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The Spectator's Notes

Maybe nations aren’t enough – but we still need them

Also in the Spectator’s Notes: the feet of May and Sturgeon; the return of side-saddle; prison sentences for animal cruelty

1 April 2017

9:00 AM

1 April 2017

9:00 AM

An email from the high-minded Carnegie Endowment, marking the triggering of Article 50 and the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, speaks of ‘The Closing of the European Mind’. ‘The cult of the protective sovereign nation-state,’ it goes on, ‘will not provide convincing solutions to 21st-century challenges, which are inherently transnational.’ This is true, in a way. Lots of modern challenges cannot be solved by the nation-state alone. But is there anyone — even including the ‘Anywheres’ defined recently by David Goodhart — who would be happy to inhabit a space completely unprotected by a sovereign state? Surely it is only with the confidence engendered by living in a well-functioning nation-state that one can reach transnational agreements which will stick. The analogy might be with house-owners. Everyone knows he cannot exist in his house without being dependent on vast numbers of other people whose houses he does not own. But he will be much less fearful of co-operating with them if he feels secure in his ownership title. When Theresa May said that if you are only a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere, she was criticised, because it sounded nationalistic. It was a statement of literal fact. Citizenship of the world sounds a fine thing, but it offers no protections. It has no rule of law meaningful for the individual and no democratic government. The failure of internationalists to understand the need for secure nations is, from all points of view, tragic, because it means that what Gorbachev used to call the ‘Common European House’ is built on sand.

One must not make odious comparisons between Mrs May’s legs and those of Ms Sturgeon, but it is not sexist to ask which is the more sure-footed. So far, Ms Sturgeon has run much the faster, and by doing so has gained attention far in excess of the numbers she can command. Mrs May might look the more plodding. But as Ms Sturgeon charges forward yet again with a call for another referendum, I wonder if she is becoming like Bonnie Prince Charlie, who reached Derby, and then slipped.


In most places, the hunting season is over. A charming recent trend has been the return of the side-saddle, sometimes with special meets where the Dianas of the chase appear in considerable numbers. At point-to-points, there are side-saddle ‘dashes’ — a sort of race, but with points awarded for style as well. The one of the Southdown Eridge on 9 April already has a waiting list. Like everyone who has never ridden side-saddle, I can scarcely believe it possible, but I am assured by Biddy Akerman, who has the habit (in both senses) in our hunt, the great thing is that ‘The horse can’t get rid of you’, so falls are rare. According to ‘To Whom the Goddess’, the pre-war classic on women and hunting, side-saddle is good because ‘1. Many women feel a deal safer; 2. More comfortable; 3. Most women look a deal nicer; 4. Many can ride thus bigger, better, galloping horses.’ Point 3 counts for much. It turns out, counter-culturally, that covering your head with a tall hat, your face with a veil, and your legs with a habit and boots is far more alluring than being nakedly visible — without all the tiresome religious problems of the niqab. ‘I’ve never had so many proposals of marriage as when riding side-saddle,’ says Biddy. She refuses them all, being (happily) married. But the gain for woman power is enormous.

Walking through Pimlico this week, I spotted a green plaque (the Westminster Council equivalent of blue plaques) paying tribute to a former Warwick Way resident. He was Arthur Haygarth (ob. 1903). The plaque describes him as ‘cricketer, historian and Old Harrovian’. I looked up Haygarth. He played for the MCC and wrote cricketing biographies. He was much respected. But why mention on his plaque that he went to Harrow? It is not an achievement worthy of public note. Perhaps the council considered it a disadvantage manfully overcome, as people used always to say how remarkable Ernest Bevin was because he became Foreign Secretary despite being the illegitimate son of a farm labourer. Other Harrovians have plaques — Lord Byron, for example, was the first person ever to receive a blue one. But in all cases, except Haygarth’s, the school is passed over in silence.

I also walked passed Parliament, five days after Khalid Masood’s fatal attack. I looked at all the armed policemen on all the gates visible to the public. All were talking to one another rather than surveying the scene in front of them. As I write, the only person, so far as we know, being actively investigated by the authorities for his part in the events of last week is Sir Michael Fallon’s close protection officer, who shot Masood dead. Under our rules, it is automatic that the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates any officer who shoots anyone. It is hard to know whether to admire this as a mark of civilisation or gasp in exasperation.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is running a poster campaign to increase sentences for cruelty to animals. The current maximum is six months. It is probably popular — almost all campaigns for higher prison sentences are. But I doubt if the public interest would be served by locking up offenders for five years, as Battersea demands. The prisons are already full to bursting, increasingly by elderly people accused (in some cases, falsely) of ‘historic’ child abuse. Each prisoner costs the taxpayer more than £30,000 a year. One should be prepared to listen to the arguments, however. My real point is different: why should a dogs’ home campaign on public policy? It is a marked feature of 21st-century charities that the people who run them get bored by the act of caring and find it more exciting to get into political advocacy. The RSPCA is the classic example. This is usually an abuse of donors’ generosity, because the millions are mostly given so that charities may succour, not shout.


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