The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

3 December 2015

3:00 PM

3 December 2015

3:00 PM

Speaking on the Today programme on Monday, Sir David Attenborough, who wants a global agreement to control carbon emissions, pointed out that ‘Never in the history of humanity have all the people of the world got together to deal with a particular problem and agreed what the solution could be. Never, ever, ever.’ He is right. But he seemed to defy the logic of his own observation. They never have. Probably, since the truth is best arrived at through disagreement, they never should. The key point is that they never will. So it is a waste of time to try.

When someone commits suicide, those close to that person naturally reproach themselves. In politics, and similarly contested areas of life, people reproach others too. So it is not surprising that when a 21-year-old Conservative party worker, Elliott Johnson, killed himself in September, accusations about Tory bullying arose. Judging from what is reported about Mark Clarke, the leader of the party’s campaign RoadTrip group, he should never have been in charge of any youth wing. But there are couple of other things to bear in mind. For some reason, it has not been reported, though it is widely said, that Mr Johnson had been in a relationship with a party colleague and that he had felt betrayed when the relationship was broken off. It seems reasonable to guess that this break-up would have added to his despair, and therefore have made him more likely to commit suicide. It does not seem reasonable to think that the party chairman, Lord Feldman, can be arraigned for Mr Johnson’s death, although he should certainly be criticised for his joint role in appointing Clarke. Why is this worth saying? Only because this case is yet another example of the false exaltation of victims. It is true that the living people who, by miles, deserve the greatest sympathy in this case are Mr Johnson’s parents, but it does not follow that the only result of any inquiry must be one that would satisfy them. This is the same illusion which says that the families of servicemen killed in action have to be satisfied before any case can close. Grief takes different people in different ways. There are some people who find it cannot be assuaged, and lose all sense of fairness. Even if they remain fair-minded people, they are not qualified — why should they be? — to judge the wider questions that arise, such as how an army, or, in this case, a political party’s youth wing, should be organised. Suppose that Mr Johnson’s parents decided they would not accept anything less than the resignation of David Cameron himself as the price for their son’s death. Would we have to defer to them? The correct, serious charge against the Tory leadership is that they have neglected the once-healthy roots of a national party youth movement, leaving it vulnerable to takeover by shysters. They cannot be blamed for the sad decision of one young man to take his life.


Who is Baroness Pidding? When I googled her, my computer kept directing me to Baroness Pudding, which is a recipe in Mrs Beeton. But I found her at last. She was, as Emma Pidding, a Chiltern district councillor. On 8 October this year, she became Baroness Pidding, and took the Conservative whip in the House of Lords. Within six weeks, she shot from obscurity to being embroiled in the Mark Clarke scandal. When it dies down, we may never hear of her again, but since she is only 38 years old, she could easily still be in the House of Lords in 50 years’ time. Fame has never been a stranger phenomenon than it is today.

Shooting recently, I was introduced to the loader that my host had kindly provided. The man shook my hand with a slightly mysterious smile. ‘Look,’ he said as we walked to the first drive, ‘I think you ought to know that, until last year, I was a colleague of yours on the Daily Telegraph — assistant news editor.’ I didn’t recognise him, because I work for the paper from home and do not know most of the people in the office. For a brief moment, I was embarrassed by the fear that this nice man had been forced by unemployment to take ill-paid jobs like loading; but further inquiry revealed that, far from being down on his luck, he has joined the world of PR, and, I guess, is better paid than in newspapers. He was an example of a phenomenon I have noticed quite often recently — middle-class people doing what would once have been considered menial work because it is fun. In the last couple of years, I have had loaders who were estate managers, school teachers, or renewable energy consultants, and met beaters in shoots and whippers-in to hunts who are clergymen, doctors or undergraduates at posh universities. They love outdoor jobs as an antidote to the office. I was glad, however, that my loader was not still my colleague, and therefore had no temptation to return to the Telegraph and delight everyone with stories of the birds I missed.

In his column last week, Rod Liddle suggested that an alleged fatwa by a Saudi Arabian cleric had said it was permissible to eat one’s wife when suffering from ‘severe hunger’ gave him (Rod) the go-ahead to eat his own wife. Not so, surely. In the Christian religion and, indeed, the secular law of the United Kingdom, one can have only one wife at a time. If one has only one wife, it would be quite wrong to eat her. Under Islam, one can have up to four. Obviously this generous provision creates ‘spares’. Until recently, British marriage law was hidebound by tradition, but, before the last election, Parliament voted to abolish the previously general understanding that marriage has to be between a man and a woman. Why keep the fuddy-duddy idea that it must be between only two people? Polygamy is the way ahead, freeing up enough wives to produce children, clean the house etc and serve as emergency ration packs.


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