The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s notes: Boris’s brilliance; Labour’s Joe McCarthy

Plus: The rage of Denis Healey; a clarification for Sir Geoff Palmer; and why there’s no party for my new book

10 October 2015

9:00 AM

10 October 2015

9:00 AM

Maybe it was because of the contrast with Theresa May’s chilly, disingenuous monotone minutes before, but I really think Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative party here in Manchester was brilliant. It is a constant puzzle that senior politicians, who spend such ages worrying about how to communicate, do not learn how to make platform speeches. They make basic errors — failing to read autocues, misjudging the timing of applause. They also do not trouble to think about what makes a speech — its combination of light and shade, the sense of an audience of actual human beings both in and outside the hall. In the current cabinet, Mrs May is actively bad, George Osborne (though good in interviews) can establish no connection with his audience, and the Hammonds, Morgans, Hunts etc are dull. Michael Gove is outstanding at more intimate occasions, but still not quite right for the big show. Only David Cameron is actively good at it, and even he is rarely transformative. Boris is not in the cabinet and still has the advantage of irresponsibility. But he has often made quite bad speeches because of winging it. His Manchester effort should be used by students and colleagues (who would have to watch it rather than just read the text) to see how these things can be done. It contained imagination, detail, scorn, vision, wit (of course) and repeated stabs at his leadership rivals so quickly inserted that one only noticed afterwards that they were bleeding. He has a great skill of containing much in little. Study how he used the City Hall citizenship ceremony in which people swear in front of a picture of the Queen as a way of emphasising the Tory commitment to institutions, left-wing Labour’s dislike of this country, his own support for immigration and his achievements as Mayor.

With the help of the BBC’s Panorama this week, the full evil lunacy of the child abuse and murder conspiracy allegations relating to Dolphin Square, Elm House, Leon Brittan, Ted Heath, Field Marshal Lord Bramall etc is now emerging. There is a long, long way to go, however, before the names are properly cleared and the police have apologised for their disgusting behaviour. There also needs to be a long list drawn up of those in public life and the media who gave credence to these cruel fantasies. The behaviour of Tom Watson MP puts him in the same class as Titus Oates, Noel Pemberton Billing and Senator Joe McCarthy. Many of us tut-tut that Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour party, but it is far more shocking that its deputy leader is Mr Watson.

In February 1984, Denis Healey, who died at the weekend, assailed poor Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons over the trade union ban in GCHQ. ‘Who is the Mephistopheles behind this shabby Faust?’, he taunted. In a column for this paper a few days later, I suggested that Healey, rather than Howe, was Faust. It was he, with his parade of learning and his ability to find brilliant reasons for any argument whatever, who had sold his soul to the Devil in return for knowledge. I added that, like Faustus, as rendered by Marlowe, he now (politically) had ‘but one bare hour to live’, and imagined the Latinate Healey screaming ‘Lente, lente currite, noctis equi’ before being damned perpetually. By ill luck, I had already invited Healey to a lunch which fell shortly after the piece appeared. He arrived at Rules and drank a bottle of wine and then a large glass of Armagnac, and was genially and entertainingly rude throughout. At the end, he stood up and hit me quite hard on the chest, exclaiming ‘Lente, lente currite, noctis equi. Fuck you. Fuck you.’ In his obituaries, Denis Healey was much praised for having his famous ‘hinterland’, but I wonder if it wasn’t more of a hindrance than a help, adding to his impatience with all the people in politics (99.9 per cent) whom he considered fools.

Sir Geoff Palmer responds again about the interview in 1964 when someone who he believes was Keith Joseph told him to go home and grow bananas. Since he insists on the point about Nottingham University, let me explain that I am relying on what he himself said on the programme The Life Scientific: that he applied for an MSc at Nottingham but that the interview for it took place at Reading University. I omitted this refinement about Reading from my first piece only because it did not seem important. The key point is why Sir Keith, the minister, at that time, for housing and local government, should have been interviewing applicants for a course sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture. According to Sir Richard Packer, who joined the Min of Ag in 1967, and eventually became its permanent secretary, ‘It is virtually inconceivable that an active politician would have been appointed as a ministry representative on an official committee, and even less conceivable that they would be appointed to a technical committee for which they [Sir Keith] had no relevant qualifications. Such a policy [about the employment of active politicians] had been in place for many decades by the 1960s and was in place long afterwards.’ I honestly don’t think Sir Keith can have been at young Geoff’s interview, to help any university or on behalf of any ministry. 

The second volume of my biography of Mrs Thatcher is just published, so there remains one more to write. How do you celebrate the second of three in the right way? I thought about this and decided that, after the excitement of launching the first volume in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, it would be bad luck to try to cap that this time. I suggested to my publishers, Penguin, that we should have no launch party, and wait for a grand finale when volume III actually lands. They jumped at the saving involved. So this is an apology to the many people who deserve a party but won’t get one yet. By the time volume III appears, the whole project will have taken 20 years, so I hope the party will be worth the wait.

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  • davidshort10

    There needs to be a big clear out at the top in certain police forces and senior officers should be banned from making political statements as they so often do nowadays. When did you hear of senior fire officers, for instance, making statements to the media?

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  • Marketthinker

    If the Conservatives are smart they need to take down Watson now. He is the Stalin to Corbyn’s Trotsky, all orchestrated by his old flat-mate Mclusjey of Unite. Within a year Corbyn gets the proverbial ice pick and Watson steps up, reluctantly naturally, to the job. Bait and switch.

    • Shazza

      Watson epitomises everything that is wrong, repulsive, hate filled and malignant that is the Labour Party.

      • Tom

        “Repulsive”? Whereas you are clearly full of love, Shazza?

        • Shazza

          I don’t smear people; I don’t spit at people as Tom and Jerry’s supporters did at delegates and journalists outside the Conservative Conference.

          In my book that is ‘repulsive’.

          Birds of a feather and all that………

          • Tom

            Talk about jumping from the particular (a few apparent supporters) to the general (“the Labour Party”)! Unless you’re stating that Watson & co approve of this behaviour by a minuscule majority, your “birds of feather” comment flies off into the distant trees like other ill-considered comments. I dislike the policies of the new Labour leadership. My criticism of them starts there. But I certainly don’t smear them by claiming they’re full of hate.

          • Freddythreepwood

            ‘A few ‘apparent’ supporters’ ! Well, they certainly weren’t Tory supporters, ‘apparent’ or otherwise. Perhaps all those crusties yelling ‘Tory scum’ were a figment of our collective imagination – or maybe they were only ‘apparent’.
            If it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck……………….

          • Tom

            Freddy, I take your word for it that there were people there protesting against the Tories. I also accept that some of them spat and used foul language. Maybe the same people are ardent Corbyn supporters. My point is that their unacceptable behaviour doesn’t mean that all his supporters are like that. This isn’t a profound philosophical point I’m making. I completely abhor what these people did, but they are the exception not the norm. I personally think Corbyn and Watson are disasters for the Labour party, but, it seems unlike you and Shaz, I don’t think they condone yobbish protests of this kind. Rather than resorting to weird bird metaphors why don’t you both say they do, and we can take it from there?

      • MikeF

        Which bits of it aren’t?

    • Tom

      Do you actually know anything about Stalin? Do you know what you’re saying when you label someone a Stalin?

    • MikeF

      More likely the Chernenko to Corbyn’s Andropov.

  • pobjoy

    the full evil lunacy of the child abuse and murder conspiracy allegations

    Not yet confirmed history, like that of the cult of the Vatican.

    • hobspawn

       “Not yet confirmed history…”

      Standard Orwellian lefty-fascist justice: all enemies guilty without evidence until proven innocent (i.e. forever).

      • pobjoy

        So there’s yet another ‘spawn’ post entirely without evidence. 🙂

        Or even relevance. A cult that got to be top by means of murder hasn’t changed notably, has it.

        But note, dear reader, the readiness to condone and protect a cult of criminous activity in every era, ever since inception by criminous totalitarians who would have been executed under the terms of a Nuremberg Trial. Note that, as Ratzinger and his shady entourage have yet to face trial in The Hague (rather than by national judiciaries, itself a privilege gained by the favour of a fascist), there can be small doubt that politicians and other senior officials have taken a hand in protecting it. Any other organisation with that level of suspicion would have been brought to trial, and completely dismantled, if found guilty. Which must itself be some sort of confession of widespread guilt. Guilty, with evidence, alright.

      • Dave_Plankton

        The fascists were on the right dear boy. Do try to keep up. There’s a good fellow.

        • hobspawn

          National Socialist German Workers’ Party were always a Marx-inspired party of the socialist left. They fought against communists when it suited them. Internecine blood-letting is a speciality of the left.

  • Julian Kaye

    So why after so many years of investigation by both the police and security service was nothing said or done? Three conservative governments stayed strangely silent. Not one police officer made a statement to the inquiry, yet on Panorama “police spokespersons” were able to make statements about some of the initial accusers. Hurriedly passing over those who were accused, prosecuted and sentenced. All this could and should have been dealt with twenty years ago, when it first came to light. Not waiting for Tom Watson to ask “what, why and when”.

  • John P Hughes

    Prof Sir Geoff Palmer wrote in his first letter to the Spectator, “Since 1964, I have referred to my interview with Sir Keith numerous times, both before he died in 1994 and since”. The radio interview in 2015 is the first anyone seems to have heard of it. Prof Palmer states that the interview was at Reading University in 1964. Sir Keith Joseph was Minister of Housing & Local Government until October 1964, then in Opposition (Front-bench spokesman on social services). Prof Palmer hasn’t given the date in 1964 of the interview, which would help pinpoint whether Sir Keith was Minister at the MHLG at the time it took place.
    Sir Keith’s first and seemingly only involvement with science was when appointed by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 as Secretary of State for Education & Science, a post he held for two years. He never had anything to do with agriculture in politics. In earlier life before he became an MP for an urban seat in Leeds, he was in the army in WW2, was called to the Bar, and was a director of Bovis.
    In his further letter to the Spectator in this issue, seeking to show Sir Keith Joseph’s involvement in agriculture, Prof Palmer says someone had told him that Sir Keith was associated with the Farmers Union of Wales. This seems far-fetched. The FAW (Undeb Amaethyr Cymru) is a representative association of Welsh farmers, generally those with smaller livestock farms on poorer land. It was set up in competition with the NFU in Wales, and had (maybe still has) connections with Welsh Nationalism. One can’t see how Sir Keith Joseph could have had any link with it.

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  • LabKipper

    People value imagination but expect workable outcomes, they enjoy creative souls yet consensus requires popularity, they love to hear about vision and change yet secretly have a deep desire for Staticism (as set out by Nietzsche). At least Boris Johnson scored in some of these areas, Osborne fails on all accounts.

  • MikeF

    I am sure Mrs Thatcher would have approved of there being no party to mark a job only two thirds done – she would have thought it, as she did for the proposed flypast for her funeral, a waste of resources. But she would not have begrudged anyone concerned a perhaps over generous whisky as a nightcap.

  • paul

    I would not wipe my arse with it however on second thoughts I may use the front page showing the photo of that old witch Thatcher !!