The Spectator's Notes

When ‘politician’ is the biggest insult of them all

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

This column has laughed before at the BBC’s satirical wit in having a slot calledReality Check’ on Brexit. If Reality Check’ were serious, it would ask every MP each time one appeared: ‘How do you intend to carry out parliament’s promise, both before and after the referendum, to implement its result?’

Orders from Davos on the Today programme on Tuesday: Roland Rudd, a PR man, tells MPs to ‘put country before party’. He does not say which country he has in mind. He particularly gives this instruction to Conservative MPs, despite being an active member of the Labour party and having Lord Mandelson as godfather to one of his children. You might think that many of those Tories will feel more practised than Mr Rudd at putting the interests of their country first, since most of them voted Leave. But wait. Mr Rudd is brother of Amber, who is a cabinet minister, and supports Remain. She is reported by the Times to have told Downing Street that ‘up to 40 members of the government’ would resign if MPs ‘are banned from [for which the more normal parliamentary phrase is ‘whipped against’] voting to stop a no-deal Brexit’. Ms Rudd has not commented in public on this, but her big brother says he is well-informed about these ministers’ attitudes. He helps clarify: ‘Nobody voted for a no-deal Brexit,’ he tells Today. In this, he is mistaken. All members of the present government, including Amber Rudd, voted for a no-deal Brexit when they voted for the European Union (Withdrawal) Act last year. ‘No deal’ is provided for in the Act as what happens if no withdrawal deal with the EU is approved. If the ‘up to 40 ministers’ could not bear this, why did they not resign when the matter was put before them in the summer? Ms Rudd wants the government to allow Tory MPs a free vote on a motion to prevent the no-deal option. If she thinks that free votes on government policy and government acts are the way to run a government, she should indeed resign, and join her brother Roland as he tries to order our affairs from Davos.

Also in Davos were Sir David Attenborough and Prince William, in conversation. This, I feel, is a mistake, though an understandable one. One of the annoying features of greenery is that it involves rich and powerful people telling poorer, less powerful people to get poorer still. The obsession with increasing fuel prices is a current example. It makes the French put on yellow vests in protest, and is definitely unpopular in Zimbabwe (though I admit that Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vigorous methods of putting down the revolt may not be motivated by a desire to save the planet). Sir David says he was there because ‘If you care about the future of the world… this [the Davos crowd] is the most important community you can find’. Until recently he would, unfortunately, have been right, but peak Davos has passed, and world leaders, opinion-formers and future kings would be well-advised to avoid the ensuing avalanche.


Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu warns that the ‘febrile atmosphere’ of Brexit may radicalise extremist far-right groups. It must be a risk; but not nearly so widespread as that posed by extremist far-centre groups driven to rage at the imminent prospect of the country getting what its people voted for.

A reader writes to remind me of Captain Haddock’s wide vocabulary of abuse. In The Crab with the Golden Claws he calls the crook who steals his wine bottle ‘bully’, ‘twister’, ‘heretic’, ‘slave trader’, ‘technocrat’, ‘buccaneer’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘corsair’ and ‘politician’. In Prisoners of the Sun, he accuses the Incas of being ‘tramps’, ‘pockmarks’, ‘pithecanthropuses’, ‘bashi-bazouks’, ‘savages’, ‘sea-gherkins’, ‘ectoplasms’, ‘poltroons’, ‘terrorists’, ‘doryphores’ and ‘politicians’. I enjoyed all these very much as a child, but I did not realise at the time that the last of these insults was the most deadly. Now I do.

It is many years since I was invited for a cervical smear (that was when we lived in gender-fluid Islington), so I am out of touch with developments. But it is not surprising to hear that very large numbers of young women do not take up the invitation issued by the NHS to have a test. The theory is that millennials’ anxieties about body image are keeping them away. Surely there are other plausible explanations. Being now of the relevant age, I am starting to receive NHS letters telling me to get tested for bowel cancer and enclosing those sticks provided for samples of one’s excrement. I have decided to do nothing about them. My reasons may not be sound, but they feel quite strong. They are: 1) I think I am too busy. 2) If I do have the test, will my results be lost, wrongly diagnosed or attributed to another patient by the NHS? 3) Will the information gathered about me somehow end up with pharmaceutical companies that want to sell me bowel-related products through Google or Facebook, or form part of a database from which the government will make annoying generalisations about ‘lifestyle choices’? 4) I doubt that the expense of these mass mail-outs is justified by the result. Government tends to target a particular disease to show how caring it is. In short, I doubt if I am really being sent these things for a proper medical reason.

On Monday morning, I got up at 5.40 and looked through the window on our landing, which faces north-west. There hung the full moon I had admired the previous night, now mostly occluded by a shadow. It looked like a dark lantern. I did not get there quite in time, I later discovered, to see the full glory of its pink glow, but I am glad that I had not been forewarned, so my reaction to it was wholly fresh. I learnt that I had witnessed a ‘super blood wolf moon’. It sounds like the title of a bad film about vampires. By using nouns as adjectives and cramming in too many exciting thoughts at once, it reduces the semi-mystical experience to something almost comic, like teenage mutant ninja turtles.

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