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The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

1 December 2012

9:00 AM

There is excitement that a foreigner could have been made Governor of the Bank of England. But the truth is that Canadians (and Australians and New Zealanders) are not really foreigners. The common history and kinship are so strong that there is pre-existing trust. (Mark Carney, indeed, is married to an Englishwoman.) This is an unusual thing in the history of the world. You cannot imagine any non-Frenchman governing the Banque de France, or any non-German (except an Austrian?) running the Bundesbank, or a British citizen running the Fed. You cannot even imagine a US citizen being the Governor of the Bank of England. When times are hard — money troubles, war, terrorism — the ‘Old Empire’ links always prove their strength.

David Cameron wants the Church of England to ‘get with the programme’. When did Jesus ever follow such an injunction from the civil power? Would there be a religion in his name today if he had? The huge political pressure on the Church because its General Synod did not carry the vote for women bishops shows what will happen if gay marriage becomes law. The Times, in particular, is ordering the Church about with a passion not seen since Henry VIII. Whatever may currently be promised by politicians, if the Church refuses gay marriage, the courts, government departments, councils, charities, schools and so on will develop ‘anti-discriminatory’ policies and gradually exclude it from their activities. When the Queen dies, it will be argued that her successor should not be crowned according to the rites of a homophobic body. Along comes an unnecessary constitutional crisis, neatly manufactured.

Despite being a mainstream Catholic, and therefore an opponent of women’s ordination, I do agree that the C of E is acting illogically. It decided nearly 20 years ago to ordain women as priests. If it thinks they can be priests, there is no ecclesiological reason why they cannot be bishops. To be fair to the rebels though (which nobody has been), the reason that the vote was not carried was that the traditionalists were unhappy with the safeguards made for those who could not accept the change. Such provision has to be got right, because otherwise priests who faithfully followed the teaching of a male priesthood in which they were ordained would be compelled to act against conscience. The Synod voted according to its rules — rules which Parliament itself legislated for. It should not be treated as the EU treats referendums in member states — making the people vote again until they come up with the ‘right’ answer.


Recently, I went to shoot with friends. My host looked particularly healthy, happy and beautiful. She explained why: ‘Earlier this year, I gave up the Daily Mail! My whole life has changed. The world looks a completely different place.’ She was exactly like someone who has joined Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. She had been addicted to the Mail for many years, she said, being susceptible to its ability to play on female self-loathing. Like a drunk, she finally hit ‘rock bottom’ — probably reading an article about how asylum seekers give you breast cancer, or why the value of your house will fall if you ‘let yourself go’ — and has not touched a page of the stuff since. Now, recently remarried, she has re-found her skills as an artist, and is at peace. We all went out to shoot, and she curled up with Saturday’s Daily Telegraph.

Twenty years ago, Jon Connell was my deputy editor at the Sunday Telegraph. One day, he announced he wanted to leave to set up a magazine which would paraphrase the newspapers into digestible chunks for the busy, intelligent person. I told him it was a hopeless idea, but off he went. The Week was an instant success. More recently, while staying with us, Jon complained that his daughter was having a miserable time studying The Tempest for A level. Some dismal textbook told her that it was all about colonialism. Our son, a Tempest fan, expatiated on the more interesting things the play might be about, and Jon conceived the idea of short books that set out such things clearly for interested students. The Connell Guides, recently launched, are the result. In about 120 pages of text, each deals with a famous work of literature — e.g. Wuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby, a particularly brilliant one on Paradise Lost (by my wife), and, of course, The Tempest.  They are wonderfully clear, so I suppose most schools will ban them.

I am not a member of the Garrick Club — I am a bit young — but I gather that an article by Peter Jay in its latest newsletter has stirred strong feelings. Although honestly admitting that he is 75, Mr Jay is taken by many to be complaining that the members are too old. He worries that the club in 30 years’ time will have tons of money (because of its huge legacy from the estate of A.A.Milne), but only ‘a dozen members all 115 years old’. He wants members to scour the highways and byways for ‘the cadres required to secure the future we desire’ among 30- to 40-year-olds. I think he fails to notice that the ageing of the baby-boomers is producing an unprecedentedly large generation of vigorous old men. The Rolling Stones, for example, have just celebrated their Golden Jubilee concert to universal acclaim. Looking at the recent television documentary about them, I was struck by how much more interestingly transgressive than later rock musicians they were. The young are terribly conformist. Only septuagenarians can rejuvenate the club. I am sure that the Stones are waiting to be asked, and would look nice in the famous salmon-pink tie.

The generation gap, as overheard in the Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy last week. An elegant old lady was being taken round in her wheelchair by a teenage girl, presumably her granddaughter. They stopped at some ancient bronzes from what is now Israel. Old lady: ‘Now that’s what I call a graven image.’ Young woman: ‘Yer what?’


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