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The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

Charles Moore's reflections on the week

8 October 2008

12:00 AM

8 October 2008

12:00 AM

We all know that everything about money comes down to confidence, but normally, because we have that confidence, we do not think about what this means. Now we must. We have learnt that mighty banks are nothing if customers — and other banks — have no confidence in their assets. Panicked, we turn to governments. Only governments, we believe, can ultimately overcome monetary crises, because only they have control of the printing press. If they ‘stand behind’ our banks, our confidence can be restored. That is why Gordon Brown acted as he did on Wednesday morning. But is this necessarily so? In all the amazing scenes of recent weeks, I found that the most alarming has been the picture of Mr Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi at the weekend, gathered in front of the Elysée Palace to offer a ‘rescue plan’. This was not just because at least three of the four (I am not sure about Mrs Merkel) are discreditable, untruthful people. There was a bigger reason: I realised that I had no confidence in their ability to accomplish what they promised. The eurozone has a monetary authority, but not (thank goodness) a political one. It follows that when the most severe test is applied to the central bank, it will fail. It also follows, unfortunately, that the governments which have surrendered their monetary independence will find themselves incapable of acting independently, or even, probably, together. Hence the panic when Mrs Merkel went home and seemed to guarantee bank deposits, but then (probably) didn’t. What about Britain? We are not part of the single currency. We are free to do what we want, and this week, we appear to have done it. Like the United States, we have a comprehensible chain of authority. This might, just, inspire confidence. Without such a chain, there could be a run, not just on the banks, not just on a currency, but on whole governments, even whole systems of government. The EU beware.

A friend’s son has just gone to university. He telephoned: ‘Dad,’ he asked, ‘how do you pay a bill?’ I had not quite taken in until I heard this that nowadays, although you can drive a car, have homosexual intercourse and get killed fighting for your country in Afghanistan before you are 18, you cannot have a cheque-book or a credit card. My friend explained how to write a cheque (mentioning the Geoffrey Wheatcroft technique of sending it promptly but omitting the date). If the banks’ fierceness towards child borrowing had been extended up the age range, many of our current global troubles could have been avoided. Rather like tabloid papers which excoriate paedophiles but publish drooling, soft-porn pictures of girls as soon as they turn 16, modern banks switch (or, I suppose I should now say, switched) from absolute strictness about debt to pushing the stuff on to people on their 18th birthdays. It was not ever thus. When I got my first job (on the Daily Telegraph) after leaving university in 1979, I had £14 left in the bank, so I wrote to the manager and asked for an overdraft of £400 to have a couple of suits made. He telephoned me, very concerned: ‘If you will excuse me being humorous, Mr Moore, I think you should cut your coat according to your cloth. You can buy a perfectly acceptable suit from Burton’s for a fraction of the price.’ Conscious that he had never met me, I put on a hurt tone of voice, and said that I was ‘a very strange shape’, and therefore could not get a suit off the peg. Embarrassed, he granted me the loan. But I feel that the poor man was doing his job, and that it is partly because his sort were stamped out by more thrusting, business-grabbing types that the banks now have no money left.

It was such good news, last week, that Boris Johnson had nudged Sir Ian Blair towards the door. But one’s pleasure is pretty much spoilt by the Mayor’s associated decision to order an inquiry into racism in the Metropolitan Police. Boris, like Sir Ian, could be devoured by the monster that he is feeding. The first rule of ordering an inquiry is that one should ensure that it will provide the answer one wants. This one is being conducted by a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority with a Labour background, Cindy Butts. Will her answer help? Besides, it is outrageous that any attention is paid to the Black Police Association. By telling ethnic minorities not to apply for jobs in the Met, they have proved themselves unfit for their own. Why, anyway, is there a Black Police Officers Association at all? Thanks to Sir William Macpherson’s unfair report on the death of Stephen Lawrence, the police now labour under the accusation that they are ‘institutionally racist’. What could be more institutionally racist than an association of police officers whose membership is based on race?

Perhaps the most revealing paragraph in all the coverage of Sir Ian’s resignation was the following, from the Times: ‘Sir Ian, 55, is entitled to a full police pension. On the Commissioner’s £240,000 salary, that is estimated to be worth about £160,000 per year.’ So the difference for Sir Ian between doing an astonishingly demanding and inevitably controversial job, probably six days a week, and doing absolutely nothing, is only £80,000 a year. When you consider that he also negotiated an additional ‘package’ in return for departing early, and that he is apparently free (why?) to publish and profit from the diary which he is reported to have kept, you are bound to conclude that the main purpose of holding a top job in the public sector must be to retire from it.

I have never been fond of ‘Winner’s Dinners’, the column on the back of the Sunday Times in which Michael Winner boasts how rude he has been to waiters and cooks in expensive restaurants and then forces them to be photographed with him. There is a sort of Abu Ghraib quality to the arrangement. Now that ruin stares our nation in the face, the column becomes even more repulsive. Time for a rival called ‘Loser’s Dinners’ in which an enterprising writer with not a penny to his name writes a modern, compassionate, helping-the-vulnerable restaurant column, about things like where to eat the best leftovers. I nominate this paper’s superb Low Life columnist, Jeremy Clarke.

After a tiring time at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, I went what, until it became illegal, was called ‘cub-hunting’, and is now known as ‘autumn-hunting’. There was a mounted field of 66, at least twice the number we raised before Labour first drew attention to the sport. Yes, hunting’s coming home, and we must continue to remind David Cameron of his promise that this is so.

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