Skip to Content

The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

26 November 2011

3:00 PM

26 November 2011

3:00 PM

On Tuesday morning, I was sitting reading Jessica Douglas-Home’s vivid new book about the great Delhi Durbar in 1911 (A Glimpse of Empire, Michael Russell). In the background, the Today programme was burbling. I had just got to the bit about the Maharajas paying homage to the King-Emperor. The author describes how the Maharaja of Nawanagar — better known as the great cricketer Ranjitsinhji — though splendid in his silver carriage, was also stony broke: ‘Ranji’s extravagance was much frowned upon in official circles … After the Durbar, he was humiliated by the imposition of a financial adviser upon his administration’. Then on to Today came a man called Horst Reichenbach, a German. He is the representative of the EU ‘troika’ charged with making Greece submit to its financial ‘advice’. From Raj to Reich, with exactly a century in between, the situation is not so different.

•••

Another colourful figure at the Durbar was the Gaekwar of Baroda. He showed signs of independence which worried the Viceroy. He caused dismay by making only ‘a cursory bow from the waist’ to George V, and then, ‘wheeling around, turned his back on the royal couple and walked from their presence nonchalantly twirling a gold-topped walking stick’. As a result, the authorities snubbed the Gaekwar. Frightened of ostracism, he dashed off a letter of apology. In the EU today, the role of the Gaekwar is played by the British government.

•••


This is the first year in human history when the word ‘trillion’ (dollars or euros) has started popping up every day. A trillion is hard to understand. To get a perspective, it may help to recall that the resignation of Peter Thorneycroft as Chancellor of the Exchequer from Harold Macmillan’s government in 1958 (the ‘little local difficulty’) was caused by Thorneycroft’s reluctance to spend an extra £50 million. A trillion pounds is 20,000 times that amount.

•••

In the course of the 2005 election, this column complained when Adrian Hilton, the Tory candidate for Slough, was suddenly removed by his party’s leadership because of ‘anti-Catholic bigotry’. His offence had been publicly to uphold the Protestant succession to the throne, which was then, and remains today (just) the law of the land. Eventually, Mr Hilton managed to get back on the candidates’ list, and was kept on at each of the three reassessments since. Now, however, he has failed the latest reassessment, despite recommendations from Michael Gove, Dominic Grieve, Boris Johnson and others. He does not really know why, because the reassessment, conducted by only two people (what happens when they disagree?) cannot be appealed against. Mr Hilton was told that he came across as ‘intense’. No doubt the same might have been said of Miss Margaret Roberts in Dartford in 1949. He feels aggrieved that, as he is pushed out, all Tory women councillors have been invited to apply and Ivan Massow, the gay businessman who defected to Labour saying that the Conservatives ‘chime with the most base values and claw at national insecurities’, is now back on the approved list. Mr Hilton feels he has fallen victim to the desire for ‘diversity’ which, by a process first identified by Orwell, really means uniformity. One of the questions in the reassessment concerns the candidate’s ‘commitment to inclusion and diversity’.

•••
In principle, I don’t agree with Mr Hilton’s appeal to natural justice, though I support his bid to stay on the list. Being a political candidate is not a job, and the selectors should be free to select however they think fit. But two problems stand out. The first is that, if the central machine constantly opposes those whom constituency associations want, and imposes its own ‘diverse’ choices, the party will run out of active supporters. This is now happening. The second is the tendency of the age to make taxpayers pay for political parties — see this week’s report by Sir Christopher Kelly. If this happens, then political parties will become semi-nationalised and will have to submit to whatever rules of selection the state chooses. There is no problem about private individuals and organisations giving large sums to parties, so long as the public know who gives what. Voters can then make up their minds whether they approve. The Kelly idea that ‘big money’ donations are a bad thing is contradicted by his solution — to pay those donations from the biggest money of all, the public purse.

•••

The rumour is that the bosses at Channel 4 News wish to unseat Jon Snow, its main presenter since 1989. His only offence is age. (He is 64.) Apparently, the selectors’ eye has been caught by Matt Frei, the programme’s Washington correspondent. Who cares, some might ask. What is the difference between a lefty public-schoolboy born in 1947, and a lefty public-schoolboy born in 1963? It is perfectly true that Snow is left-wing, and this is sometimes outrageously visible in his presentations, but I think there is a lot of difference. One does not wish to be rude about Frei, but he seems, with his regular, telegenic features and wholly predictable take on events, to be one of those interchangeable people specially cloned to propagate public service broadcasting’s fat-headed world view. Snow, by contrast, is a man with his own enthusiasms and eccentricities. He is almost the only person currently presenting news who possesses independent intelligence and a dangerous spirit of inquiry. He commands the screen. The way Channel 4 wants him out reminds me of the BBC’s dislike of the late Robin Day: it has nurtured a true original, and is therefore horrified.

•••

The printed word is becoming more and more challenging for the rising generation of media operatives. A friend recently contributed a piece to a national newspaper, and suggested, to a sub-editor checking something, that it would be best to look it up in Who’s Who. The man rang him back. ‘How do you use this book?’ he asked, as if the concept of alphabetical order were beyond him.


Show comments
Close