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The Spectator's Notes

Vote Leave won the referendum, but it’s losing the government

Also in the Spectator’s Notes: French seductions for bankers, Labour anti-Semitism, BBC fees and global warming fears

22 October 2016

9:00 AM

22 October 2016

9:00 AM

Vote Leave was the most successful electoral campaign in British history. Against the opposition of all three political parties, it won, achieving the largest vote for anything in this country, ever. But voting to leave is only the essential start, not the fulfilment, and now there is no Vote Leave. After victory, the campaign’s leaders went their various ways. Some were lulled into a false sense of security by Mrs May’s clear declaration of Brexit intent, and by the fact that one of their top colleagues, Stephen Parkinson, is now installed in 10 Downing Street. Nick Timothy, now all-powerful in Mrs May’s counsels, was running the New Schools Network during the campaign. Its offices are in Westminster Tower, the same building as Vote Leave, and he used to drop in and smile benignly on its proceedings. So, after the result, the campaign has friends in high places. But since Mrs May had been a Remainer and David Cameron had forbidden any preparatory work on the Leave option, no one inside the system knew what to do next. Government departments, the Bank of England, the BBC and, of course, the chancelleries of Europe, have undergone no ‘de-Ba’athification’. Although they lost, they have it in their power to shape the process against the result voted for and throw spanners in the works they are charged with operating. Since the end of the party conference season, this has been happening, and their stories and scares have dominated the airwaves. Two organisations — Change Britain and the website Brexit Central — have spun out of Vote Leave, but neither seems well placed to do the job now required. I have written before that something — working title, The 17.4 Million Committee — needs to be created to campaign every day. It would challenge every false claim made about what happens next and produce its own data, stories and policy suggestions to keep pushing the argument forward. It needs to hurry.

The French are trying to seduce the British to come and work in Paris. A video hymns the delights of La Defense, the Gallic Canary Wharf. It is a healthy Brexit effect that the French now feel that they can no longer fight the City of London solely by trying to regulate it, and must try persuasion instead. The prospect of British departure reawakens the spirit of competition in a continent which had largely replaced it with bureaucracy. By leaving, Britain ought to win first-mover advantage in this contest, but even if we don’t, we will have done a service to our neighbours which we could never have managed if we had voted to stay.


Part of the horrible recrimination caused by the ill-founded Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been anonymous denunciation of those involved by those involved. After Dame Lowell Goddard resigned, having comprehensively and inevitably failed in her impossible task as chairman, the Times ran a splash last week in which unnamed participants in the fiasco accused her of racism. They also alleged that she ‘nursed a deep reverence for the royal family’. It is interesting that Dame Lowell’s accusers think this ‘deep reverence’ was on a par with racism as a disqualification for her job. Aren’t judges, in Dame Lowell’s home country of New Zealand as well as here, supposed to serve the Queen? Will Dame Lowell’s successor, Alexis Jay, now have to manifest contempt for the royal family in order to secure the loyalty of the fractious interest groups involved?

The Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons is surely right that the Labour party is blind to the anti-Semitism in its midst. This reversal of Labour’s pro-Jewish attitudes in the 20th century and its socialist pro-Zionism in the first 20 years of the state of Israel is one of the most astonishing and miserable changes to have happened in British politics. But is this a matter for a parliamentary committee? These committees work only if they are all-party and do not get into party battles. Their work will become pointless if they exploit temporary majorities (here produced by two anti-Corbyn Labour MPs signing up against him) to attack one another: they can do that in the chamber any day of the week.

Continuing to read James Stourton’s biography of Kenneth Clark (see last week’s Notes), I noticed that when, during the war, he appeared on Any Questions? (which was then the name for the radio programme that later became the Brains Trust), Clark was paid 20 guineas a go. The current equivalent of that sum is £651.08, says the internet. There is no Brains Trust today, but when I appear on the modern Any Questions?, which takes up much more time than the Brains Trust because you have to travel all over the country to reach it, I get paid £225. I would not resent the rate being almost three times lower than it was more than 70 years ago were it not for the fact that the real-terms salaries of top BBC executives have, by contrast, increased by about six times over the same period.

On Tuesday I attended Matt Ridley’s lecture to the Global Warming Policy Foundation at the Royal Society. It was a tour de force. One point that struck home was how scares run in fashions. According to Ridley, the hole in the ozone layer is very much the same size as it was when we all got worried about it in the 1980s, yet few today live in fear as they did then. Even Al Gore has fallen silent in his claim that the hole was sending rabbits living in the Tierra del Fuego blind. A yet more curious example of the change in fashion is that, in the 1980s, it was commonplace for people to say that nuclear weapons made them unable to sleep at night because of the fear they felt for their children. Today, because of proliferation, the danger of nuclear bombs is probably greater than it was then, but you hardly meet anyone who claims to lose a wink of sleep over it.


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