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The Spectator's Notes

Don’t rage at Cameron’s honours, but at the bureaucrats who blocked them

Also in The Spectator’s Notes: Gold lions on Eastbourne Pier, jewellery for men and a coming change in the meaning of ‘prep’

6 August 2016

9:00 AM

6 August 2016

9:00 AM

The Daily Telegraph revealed on Tuesday that Michael Spencer, the chief executive of Icap, has been blocked for a peerage by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac). All the indignation just now is against David Cameron’s resignation honours list, packed with his ‘cronies’, who allegedly include Mr Spencer. It is misdirected. The real anger should go against the pharisaical bureaucracy which has been imposed upon patronage. No one is allowed to know why Mr Spencer has been blocked, yet the world knows that he has been because, supposedly, he has ‘the wrong sniff’ about him. His company was fined by regulators for transgressions in relation to Libor, but he and his senior staff were not involved, and the three Icap employees charged with criminal offences were all acquitted. There is nothing known against Mr Spencer. So the poor man is actually in a worse position than if he had never been nominated for a peerage at all – libelled, in effect, and without means of redress. He was a very successful Conservative party treasurer, and all his predecessors for many, many years in that post have been made peers. He was a big donor to the Conservative party. He is also a big employer, running a global business. All these things are, in principle, meritorious (and would be equally so if he had supported Labour rather than the Tories). Political parties are important voluntary organisations which should not be run by the state, so individuals who give and raise a lot of money for them are doing us all a favour. It would be perverse if they thereby disqualified themselves from honours. Holac is filled by respectable people but none of them, almost needless to say, has followed a career in business. They will therefore tend to find it easy to wave through the ennoblement of former permanent under-secretaries, ex-ambassadors, vice-chancellors and quangocrats, but get twitchy when faced with a man who has made money. There are many arguments against an appointed House of Lords, but since we have one it would be much better if the Prime Minister, after taking informal advice and agreeing conventions with other parties, simply put in who she or he wanted, and faced public anger if she picked a bad ’un. The 21st-century doctrine of rule by ‘independent’ committees makes public life ever more enmeshed in the interests of a self-perpetuating establishment, and ever less open to new people.

A different sort of pier has been created in Eastbourne after a fire closed it last year. According to its Indian owner, who has restored it, it should be referred to as ‘Sheikh’s Pier’. He is Sheikh Abid Gulzar, and has admitted, under cross-questioning, that Sheikh is his name, not his title. Now Mr Gulzar has annoyed many residents of Eastbourne by his reworking of the pier, which has painted gold the domes and the faces of the 40 lions on the original ironwork. Historic England has ordered him to stop. Mr Gulzar has a bit of a thing about lions, including a company called Lions Hotels Ltd and the Boship Farm (Lions) Hotel by a roundabout near Hailsham, in East Sussex, which is colourfully described on TripAdvisor (‘bins not emptied, smelt of damp, squeaky bed, trouser press not working’). On the surprisingly remote Pevensey Marsh, he owns what I have seen described in the press as an ‘80-acre ranch’, with potential as a wildlife park. It looks to the untrained eye like a couple of fields and some manky sheds, but is nevertheless guarded by a pair of stone lions. We have often hunted past it and wondered how he got planning permission. But I think one should not join the hue and cry against his pier. Piers are exotic by nature, and many of them have an Indian air to them. Seaside towns — see the Brighton Pavilion, the Bexhill seafront houses connected to the Maharajah of Cooch Behar — owe an architectural debt to India. Let Sheikh Gulzar be.

Just now, Theresa May understandably feels the need to fly to a great many European countries to introduce herself to their leaders. But one of the eventual benefits of leaving the European Union ought to be that prime ministers can mostly stay at home. The number of leaders’ meetings that ‘Europe’ generates is terrifying. It takes heads of government out of their own country virtually every working week. Being a Type 1 diabetic, Mrs May is particularly vulnerable to funny hours, exhausting journeys and enormous banquets. With Britain out of the EU, she could flourish by staying here and — as good prime ministers used very successfully to do — dominating the House of Commons.

I have not worn a watch since mine broke in the late 1970s. I felt little call for one in town, because there are plenty of clocks around, and in the country I like trying to work out the time by looking at the sun. In the age of the mobile phone, there is no need for a watch anywhere. Yet the male watch market is so enormous that entire magazines devoted to the subject appear in weekend newspapers. Why? There can be few other examples (the only one that springs to mind is side-by-side shotguns) where people will pay thousands of pounds for an out-of-date technology newly made. Experts tell me that watches are essentially male jewellery. Such men may have eight or ten watches for different occasions, none bought for their timekeeping. If you look at most such watches with a cold eye, you will find they are not beautiful. Time for men who feel they must wear jewellery to put on instead necklaces, pendant earrings, bangles. There is no stigma nowadays.

The High Court has held that the NHS cannot escape responsibility for funding the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Prep, used to prevent the spread of Aids. So presumably the word ‘prep’ is about to become common currency. Will prep schools therefore wish to be renamed? Or might they stick with their longstanding abbreviation? After all, they are a sort of pre-exposure prophylaxis for public schools.

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