Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 11 August 2012

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Departing as Conservative MP for Corby, Louise Mensch writes a ‘letter of resignation’ to the Prime Minister. Why? Being an MP is not a government post: she is not a minister. An MP should write to his or her constituents and/or the chairman of the constituency association. It is constitutionally wrong for Mrs Mensch to write to Mr Cameron, except perhaps a private note of apology for inflicting a by-election on his party.  But the fact that she did write such a letter accurately reflects why she is an MP. David Cameron made her one, through his A-list system of imposing preferred candidates. Her departure exposes the dangers of this type of intervention by the party leader. The A-list is a form of patronage, and patronage arouses expectations of more favours. These have not been forthcoming. The demands of the coalition mean that A-listers have not been given glittering prizes. They find, to their consternation, that they are ‘merely’ MPs. This makes them resent the patron who has failed them.

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No doubt if I were Member for Corby, had three young children and had fairly recently married the manager of the rock group Metallica, who lives in New York, I would apply for the Chiltern Hundreds with alacrity. One is only human. But Mrs Mensch’s story does raise the question of whether all this glamour and talent are really suitable for Parliament. Representing the people is essentially quite dour. Those who are good at it often have large egos, but they do accept that they must undergo tedium and disappointment, and, in an odd way, find those things rewarding. Young Margaret Roberts stood in two elections in a safe Labour seat, and then, after marrying glamorous Major Thatcher (divorcee, fast car, company owner), was turned down for a slew of Tory ones, before finally reaching the Commons ten years after she started trying. If she had been A-listed, would she ever have acquired the steel needed to get to Downing Street? Mrs Mensch may well be ‘feisty and unstuffy’, but she is not any sort of outsider. She was educated at Woldingham School and Christ Church, Oxford, and her mother is Daphne Bagshawe, formerly the majestic chairman of our own county council, East Sussex. Her father, like Mr Cameron’s, was a stockbroker. Her meteoric career (I use the word ‘meteoric’ exactly, referring to something that shoots brightly past and then drops from sight) illustrates not so much the benefits of a breath of fresh air as the pitfalls of privilege. It is good to change the Conservative party, but it must be done from the bottom up, not from the top down.

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While my father convalesces from a fall, I read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall aloud to him. I imagine how the great historian might have described Boris Johnson at the Olympics: ‘If David, in his haughtiness, hoped, by a prodigal misdirection of the state’s treasure into the pomp and magnificence of games, to restore to his ill-sorted cabal the affection of the people whose base appetites he secretly disdained, but whose favour his policy required, he had little reckoned with the emulation of Boris. Although the mayor possessed, like David, the elegant accomplishments of a Patrician education, his vices, which stood plain for all to see, were of the sort which, being marked more for their impetuous heat than their frigid cruelty, endeared him to the vulgar; and as greatly as the senate, from whose jealous number Boris had withdrawn himself, reprobated his mountebank ambition, in the same measure did the stupid multitude acclaim his triumph. Golden-headed, he offered them the gold of fools; recognised by the distinctive appellation of the Muscovite and advancing under the outward accoutrements and with the antic gesticulation of the buffoon, he concealed his black-hearted purpose. He offered the populace his auspicious “Mojo”. They hailed him; and David, watching from the eminence of his precarious magistracy, trembled.’

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A n old Labour hand rings: ‘All you journalists are missing something when you say that Boris couldn’t find a seat if he wanted to be leader. There’s always Orpington.’ The current Member for Orpington is Boris’s younger brother, Joe. Blood, my friend reckons, would prove thicker than water.

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Since I have followed the games mainly from the news, I can report that the presence of other nations in the Olympics is scarcely acknowledged. Probably the only foreigners whose names quite definitely got reported and repeated were Phelps, the American all-time greatest gold-winner, and Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Otherwise, they appear only when in direct competition with the British, or when, as did various Orientals, they play to lose in badminton. What is supposedly the greatest international event is in practice almost purely nationalistic. It is as if one were learning about the second world war without being told about Barbarossa, Pearl Harbor or Hiroshima.

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People often comment that it is strange to hear French spoken in Olympic announcements. They are right, I suppose. Even the EU, so French in inspiration, has effectively relegated French to its second language. The old convention that French is the language of diplomacy survives only in a few phrases — communiqué, démarche, en clair. But the Olympic Charter, that document of semi-fascist ambition for a new, muscle-bound world order, still holds out. In deference to its origins, it prescribes French, before English, at all times. It is the only thing about it which I find touching.

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Crossrail is advertising for a Head of Community Relations, a job which will somehow help build the 21km of tunnels required. The following words appear in the job description: ‘Deliver’ (and ‘delivery’), ‘partners’, ‘key’ (twice), ‘proactive’, ‘pivotal’, ‘stakeholder’, ‘champion’, ‘life chances’, ‘Place Agenda’, ‘build the function’, ‘organisationally wide core agenda’, ‘engaged force’, ‘complex scenarios’, ‘problem solving skills’, ‘diversity’ and ‘profound insight’.