet his wife and children. The latter are creepily intrigued by bodily transformations. ‘I just got my first period,’ says Kim,
14 (Raffey Cassidy). ‘Can you show me the
hair under your arms?’ asks Bob, 12 (Sunny
Suljic), who wears his locks girlishly long.
The get-together backfires when Martin invites Steven back to dine with, and
he hopes, seduce, his lonely mother (Alicia
Silverstone). When this plan doesn’t work
— Steven calls it ‘ludicrous’ — Martin escalates to batshit mode, pronouncing a venge-
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
ful curse upon the Murphys and demanding
Steven slaughters one of his sacred dears: an
eye for an eye. One by one the kids are paralysed from the waist down, and refuse all
food. The doctors are baffled. Steven proposes a witch’s cure, a brew including the
pubic hair of a virgin, only to remember that
these are nowadays depilated at source.
In such moments is Lanthimos’s lacerating rage obliquely glimpsed. Other contemporary perversions in his gunsights include
over-protective child-rearing, the clinical
loftiness of modern medicine, the vengeful
certainties of the young. Take your pick. If it
all sounds gruelling, that’s because it mainly is, and yet Lanthimos is also a warped
humourist. The kids slide about the house
like legless ancestors slithering from the
swamp. Martin’s mother fetishises Steven’s
lovely hands by desperately fellating his
thumb. Anna extracts information from a
flabby anaesthesiologist by administering a
brisk handjob in his SUV.
The sense of queasy menace extends to
the film’s look. Beautiful interiors, around
which the camera prowls like a stalker,
have a dead cleanliness. To express Anna’s
vapidity, Kidman is lit and dressed to merge
with the amber backdrops, while Steven
(Farrell keeps his Irish accent) enunciates
in an emotionless, thermostat-controlled
monotone. Most of the really jarring ugliness occurs on the haywire soundtrack, all
Liam Gallagher: As You Were
keening Bartokian tinnitus and detonating
piano clangs.
What makes this operatic fable sing is
the extraordinarily chilling performance
of Barry Keoghan as Martin. His pinched,
pouchy face, with its icicle eyes and lubricious lips, looks like a viral scourge sent to
trash the American dream. Though hideously watchable, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is
not for the faint of heart. For his next film
Lanthimos descends on the court of Queen
Anne. Royalists, better start on the statins.
All’s well that ends well
Kate Chisholm
Grade: C+
There was a certain thrill to be
had from that first Oasis album,
Definitely Maybe. Liam’s yob howl
and Noel’s magnificent pillaging of
T. Rex, the New Seekers, the Pistols,
Zep and, of course, the Beatles. By
the time the second one came along,
you could count me out, what with
the asinine, boring, big-bollocked
ballads and Noel trying to get
terribly meaningful — all reaching a
crescendo of stupidity on the dismal
Manc whine of bloody ‘Wonderwall’.
Their later stuff was snidely put
down as ‘Quoasis’ by their rival
Damon Albarn — but chance would
be a fine thing. At least Quo had a
bit of a laugh. So, fast forward
20 years.
The fractious brothers are, as
ever, estranged. Liam has an album
out and it has done very well indeed,
number one here and breaking
into the US charts. It’s been well
received by the critics, too, although
I can’t really work out why. I like
the crunching power chords and
squawking lead guitar on ‘Wall of
Glass’, and Gallagher is in good
voice on the half-decent chorus.
There’s another agreeably sludgy
rocker in ‘Greedy Soul’. But, oh dear
Jesus, when the strings come in on
those awful lachrymose ballads like
‘For What it’s Worth’ (not the Stills
masterpiece but a glutinous retread
of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which
I hated first time around). ‘Bold’ is no
better. The admired ‘Chinatown’ (not
the Move’s classic) meanders around
but never really grabs hold. I think
it’s Liam’s stab at social commentary
— ‘the cops are taking over/ while
everyone’s in yoga’. Right-ho. All
overproduced, lacking memorable
tunes. And lacking fun.
— Rod Liddle
Mandy was 38 when she was told she was
‘in the end stage’, suffering from COPD
and finding it more and more difficult to
breathe. Matthew, in his twenties, was given
just four to five years of life after being
diagnosed with a brain tumour. Vivek, also
in his twenties, is confined to a wheelchair
because he suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy and is already reliant on a
ventilator for much of the time. Sophie has
stage four lung cancer and tumours in her
lungs, lymph nodes, bones and brain. You
might think a programme made up of their
thoughts, words, experiences would be one
of lament and moping, misery and fear.
Not a bit of it. Before I Go on the World
Service (beautifully made by Sue Nelson)
was not in the least bit self-pitying. On the
contrary, the mission of Mandy, Matthew,
Sophie and Vivek is to get us all talking
about dying as an essential part of living,
and to emphasise how being given a death
sentence can change your quality of life
for the better by making you really think,
every minute, about the value of what you
are doing.
They all know they are living in the
shadow of death but, as Mandy explains,
so is everyone else. From the moment we
as babies take our first breath we are on a
journey to the grave. We can never know
when our final breath will come, not even
Matthew, Vivek, Sophie and Mandy, who
are so much closer to it. ‘It’s very frightening,’ says Mandy, ‘but there’s nothing you
can do about it.’ Each of them, in their own
way, has found a way to live with death. As
Sophie says, their programme is ‘a gift from
us to show you what it’s like’.
Not that despair does not also have to
be confronted. Sophie could not at first
come to terms with the fact that she has
a young daughter who she will most likely never know as an adult. It’s ‘a grief that
walks with me every day, but it also keeps
me alive every day’. She was once ‘riddled
with regrets’ about all the things she hadn’t
done with her life, but now says she is living
the life she always wanted, writing books
as she had once dreamed of doing. Mandy
had to give up teacher training but, now 55,
she has earned an MBE for her work with
palliative care and the helpline she runs by
herself for other respiratory patients. ‘I’m
teaching,’ she says. ‘I just came to it from
another way.’
As I said this programme was so well
made — edited and crafted to smooth out
the rough edges and to allow the voices of
those taking part to shine through. Saturday night’s archive programme on Radio
4, Close to the Edit (produced by Martin Williams), did not sound well made. I
assume this was intended to show what an
unedited programme would be like. Snippets of Orson Welles on film-making, clips
of subterranean-sounding musique concrète beat music and soundbites from the
archives used almost as found objects were
interposed with an interview with Will Self
talking about the cultural significance of
editing, and even a chord or two from The
Archers theme tune. Where, though, was
the coherent thread, linking and connecting them all? In one section, which lasted
for ten minutes, we were warned that the
interview which the presenter Mike Figgis was having with the film editor Walter
Murch (Apocalypse Now and The Godfather) was being played just as it happened,
with no editorial intervention, no background music, no ‘fancy stuff’.
‘It’s your responsibility to prune all this
back to make it sound more coherent than
it really is,’ Murch told Figgis when asked
whether he, master craftsman, would mind
being edited himself. He’s so professional and so much in control of what he does
that he did sound very coherent even in
the unedited section, but the interview was
interrupted by microphone problems and
the interviewer’s questions, as if demonstrating why editing is so crucial. It’s what
makes narrative work, and brings out the
meaning of what’s being said.
If it’s well done, then the result will come
across as if it hasn’t been edited at all. But
we’re now living in a more highly edited
way than ever, as digital technology has
accelerated the process and made it available to everyone. Never before has it been
so easy to edit what we are being shown
(when Murch worked on Apocalypse Now
he had a team of 36 editors; now he works
with just two others). How can we trust the
media when it’s possible to digitally change
not just the voice of someone speaking but
also the movement of their facial muscles?
How will we know if they actually said what
we are hearing and seeing? At the same
time there is so much material now available to us on the internet to watch and listen
to. How do we know what has value, where
lies the truth? As Figgis concluded, please
edit, but always ask what’s on the cuttingroom floor.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
The death of cosy Christie
Directors are taking Agatha Christie to increasingly dark places – and about time too,
says Francesca Steele
his is not Midsomer Murders. The new
film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s
Murder on the Orient Express is thick
with violence and sexual innuendo. It elevates Hercule Poirot, the diminutive, fastidious Belgian detective, with his egg-shaped
head and pot belly, to part-time action figure, a man who chases bad guys down dizzying descents in exotic snowscapes before
straightening his magnificent moustache
with a twinkle in his eye. This is less
cosy, golden age detective fiction than
a cross between Daniel Craig’s 007 and
Scandi noir.
Kenneth Branagh, who stars and
directs, has brought his experience
playing the dejected Swedish police
inspector Wallander to the fore, giving
the usually reserved detective unusual passion and vulnerability. His Poirot confides professional self-doubt to
a photograph of a long-lost love and
rages loudly at his suspects. It’s a far cry
from the reserved elegance of the Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film.
This is not the first recent adaptation to take Christie to a darker place.
Sarah Phelps, a screenwriter previously
best known for her work on EastEnders,
has become the doyenne of Christmas
Christie, writing two controversially
macabre BBC hits, And Then There
Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Phelps reinstated darker original
endings that Christie herself had later
taken out. They are desperate, sinister
whodunnits, with complicated, morally
ambiguous characters. This Christmas,
a third Phelps/Christie collaboration arrives:
Ordeal by Innocence and it promises more
of the same.
Have we reached the end of the cosy
crime era of cushy settings and quiet scrutiny? Christie became best known for her
‘cozies’ — the jewels, parties and exotic travel of the 1920s golden age; the quiet reserve
of the English countryside village. Midsomer Murders, very much indebted to Christie, is one of Britain’s most successful TV
exports. Christie has been both revered and
condemned for her devious, Cluedo-style
plot machinations, which some say come at
the expense of realism or characterisation.
Her hard-boiled American rival Raymond
Chandler abhorred her work. ‘The English
may not always be the best writers in the
world, but they are incomparably the best
dull writers,’ he sneered in his famous 1950
essay, ‘The Simple Art of Murder’.
Previous Christie adaptations have been
happy to maintain this illusion of cosiness.
The Mirror Crack’d, a deliciously 1980s adaptation set in St Mary Mead, home of Miss
Marple, is basically a parade of celebrities
(both real and fictional), from Elizabeth Taylor to Tony Curtis, in which we the viewers are
as thrilled to see the ensemble as the villagers
at the local fête. The dead body is peripheral.
Similarly, the famous 1957 version of Witness
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot
for the Prosecution, directed by Billy Wilder
and starring Marlene Dietrich, is a relatively
benign courtroom drama, in which the victim
and the accused are seen cheekily sipping
sherry together.
In Phelps’s version, that same lady of the
house emits carnal moans while her young
lover (explicitly paid for) pleasures her as the
jealous maid sneaks a peek. This is a world
where ‘brains are splattered up the wall’,
where ‘blood is still steaming’. In And Then
There Were None, someone uses the F-word.
These riskier adaptations do not, however, feel at odds with what Christie originally wrote. Barry Forshaw, who has written
numerous books on British and Nordic
crime-writing, says that the macabre and psychological depth is evident in Christie’s work.
It’s just hidden behind her economical use of
language. ‘Crime fiction has gone the same
way as superhero movies, James Bond. There
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
is light and dark in the source material.’
Christie herself said, ‘Very few of us are what
we seem.’ It is here that the darkness lies, in
the potential for any character to be hiding
something horrifying, yet utterly believable.
Increasingly, in these newer adaptations, this
is being more thoroughly explored.
The shift we have seen was not just necessary but inevitable, says Forshaw. ‘The
overwhelming popularity of psychologically
driven crime fiction, where we care as
much about the detective’s back story as
we do about the murder itself — from
The Killing and The Bridge to The Girl
with the Dragon Tattoo — has created
a need for more darkness in Christie
interpretations. And contrary to popular
belief Christie cared very much about
characterisation. Her plots are entirely based around motive, around what
drives people, so they translate very well
to the modern take on the genre.’
The renowned crime-fiction columnist of the New York Times Book
Review, Marilyn Stasio, recently
lamented the demise of the traditional
whodunnit in favour of the howdunnit and whydunnit. ‘Nowadays there’s
a lot more hanging on the character. I
liked them better when… the emphasis
was on the puzzle and how to solve it,’
she says on Criminal, an eclectic American podcast on crime.
However, what differentiates the
new Christie adaptations from modern
detective fiction is that they are still
ingenious puzzles, albeit ones many
of us have done before. Poirot still
meticulously examines, interviews, ponders,
working with ‘those little grey cells’ to see
what might have driven someone to murder.
Indeed, it’s the ultimate rationality of the
puzzle that is perhaps so appealing in our
murky age of fake news and moral quandaries, argues Forshaw. ‘In the end, we always
know what has happened, which is very satisfying. Then, of course it’s essentially back
to business as usual — the perfect format
for a franchise in fact.’
And if Poirot becomes less a figure of
fun (moustache aside) and more a sleuth
whose loneliness we pity, then surely Raymond Chandler would approve.
Murder on the Orient Express is in UK
cinemas now. StudioCanal has recently
released several fully restored Agatha Christie
films, including the 1974 Murder on the
Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
Dinner at Modigliani’s
By Jenny Coad
hen you arrive for dinner and your
host is massaging a purple cauliflower, you know you’re in for
an interesting evening. I am in a top-floor
flat in Paris, which was once the domain of
Amedeo Modigliani. The Italian artist was
famous for his louche lifestyle — drink,
drugs, women — but we know him best for
those serene portraits with empty eyes.
He died of tubercular meningitis in this
very flat at the age of 35. His ghost doesn’t
stalk the rooms, though, and no sketches were found beneath the floorboards
— much to our hosts’ disappointment. They
are Nicolas and Monia Derrstroff, a chef and
journalist, who host evenings in their apartment for curious tourists and art enthusiasts via Airbnb. It must be quite exposing to
open up your home to a hungry crowd and
find them poking around your bedroom to
admire the original windows, which flood
the place with light. (Perfect for painting.)
This is what is known in the trade as an
‘experiential evening’ — but don’t be put
off. It is wonderful. Tonight we are celebrating Modigliani and it feels like immersive theatre. Before we’re even through the
door, Monia suggests we might ‘get drunk
and have a séance with Modigliani’, which
results in anxious murmurs before she reassures us that she’s ‘only joking’.
Modigliani’s ‘Les deux filles’
We begin with a cocktail infused with
the scents of Provence and garnished with
lavender. Modi, as he was known, went and
stayed in the region in 1918, partly for his
health and partly to escape the bombs falling on the French capital.
Accompanying canapés represent feast
(caviar) and famine (tuna fish pâté). The
artist’s financial state was precarious. In his
lifetime, his paintings did not command anything like the sums they do now.
The table is set like a Dutch still life with
glossy fruits, an abundance of silverware and
mismatched glasses. Candles drip wax down
silver sticks, while purple hydrangeas, pomegranates, walnuts and vines of tomatoes
make a decadent scene. The menu, Monia
tells us, was inspired by the artist’s favourite local restaurant, Chez Rosalie. A black
and white picture of Rosalie herself shows
a stern-looking woman who would surely
have kept Modi firmly in check. Coq au vin
arrives alongside the delicious cauliflower.
The cauliflower is Nicolas’s speciality and
he soaks it in almond milk for hours before
cooking it and charring it.
My expectations of a meal out abroad are
unreasonably high. Dinner must be authentic, locally sourced (but not self-consciously
so), with a limited menu, and staff who don’t
speak English. We’ve struck gold here —
this is the sort of mythical restaurant experience I dream of, only we are in someone’s
home. Nicolas is the real deal (he also has
a street-food restaurant, Zarma Kebap, in
Pigalle). There is only a slight awkwardness
when I feel perhaps we should be on our
way. Normally, you’d ask for the bill, but no
— now we’re on the absinthe. Illegal, apparently, and in a brown medicine bottle. It is
nothing like the awful stuff knocked back
at university. It’s fresh, clean and peppery.
They’ve even made fortune cookies containing quotes by Modigliani. One reads: ‘When
I know your soul, I will paint your eyes.’
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Sadly, the young will never experience
or understand the excitements of
suppressed lust which drove the pace of
all social interaction in previous eras
— Dear Mary, p77
High life
I have a message for the London mayor,
Sadiq Khan: you and your policies stink!
While the fuzz are busy scanning the internet for racist or sexist material, crime in the
capital is up by six per cent over the past
12 months and the police — handicapped
by PC orders from above — have made
20 per cent fewer arrests. Statistics show
youth violence and murder soaring in London, with the latter up by 84 per cent on
last year.
But here’s a story that’s not a statistic.
Last week, my little girl Lolly was viciously attacked and robbed near the World’s
End pub on the King’s Road after going
to dinner with her cousin. She had spotted a hoodie (does Cameron still wish us to
hug them?) on her way to dinner, a man of
North African or Middle Eastern appearance. He attacked her after dinner as
she was nearing her flat.
Mind you, the scumbag got a surprise.
My beautiful daughter is made of sterner stuff and fought back, kicking him you
know where though she was unable to
gouge his eyes, as I have taught her to do.
When she was hit on the side of the head
and went down she continued to fight,
but the cowardly scumbag managed to rip
an expensive necklace off her before running into the darkness. The next day, a very
nice female cop visited her and took down
some details. But she didn’t even ask for a
description of the gem the filth had stolen. I
suppose that taking a description of something he was certain to get rid off immediately plays no part in police work nowadays.
It just might look a bit racist to go into the
areas where these criminals live and check
out a few pawnshops.
My little girl had already told me how
hoodlums and football hooligans get into
drunken fights after dark near the Chelsea
football ground, and how there are never
any police around. The mayor does not give
a hoot for those who live near Chelsea or
in other so-called chic neighbourhoods.
He is there to help those who look different and have a different religion from the
rest of the Brits, it’s as simple as that. If the
Grenfell Tower had been occupied by welloff white people, the mourning and media
coverage would have been over the very
same day. There are Arab gangs in Chelsea
orchestrating break-ins, robbing shops and
mugging people — often on mopeds — but
London’s powers that be care about only
one thing: racism.
I think that most of us would agree that
displaying empathy when it hides the truth
is no virtue. The truth is that foreign-born
gangs are not inclined to uphold our laws
but choose instead the easy way, i.e. the
criminal one. It might sound racist to some,
but that’s how it is and the media that covers up these unpleasant truths are as guilty
as the piece of filth who attacked my little
girl the other night.
This culture divide began in the 1960s
and was encouraged by the weak-kneed
lefties — the kind who called Enoch Powell
a racist — of all parties and political persuasions. If European leaders had followed
more conservative policies on immigration
long ago, perhaps this continent wouldn’t
be in the deep you-know-what it is in today.
The true traitors, in my not-so-humble opinion, are the mainstream media and academics. They are the ones who have spread the
poison among the young so that they can
pat each other on the back when they meet
and drink cheap warm white plonk in smelly
places. They think they are morally superior,
which is as delusional as Norma Desmond’s
belief that Cecil B. DeMille wanted her
back to star in one of his epics.
Political correctness that sees racism
everywhere is a malignant scourge that will
bring about the end of Europe. Perhaps
not in my children’s lifetime, but definitely in that of my grandchildren. Newspeak
designed to make political dissent impossible is now the order of the day. Anything
that the media and the academy does not
approve of is called racist, and a repackaged
national identity is the inevitable result.
Everything has to change: history, sovereignty, the works. In America last week, a church
in Virginia took down two plaques honouring men who had worshipped there, one of
George Washington, the other of Robert E.
Lee. The plaques distracted our worshippers,
said the cowardly rector.
But what’s the use of getting angry? Last
week I wrote that if Brexit goes through,
I’ll be back living in London in a jiffy. Now
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
I’m so livid about the carelessness of British leaders in allowing all these criminals
in, I might just stop somewhere in the north
Atlantic and live out my days in peace.
And a close friend who is the chairman
of Asprey tells me that London is no longer
good for business. Stamp duty is 15 per cent
and rates are 50 per cent up. He is opening ten stores in Japan and South Korea,
where taxes are reasonable. The Tories are
killing off the golden goose and don’t know
it. That arch Russian arse licker George
Osborne started the rot. His jerky successor
is almost as bad. Goodbye, London, Reykjavik here I come.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
The French countryside around here is
teeming with wild boar. They visit the shack
at night to eat the pansies and nose up the
flower-beds, and their violent flare-ups
over a disputed morsel wake us up. Standing about in the lane the other night, blocking it, was a 25-strong gathering of them.
They ranged from cheerful little tackers to
daft adolescents to suspicious old bruisers.
And when we take the old dog on her daily
walk, we hear them thrashing about in the
tinder-dry undergrowth on either side of
the track. Our neighbours advise taking a
stick with us at this time of year, to fend
off an attack, but as the boars seem more
afraid of us than we are of them we don’t
bother. All summer long they’ve been left
in peace to procreate and raise litters and
enjoy what must be an idyllic existence
among the native scrub oaks. But now the
hunting season is open, and they are being
vigorously persecuted again.
Last Saturday, gunshots rang out at first
light and the rapid rate of fire throughout the
day suggested that the boar population was
getting a good dusting. We stepped out for
our afternoon walk nevertheless. The threeday mistral had blown itself out, our sanity
had returned, and the sun was hot enough to
warrant a hat. From our shack we can step
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out of the door straight on to the mountain
track without a dog lead. I might take along a
small rucksack to fill with wayside pine cones,
which are more combustible than shopbought firelighters.
The walk is half an hour uphill, half an
hour on the level, and half an hour back
down through dense pine and oak forest
fragrant with wild herbs. Catriona has the
acutest sense of smell I’ve ever known. I
read the other day that a male silk moth
can detect a single molecule of a female
silk moth’s sex hormone from a mile away.
That’s nothing. An almost imperceptible scent of pine, wild rosemary, thyme or
lavender, wafted past her nose on a warm
breath of wind, sends her into transports.
‘Smell that!’ she’ll say, almost swooning
with ecstasy. ‘Smell what?’ I say.
On Sunday we hadn’t gone far when I was
taken short and veered off into the undergrowth imitating a U-boat emergency-dive
klaxon. ‘Hang on,’ I shouted to Catriona and
I squatted down and evacuated a ten-inch
stool, broken in three places and coloured a
vivid ochre by the turmeric supplement I’m
taking. It was really quite something; I examined it with awe. In England there would
have been a broad-leafed tree or bush on
hand with which to mop up. But in Provence
the foliage is all spikes. And while I was wondering whether to use the least sharp piece of
limestone I could find, the rucksack toppled
over, complicating matters further. Scraping
the affected area of the rucksack through the
dust only made matters worse. A shot rang
out, deafeningly close. Then another. A minor
difficulty owing to the lack of tissue paper or
an old bus ticket had escalated into a shootout. What, I wondered, would be next in this
unfolding drama? Sprinting boars closely followed by hunting dogs giving joyful tongue?
Would I perhaps be mauled by the one then
broken up by the other, and with my trousers
down? The height of my ambition before this
had been a half-hearted hope to be back in
time for the football results. Now it was simply to stay alive.
Nothing porcine or canine materialised.
Nor did a tissue or an old bus ticket. I pulled
up my trousers and hoisted on the rucksack
and regained the track. Catriona and the dog
were waiting patiently 50 yards higher up. ‘I
thought you’d had a cardiac arrest and lost
the power of speech,’ she said. ‘I was about to
come and see.’
I didn’t explain. It was too ridiculous. We
pressed on up the hill. A jeep driven by a
grim-faced hunter wearing a high-visibility
tabard bounced past, three of his four wheels
off the ground. Further up the track was a
crimson trail of blood spots, wet and shiny.
We followed the dots. The trail ended in an
appallingly copious splash into which the
dog pressed her old nose and inhaled with
a sort of mad relish. ‘What a ghastly smell,’
said Catriona. ‘Can you smell anything?’ For
a change I could smell something. I could not
only smell it but I could also identify it, and
with certainty. I was amazed that she hadn’t
recognised the smell of her own cooking.
‘Perhaps the hunters have started gutting
them already,’ I said.
Real life
Melissa Kite
‘The colour of this kitchen is inspired by a
blend of heather, bracken and the mountains of the Isle of Skye,’ says the brochure.
‘Oh, sweet Lord,’ I think. ‘I just want a
Five months into the renovation and my
fondest wish is simply for it all to be over
before Christmas. But for that to happen I
must stop browsing endless catalogues making preposterous claims about MDF units
evoking the magic of the Isle of Skye and
order a kitchen from the only place that
doesn’t threaten to bankrupt me.
I end up in a trade joinery centre where
the gamekeeper has a mate, and the keeper
stands behind this mate as the mate works
up a quote on his screen, and all the while
the keeper is saying, in his soft West Country
accent that is, disconcertingly, both friendly
‘,’ says Stefano, like an
Albanian Craig Revel Horwood
and sinister at the same time: ‘I want to see
that come down a bit or I won’t be happy.’
And by the time the quote does come
down to what passes for very reasonable,
I am convinced the kitchen guy is worried
that if he doesn’t quote me happy, the keeper will get his gun out of the Defender (fine,
so he hasn’t brought the gun in the Defender
because you can’t leave a gun in a car unattended, but you know what I mean, the gun
is somewhere).
I say nothing. I am delighted. I have gone
from being quoted up to £6,000 by a range
of stores, including one that I discover has
been featured on Rip-off Britain, to securing
a quote of £3k, even if this is by threatening
to shoot the kitchen supply centre manager.
After just half an hour of deliberating over
slabs of fake granite named after districts of
east London, and sample cupboard doors
the colour of Scottish islands, I am the proud
owner of some chipboard carcases and laminate slate-effect worktops.
Even better, the most poetry my kitchen inflicts on me is a few mentions of the
word Shaker, which I can live with — back
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
in the 18th century, the founders of what
became the United Society of Believers
in Christ’s Second Appearing could barely
have dreamed that one day they would be
the title of a kitchen cupboard — and the
fact that the ivory shade I have chosen is
‘breathtaking’, which has so far proved
not to be the case as my breath is perfectly
intact, thank you. The whole effect, meanwhile, is declared ‘a contemporary take on
a classic look’, which seems to me to mean
precisely nothing, but I don’t mind because
it’s a kitchen, and it’s under five grand.
And a few days later it is delivered in all its
shockingly basic glory.
I am on a high. Not only have I managed
to order a kitchen that is not attempting to
win the Man Booker prize but I have been
declared a genius by everyone involved in
the building works.
After weeks of wrangling, Stefano comes
to see me and announces that he is taking his
hat off to me.
‘When you first told me what you wanted
to do I was worried. But now… wow!’ And
he gestures at the vast kitchen-diner his men
have created out of two-and-a-half rooms
knocked together under my screaming, wailing, lunatic direction. This was very much on
a whim when, after a series of unforeseen
catastrophes — you know you’re over budget when you’re burning your maxed-out
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credit card bills on the open fire to save on
kindling — I decided I would have to abandon the architectural plans and improvise.
‘Is… fantastic!’ Stefano declares, as we
stand in the massive empty room.
Everything has come together, apparently. It all works. My insistence on the repositioning of the bifold door is inspired, the
mezzanine gallery is a stroke of genius.
‘,’ says Stefano, like an Albanian Craig Revel Horwood.
‘Well, yes, maybe,’ I say, not quite able
to believe that we have suddenly had this
breakthrough and what looked like a bomb
site has almost become a home.
He high-fives me and we share a moment.
I feel sorry I ever doubted him, and that he
doubted me.
‘So here is the bill until now,’ he says and
slaps a piece of paper on the table.
‘Are you sure?’ I stare guiltily down at
how modestly he has arranged the figures.
He sighs and stares into the middle distance. ‘Anyway…’ he says, pausing. He
always starts his most philosophical sentences by saying anyway. ‘…I didn’t want
to make a profit out of this job. I do, just
We share another moment. I feel tears
welling up in my eyes. Don’t cry, you idiot.
The least you can do is show the man you’re
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Wild life
Aidan Hartley
Flying home across Laikipia’s ranchlands
with Martin after a farmers’ meeting, I see
the plateau dotted with cattle and elephants.
Stretching away towards the north, it is all
green after good rains. I think to myself
that farming is hard enough without having to deal with toxic politics: will there be
a drought, and what about the ticks, or footand-mouth disease; will your cattle get rustled, or flocks of quelea and hordes of zebra
devour your crops?
After months of politics in Kenya, the
news comes in that Uhuru Kenyatta has been
It is incredible to feel that I can walk
around the farm without a weapon –
that I might not get shot
declared our president again. This comes as a
great relief because most people in Kenya are
exhausted by politics after months of crisis.
We just want to get back to work. Everybody
is broke. At least under Kenyatta we reckon
our title deeds will be respected and private
businesses have a chance to survive.
None of this is thanks to our western
diplomats. A few months ago Boris Johnson visited Kenya and there was a party at
the British High Commissioner’s residence.
After the wine had flowed a bit, the deputy high commissioner John Murton, who is
the size of an Oompa Loompa, came up and
started shouting at me. I had been rude about
his boss Nic Hailey in this column and he was
not happy about it. I suggested we go and discuss matters over a whisky.
Murton produced a decent single malt
and we went off and sat down together in a
quiet room. I explained that private investors
struggling with the turmoil in Laikipia did not
feel we had the support of Britain during our
troubles. He said the FCO was doing what it
could, and so on. After a while Murton said,
‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you just sell
up and leave?’ After 130 years in Africa I felt
that was pretty unfair but my response was,
‘In the current circumstances, even if I wanted to sell up, I doubt anybody would offer me
even 2,000 bob for my farm.’ (This is about
£15 in British money.)
At this point, I was surprised to see Murton jump up and march out of the room with
his Oompa Loompa walk. I poured myself
another whisky and waited. A short while
later in came Murton again. He slapped
down 2,000 shillings and exclaimed, ‘There!
I’m buying your farm!’ For once in my life I
was struck dumb. At any other time I might
have punched him but I just felt so downcast
that I sat quietly and said, ‘Come on, man.’
Murton has since been posted as the UK’s
ambassador to the Democratic Republic of
Congo, which will no doubt warm the hearts
of all British investors in that country.
That day I walked out of the High Commissioner’s residence feeling that we farmers were on our own. In the ensuing months
we somehow survived. Laikipia farmers lost
about £30 million in the chaos that engulfed
us but security has started to improve. From
now on I sense our challenges will be all the
things that farmers should normally have to
tackle, starting with the rains. Green shoots
of our crops are emerging in the fields we
have planted and our cattle are starting to
fatten again. It is an incredible feeling to
walk around the farm these days and feel
that I can walk without a weapon, that I
might not get shot. I still sleep with a pistol under my pillow but I am starting to feel
this is no longer necessary. I am starting to
feel safe.
What we need now is for western countries like Britain to get behind the status quo
and support a stable, elected government.
Britain has much to lose if Kenya is not our
solid ally. The likes of Murton should care
about private businesses in the country, given
that Britain is the largest investor in Kenya,
and they should consider all the other benefits of keeping good relations with Kenyatta.
We are the only stable country in the region,
a bulwark against Al-Shabaab and the only
sophisticated economy for miles around.
Kenya is the home for many British people.
Let’s not mess it up.
H less
ou on
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the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Susanna Gross
Call me middle-aged, but the days when I
enjoyed playing bridge all night are long
gone — which is why I opted out of last
weekend’s 24-hour marathon at the Young
Chelsea Bridge Club. Thankfully, 27 brave
pairs did play, starting at midday on Saturday,
and ending at midday on Sunday (without
a break). By all accounts, no one struggled
— apart from poor David Muller, who had
heroically offered to direct. Without the
stimulation of playing, he fell asleep at his
desk a few times — meaning the usual cry
of ‘Director!’, became a crescendo of cries:
‘Director! Director! Director!!’.
Four of the ‘pairs’ chose to enter as a
threesome, as at least one of them wanted
a break. This was perfectly legitimate; it was
arguably advantageous, but plenty of players
believe it’s better to play straight through.
Anyway, it was a threesome who won —
Simon Gillis, Tom Paske and Alex Hydes
— and in thrilling style, overtaking the leaders at the last hour. In this deal, Alex Hydes
showed his tremendous table presence:
Dealer West
Both vulnerable
z AQ 9 3
X 10 3 2
wAKQ 3
z J 10 7
yQJ 5
X8 7 5
wJ 9
z 4
y 10 8 7
w 76 4
6 4
osh I love Gosset champagne! And
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The Gosset Grande Réserve Brut (1) is a
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I believe) and of three grapes (Chardonnay,
Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, of course).
It’s rich, creamy and toasty with ripe and
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The Gosset Grand Rosé Brut, (2) is a
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Salmon pink, it’s full of strawberry compote and despite being Extra Dry is less dry
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£49.50 down from £59.50.
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£55 down from £69.
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These wines are available as unmixed
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Prices in form are per half-case of six
all pass
West led the X8 to East’s XJ. Hydes ducked,
and East continued with the XK (West playing the X7). It seemed to Hydes that East had
‘some number of diamonds’ to the XKQJ —
but not six as he would have overcalled. This
was a critical hand — within only eight boards
to go, they were nearly 2 per cent behind the
leaders. If ever there was a time to back his gut
feeling and go for a ‘top’, it was now. The normal play in trumps is to cash the A from AQ
to cater for a singleton J or 10 in either hand.
But Alex decided that if anyone held shortage,
it was East. So he cashed the zK, then played
low to the z9! Next, trusting that East didn’t
hold six diamonds, he ruffed a diamond in
hand — and claimed 12 tricks.
Gosset Grande Réserve Brut, 12%vol
Gosset Grand Rosé Brut, 12%vol
Gosset Petite Douceur Rosé Extra Dry, 12%vol
Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut, 12%vol
Gosset Grand Millésime Brut, 12%vol
Gosset Grande Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut, 12%vol
Sample half-case, one bottle of each wine
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the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Chigorin lives
Raymond Keene
Nigel Short, who challenged Garry Kasparov for
the world title in 1993, has made a reputation for
employing slightly offbeat openings in order to
derail opponents who are unused to non-standard
situations. As part of his repertoire, Short has a
penchant for the ancient Chigorin Defence, and
has even employed a version of this in a game
against Kasparov himself.
Earlier this month Short triumphed handsomely
in the Negros Open in the Philippines, taking first
prize with 8 points from 9, well clear of the
runners-up, Karen Grigoryan and Nguyen Duc
Hoa, who finished on 7. In round one, Short
wheeled out the Chigorin to great effect.
A poem for Boris
Lucy Vickery
Diagram 1
Fronda–Short: Negros Open, Bacolod 2017;
Chigorin Defence
Diagram 2
1 d4 Nc6 A cunning way of introducing the
Chigorin given that the move order 1 d4 d5 2 c4
Nc6 is severely tested by 3 Nc3. Now if 2 d5 Ne5
Black has a kind of mirror-image of Alekhine’s
Defence (1 e4 Nf6 2 e5 Nd5) where the relatively
uncharted waters would lead to precisely the type
of position which Short is seeking to achieve. 2
Nf3 d5 3 c4 Bg4 4 cxd5 Bxf3 5 dxc6 Bxc6
6 Nc3 e6 Now we have a main line Chigorin
which has been known since the days when
Chigorin himself introduced the defence (see
diagram 1). 7 a3 Here the most aggressive is 7 e4
Bb4 8 f3 f5 can be met by the gambit continuation
9 Bc4. Instead Pillsbury-Chigorin, St Petersburg
1895 continued 9 e5 Ne7 10 a3 Ba5 11 Bc4 Bd5
and Black stood well. 7 ... f5 8 h4 Way too
ambitious. 8 e3 is normal and best. 8 ... Bd6
9 Bg5 Qd7 10 e3 Under the changed
circumstances this is now wrong with 10 h5,
making space for the bishop being vastly
preferable. 10 ... h6 11 Qh5+ Kf8 (see diagram
2) Black has lost the right to castle but White’s
pieces are now in a tangle on the kingside.
12 0-0-0 g6 Winning a piece for which White
gains insufficient compensation. 13 Qxg6 hxg5
14 Bc4 Rh6 15 Qxg5 Be7 16 Qg3 Qd6
Forcing off the queens and simplifying Black’s
task. 17 Qxd6 cxd6 18 d5 Slightly better is 18
Bxe6 Rxe6 19 d5 Re5 20 dxc6 bxc6 when White at
least has two pawns for the piece but is
nevertheless lost. 18 ... exd5 19 Bxd5 Bxh4
White to play. This position is a variation from
Bologan-Short, Crete 2017. How can White now
penalise Black for his overambition? Answers to
me at The Spectator by Tuesday 7 November 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.
Last week’s solution 1 ... Rd1+
Last week’s winner Tim Leeney, Hartfield,
East Sussex
20 g3 Be7 21 Bxc6 bxc6 22 Ne2 With only
a single pawn for the piece, White should really
give up here. 22 ... Kf7 23 Nf4 Rxh1 24
Rxh1 Nf6 25 f3 Rg8 26 Ne2 c5 27 Kd2
d5 28 Kd3 Bd6 29 Rh3 a5 30 b3 Be5 31
Kc2 Ke7 32 f4 Bd6 33 Nc3 Kf7 34 Kd3
Rb8 35 Kc2 c4 36 bxc4 dxc4 37 a4 Bc5
White resigns
Short went from the Philippines to the
European Team Championship in Crete, where
England is fielding its strongest possible team:
Short, Michael Adams, David Howell, Luke
McShane and Gawain Jones. Sadly in round
one Short overpressed and lost (see below).
In Competition No. 3022 you were invited
to compose a safe poem that Boris Johnson
could have on hand to quote from when out
in the field.
The recent kerfuffle caused by the Foreign Secretary’s murmured quotation of a
few lines of Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’ during a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar led me to wonder whether it might be
wise, given the ever-increasing number of
no-go areas when it comes to subject matter,
to challenge you to fashion an all-purpose
poem unlikely to offend.
Barbara Jones’s Blakean-flavoured entry
— ‘And did my feet in foreign clime/ Trample
on sensitivities?’ — caught my attention, as
did Tim Raikes’s patter song. But they were
outstripped by the winners below, who take
£25 each. The extra fiver is D.A. Prince’s.
When you require a few bon mots about you
(Let’s not be If-men — life’s too bloody short)
Look for a lingua franca when men doubt you.
Diplomacy’s an art and not a sport.
O tempora, o mores — much too gloomy,
Remember, Latin’s now for chaps who brag.
Some murmurings — Confucius, or Rumi
Mugged up ahead; success is in your bag.
When you can rescue triumph from disaster —
Yes, chaps, we’ve been there, every one of us —
We’re equals; there’s no notion of a ‘master’.
A common Karma, not a media fuss.
All brothers, sisters, everyone, whatever.
No Latin genders messing up our show.
We’re all in this united world together:
OK, just one: pro bono publico.
D.A. Prince
I’ve a breathless crush on our Hosts tonight —
Friends to make, as an English twin —
When we make our pitch, it’s a sheer delight,
So now let us say, with an ample grin,
That it’s not for the sake of the trading boat
Or to stake a place in your hall of fame:
It’s a backslapperama, dear friends of note:
“Play up! play up! and play your game!”
Yours is the world that, year by year,
We must embrace. Let us not forget
Our thrill as we lowered our landing gear:
Our nation will ever be in your debt.
Never to pop any downeroons,
Heads held high for the snapper’s frame
Your walls are high and we love your tunes:
‘Play up! play up! and play your game!’
Bill Greenwell
All hail to those who fight the thankless cause
Of settling world disputes through words, not wars.
In this great quest they visit state on state
To pay due honour, then negotiate.
In public, firm clasped handshakes symbolise
Connections that diplomacy supplies.
Behind thick doors a full exchange of views
Escapes the glaring light of being news.
But in this world that shadows stark events
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
What’s learnt and said has its own consequence;
Yet many only trouble to engage
With those who come before them centre stage.
War was what poets used to celebrate
(And now with equal vigour execrate.)
But where’s the verse for those who rarely cease
Deploying subtler skills in aid of peace?
W.J. Webster
When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old
He was gentle and brave he was gallant and bold,
With faith as his shield he would muster his might
And slaughtering dragons he’d fight for the Right.
Today he slays braggarts who, guilty of guile,
Exude playful charm with a treacherous smile,
They run with hares and hunt with the hounds
And, testing the boundaries, play out of bounds.
Such bounders he loathes who on mischief are set
And are to their leaders a bane and a threat,
But with threats of dismissal and loss of their
By fear he will force them to make their amends.
With past gaffes behind them, their lessons now
And for their transgressions deservedly spurned
They will swear on their honour as men born
Not to do as they may, but as May would them do.
Alan Millard
My mistress now is naught but this fair realm;
My rapture serving our majestic queen;
Love of country’s here at my heart’s helm:
I’m thrusting for the UK’s greater sheen.
I have no eye for offices upstairs,
But humbly steer my plough where’er I’m sent.
Commonwealth and foreign my affairs
(With just a hint of whimsical dissent.)
With patriot eye I scan this fractured land
And promise more than blood and sweat and
Against the grey and bland I make my stand
But mean, of course, no member of my peers,
For whom my admiration rings anew:
Secundus inter pares through and through.
Paul Carpenter
We shall do all that laws allow,
With fairness as our guiding light,
Nor push too far, nor bend or bow,
Observing always what is right.
And we shall look beyond these days
Of rancour and foul circumstance
To win the warmth of people’s praise
And through our fortitude advance.
And we shall prosper, come what may,
Though others callously accuse,
For every Johnson has his day
And Boris wasn’t born to lose.
Sweet variations
by Lavatch
5 (hyphened) and 14 are types
of 37. Remaining unclued
lights are other types of 37,
given in a form that is either
5 or 14. Unchecked and crosschecking letters in all unclued
answers could give: GAPES
MEAL. Ignore two accents in
the completed grid
1 Check’s omitted in
alcohol range (8)
8 Paint base on pen (4)
11 Man’s roughly
northern (5)
13 250 farm animals in
poem (7)
15 Battle about university
sell-off (7)
17 A princess in opera? (4)
18 Why Doctor Who’s
ordinary (5, two words)
19 Reserve fish, bagging
pounds from the freezer?
(7, hyphened)
23 Reasons I amended
rubbings out (8)
24 Restrained son did
agricultural work (7)
25 Reportedly lie level (6)
28 British monarch with
career in US TV (7)
30 Neck tie initially gets
reduction (8)
34 Stubborn Norway leaves
alliance with English (7)
35 Rector wearing hooligan’s
anoraks (5)
36 Lessen on-line bill, on
reflection (4)
38 Nurture vagrant that’s less
trustworthy (7)
39 Make dirty marks with
char coming round (5)
41 Dodgy state broadcaster
42 Homme de lettres embraces
darling Irish girl (4)
43 Gets stressed over British
taxes (8)
It matters not how strait the gate;
With sureness I shall cycle through.
I’ll be the master of my fate
And, in my company, you will too.
Frank McDonald
You are invited to submit a Lord’s Prayer
for the 21st century. Please email entries
to by midday on 15
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
1 Not quite that stupid
referring to Sirius (6)
2 She’s expecting to be
prudish (4)
3 Function in club involving
ecstasy and cocaine (6)
4 Change price of potato,
always about to eat it (7)
6 Cold-blooded beasts
attacked us again (7)
8 What cricketer hopes to do,
getting stick (5)
9 College head accepting
drop in intimacy (9)
12 Round his place, right,
needing a tidy-up? (9)
16 Feel dubious novel is a
French work (11, three
21 One actor’s merry dances
22 Looked to gather
knowledge that’s made
plain (9)
27 Pilfering syrup with fruit,
wanting recipe (7)
29 Nonets seen, and with a
new arrangement (7)
32 Units in physics with
females keeping track (6)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 20
November. 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 2334, The
Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street,
London SW1H 9HP. Please
allow six weeks for prize
The suggested words were ESTER (1), REEST (20),
TERSE (24), TREES (43), TERES (6D), RESET (9),
TEERS (23), STERE (30) and STEER (36). EERST (in the
ninth row) was to be shaded.
First prize John Newell, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
Runners-up S.C. Daneff, London SW18; Roger Baresel,
London SW7
Status Anxiety
How I was turned into
a free speech martyr
Toby Young
had the unusual experience
last Sunday of appearing on a
panel to defend free speech having been the victim of censorship
24 hours earlier. As Claire Fox, the
chair of the event, said: ‘We are lucky
enough to have our very own free
speech martyr on the panel.’
Martyr is putting it a bit strongly,
but I was ‘no platformed’ as a result
of expressing a verboten point of
view. What made it quite upsetting
is that the organisation responsible
was Teach First, an education charity that aims to recruit top university
graduates into teaching and which I
have always supported. Indeed, it is
because I am sympathetic to Teach
First’s aims — it wants to make the
school system of England and Wales
fairer by deploying excellent teachers to deprived areas — that I agreed
to speak at its annual conference and
write a blog post for its website.
Now, it is fair to say that my blog,
which was published on October 26,
will not have made for comfortable
reading for those who believe that
schools can redress all the inequalities that are outside their control. I
pointed out that the strongest single
predictor of how well children do in
their GCSEs is IQ, with differences
in children’s general cognitive ability accounting for more than half of
the variance in exam results. That’s
Teach First
decided my
blog was
took it down
and issued
an apology
a finding that has been replicated
numerous times. I also pointed out
that schools have enjoyed little success when it comes to raising the IQs
of individual students, but I allowed
that they may discover how to do so,
particularly with the aid of new technologies.
No reason that should lead to
doom and gloom for educationalists.
While it is true that children’s genes
account for between 60 and 70 per
cent of the variance in GCSE results,
with IQ responsible for about half
that genetic influence, that still leaves
the environment accounting for 30 to
40 per cent. A consistent finding in
the literature is that the differences
between schools, such as the amount
of resources a school receives, the
number of children in a class, the
quality of the teachers etc, accounts
for around 10 per cent or less of the
variance in exam results. Admittedly, 10 per cent is not huge, but it is
not nothing, either. Schools can still
make a difference — and that 10 per
cent is an aggregate figure, with some
schools having more impact. These
claims may sound controversial, but
they are based on mainstream science. Before composing the blog, I
discussed it with two leading experts
in the field and I sent the first draft
to two more so they could check I
hadn’t made any howlers.
Unfortunately, Teach First decided my blog was unacceptable. In spite
of the fact that it was billed as part
of a ‘debate’, and appeared alongside
another piece expressing an alternative point of view, the organisation
decided to remove it from its website
and issue an apology. That’s right, it
apologised for publishing my piece.
‘It was against what we believe is true
and against our values and vision,’
Teach First explained.
I was surprised by this decision,
not least because the first I heard
about it was on Twitter. Surely, the
fact that Teach First disagreed with
my post was not a reason to delete it,
particularly as it appeared in the context of a debate? If Teach First disapproved of my views so strongly, why
publish the piece in the first place?
They could have turned it down and I
would have given it to someone else.
But to publish it and then unpublish
it smacks of censorship.
The most disappointing thing
about the whole affair is that I share
Teach First’s values and vision. In my
blog I was attempting to show how
teachers could remain evangelical
about raising standards without denying the mainstream scientific understanding about the heritability of IQ
and the impact of IQ on educational
outcomes. Teach First’s reaction and
its description of my piece as ‘against
what we believe is true’ suggests it
doesn’t share my view that its values are compatible with mainstream
science. Denying that science is an
unwise position for any educational
organisation to take, particularly one
that prides itself on being guided by
Russell Hobby, the CEO of Teach
First, has apologised and I’m happy
to accept it and move on. But I hope
his organisation takes a more openminded attitude to debate in future,
particularly when it’s informed by the
latest scientific research.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
The Wiki Man
The wisdom
of the skies
Rory Sutherland
t took a spate of air disasters in
the late 1970s, in particular the
Portland crash of United Airlines Flight 173, for aviation experts
to pay attention to something called
Crew Resource Management. This
is a set of procedures first conceived
by Nasa with the aim of minimising
human error in flight.
UA173 — where the pilots had
spent so long fixated with a dodgy
landing wheel that they failed to
notice they’d run out of fuel — was
one of a growing number of incidents
in which disaster arose from failures in crew interaction. As with the
Tenerife airport disaster and the Air
Florida crash in 1982, there was no
shortage of experience on the flight
deck. The root cause lay not in the
behaviour of the individuals but in
the interplay between them.
Cockpit voice recorders revealed
that, before some catastrophic decision had been made, a junior member
of the crew had often voiced sensible
reservations but did so diffidently in
deference to his superior. It may seem
strange that people would risk a grue-
It may seem
that people
would risk
a gruesome
death to avoid
their boss
some death to avoid the social solecism of disrespecting their boss, but
that’s the kind of hierarchical monkey
we are. (Co-pilots of the day jokingly
referred to their role as ‘the Captain’s
Sexual Adviser’: every time a co-pilot
opened his mouth, the captain would
typically reply: ‘When I want your
fucking advice, I’ll ask for it.’)
Since the 1970s, airlines have fostered a more collaborative cockpit
culture, with marked success. Sadly, it
hasn’t been adopted on the ground.
Too little thought is given to finding
better ways for humans to divide and
share responsibilities, and to arrive
at better outcomes collectively than
they would individually. Take the
stipulation that Brexit negotiations
take place sequentially. This is the
equivalent of demanding someone
agrees a price for a car without being
allowed to see it: it is either wilful
sabotage or monumental stupidity.
But it is far from rare: one Lufthansa
aviation expert studied decisionmaking in hospitals. Her verdict? ‘If
airlines were as bad as this, we would
lose a plane a week.’
It would be a missed opportunity
if no one from the aviation industry
were asked to advise on the Grenfell Tower inquiry. While it is possible that the cause lies in corruption,
greed, incompetence, poor regulation
or an obsession with environmental
benefits at the expense of safety, it is
also perfectly plausible that the prob-
lem arose from poor decision-making
structures, rather than any single fault.
The Royal Institute of British Architects believes the scope of
the inquiry should be expanded to
include new practices of procurement in the building sector, which
have deprived architects and engineers of final responsibility for specifying materials.
My knowledge of the construction
industry is minimal, but RIBA’s concerns about procurement practices
ring true. They would seem to mirror
a wider malaise in business whereby
the final say in any decision goes to a
department whose sole remit is often
to meet a preconceived, narrowly
defined specification at the lowest
possible cost. In some cases the process is such that, should a bidder have
a good idea for improving this specification, the procurement people will
insist on sharing it with all other bidders in the interests of ‘transparency’.
This generally means nobody questions anything.
Procurement obviously deserves
a major say. But not the final say. In
aviation, great savings are to be made
by loading aircraft with as little fuel as
possible to save on weight. But the last
word on fuel levels rests with the captain, not a finance function. He’s the
one sitting at the front of the plane.
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman
of Ogilvy Group UK.
Q Twice in one week I have been
found unready for my guests.
Occasion one: in the garden,
finishing my lunch. A knock at
the front door. Standing there,
smiling expectantly, a groomed
guest to play bridge at 2 p.m.
The time was 1.40 p.m.
Occasion two: upstairs, changing
for a 2 p.m. meeting at my home.
A knock at the front door. I let
my two guests in, still wearing my
dressing gown. The time: 1.40 p.m.
Your ruling, please. Is there a tooearly time for someone to arrive?
— Aggrieved hostess, Chichester
A. No one should arrive even one
minute early. Regarding timekeeping, we should all take our
lead from the late Duchess of
Devonshire, who once revealed
she and the duke were so anxious
to be neither late nor early that
they spent many hours per week
waiting in lay-bys so they could
time their arrivals with precision.
It is unforgivable to arrive
20 minutes early, but equally
unforgivable to keep people on
the doorstep. (What if they caught
flu?) You must let the offenders
in but wrap a towel around your
head as though mid hair-washing.
Apologise for ‘getting the time
wrong — I thought you weren’t
coming till two’. When they admit
they have arrived early, you can
exclaim: ‘Oh thank goodness. It’s
you at fault, not me!’ Tell them
you’ll be back down in 20 minutes
to give them a drink.
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
Q. May I pass on a very simple
but useful tip to readers who may
be planning Christmas parties?
I learned this from my daughter
who has a job with an events
company. She regularly works on
a laptop compiling large guest
lists to a background of constant
distraction from social media
alerts but can, at any stage, keep
a count of names listed by using
a Word document, then simply
dividing the word count by two.
— K.S., London SW12
A. Thank you for this tip. Readers
who wish to emulate should be
aware that titles and double- and
triple-barrelled names could skew
the result. For counting purposes
give each guest only two names.
Q. Regarding the issue of overlong wedding speeches (21
October), your readers may be
comforted by my 93-year-old
mother’s observation when,
several hours into a relative’s
wedding, she noted how long
the celebrations now go on for.
‘In my day, the couple were so
desperate to go off and jump into
bed with each other, the party
would be as brief as possible.
Today that bit all happened long
ago, so they want to spin out the
day for as long as they can.’
— M.S., Richmond, Surrey
A. Of course she is right. A
much bigger issue is that junior
readers will never experience or
understand the excitements of
suppressed lust which drove the
pace of all social interaction in the
age before the environment was
Write via the editor or email
Unbridled delight
Bruce Anderson
n artist ought to draw on
broad human sympathies and
an intense commitment to his
craft. In both respects, Charles Church
qualifies. As a youngster, he set off for
art school, in search of instruction,
and found it: a worthless curriculum.
There was no copying of Old Master
drawings (no drawing of any kind), no
still lifes, no painting from the nude:
no attempt to hold the youngsters’
noses to the grindstone of technique.
He could have majored in acrylic, selfexpression and pretentiousness. He
could have qualified himself to be a
court painter for Charles Saatchi and
a future rival to Gilbert & George.
Instead, he spurned meretriciousness
and fled to Newmarket.
There he slept on straw, took
whatever work was going in stables
and restaurants, and spent every hour
he could drawing and painting. Commissions followed: Charles found
favour — with everyone but himself.
He could produce an equine portrait
which impressed the horse’s owners.
An adequate living beckoned. That
was not enough. ‘Als ich kann’ was
To work
Franco’s wine
list would be
a delicious
shortcut to
Van Eyck’s motto. If that was good
enough for a sublime master, it was an
example which an apprentice should
So Charles set off to study at the
finest art school of this era. In Florence, an American called Charles
Cecil teaches art properly. He is a
perfectionist. I have not met this other
Charles, but from what I have heard,
he is a fascinating and complex character. In an age when the artistic canon,
after more than six centuries of hardwon excellence, is under continuous
threat, Charles Cecil plays a similar
role to those embattled monasteries
off the west coast of Ireland that preserved European civilisation during
the Dark Ages. He has been lauded
by a third Charles, the Prince of Wales,
the most important benign aesthetic
influence in modern Britain.
By now, Charles Church had found
other exemplars and discipleships:
Samuel Peploe, Alfred Munnings,
Samuel Johnson and the Belvoir Hunt.
He wanted to paint Iona. As Johnson
famously observed, ‘That man is little
to be envied… whose piety does not
grow warmer amid the ruins of Iona.’
Those rebuilt ruins are reinforced by
‘We can’t fit your gastric band unless you lose ten stone.’
a mystical landscape, which Charles
is still trying to capture. The influence
of the Scottish colourists is clear. So is
the struggle to emulate nature. Confronted by the implacable glory of
those waters and mountains, it might
seem more natural to fall to one’s
knees than to stand at an easel.
Horses, hounds and huntsmen: it is
no insult to deem them lesser deities,
easier challenges for oil and canvas.
Church is in the footsteps of Munnings, an excellent horse-painter. One
of his paintings in the Munnings tradition, a Belvoir huntsman, mounted in
the midst of his hounds, tells us everything we need to know about the folly,
the evil, of any attempt to ban hunting.
We discussed all these matters over
lunch at Franco’s, the Italian restaurant on Jermyn Street. As it is midway
between the splendour of White’s and
the grandeur of Wiltons (or should
that be the other way round?), Franco’s is sometimes underrated. But the
food is excellent and the Italian wine
list one of the best in London, with
thoughtful choices from every Italian
wine-making region.
To work through Franco’s list
would be a delicious shortcut to expertise. We concentrated on the house of
Sesti, from Montalcino. A Rosso ’14
was fine; the Brunello ’08 was in perfect condition. Rosso would work well
with a daube of horse that had come to
a heroic end in the hunting field. Even
though it evokes the gentler hills of
Tuscany, the Brunello is fully worthy
of game from the Highlands.
Charles has an exhibition opening
next week, in Gallery 8, Duke St, St
James’s. Round the corner from Franco’s — that is a happy juxtaposition.
John Farquhar of Salisbury
writes to say he is irritated. He
is not just irritated, he has long
been long irritated, which is either
a virtue or a vice, depending
on the irritant. In his case, the
grain of sand in the oyster is the
pronunciation ‘by those in the
medical fraternity’ of medicine
as ‘medcin’. He’d like to know
whether this is an affectation —
French perhaps — or whether it
has some justification.
Mr Farquhar’s name may not
be irrelevant here. It’s a good
Scottish name, pronounced
‘farkar’, deriving from Celtic
elements meaning ‘man’ and
‘dear’. Now in Scotland, even
100 years ago, the predominant
pronunciation of medicine was as
three syllables. When the Oxford
English Dictionary got as far as
this part of the letter M, in 1906, it
reported that the pronunciation
with two syllables was the more
common in England, where three
syllables were ‘by many objected
to as either pedantic or vulgar’.
Pedantry and vulgarity are two
fine birds to kill with one stone
of prejudice.
The dictionary noted that
both the two-syllable and the
three-syllable versions had been
in use since the 14th century. The
word came via French, but that
doesn’t account for it. Samuel
Johnson in his Dictionary (1755),
noted: ‘It is generally pronounced
as if only two syllables.’ One of
the illustrative quotations he
chose came from Dryden’s play
Aureng-Zebe (1675): ‘I wish to
die, but dare not death endure; /
Detest the med’cine, yet desire
the cure.’ I’m not sure which
edition he was quoting, and this
matters because not all printed
the apostrophe in med’cine. It
couldn’t have been the editions
of 1732 or 1735, which give
medicine, but might have been
Tonson’s 1763 collection of
Dryden’s dramatic works. Some
learned person will know.
In any case, when he brought
out his Modern English
Usage in 1926, Henry Fowler
recommended two syllables,
as did his reviser, Robert
Burchfield, in 1996. I can’t
find that Jeremy Butterfield’s
recension of 2015 mentions it.
In answer to Mr Farquhar,
then, there is justification for two
syllables, but it is not obligatory.
When I invite my husband to
have a taste of his own medicine,
I find my usage is bisyllabic, but
then so is his. — Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 4 november 2017 |
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