Diary

Conrad Black’s farewell to the British press

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

3 August 2013

9:00 AM

The astonishing level of enthusiasm over the birth of the new prince goes far beyond the pleasure that people naturally feel for an attractive young couple who have had a healthy child. If there is any truth at all to these estimates in the North American media that trinkets and other bric-a-brac, and even increased numbers of tourists, will produce hundreds of millions of pounds for the British economy, the answer lies not just in normal goodwill and the effusions of the most strenuous monarchists. If my memory is accurate,  the last time there was so much public interest in a royal event, albeit of the exactly opposite nature, was at the death of the newborn prince’s paternal grandmother, Diana. How implausible, the widespread predictions of the demise of the monarchy around that time seem now.

Diana was running a parallel monarchy and the combination of her talent at manipulating the media and the mischievous pleasure of much of the press at disconcerting the royal family, and the gaffes some royals made, incited the belief that the institution was no longer on a firm foundation. Since those unhappy days nearly 16 years ago, there have been no serious problems. The Queen, mother of the nation at last, has determinedly passed her 50th and 60th anniversaries and is closing in like a heat-seeking missile on Queen Victoria’s record reign of 63 years and seven months, which comes up in September 2015. She has not failed, disappointed, or even slightly embarrassed the country once in all her reign. It is a record of astonishing diligence and virtuosity.


Ceremonious presidents, as in Germany and Italy, are stand-ins for deposed monarchies and cannot possess the legitimacy or the popular interest of a monarch and royal family: it would be impossible to pay anyone to discharge such a task as dutifully as the Queen and her family do. The French and American republics are more interesting and their presidents more glamorous because the chief of state is the head of government, but replicating that would require a revolution against the entire parliamentary system and there have been no audible agitations for that.

The Queen is not the part of the political system that has failed. She did not sever the connection with Britain’s real, and as it has turned out, most successful allies, the old Commonwealth of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, to plunge headlong into a Eurofable. And she did not distance Britain from Europe to place all the country’s bets on the American alliance, a subject in which the Americans no longer have any interest, as they effectively withdraw from a world that no longer seriously threatens them as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did. Her Britannic Majesty has her ministers to thank for those brainwaves, as the United Kingdom has lost its industrial edge and placed all its bets on the service economy. It is not necessary to incant ‘God save the Queen’ other than ceremoniously; it is not the Queen but her subjects who are in need of salvation.

The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was a magnificently tasteful occasion, which highlighted Britain’s strengths, as well as some soft areas. The Queen and Prince Philip attended. Nine of this monarch’s prime ministers have died (including Clement Attlee, who served her father but he was leader of the opposition when she became Queen), and she attended the funerals of only two, Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher, presumably because they led the country out of the greatest difficulties it has known in her lifetime. I could not fail to note when I was there at the time of the funeral how ungenerous most of the media was, even trying to incite anti-Thatcher demonstrations and publishing snide comments on the traditional aspects of the service. The Queen was criticised for attending, and it was suggested that she would have difficulty deciding whether to attend future funerals of prime ministers. She has had no evident problem making those decisions in 48 years since Sir Winston died.

The tenacity of this nasty attitude to Margaret Thatcher was certainly not the spirit of the tens of thousands who stood for hours in intermittent rain to pay their respects to her; it was the creation of the London national media, which I have known from all angles. They are, with a great many personal exceptions, the bane of the country, the most highly concentrated and the most destructive and irresponsible press corps of any advanced country in the world. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to be chairman of the Telegraph newspapers, and was proud of our titles, including The Spectator. But it is one of the pleasures of advancing years that apart from when I am honouring agreements with publishers as I sell my books, I will not have to deal with the British media again.

Lord Black of Crossharbour is a former proprietor of The Spectator. His latest book is Flight of the Eagle.

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Show comments
  • E Hart

    You should take trip a slightly north of Watford or west of Offa’s Dyke and you’ll realise that you are wide of the mark. It may be hard for you to accept – reality, that is – but Thatcher was loathed in these areas in a way that no prime minister has ever been. Why is it so difficult to understand that? To put her in the same sentence as Churchill and Attlee is ridiculous. Churchill inspired the fight when no-one else would and Attlee rebuilt the country despite a colossal level of death/injury, destruction and an equally colossal national debt. Thatcher reversed the post-war consensus (aided and abetted by Nude Labour) and we are now seeing the consequences. You may want to live in your gated part of an electro-plated Wongland but most of the public aspire to something better.

    Also, mature democracies favour elected heads of state because they honour the idea (if not always the sentiment) of the public will rather than an appeal to some costume-inspired throwback to feudalism.

    • Meh

      Interesting as Bliar and Brown are just as loathed if not more……..Lefties, fab at spending other people’s money.

      • E Hart

        I agree. They traded the soul of the Labour Party because it was deemed electorally expedient and they were more concerned with the two thirds who (can be bothered to) vote than the totality of the electorate. As for the other bit, it seems to me that Lefties – as you put it – don’t have the monopoly on spending other people’s money. Watch how the market carpetbaggers gorge themselves on those private operators bidding for NHS contracts. Also, you seem to have forgotten that the taxpayer bankrolled the British banking system with little chance of recouping that investment.

        • Meh

          There is a valuable point, bailing out a couple of UK based banks. Unfortunately under who’s watch was that? Added that conundrum (relatively speaking) which side of centre (Liberal, clean thinking PC lefties or the evil racist extremists to the right, if you take the popular press view of the shades) sold off the pensions, opened the doors to unskilled workers (and with that the ability to claim benefit) all under the guise of a better tomorrow? Pray tell when that tomorrow will turn up because I am still waiting for it. Now on to the NHS, now there is an organisation that was created with the best intentions (by lefties, shocking I know) but was allowed by the dark trinity of political parties to reduce itself to the state that is is now in and without any hope of pulling back from the brink, unless of course more money is dumped into it along with massive changes to ensure that not only that it’s current state of abuse is reduce 100 fold but also that those whom work for it are employed purely on their skills and not their ‘cheapness’. Rolling back, 2 banks and their bail outs………who said yes? And at such generous terms to those said banks?

          • E Hart

            The watch is unimportant. As for the rest – you are clearly a nut. Go away!

          • Meh

            Ah yes the old ‘cannot discuss facts so call people names’ argument. Bless, after reading some of your other posts it is quite clear what kind of a troll you are.

          • E Hart

            It would take too long to disabuse you of all your nonsense. I can’t be bothered.

    • terence patrick hewett

      It has always been a mystery to those engaged in the sciences why so many people wish to live in the world of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. If Mrs Thatcher hadn’t achieved what she did, someone else would have: for the simple reason that the world is driven by business, science, engineering and technology. The development of the transistor by Bardeen/Brattain, at AT&T Bell Labs in 1947 and the mass production of same, wrought changes in society that dwarfed any of those achieved by political philosophy. The invention the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 has ensured a barely controlled dialogue between millions and has changed the world forever.

      The essentially luddite attitude of the political left, aided and abetted by the British union movement, creates the impression that technological advance can be resisted; it can’t, and it is a cruel deception to say that it can. The false reality of non-job creation will always, in the end, be engulfed by a tsunami of technological change. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) of Singapore acknowledges this reality and have adopted, in its own words, “a cooperative, rather than a confrontational policy towards employers.” They know better than ourselves that if we are to survive we need to embrace the future, not bury our heads in the past; in the sad, sad world of a Tolpuddle Martyrs theme park.

      • E Hart

        Who is society for? I can’t disagree with you about living in a Tolpuddle theme park. Similarly, the NTUC of S position which you quote, seems entirely sensible and very much akin to the likes of IG Metall and co in Germany. It’s a question of ways and means. My interest is in exploring the human dimension in these things not the pursuance of either/or – and that includes the non-value-added ‘rentier paradise’ we are encouraged to view as a success.

        What did Mrs Thatcher achieve exactly? We had two recessions under her government; a massive redistribution of wealth to those who already had it; the highest level of dead capacity since the 1930s and a corresponding loss of skilled jobs (paid for by the conversion of state assets into income – see MacMillan comment); the collapse of industry (good, bad and ugly) but no serious replacements (unless you consider retail parks or garden festivals as a replacements). She failed to realise that shutting certain plants here and there, didn’t just affect the principal – it went straight down the supply and skill chain with disastrous consequences. It was a Roman economic peace if ever there was one and saved from utter hell by North Sea Oil (another squandered asset).

        Don’t you remember the ‘200 jobs created as Tesco and B&Q’ nonsense turned out by the BBC to placate the 4m who went from skilled jobs to idleness? I might have some sympathy for your position were there any evidence that Mrs T. favoured any kind of joined up thinking on the subject. Even when she could have availed herself of funds from the EU to redevelop Corby, Redcar, Motherwell, the Clyde, Tyne, the mining towns etc. she chose not to, waiting instead for the fabled market to do the job on its own. If you couldn’t hear tumbleweed, you could see it. It didn’t happen.

        Her successors, Brown, Blair and Cameron offer(ed) a similarly dire prospectus – a low value service sector dependent on imported products, credit and an inflated housing market. Welcome to Bubbleland theme park, where you can build an empire on asset swaps, consultancy fees, rentier pecuniary, low skills, state-subsidised incomes, cheap imports and woefully inadequate support to regional development organisations to try and hatch an alternative. If you can’t partake, we’ll lend you the money at 2000%APR.

        Don’t make me laugh.

        • terence patrick hewett

          I can’t disagree with your concern on the damage to society but I am afraid that is the effect of violent technological change coupled with a policy of mass immigration adding fuel to the fire. That Britain no longer makes anything anymore is a myth: in fact we now make more than we have ever made except we are now into high value high technology products using automation and semi-automation not low value mass production. The jobs are still there: but demand a different and higher level of skills. There is a shortage of engineers.

          It is interesting to compare the economy of Britain with that of Germany: in many respects they are surprisingly similar. OECD data expressed in % of GDP:

          Agriculture: B 0.7% G 0.8%

          Service sector: B 78% G 71%

          Industry: B 21% G 29.7%

          GDP: B $2.4trillion G $3.5 trillion

          It is in the area of industry where there is the most divergence: in Britain 12.6% of the 21% industrial sector GDP is composed of manufacturing: in Germany nearly all of the 29.7% industrial sector is composed of manufacturing. Britain’s industrial sector is far more diverse, but in Britain the 12.6% of manufacturing counts for fully 83% of our exports.

          Our manufacturing has prospered despite politicians, not because of them. Perhaps it’s time to extend the membership of this “cosy, upper-middle class, members only, no proles admitted,” club of Westminster whose members education is more suited to the 18th century rather than the 21st. German manufacturing gives the economy of that country an enormous depth. We should be emulating them.

          • E Hart

            I agree. It is an myth to say we don’t make anything anymore but it now stands at 11% of GDP and is on downward trajectory. It dropped 3% between 1973-1979, 5% between 1979-1997 and 8% between then and now. It may be higher by value but from an employment standpoint, with or without immigration, the roll is falling. It is also the case that most of the important industries are nearly all foreign-owned.

            Given that we are part of reciprocal free movement of labour under EU law, I not sure what we can do about economic migration.

            One of the reasons why the Germans have done so well is through government support for their main industries. This why they still own strategic stakes in their manufacturers and we don’t.

            It seems to me that we subscribe to the idea of free trade and everyone else – Germany, France and the US… – props up their leading industries and agriculture with subsidies. Maybe we could learn something from this.

  • Sanctimony

    Black, or do we refer to you as prisoner176850243?

    You have always been a prolix and garrulous windbag, taking orders from your Zionist spouse to further her pet causes.

    Well, matey, you are truly Donald… there’s no way you and Cruella de Vil are ever going to insinuate your way back into London society.

    Your joint appearance as Richelieu & Marie Antoinette beautifully encapsulated your joint humongous folie de grandeur.

    Au revoir con man!

  • Icebow

    Well said, Lord Black. God save Her Majesty, and God rest the blesséd Margaret.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Both the Telegraph and the Spectator were infinitely better publications under Conrad Black than they are now under the tutelage of the Brothers Blofeld.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    It is much to be hoped that Lord Black marks his farewell by cleaning out the gay cabal at The Catholic Herald.

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