Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 14 July 2012

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A big reason for opposing these Lords reforms is that they would threaten the power of the Commons. If the Commons passed them, however, it would deserve to be threatened. It would display — like No. 10 Downing Street — an ignorance of the constitution and an arrogance about process which undermines the point of Parliament. So the forced withdrawal of the ‘programme motion’ — the guillotine — which probably looked to the outside world like a weird device made more incomprehensible by the fact that the second reading then won a large majority, was actually a classic assertion of the rights of Parliament against the executive.

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One consequence of the reform fiasco is the pivotal power it gives to Labour. Conservative government loyalists say that colleagues must vote for the reforms because only then will the Liberals vote for the boundary changes they desperately want. This is true, but Labour does not want these changes. So, although it feels it has to support Lords reform in principle, it will in practice do everything to ensure that the bill, in practice, fails. Without the guillotine, that ‘everything’ will be a lot. The reformers are trapped, as they deserve to be. 

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The Anti-Olympic ‘Family’ is growing fast. True, we have not got £13 billion of government money behind us, or even an Anti-Olympic Charter, but our principles of Anti-Olympism are clear. Where the Olympic Charter proclaims ‘a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind’, we say, ‘If you want to play games, pay for them yourselves.’ Where the Charter says, ‘The Olympic Movement is the concentrated, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the Supreme Authority of the International Olympic Committee, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism’, we in the Shire say, ‘Piss off, Sauron.’

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Our capital city groans under a piece of legislation passed by Tony Blair’s government called the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. This provides that the Host City Contract imposed on London by the IOC must carry all before it. Like a state, the IOC has the right to its own coin and banknote programme. It also has stupefyingly comprehensive rights over any Olympic emblem, or any word which might seem even a tiny bit Olymp-ish. The Act is full of ferocious powers to enforce this, including retrospective ones, so that a café already, long before the Games, called the Café Olympia, now has to change its name. A constable is empowered to ‘remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article’, using ‘reasonable force’, and the Olympic Delivery Authority is further empowered to recover from the offender the costs of that removal ‘as if it were a debt’. This column (see above) has decided to hang the Olympic rings on its door, and invite the constable to remove, destroy, conceal or erase them. The editor has kindly agreed to deal with the bailiffs.

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Earlier this week, I caught a rush-hour train at Charing Cross. As we sat still because of a breakdown of the alarm system, I read an article by Sir Christopher Meyer in the Evening Standard in which he argued that London might now be the ‘capital of the world’. He cited ‘leaders of the Somali community in the East End, a young Russian entrepreneur, Andrey Andreev, who runs one of the world’s largest social networking sites, pop singer Kate Nash, Mayor Boris Johnson, [and the] owner of this newspaper, Evgeny Lebedev’. All these glittering persons ‘bear witness to an optimistic city where anything is possible … attracting people from all over the globe’. After I had finished Sir Christopher, the rest of the Evening Standard and a chapter of my book, the conductor announced that our train would not, after all, run. So we got back on to the platform. I walked past an oldish, wild-eyed man panting and gasping to get to his departing train. He was wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Keep calm and carry on’. Eventually, we got on to another train. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ announced the conductor, ‘please allow extra time for your journey tomorrow. Olympic tests will be carried out at all main stations.’ After a pause, he added, ‘I don’t know what carnage that will inflict.’

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Thinking of ‘attracting people from all over the globe’, I notice a cultural change in the pairing habits of the alpha male. Until recently, when a successful man decided that he owed it to himself to part from his long-standing wife and take up with another woman, he tended to choose someone who either was, or could have been, his secretary. (I remember the late Auberon Waugh proving in these pages that this was true of roughly 90 per cent of the Thatcher cabinet.) Some very rich men, it is true, preferred exotic foreign women — the late Lord Rothermere, for example, married a Korean hand model — but few seemed to seek their career equals. Nowadays, lots of big shots are to be seen with women who, as well as being (obviously) beautiful and much younger than they, are also hedge-fund titans, professors of biochemistry, human rights lawyers or brain-surgeons. Almost always, they come from the Far East (a trend first set by Rupert Murdoch) or the former Soviet Union. My heart goes out to the first wives. In the old days, they could always comfort themselves that the Other Woman was an airhead, or a submissive slave. It must be very galling that today she is usually an egghead. 

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It was not so much the fact that Andy Murray wept which was so shaming: it was that the British praised him for it. Surely anyone from a third nation watching the Wimbledon final would have seen a clear contrast between two types of character — one elegant, cool-headed and utterly concentrated, the other self-pitying, graceless and lacking in finish. One was Swiss, the other British. Each typified the prevailing culture of his country. The better culture won.