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The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s notes

Charles Moore's reflections on the week

22 October 2008

12:00 AM

22 October 2008

12:00 AM

But why did Nathaniel Rothschild write to the Times? Yes, he was genuinely annoyed that George Osborne had relayed Peter Mandelson’s disobliging remarks about Gordon Brown to the Sunday Times. The then Mr Mandelson was Mr Rothschild’s guest, as was Mr Osborne. Mr Osborne betrayed hospitality and strained an old friendship. That might have made Mr Rothschild tell Mr Osborne privately that he never wanted to see him again. It might even have made him ‘tell friends’ (as the press puts it) about the supposedly naughty behaviour of Mr Osborne in relation to Oleg Deripaska and his money. But why write a public letter? Mr Rothschild deals professionally with other rich people’s money, and is therefore expected to be discreet. Why, even in revenge, would he break what he himself calls, in his letter, ‘the age-old adage that private parties are just that’? The answer could simply be righteous anger, plus a touch of Rothschild arrogance, but I doubt it. There must be something else. In his letter, Mr Rothschild attacks the Times for its ‘obsession with Mr Mandelson’ which, he says, ‘is trivial in light of Mr Osborne’s actions’. Why is it so important for Mr Rothschild to divert attention from Lord Mandelson? It must surely have something to do with Mr Deripaska, for whom Mr Rothschild works, and to whom, before everything went wrong, he introduced Mr Osborne four times in three days. It must matter very much indeed to Mr Deripaska that his dealings with Lord Mandelson are not pursued, and Mr Rothschild must be so devoted to keeping in with Mr Deripaska that he feels it necessary to fall out with someone who may well be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer. What is at stake for the Russian, the Rothschild and our new Business Minister? It feels as if it must be a great deal.

An Australian friend who follows Russia closely writes: ‘The only amusing part of recent times has been to observe the KGB slowly realising that Russia is part of global capitalism, and its instinctive response — arrest the stock market!’

The credit crunch has brought out something which I have always thought must be difficult about working in the world of money. I am sure that much financial work is far more interesting than most people outside the trade realise, and requires incredible ingenuity; but if you are, say, a doctor, a writer, a sportsman, a musician, your success is not computed by money alone (though money certainly comes into it). This is not really true of people whose job is money. Their pay, bonuses, profits, share options, etc, are the indices of their success, almost the only ones. So, just now, not only are they poorer, which is unpleasant: they also feel like failures, which is much worse.

It looks as though Barack Obama will win and that, on the basis of the campaign, he will deserve to. He has displayed the Audacity of Hype, and the media have been happy to help. In the last debate, though, he did make a mistake, or at least permitted himself a gap between his approach and John McCain’s which might make some voters hesitate. He said that he wanted to ‘spread the wealth’. If he meant that he wanted wider prosperity for Americans, few could quarrel with that. But his words have been taken by many to suggest that he wants confiscatory taxes on people like the mythical (and real) Joe the Plumber. There have been plenty of disparaging jokes in the campaign about ‘angry white men’. But there are still more white men than any other sort of voter in the United States, so it is unwise to make them angry.

I apologise to Geoffrey Wheatcroft (see his letter last week) for a carelessness in my previous Notes. I had suggested that Geoffrey sometimes wrote cheques undated. Geoffrey rightly points out that this does not invalidate them. I meant unsigned. Once I won a bet about an election result off Geoffrey, and was pleasantly surprised to receive at once a smart-looking cheque from Coutts made out to ‘Charles Moore Esq’ ‘The sum of eighty pounds’. It was unsigned.

Last week, the deputy Oxford coroner, Andrew Walker, gave a ‘narrative verdict’ on the death of Corporal Mark Wright in Afghanistan. Corp. Wright, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross, was killed by a landmine set off by the downdraft of the helicopter sent to rescue him and his comrades from a minefield in which two of them had already lost their legs. Mr Walker blamed a lack of equipment and said that ‘those responsible should hang their heads in shame’. Because the case is so very sad, people probably feel inclined to agree with Mr Walker. But if you think about it for a moment, there is something utterly outrageous about a coroner, sitting in England with, so far as one knows, no military experience, passing mouthy moral judgments about the death of soldiers in action. It is a growing recent trend, and a bad one. Surely the job of a coroner is simply to pronounce the cause of death and, if there is doubt, to err on the side of not forcing a conclusion. Mr Walker imposed no such restrictions on himself. One problem was that there was a shortage of radio batteries, and so the soldiers had to fire shots into the air to attract colleagues’ attention. Mr Walker said this ‘beggars belief’. Does it? It may well be that shortages are serious and blameworthy in Afghanistan, but what war ever was there in which the right equipment was always present and always working? What would a coroner know?

TV Licensing (cont’d). A reader who does not watch terrestrial television, but has a television without an aerial on which he watches DVDs, receives frequent threats from TV Licensing. He tells me that he has sent roughly 50 letters to TV Licensing explaining why he is not liable for a licence. He has had only one reply, which said: ‘Your letters have not been received as we are not a data collecting agency.’ The threats keep coming.

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