The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

30 September 2017

9:00 AM

30 September 2017

9:00 AM

You can see why Theresa May said in Florence that the British wished the European Union well in its plans for greater integration, while choosing a different path ourselves. There is no point in causing antagonism over what we cannot prevent. But in fact greater European integration will do great harm to all Europeans, including us. The rise of AfD in the German elections was caused almost entirely by Mrs Merkel’s extraordinary decision to admit a million Middle Eastern migrants in a year. The spread of the Schengen area — proposed by Jean-Claude Juncker — combined with recrudescent migrant pressure can only confirm freedom of movement as the impossible issue of our time. The attempt to support the euro with banking union and pan-eurozone economic government will continue to penalise the poorer members, while ultimately enraging German voters who have to take on everyone else’s debts. Yes, we have an interest in EU stability. But no, it will not be achieved by the Merkel/Macron/Juncker visions.

‘Celebrities urge National Trust to ban fox hunting’, was the strange headline in Monday’s Times. Strange, because fox hunting is already banned by the law of the land. What the anti-hunting lobbies are trying to stop is trail-hunting on the Trust’s 600,000 acres, which is, of course, legal, and will remain so unless and until we are so mad that we forbid all ownership of hounds. There will be a vote on the matter at the National Trust’s AGM in Swindon on 21 October. All National Trust members wishing to attend, or vote postally, have to register by 15 October. There is quite a history of attempted coups of this sort at the Trust. In 1990, an extreme-left Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn by name, sponsored a resolution to ban all hunting (which was then legal) on Trust land. It failed. In 1997, on the recommendation of Professor Patrick Bateson’s report, the Trust hastily banned stag-hunting without consulting the interested parties. Today, the Trust, naive in reaction to a social media storm, has again been thoughtless. It put forward new licensing plans without consulting the Countryside Alliance. These propose that future meets should be publicised in advance — a nice idea, but one which takes no account of the sad fact that trail hunts are often attacked by extremists. The Trust is also in danger of riding roughshod over its tenantry: unless its leases specifically reserve trail-hunting rights, it has no power over legal activities on tenanted land. By the way, in the 12 years of the ban, there have been no convictions for illegal hunting on Trust land.

Lady (Mary) Fairfax has died. She was, extremely briefly, the grande dame of The Spectator. Early in 1985, the Australian Fairfax group bought the paper. Michael Heath commemorated the event with a cartoon, which we published, of The Spectator in the pouch of a kangaroo. The Fairfax era did us power of good. In 1987, however, young Warwick Fairfax, son of Mary, bought out the group, with heavy ‘leverage’. His offer enriched but enraged his family, expelling his half-brother and cousins. Mary Fairfax was a famous, commanding and noisy figure in Australian life, completely unlike all the other quiet, respectable Fairfaxes. She was the third wife of the patriarch, Sir Warwick — who died shortly before all this. She once gave a party of which the chef d’oeuvre was a gigantic ice kangaroo, its pouch stuffed not with The Spectator, but with caviare. Lady Fairfax was widely considered to be the power behind young Warwick. When she came to see me in our office in Doughty Street, her first words were: ‘They say I married my late husband for his money. That’s not true. I am a very wealthy woman in my own right.’ Then she said, ‘You know, I’m so lucky. I have a very dear friend who has the only stretch Rolls-Royce in London and he lent it to me to get here today.’ For want of anything else to say, I ventured that this must make it difficult to get round corners. ‘I don’t know,’ glared Lady Fairfax, ‘I’m not driving.’ Then she told me about her son, our new proprietor: ‘He’s a very Christian young man. He lives in a little community. Every Sunday he cooks the dinner, and every Wednesday he cleans the bath.’ I got the sense that Warwick’s grip on Fairfax might not be secure. Besides, the dire effects of the crash of October 1987 sent all his borrowings awry. I did what I could to steer The Spectator towards the Telegraph group, which had expressed interest. It bought the paper in the spring of 1988 and has owned it ever since. Warwick lost control of Fairfax in 1990.

For some time now, people inviting one to corporate or governmental meals have enquired whether one has any ‘dietary requirements’. I have always considered this polite, since it gives guests the chance to state any need without having to raise it. As someone, however, with no dietary requirements — except food and plenty of it — I sometimes fail to answer the diet question, assuming that silence indicates assent to whatever is offered. Recently, I notice, this is not considered good enough. Emails come back insisting one state one’s preferences. Why? I imagine that, like so many things in modern life, this is a semi-legal precaution. Suppose a guest does not say that he is allergic to, say, nuts, is then served something with nuts in it, and falls gravely ill. Might he sue his hosts? It is important, some lawyer will have advised them, to have a ‘paper trail’. Is there no principle of caveat edens?

Readers may remember this column’s campaign to restore the reputation of George Bell, courageous wartime Bishop of Chichester, posthumously condemned, on paltry evidence, of child abuse. This weekend, Lord Carlile QC will hand in to the church authorities his report on the processes they used to condemn Bell. It will be public in a few weeks. In the meantime, a service will commemorate Bell at 5 p.m. at St Martin within Ludgate, London, on Wednesday 4 October. All welcome.

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