Who said that the Germans ‘pay half of the countries [in the European Union].
Who said that the Germans ‘pay half of the countries [in the European Union]. Ireland gets 6 per cent of their gross domestic product this way. When is Ireland going to stand up to the Germans?’ It was Nicholas Ridley in his infamous interview with Dominic Lawson in this paper just over 20 years ago. Now he has got his answer, sort of. Ireland is trying to stand up to the Germans, and probably failing. If you strip out the unwarranted anti-German sentiment in Ridley’s interview and concentrate on his analysis, he has been proved right. Germany did, as he feared, set up the single currency in a way which ensured its dominance of the European continent. It did bring about a world in which, for members of the euro, the German Chancellor tries, as Ridley put it, ‘to lay down what we should do on the banking front and what our taxes should be’. Luckily, that ‘we’ does not include Britain, because it stayed out of the euro. But Chancellor Merkel is now trying to give Dublin exactly such orders about banking and taxes as Ridley foretold. The Ridley thesis was that if such a thing happened in Britain, ‘there would be a bloody revolution’. Will there be one in the eurozone?
‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’ goes the old Sinn Fein slogan. As the Republic suffers financial collapse, could it apply the other way round? The logic of the situation is that Ireland would be a very cheap ‘nation once again’, and we British could go and buy up large amounts of it. But logic is impeded by the partial cause of this smash, Ireland’s membership of the euro. It cannot devalue when it needs to. You see this in the Irish market for horses, where I found my own beloved hunter a few years ago. Not surprisingly, domestic demand in Ireland has grown much weaker in the past two years, but the price for sterling buyers has not fallen. A standard decent hunter which would cost £6,000 in Britain costs £7,000 in Ireland. This makes no sense. Ireland is prostrate — though its leaders won’t admit it — before the European Union. It would have been better off under the Union Jack than under those EU stars.
My only worry about the happy engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton is that both are university graduates. If he comes to the throne, it will be the first time that anyone who has had full-length university education will ever have sat there. Now we know that his queen will be in the same category. This will be a sad day for all those in this country — still the great majority — who have never been to university. It was wonderful for national morale that Diana, Princess of Wales, and John Major only had one O Level each. Today, unfortunately, the myth has taken hold that a degree is a necessary preparation for all important positions. This belief is both anti-monarchical, anti-democratic and makes most people feel inferior for no good reason. The truth is the reverse — a really good university is one whose way of life is as unlike that of the big wide world as possible.
The Church of England would like to sell its Zurbaráns. It owns 12 of the 13 paintings called ‘Jacob and his Twelve Sons’ (young Benjamin has been living separately at Grimthorpe Castle since the 18th century). Their story tells you a lot about the Church of England. They were bought in 1756 by Richard Trevor, the Bishop of Durham. His dining-room at Auckland Castle was built around them, and there they remain to this day. Trevor was a leading supporter of what was known as the ‘Jew Bill’, the legislation to permit Jews to become naturalised British subjects. His purchase of the paintings — robust, noble studies of the most important large Jewish family in history — gives permanent artistic expression to one of the most attractive sides of Anglicanism, its inclusiveness. Andreas Whittam Smith, the First Church Estates Commissioner, says, ‘The simple equation in my head is how much money can be raised to be used for the clergy.’ It is not a simple equation at all. As the established Church, the C of E is the holder of national patrimony. Such things are not ‘assets’ to be traded, but almost as much part of what it is as its liturgy or its cathedrals. Its artistic treasures represent a huge cultural and religious achievement which should not be sacrificed to the producer interest, especially when so many of the clergy no longer do parish work, but swell diocesan and synodical bureaucracies. If the Church had a right relationship with its heritage, it would throw it open to the public, and use it as the material for its teaching ministry. Instead, it wants to sell the family off, as once Joseph, the most famous of the sons of Jacob, was treacherously sold into Egypt.
Next Thursday, a magistrates court will decide a curious case. Gerard Batten, an MEP, is refusing to pay his television licence because of the BBC’s bias on Europe. He expected to be charged, as I was when I refused to pay my licence for so long as the BBC employed Jonathan Ross. What happened, though, is that TV Licensing, the paramilitary wing of the BBC, decided to prosecute his wife, Franceslina, instead. This is a dirty trick — one with which I was threatened. TV Licensing argue that because the licence is held by the household, any adult member of that household can be prosecuted for evading it. Since Mrs Batten has nothing to do with this dispute, picking on her is the BBC’s way of reducing publicity and frightening her husband to give in.
For each Hallowe’en (my birthday), my wife grows pumpkins, and then carves them into ingenious faces. This year, one looked sly and naughty, the other mournful — masks of comedy and tragedy. Rather than throwing them away immediately, we have kept them. As they deliquesce, their faces become more expressive, like parodies of old age. Their teeth start to fold inwards, their jowls hang loose, and the face of the sad one becomes pockmarked like that poor Ukrainian politician who was poisoned by the KGB. It is fascinating to have vegetable versions of the Picture of Dorian Gray.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 20, 2010