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The Spectator's Notes

David Cameron's plot to keep us in the EU (it's working)

Plus: An internet connection with Turkey, the curse of the 'garage action', and the advance of France in Nigeria

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

I write this before the results of the European elections, making the not very original guess that Ukip will do well. Few have noticed that the rise of Ukip coincides with a fall in the number of people saying they will vote to get Britain out of the EU. The change is quite big. The latest Ipsos Mori poll has 54 per cent wanting to stay in (and 37 per cent wanting to get out), compared with 41 per cent (with 49 per cent outers) in September 2011. If getting out becomes the strident property of a single party dedicated to the purpose, it becomes highly unlikely that the majority will vote for it. The main parties will conspire to push the idea of EU exit to the fringe. Waverers will wobble towards the status quo. It will be 1975 all over again, which is surely what David Cameron has always intended.

On Saturday night, the power of the internet hit me. Email after email, all from Turks, protested that Turkish television censors the truth, and sent me clips allegedly showing the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan punching a man protesting about the recent atrocious mining disaster. They begged me (and presumably lots of other journalists) to expose what had happened. Unfortunately, the clips are of poor quality and do not really prove their point; but in fact the British press had already published an image of Erdogan’s spin doctor, the young Malcolm Tucker of Ankara, putting his well-heeled boot in. The benefit of the web is that such news cannot easily be hidden. The disadvantage is that by Sunday morning, I had received 100 identical messages, and there seemed no reason, in principle, why I should not receive one from every Turk with a computer and a dislike of Mr Erdogan. The photo is of great value because it is now the global icon of the spin doctor’s profession. By the way, according, also, to the internet, the Turkish for ‘The Thick of It’ is ‘Bu, kalin’. I suspect something has got lost in translation.

A strange aspect of the continuing ‘Plebgate’ affair is the libel case against the possible victim, Andrew Mitchell, brought by Toby Rowland, the policeman who originally logged his alleged behaviour. This is what is known as a ‘garage action’. It works thus: a member of the public claims that the police have framed him. The police officer involved, paid for by the Police Federation (much of whose income comes from public money), then threatens to sue him. Unless he is exceptionally courageous or rich, the member of the public then has to give in even if his claim is true (as Mr Mitchell’s may turn out to have been). So the police can accuse people, and then sue them if they accuse them back. It is almost as outrageous as saying that to plead innocent in court is to libel the police. The phrase ‘garage action’ refers to the fact that the police officer involved can then build himself a garage with the proceeds.


At the weekend, there was a summit in Paris about the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria. President Hollande took charge. Why? Nigeria is anglophone and full of Anglicans (whom the Archbishop of Canterbury actively assists); hundreds of thousands of Nigerians now live in Britain, partly because Boko Haram threatens peaceful Christian life in their native land. France has dominant influence only with Nigeria’s less powerful neighbours. How has the British government got so sleepy about this dreadful state of affairs that Nigeria looks to France instead? After the genocide in Rwanda, French influence was discredited there and Britain and the English language filled the space. Now we have fallen behind in the most important country in black Africa. How long before President Goodluck Jonathan changes his name to Bonnechance?

Horse and Hound, my other magazine outlet, is to lose its excellent editor, Lucy Higginson. She is to be replaced by a ‘content director’ whose background is as a ‘brand director’. A cull of the section editors is expected. One of the magazine’s biggest markets is hunting people, whose number has grown since the ban. Yet after all this, the only person on the magazine who knows about hunting will (assuming she survives) be the wonderful hunting editor, Polly Portwin. The magazine’s publisher is no sort of equestrian and is rumoured to be a cyclist. It is well known that most magazines (though not, interestingly, The Spectator) are suffering an identity crisis as the world goes digital, but why is getting rid of editors the answer? The editor of a publication is its maker’s guarantee. His or her loyalty is to the title and, above all, to the readers, even if this sometimes seems to conflict with the wider, short-term interests of the owning group. Readers trust the publication, and therefore buy it, because it is edited. If it isn’t, they won’t, so it will collapse. It is a strange thing that the current media culture, though obsessed by the idea of the ‘brand’, does not recognise that editors and titles are by far the strongest known form of branding in publishing. The trick is to find the best way of expressing this digitally, not to abolish it.

After his unexpected triumph with Gwynne’s Grammar (it was No. 1 bestseller for weeks), N.M. Gwynne has produced Gwynne’s Latin (Ebury Press). He is absolute on the difference between ‘learning’ (which he claims his book can ensure) and ‘guessing’, and he thinks that Latin courses which encourage the latter not only do not work, but actively damage the capacity to learn. Latin just cannot be guessed, and that is why it is the quintessence of education. This stark point is right. Our culture rejects the idea that something must be learnt, unless it is strictly practical, such as how to drive a car. In doing so, it rejects the idea of education itself.

Latest startling fact about the Great War: twelve Test cricketers were killed in the conflict. Four were English, one Australian. Seven were South African.


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