The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator's Notes: Quangos - a world of perfect hypocrisy

Plus: The last newspaper diarist who knew his stuff, and Classic FM vs Radio 3

8 February 2014

9:00 AM

8 February 2014

9:00 AM

The accusation that the Tories have been installing their people in public appointments should evoke only a hollow laugh. They have been comatose on the subject. One of the greatest skills of New Labour was putting its allies in positions of control across the public sector. A great many are still there, and yet the Tories wonder why their efforts at reform are frustrated. Maggie Atkinson, for example, was imposed by Ed Balls, when in office, as Children’s Commissioner, against the recommendation of the relevant selection committee. She lingers on in her useless post. Lord Smith, the former Labour cabinet minister who has been flooding the Somerset levels, is still at the Environment Agency. Sally Morgan, appointed as chairman of Ofsted in a fit of ecumenism by Michael Gove three years ago, now berates him for politicising things because he is not renewing her contract. Yet she was one of New Labour’s Regius professors in the subject. Now the Liberal Democrats are having a go. Despite having succeeded in imposing the dreadful Professor Les Ebdon as Director of Fair Access to universities, thus getting their slice of coalition action on education, they are now trying to annex Conservative territory and prevent Gove appointing whom he wants as Lady Morgan’s successor. This is a world of perfect hypocrisy. Any governing party should appoint people who are sympathetic with its broad aims. If it doesn’t, it cannot achieve much of what it promised the electorate. Labour understood this. Unfortunately, until almost too late, the Tories didn’t.

Kenneth Rose, who died last week aged 89, wrote the last diary column in a national newspaper which truly knew what it was talking about. The doings of royalty, bishops, nobility, Oxford and Cambridge and who is about to be made a Knight of the Garter may not be to everyone’s taste, but the point of reading Kenneth’s Albany column in the Sunday Telegraph was that he captured his world. There is a huge comfort in journalism that gets things exactly right. It was the same quality, combined with a nice style and sharp intelligence, which made him such a good historian. As Kenneth’s editor for three years, I did occasionally get frustrated by his lack of journalistic bustle. He often told me how well he knew the Duke and Duchess of Kent, so when the Duchess converted to Roman Catholicism, I felt he should have got the story first. ‘Did you know?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ said Kenneth, ‘it was rather like when James Pope-Hennessy was murdered by his homosexual lover — you didn’t know, but when you heard, you weren’t surprised.’ He was as kind as he was waspish i.e. very. A friend complained to him that her private cataract operation would not be paid for by insurance, and she felt she could not afford it. A cheque for its cost arrived from Kenneth the next day. She did not cash it, but she knew he would have been happy if she had.

The obituaries have recorded that Kenneth Rose, when in the Welsh Guards during the war, went to Oxford one weekend in June 1944, and so missed the Luftwaffe’s direct hit on the service in the Guards Chapel in which 121 people died. That evening, Kenneth told me, he heard the news and went round to the ruined chapel. There he saw the arc-lights shining on the scene and illuminating Winston Churchill, who stood on the rubble, weeping.

‘Forty years on’ is a Harrow song, but last week, I experienced the phenomenon at Eton. I left the school 40 years ago. All those in the same boat were invited back for a dinner. I shall not dwell on the usual tragi-comedy of such occasions — all the thoughts, familiar to anyone who has attended one in any institution, about who has thrived and who has fallen apart. But the service in the chapel beforehand, very well done, was thought-provoking. The Provost, William Waldegrave, read from the Epistle to the Philippians about ‘whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest … think on these things … and the God of peace shall be with you’. A hundred years ago this year, there were 1,028 boys in the school. By the end of the Great War, 1,157 Etonians had died, the largest number lost by any school in the British Empire. More than a fifth of all those who served had been killed. The God of peace was not with them. The figures in the second world war were not much better. Of our year of about 250, now mostly aged 57, about 20, I believe, have so far died. Ours is the first generation for a century to have led a normal life. It seemed worth giving thanks for.

In a letter to this paper last week, Colin Armstrong chided me for attacking Radio 3, given that Classic FM is so much worse. He is right about the latter, but my complaint about Radio 3 is precisely that it now seeks to mimic the commercial station. Classic FM, by the way, agrees with me. It recently launched a fierce attack on Radio 3, saying that it is pinching its devices, such as phone-ins and request slots. Radio 3’s tautologically entitled programme Essential Classics apes Classic FM’s Hall of Fame. The message of Classic FM amounts to ‘Stop producing this rubbish. That’s our job.’ I agree. Radio 3’s response is a non-denial denial. It boasts of other things, such as its excellent support for live concerts, but is silent on the main accusations.

A reader from a farm in Monmouthshire sends me a two-page official form he has received. It asks how old he is, whether he has a disability, what is his ethnic group, his ‘religion/belief’ and his sex. The last two questions are ‘Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned at birth?’ and ‘Which of the following most accurately describes your sexual orientation?’ The choices (‘Please cross one box only’) are, in this order, ‘Bisexual’, ‘Gay/lesbian’, ‘Heterosexual/straight’ and ‘Prefer not to say’. The form was sent by the South Wales Fire and Rescue Service after my correspondent had reported a fire in his chimney.

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Show comments
  • David Lindsay

    Of course the Government wants to appoint its supporters to key positions. Why are we even discussing this?

    We do not need to take the politics, either out of policy, or out of delivery. That would be to take the politics out of politics, and we have already gone far too far down that road.

    If you want Labour people in these roles, from school governing bodies to the Chair of Ofsted (to cite only examples in the area of eduction), then elect Labour candidates to the offices that are responsible for the appointments.

    In a word, if that is what you want, Vote Labour.

    As is noticeably understood by those Labour figures who came up through the unions or through local government. There has been no bellyaching from them about Sally Morgan’s treatment. They know how it works.

  • global city

    Most of the quangos take their orders direct from the EU, just as the Environment Agency does.

    Why is the fact that the quangos are the agents of EU rule not made clear by our community of eurosceptic MPs? Could it be that they’re not really eurosceptic at all?

  • Baron

    No, Mr. Moore, the Tories should not appoint their cronies to anything, the quangos should burn as promised by the boy in charge before the election.

    • Weaver

      Exactly! Its a fool’s game to try and overmatch the left in appointments. The very nature of a Quango works against freedom and democratic accountability.

  • Perseus Slade

    This is just an other sign of why democracy is not working properly.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Taking responsiblity for decisions taken requires taking a decision as a prerequisite.

  • Terry Field

    British democracy is non-fuctional. is civil war a possibility now?