Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 14 March 2009

Charles Moore's reflections on the week

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Why are people surprised that two soldiers and a policemen have been murdered in Northern Ireland? One of the key parts of the ‘peace process’ was the Patten report on policing. This recommended the disbandment of the RUC. The part of the RUC which caused most offence to republicans was the Special Branch. As a result, almost its entire body of expertise has been destroyed, and many of its individual former members brought under suspicion of loyalist ‘collusion’ by the authorities. So the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (the word ‘force’ is not permitted, of course) knows terrifyingly little about the activities of dissident republicans. This is why the Chief Constable belatedly realised that he had to call in the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, and why the republicans felt free to strike. The security forces are now more ignorant about the terrorist situation on the ground than they have ever been.

It is inherent in the ideology of the ‘peace process’ that Sinn Fein has never had to admit the evil of killing security forces in order to take part in government. That is why Gerry Adams speaks as he does. It is not just that he is cold and unfeeling, though he is. It is also that he maintains the view that the killing was necessary. His argument against such murders today is strategic, not moral: the best way of achieving a United Ireland at this point is by using peaceful methods, but violence remains, in principle, justified. The dissidents are spoiling his plan and questioning his right to run the nationalist community. To use a favourite Adams word, there is ‘logic’ in the new attacks. The young hotheads know from Adams’s own example that, if you kill enough people, the British government will eventually talk to you and give you power. For them, these murders are a macabre but rational investment in the future, the same investment that Adams himself made more than 30 years ago.

How overwhelming is Adams’s vanity. He told the Today programme that the dissidents ‘consider Martin McGuinness and myself as legitimate targets, so it’s not just pizza delivery men or British soldiers’. What a world of callous self-importance is contained in that phrase ‘not just’.

This weekend, the Prince of Wales was reported warning that there only ‘100 months left’ to prevent the catastrophe of climate change. If he is right, it is already much too late. It is quite impossible for governments, in the middle of the worst financial disaster in history, to concert the measures he wants. We are all doomed. I find this a perversely encouraging thought: it means that, in eight years’ time, HRH will have no reason to make any more speeches on the subject. He will be like the leader of one of those small religious sects in places like Wyoming who take their followers up to the top of a mountain to await the end of the world and then, when nothing happens, come rather sheepishly back down and get on with normal life. Unlike such leaders, though, Prince Charles may well be King.

Having written a couple of articles mentioning people who got it right about the credit crunch, I get messages about other such Cassandras. My dear friend Andrew Gimson identifies himself. He emails me to point out that, when he returned from living in Germany in 2000, he wrote a piece about how London was ‘in the grip of a mad speculative boom’: ‘The Brown boom surpasses even the Lawson boom, and can be expected to have the same fatal impact on the prime minister of the day once it bursts.’ Andrew’s prediction is piquant because, when he made it, he did not know that that Prime Minister would be Mr Brown himself. I won’t, however, give Andrew the prize for true credit-crunch foresight, because he also wrote that people were ‘unable to see that the crash must shortly come’. He was wrong by about seven years. This poor timing exacerbated the problem. Doomsayers who correctly identified the symptoms but called the moment too early were ‘proved wrong’ and, if they were financial advisers, lost money for their clients. Their apparent error emboldened people to ever greater folly.

It is not what you say, but what you do. Rumour reaches me that the City editor of the Guardian has taken to hoarding household supplies against the day of financial collapse which he sees coming.

TV Licensing (contd). A judgment handed down by the Appeal Court last month begins with these heartening words: ‘It is one of the glories of this country that every now and then one of its citizens is prepared to take a stand against the big battalions of government or industry.’ The case in question is that of Lisa Ferguson. Miss Ferguson switched her gas supplier from British Gas to npower. She informed British Gas, but they continued to bombard her with bill after bill, though she owed them no money. They threatened to cut off her supply, start legal proceedings against her and report her to the credit rating agencies. She wrote twice to the Chairman of British Gas, receiving no reply. In desperation, she sued British Gas for unlawful harassment. As Lord Justice Jacob put it ‘British Gas says... that it is perfectly all right for it to treat consumers in this way, at least if it is all just done by computer.’ It tried to prevent the case going to trial. Miss Ferguson persisted, and the court found that her claim must be heard. Just as I learnt about this case, I heard from yet another reader who has been intimidated by TV Licensing because, not having a television, he does not possess a television licence. Mr G tells me that TV Licensing have two postcodes, one of them inaccurate, for his property. The computer ignores his letters of explanation and keeps demanding money for the postcode which is wrong. When he complains, TV Licensing tells him that he, not it, must sort it out with the Post Office, which provides the database, and then puts the phone down on him. The judgment should strike fear into the BBC and all others who think that they can blame computers and go on menacing with impunity.

On a country walk recently, we emerged on to a road, near a layby. There was a sign in the hedge announcing the penalty for dropping litter there. Last time I looked, the sum was £100. Now it was £100,000. I was struck by how counterproductive this Zimbabwean inflation was. Obviously no one is really going to be fined £100,000 for dumping an old fridge in the hedge, so one gets an overwhelming sense that the law is posturing rather than enforcing — and therefore feels more inclined to dump the fridge.