The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s notes

26 May 2016

1:00 PM

26 May 2016

1:00 PM

Obviously there is no such thing as ‘Cameronism’, as there is ‘Thatcherism’; but once upon a time, David Cameron did have a project. It was called Tory modernisation, and his most imaginative adviser on the subject was Steve Hilton. At Policy Exchange, on Wednesday, Mr Hilton spoke, Mark Antony-like, over the dead body of Tory modernisation. On virtually every modernising count — localism, openness to the world, looking to the future, ignoring the interests of the rich — the EU is failing, he said. Yet Mr Cameron is staking his career on it. It is rather as if Mrs Thatcher, in her last years in office, were fighting flat out for nationalisation.

The Leave camp sometimes looks stumped because it cannot give a precise answer to what would happen economically if we were not in the EU. This is always a problem for people who believe in freedom rather than government control. In the 1970s, inflation and bad labour relations were the enemy. It became an article of faith among the elites that the answer was a ‘prices and incomes policy’ in which wise people, managed by governments, decided what should be the fair relation between the two. The widely worshipped J.K. Galbraith explained in 1975 that ‘pay and price curbs will be a permanent feature, both in Britain and in every other industrial nation’. Anyone who suggested otherwise had to put up with ‘How on earth will you control it? What will you do about industrial anarchy?’ People who said that essentially the best thing to do was to break the automatic linkage between pay and prices and then see what happened next were considered mad. By the 21st century, no western country any longer had such curbs, and even the heirs of Galbraith are not trying to bring them back. Almost all of the economic arguments for membership of the EU are based on fear of freedom. It is, unfortunately, a powerful emotion.

One thing I miss in the No campaign is a front-rank real expert, rather like that man on the radio called Bill Frindall who used to know every cricket score in history. As the government publishes every day of the campaign a stupendous amount of facts which are not true, it is no good just complaining. You have to refute them, giving chapter and verse. It is a difficulty for the Leave camp that most of its members, because they do not like rule by Brussels, are not absolutely secure in their knowledge of its details. An exception is Daniel Hannan. Vote Leave should put him forward more.

Hooray for Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, who, I have always argued, is really a Leave campaign plant. It is he who, speaking of the French referendum on the European Constitution, said: ‘If it’s a Yes, we will say “On we go”, and if it’s a No, we will say “We continue”.’ Last week, he described the British, if they vote Leave, as ‘deserters’, who ‘will not be welcomed with open arms … people will have to face the consequences’. The word ‘deserters’ is drawn from military affairs, and the ‘consequences’ were that they were shot. Mr Juncker last year called for the creation of a European army to show that ‘we are serious about defending the values of the European Union’.

It sounds fairly nice being in the European Economic Area, rather than the EU, as are Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland. But I was a bit surprised when visiting William Beckford’s amazing gardens of Monserrate, near Sintra in Portugal, last week, to see a notice announcing that the restoration of the 19th-century Indian-style villa that perches among them was assisted by EEA funds. According to Wikipedia, these EEA grants contribute towards ‘the reduction of economic and social disparities’ and ‘strengthening fundamental European values such as democracy, tolerance and the rule of law’. I couldn’t see any way in which this reduction, or this strengthening, was accomplished by restoring the follies of very, very rich men, but perhaps that just shows that someone needs to work on my European values.

It is always potentially tricky when one is asked to read a friend’s book manuscript, and were it not for the fact that I ask the same favour for my own, I would always refuse. Normally, the thing one most wants to do is cut it. But when Algy Cluff, former proprietor and chairman of this paper, showed me the draft of his memoirs — just published as Get On With It — I found myself saying something I don’t think I’d ever said before: ‘Make it longer.’ The characters presented are so interesting that one wants more. Now that I have re-read it, however, I think that the book’s art lies in its economy. It would spoil the author’s laconic view of life if one were to learn what happened next to X or why anyone ever did the many odd things described. Why, for example, did Algy buy The Spectator? All he says is, ‘The share price of Cluff Oil was buoyant; I was 40 years old and anxious to continue touching life at as many points as I could sensibly do.’ In those days — 1980 — buying The Spectator was not a sensible way of touching life at many points. But staff and readers should be very glad he did.

One of the most striking figures in the book is the Fon of Banso, a chieftain in the Cameroons, where the young Algy was soldiering with the Grenadiers. He first saw him when the Fon, wearing a top hat, a mackintosh and nothing else, urinated and then walked up the steps of his bungalow. He and Algy became great friends. One day, the Fon wrote to ‘Major General Cluff’ (he was actually a 20-year-old second lieutenant), saying ‘I am in the shameful position of having 120 sons and not one of them is in the Grandeur Guards. What are you going to do about it?’ He signed off: ‘I am, yes, The Fon of Banso!!’ I shall imitate the author’s economy, and leave the story there.

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