The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s notes

5 May 2016

1:00 PM

5 May 2016

1:00 PM

The comparison between the referendum questions — that asked in 1975 and the one which we shall be asked on 23 June — is interesting. In 1975, the question was ‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain part of the European Community (Common Market)?’ (Answer: Yes/No). Today, the question will be ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of European Union or leave the European Union?’ (Answer: Remain/Leave). The modern question is the fairer, and it also brings out how things have changed. In 1975, it seemed almost obvious that the answer was ‘yes’: even many who did not like EEC entry could see it was strange to leave only a couple of years after joining. The whole issue, like the question, expected the answer ‘yes’. Today, this is much less true. There really is a possibility of leaving and so the question explicitly entertains that possibility. A choice exists. It is this explosive fact which the Remain side seeks to deny.

Tuesday’s memorial service for Geoffrey Howe at St Margaret’s, Westminster, had a more fervent feel than is usual on such occasions. Partly this was because the gentle and courteous Geoffrey was held in much greater affection than most politicians. But partly, too, because this was a wake for a generation of Europhiles now passing, unreplaced. When John Major read from ‘Desiderata’, ‘Avoid loud and aggressive persons’, one could guess whom he had in mind. When Michael Heseltine preached his punchy eulogy, that target was not veiled at all. I feel about Howe’s Europeanism rather as I feel about the men who opposed the Great Reform Bill or the repeal of the Corn Laws — a romantic admiration for those who honourably failed to see the way the world was going.

Last week, I wrote about the fevered state of mind of the Financial Times as British voters threaten to throw off their EU chains. Here is another example. Martin Wolf, usually the best columnist in the paper, wrote a column giving ten reasons to remain. ‘Above all,’ he said, ‘those promoting departure ignore what the UK’s European partners think about the EU. Their political elites, particularly of Germany and France, regard the preservation of an integrated Europe as their highest national interests. They will want to make clear that departure carries a heavy price, which is likely to include attempts to drive euro-related financial markets out of London.’ Those who want to leave don’t ignore this at all! It is precisely because we know how much the German and French elites want more integration that we so much want to leave. Mr Wolf’s argument that we must obey because otherwise they will be horrible to us is, if he would only think about it, abject. It is also, I suspect, beside the point. The same elites are always trying to take euro-related financial markets out of London anyway.


Fighting on another front, the FT wrote a spunky leader last week attacking those who would muzzle climate change sceptics. Following this up, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, on whose board I sit, wrote a letter to the FT, from its chairman, Nigel Lawson, and others. ‘We agree,’ said the letter, ‘that when it comes to global warming “the stakes are so high that all arguments must be heard”. Regrettably, however, the FT has not lived up to this precept… The GWPF has published more than 50 thoroughly professional papers and reports as a thoughtful contribution to a (still one-sided) debate, not one of which has ever been addressed in the FT.’ The letter was sent last Wednesday. At the time of writing, the FT has not published it.

Possibly Sir Philip Green has behaved disgracefully in the matter of BHS. It does not follow that he should be stripped of his knighthood. Think of the consequences. At present, the promise of a knighthood can keep people who might otherwise be independent in line. But once a knighthood has been granted, it can hardly ever be revoked. This means the power of patronage dies. The recipient is no longer in the control of the patron. If knighthoods can be removed, then the power of patronage never goes away and people can be controlled by the government for the rest of their lives out of fear they might lose their title.

The first moves have now begun to restore the reputation of George Bell, the great wartime Bishop of Chichester who was alleged by his own diocese last October to have abused a young girl from 1949 until 1953. Bell’s supporters have worked hard to show that the process by which the diocese arrived at this conclusion nearly 60 years after he died has been inadequate and unjust. It is good news that Chichester Council, having originally removed the portrait of Bell which hung on its Council House staircase, last week decided to re-hang it. Bell has not been found guilty. He has been judged by the Church ‘on the balance of probabilities’ in an out-of-court settlement which no one has been allowed to see. Why should anyone feel compelled to accept the Church’s decision? We should re-hang his portraits unless and until actual evidence is publicly heard and the case for Bell is properly put.

Last week, we turned into our drive and were surprised to find a young couple with two little children picking posies of our flowers and taking them away. We explained that the flowers belonged to us and asked them politely not to do this. They seemed surprised, but politely apologised and left. Then I felt some remorse. The flowers were nice for the young children, I reflected, and why did it matter if we lost a few to them? It didn’t, of course (though I must not give the impression that we have a long drive with any number of daffodils ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’). I did not recognise the couple, but if they were to return and ask if they might come in and pick a little bunch or two, I expect we would say yes.


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