Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 15 August 2019

The Spectator's Notes | 15 August 2019
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We seem to be building up to a second Tiananmen Square, 30 years after the first. This time the venue is Hong Kong. As then, the Chinese government longs to kill protestors, but it hesitates because it fears global reaction. It therefore matters greatly that the ‘rules-based international order’ strongly assert that breaking the 1984 Sino-British Agreement would put China beyond the pale. No international discussion of Brexit is complete without a reverent invocation of the Good Friday Agreement (which in fact has almost nothing to do with EU membership). The Hong Kong Agreement should command such reverence, and its pledge of ‘One country: two systems’ should be the test of whether China is a law-abiding international partner. This is not an obscure dispute about a small territory, but a big one about legality, liberty and, by extension, trade and prosperity. The Hong Kong legal model is the one China enticingly offers in its Belt and Road initiative. Yet it is trashing it. After Tiananmen, the Chinese knew they had overreached and had to creep slowly back to respectability. By the turn of the century, they achieved this, but now they are losing it again as they have become more repressive, corrupt and threatening. So the wider world has leverage. Tom Tugendhat’s suggestion on Tuesday of offering Hong Kong people British citizenship is not as daft as it sounds. Thirty years ago, when I edited this magazine, we pushed this idea on the grounds that, far from persuading Hong Kong people to leave, British passports would give them the confidence to stay. Mrs Thatcher introduced a very small version, extending full British passports to more than 200,000. It was just enough to prevent a flight of citizens and capital. We should try a more ambitious version today.

Efforts are being made to ban hands-free conversation on a mobile phone in a car. An equally good case could be made for banning all conversation. When a driver has to execute a difficult manoeuvre such as pulling out into a busy road, he/she usually falls silent in order to concentrate. You cannot talk without reducing your attention to the road. I point this out not to encourage a hands-free ban, but to oppose it. Cars are supposed to drive families around and so the risks of conversation must be tolerated. It should be accepted that the car nowadays is also a place of work and the hands-free mobile, for many, is the necessary tool of their trade.

John Fuller, our local MP in East Sussex, was held for two days in custody after shouting drunkenly in the Chamber that the Speaker was ‘an insignificant little fellow’. Before readers cheer him to the echo, I must disappoint them: the Speaker in question was not John Bercow. This happened more than 200 years ago. ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller was the 22-stone heir to a fortune in iron-mastery and gun-making, with the uncompromising family motto carbone et forcipibus (‘by charcoal and tongs’). As an MP, he had often been boisterous in the stout defence of the indefensible — notably opposing Catholic emancipation and supporting slavery, from which he benefited on his sugar plantations in Jamaica. He once told the House that the condition of the West Indian slave was ‘equal, nay superior, to the condition of the labouring poor of this country’. To be fair to him, he put his money where his mouth was, laying out £10,000 on a make-work scheme for Sussex labourers unemployed during the Napoleonic wars to build a massive stone wall round his Brightling estate. Suitably, perhaps, Fuller is best remembered for his follies. All of them survive and you can see one from the next — a tower, a temple, a summer-house, an observatory designed by Robert Smirke, a tall needle and a stone ‘sugar-loaf’. The last was possibly erected to win a bet at Brooks’s that he could see three church spires from his bedroom window: returning home, he found only two and so built the sugar-loaf as a cod third. He was a patron of the arts — commissioning Turner to paint views of his estate; a conservationist — saving nearby Bodiam Castle; and a friend of science — endowing the Fullerian professorships which continue to this day at the Royal Institution. He was also a bachelor, having been turned down by Susannah, the daughter of Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale. One gets the impression that he was kindly, rough, rich and lonely.

Fuller’s oddest decision may have come from a strange mixture of remorse and self-aggrandisement. At about the time of the Commons incident, he decided to build a stone pyramid as a mausoleum for himself in Brightling churchyard. The church is small and the pyramid is large (25 feet high), so they make a striking, crowded juxtaposition. The legend that Fuller sits upright on a chair inside the pyramid as for dinner is not true, but if it were, he would see the inscription he had placed there — the famous lines from Gray’s Elegy, ‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,/ And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,/Await alike th’ inevitable hour./The paths of glory lead but to the grave.’ Fuller erected his tomb in rude health and contemplated it for another 24 years until his death in 1834. His life makes me invoke another line of Gray: ‘’tis folly to be wise’ — and assert that it is wise to build follies. They are Fuller’s legacy. As with many rich eccentrics, his fortune did not long survive him, and the parish of Brightling needs £45,000 to restore the magnificent but now-crumbling pyramid. If you would like to contribute, please email for the attention of Jane Beard.

The Labour party thinks grouse-shooting should cease so that the moors can be ‘rewilded’. Grouse are wild birds which, unlike pheasants and partridges, cannot be bred in captivity on any large scale. If the moors were rewilded, their chief wild feature, unique to the British Isles, would vanish.