The Spectator's Notes

The ‘leave’ campaign is right not to lay out a plan for Britain’s future

And: Simon Danczuk’s ‘dark place’; public appointments; Matt Ridley; David Pryce-Jones; university standards

23 April 2016

9:00 AM

23 April 2016

9:00 AM

The ‘remain’ campaign is having some success with the line that the ‘leave’ camp cannot say what Britain outside the EU would look like. (Nor can the ‘remain’ campaign, of course, though it doesn’t stop it trying.) But it is crucial to the ‘leave’ cause that it resist the temptation to set out a plan. ‘Remain’ wants it to fall into the SNP trap in the Scottish referendum of proposing something which can then be picked apart. There is a cast-iron reason why ‘leave’ cannot do this. Even if we vote to leave, the ‘leave’ campaign, unlike the SNP in the Scottish vote, will not form a government. It is a campaign in a referendum, not a party in or bidding for office. If it pretends to be an alternative government, it will be crushed by the real one. What it does have is a vision, grounded in fact but not provable (or disprovable) by statistics, about what Britain could do if we regained our independence. Its riposte to ‘remain’ is, ‘We know what your scare is. Tell us your vision.’

If you are caught doing something bad nowadays, what you are supposed to say (the latest exponent is Simon Danczuk MP, the anti-child abuse zealot, after ‘sexting’ a 17-year-old girl) is: ‘I was in a very dark place at the time.’ At present, the phrase is used to half-excuse sexual misbehaviour, drug-taking and the like. I hope it will extend more widely, as in ‘Mr Osborne, why did you create the Office of Budget Responsibility to make economic forecasting independent of the Treasury, and then use the Treasury to concoct an economic forecast to frighten people into voting to stay in the EU?’ A shamed Chancellor: ‘I was in a very dark place at the time.’

In last Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, I mentioned how outside candidates for civil service and public appointments feel ill-used by the system. My piece prompted more correspondents. One tells me that little effort was made, when he applied for a permanent secretaryship, to give him the information about the post which was available to insiders but not to people like him. The question on which he had five minutes to speak was ‘The Secretary of State has set out a number of clear priorities for the Department, covering safety and wellbeing of children, educational excellence and preparing young people for adult life; as well as the equalities agenda. How would you lead the Department to deliver successfully on these priorities?’ The interview, he writes, was ‘less a meaningful exchange and more an audition with the piece carefully selected so as to be almost impossible for an outsider to perform credibly’.

Similarly, Matt Ridley — distinguished scientific author, naturalist, PhD zoologist, columnist and peer — applied for the chairmanship of the Natural History Museum last year, having been encouraged by headhunters to do so. He did not make it to the shortlist. He asked why. Apparently, it was because his experience as a member of a local National Trust committee had been considered ‘too minor’. Ridley discovered from other sources, however, that the real reason for being excluded was that he does not believe in the catastrophe theory of climate change: he is, in his words, ‘a lukewarmer’. In public appointments, belief in global warming, like belief in ‘diversity’, is a non-negotiable qualification. Lord Green, who got the post, lives up to his name.

I have just finished David Pryce-Jones’s book Fault Lines. I do not know why it has not been more widely noticed. Pryce-Jones, many years ago the literary editor of this paper, is half grand continental Jewish, half Anglo-Welsh gentry. The book is his memoir of this mixture, and therefore (he was born in 1936) of the destruction of the Jewish bit of his heritage and the exile of the surviving members of his family, mostly to Britain. It is a brilliant description of illusion, neurosis, high culture, sexual ambivalence, the destructive power of money (including an amazing portrait of Elie de Rothschild, who punched young David in the face for failing to dry-clean his sister’s anorak before returning it) and the effect of persecution and war. The scene moves from Vienna to Royaumont, the family château near Paris, to Montreuil (from which they flee the Nazis in 1940), to Vichy France, to Morocco, to Tonbridge. Although essentially humane, the book is also angry. Its depiction of David’s charming, talented, evasive, sponging, promiscuous, Peter Pan-like father, Alan, is worthy of a great novel. Although England is shown as a beacon for the fleeing families, the English upper and educated classes mostly come out of the story badly, because Pryce-Jones establishes convincingly how anti-Semitism and fellow-travelling with both Hitler and Stalin were much more common than our collective memory usually acknowledges. His sharpness about this may explain why the book is published by Criterion Books of New York, not by a British publisher. We aren’t very brave about these things.

An official document accidentally exposed to view as it entered Downing Street shows that the government is worried that supposedly good universities are not necessarily offering high enough teaching quality to justify their fees. According to Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow minister for universities, this is ‘a shocking admittance of failure’. It isn’t, but it might be a shocking admission of ditto. Mr Marsden, who is 62, attended New College, Oxford, so the problem of poor education clearly predates tuition fees.

A friend recently opened a new private account at a posh bank. In accordance with the stricter rules now applied to such matters [see last week’s Notes], he was presented with an enormous form. A clerk filled it in his presence. One question said: ‘What is the origin of your family wealth?’ My friend said, ‘International trading in the 19th century, chiefly in opium.’ The clerk carefully and silently wrote this down without lifting his eyes from the page.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • Frank

    Lord Green – yes that paragon of virtue from HSBC, why does anyone think him fit for any office?

  • Denis_Cooper

    “Even if we vote to leave, the ‘leave’ campaign, unlike the SNP in the Scottish vote, will not form a government.”

    But nor could the SNP form a government legally empowered to dissolve the Union.

  • seangrainger

    Re The Interview. Well yes one can answer it easily. The specific question is irrelevant. “By applying the basic principles of general management along the lines of ‘Identify the tasks, nominate who is in charge, review critical path analysis, set targets/times/reporting lines etc etc.’ ” Mind you that probably woudn’t go down very well either with those tossers …

  • Marvin

    I am extremely surprised that the leave campaign is not pointing out that migrants are still swarming in to Europe, now from Libya again, and the numbers WILL only rise and never fall. So! how does Europe and Britain cope with the funding to cater for their needs and non existent employment seen in the Euro Zone area. So, where do they live and how to fund. The answers are doom and gloom and we will be treated like a dumping ground for hundreds of thousands and more. TELL PEOPLE!

    • Leon Wolfeson

      How will you ensure they’ll keep rising?

      As you complain about i.e. those nasty students…

      • Marvin

        Still infecting this planet? Still writing incomprehensible crap. You have again mistakenly assumed that you are holding the horse’s tail. check it.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          Still spewing hate, blaming me for your issues with both English and your tail fantasies…

          How will you ensure they’ll keep rising?

      • Gafto

        They are not all students. Most of them are software engineers, architects, dentists, and teachers. We are lucky also to have so many top tier professional taharrush players arrive too. My daughter can only benefit from this recent influx of skilled professionals.

        • Leon Wolfeson

          So you object to basically all immigration. Right. That’s how you’ll keep them rising, apparently, so…

          • Gafto

            I couldn’t see the bit where I said I objected to all immigration. You total and utter moron.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            So you can’t even read your posts. Or mine, as you ignore my use of the word “virtually” named high skill professions and threw in some random bigotry.

            As you spew anti-disabled bigotry as well, to add to your PC.

            All because of the evil immigrants…like those paying students, again.

          • Gafto

            I knew that you had written comprehension inabilities, I didn’t expect you to understand the irony or sarcasm in my post. You have proved me correct you moron.

            For a long time now, you have not been able to use the term ‘political correctness’ in any context that makes sense. People keep pointing this out to you but you continue to show your ignorance of what political correcctness actually is.

            How can I ‘add’ to my PC by ‘spewing anti-disabled bigotry’, whatever that actually is?

            You really are a thicko. Do you read your gibberish before you post? When virtually every person on disqus is telling you that you have a problem understanding basic text and an even greater problem contributing anything meaningful, one would assume that it would be enough to prompt you to believe, that by their numbers, they may have a point.

            You are an idiot of the first order.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            So you knows your projected hate, as you claim irony and sarcasm for your own… as you spew more anti-disabled bigotry,.

            As you deny your thoroughly PC views. As you claim then to be “people” and to have mystically made non-existent comments.

            As you deny (and hence condone) every single act against the disabled by your sort of bigot…as you spew more PC hate after that, and decry English as gibberish…as you then claim to be “virtually every person”, when I understand your basic hate just fine… as you call for censorship.

            And as you claim I’m like you. And your “point” of orwellian control.

          • Gafto

            As to be expected, more complete gibberish, you are on top form tonight. This has to be your best composition of total and utter tripe yet and I have witnessed a high standard of gibberish from you before. I have to hand it to you, I didn’t think you could improve upon the rubbish you have produced before, but I was wrong. You sir, are an absolute moron of the highest order.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Blaming me for your posts, check, as you whine on your line of censorship, and complain constantly about any other views as you keep screaming your anti-disabled bigotry, in your hate.

  • Giambologna

    ‘Remain’ wants it to fall into the SNP trap in the Scottish referendum of proposing something which can then be picked apart.’

    The problem for the SNP was not that it had a plan, but that the plan wasn’t very good. Britain has been inside the EU for 40 years. A large portion of its population have never experienced life outside of it. By not having a proper ‘Brexit’ plan Vote Leave have exacerbated the uncertainties of leaving, and allowed fear to dominate the debate, with the lack of the plan becoming a major part of the story in itself.

    Of course any plan would be attacked. But if it was credible then they could counter-attack with truthful answers. All they have now is bluster and the public can sense this.

    • Grisefox

      A carefully researched plan has existed for some time – it covers all the exit options and then recommends one. It is called Flexcit and is available or download from, as is a 48 page summary prepared for one of the leave organisations.

      • Leon Wolfeson

        Flexit is a daydream based on lots of EU states all agreeing to be nice-nice and agree to be strung along as England disentangles it’s economy from Europe. It’s not a serious plan.

        (And I know plenty of exit voters who’d agree with me there!)

        • Grisefox

          I don’t know enough to comment on it – my point is that Remain accuse Leave Now of not having a Brexit Plan, and the latter keep silent. In the end, however, there are only so many Brexit options, and at least Flexcit identifies and evaluates each one. If you wish to criticise it I’m sure they would be happy to engage with you.

          • toonpaddymal

            The Mad Kurtz of Illkley Moor – Richard North – blocks anyone that does disagree with him so the comments are full of the kind of EU-obsessives/sycophants looking for a strong leader type that politics always attracts.

          • Grisefox

            So just not speaking is the only valid approach?

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Flexcit is simply a daydream in that it requires every EU state to play nice.

            What happens, actually, is the EU makes an offer and the leaving state takes it or leaves it. And yes, they could easily tie i.e. Gibraltar into that package. Think the Spanish won’t?

        • toonpaddymal

          Couldn’t agree more. Flexit would be a disaster.

  • mikewaller

    !. Nobody with any sense would have a grand vision for the UK. We have had our time in the sun and although the late William Armstrong’s observation that the role of the British Civil Service was “the orderly management of decline” has been much reviled, it remains the truth. Lives are now longer and personal wealth is greater but the evidence suggests that medical advances plus massive borrowing and very cheap imports have been the key factors. We still have a massive debt problem which continues to grow by the minute. Worse, the mantra I have heard all my life, “export or die” rings increasingly hollow as the world has now been industrialised to such an extent that we are entering an era in which its productive potential is going to be massively in excess of its aggregated purchasing power. So forget naive rhetorical demands for grand visions; all we can sensibly expect of our politicians is that they follow Churchill’s advice as well as they can: just keep buggering on.

    2. Usual idolatrous crap about Ridley. The latter’s ill-informed observations about global warming are reason enough for denying him the job; but, as usual, his pal Moore skates over Ridley’s monumental failure at Northern Rock.

    3. Moore’s usual ersatz patrician disdain is lavishly applied to one Gordon Marsden’s linguistic error. One is tempted to follow Pope in asking “Why break a butterfly upon a wheel?”, but perhaps a snapper summation would be one butterfly assault another.

    4. I read with enormous pleasure Dr. Adrian Hilton’s comprehensive put down on this week’s Letters page of Moore’s lordly declaration last week that Justin Welby does not qualify for the title “Dr.” A little knowledge……………

    • David S

      It has to have been the climate issue that disqualified Ridley, as Lord Green was himself a useless bank chairman. You may disagree with his opinion on climate, but he is pretty well-informed. In particular, even the most ardent believer in man-made global warming (spare us the evidence-free extension to “climate change” as nobody has produced any convincing chain of causation from CO2 emissions to the plethora of weather events, hot cold wet and dry that are bundled up and sold as climate change) has to admit that with the UK producing about 1.5% of global emissions any action we might take has no effect on global climate whatsoever.

  • MikeF

    The Leave campaign is about giving the people of the United Kingdom the freedom to determine the future of this country not telling them what that future should be. That is the whole point of it.

  • maic

    Charles makes the very valid point that the Leave proponents will not be the government in power if or when they win the referendum. There are agreed procedures for handling the Leaving arrangements and it would be the responsibility of the current government to put qualified and motivated people in place to work through these.
    If this is going to be the scenario it would be to the benefit of Britain if those politicians, advisers and civil servants who can’t put their total energy into this transition either resign or transfer to other areas of government.
    I suggest that the people of Britain have been mucked about for long enough. They don’t want another decade of muddling through and of less than transparent information.

  • Maxwell Frere

    Excellent article as always, Mr. Moore.

  • richard davis please watch this EU debate.