Charles Moore

The Spectator’s Notes | 21 July 2012

The Spectator's Notes | 21 July 2012
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Having asked around, I can fairly confidently report that the government’s efforts to push ahead with some even slightly elected House of Lords will not work. The rebels are quite rightly holding their ground. Only if the Labour party comes to the government’s rescue can the plans get through, and why should it? People are coalescing, however, round a collection of reforms not involving elections which they see as modest and sensible. Perhaps that is good politics, but I would argue that a wholly unenlightened position is preferable. If you look at these changes — reducing the numbers, getting rid of the hereditaries, formalising systems of appointment, kicking out peers with criminal convictions and inviting peers to retire — they all tend to the same effect, which is to impose conformity. The hereditaries are the last element not subject to patronage, and it is the disappearance of most of them which has made the House so appallingly London-centric. The numbers are a problem only because of the revolting concept of the ‘working’ peer. Reformers talk of removing those who do not attend. What is the point of that? Non-attenders effectively remove themselves, except at times of great national need. If anyone needs to be culled, it is those who constantly turn up. Even the ejection of criminals is a dangerous proposal. We all know that, when tyranny starts, the enemies of the tyrant start to be convicted of crimes: their eviction is a form of control. As for age, Nick Clegg says how monstrous it is that there are more peers over 80 than under 40. Now that the old form an ever larger part of the population, he could not be more wrong. Oldies are grotesquely under-represented in our public life, and hardly any of them was involved in the mess made over the last 20 years by us younger ones. More power to their faltering elbows!

•••

The difficulties of the modern western dogma of human rights are well illustrated by the problems of teeth. I gather that the main American detention camp in Afghanistan, though severe, has very high standards of care for its prisoners. These include a dental service, compliant with human rights. The Taleban terrorists held have never had any dental care in their lives. They therefore find it terrifying, and accuse their benefactors of torture. I was reminded of this when reading Harriet Sergeant’s gripping new book, Among the Hoods (reviewed on p. 35). When she tidies up the young black delinquent Tuggy Tug before an important lunch which she has arranged to help him go straight, she gets him to brush his teeth: ‘…his mouth flooded with blood. He did not know about dental floss or gum disease. He had never been to a dentist. As a child in care you could refuse to go. “Human rights”, he said vaguely.’ Sergeant establishes that this is indeed the case. According to the Department for Education, children in care ‘have a right to refuse a health assessment or dental check’. So both compulsory dental treatment for grown-up prisoners and voluntary dental treatment for children are human rights. Neither seems a good idea.

•••

Our Anti-Olympic Family swells by the day. Millions of us militantly display our apathy by doing nothing whatever. This column has not yet been arrested for its disrespectful use of Olympic symbols, so this week the fox sets to work on the London Games logo (see above). I heard the Liberal peer, Lord Oakeshott, complaining on Any Questions? that the Games are fine for London but make everyone else feel left out. My experience is the opposite. There is some genuine enthusiasm for the torch as it tours the country, but for those who live, work in or visit the capital, the Games are almost 100 per cent negative. This is a corporate/governmental event for which London is the unwilling launch-pad.

•••

So Londoners should feel mischievous pleasure at the story which I heard last week that a major London financial company, having bought £2 million worth of Olympic tickets to hand out to its clients, is now advised that it cannot do so because this contravenes the Bribery Act. If true, what a marvellous case of the passion for corporate hospitality and the passion for priggish legislation cancelling one another out.

•••

One touching torch scene took place in the Iffley Road, Oxford last week. This was the place where Roger Bannister, just before qualifying as a doctor, ran the first ever sub-four minute mile on 6 May 1954. Sir Roger, now aged 83, carried the Olympic torch. Presuming on a slight acquaintance, I rang him up. In the approach to the 1948 London Olympics, he told me, he decided, aged 17, not to put his name forward as a ‘possible’ because of the then strong belief in the danger of burnout if you ran too hard, too young. Although already an undergraduate at Oxford, he was only 17. He was, however, assistant to the British Olympic chef de mission. He recalled that the entire Olympics cost less than £1 million (the current cost is somewhere between £12 and £20 billion), and that a profit of nearly £30,000 was made. The trick was to build no new facilities and make all the athletes stay at the RAF camp in Uxbridge. Sir Roger refuses to criticise this year’s arrangements, on the grounds that ‘the whole point of the Olympics is that they are the best’ and ‘there is no real amateurism left’ anyway. But it is impossible to consider his career without noting a phenomenon not mentioned in the Olympic Charter, a sense of proportion.

•••

The Mayor of London has appointed the great cartoonist Nicholas Garland as what it is presumably illegal to call his official Olympic artist. I have spoken to Nick, and unfortunately he is so far interpreting his duties respectfully. He wants to do pretty pictures of people throwing javelins etc, but we Anti-Olympists demand the cartoonist’s saeva indignatio — a Coca-cola executive burping down the Zil lane, G4S employees snoring — the sporting equivalent of Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’.