How I tried to buy The Spectator

The Victoria and Albert Museum kindly threw me a leaving party after eight years as chair, plus a particularly apt present: a specially commissioned illuminated V&A logo made from powder-coated steel by the designer Toby Albrow. The logo is a reference to my megalomaniacal taste for giant logos atop museum buildings. We have placed a huge one on the roof of the Young V&A in Bethnal Green, and an even bigger one – 20 feet high – on the new V&A East in Stratford, visible from three miles away in Canary Wharf. What an exhilarating and happy gig the V&A has been. I’m going to miss it and the people.

Michael Beloff QC drops names – but they’re not the ones we’re curious about

‘The law,’ according to W.S. Gilbert’s Lord Chancellor, ‘is the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent’ and, by common consent, Michael Beloff QC has been one of the prime exemplars of that excellence over the past 50 years. While he may not enjoy the profile of contemporaries such as Helena Kennedy, Michael Mansfield and Geoffrey Robertson, the Times, on his retirement, described him as ‘one of the great ornaments of the Bar’, and he himself notes that he has argued more than 475 reported cases (a lawyer’s way of assessing their significance). In a more dubious honour, he has appeared in two novels by his friend Jeffrey Archer. He explains

Prince Charles and a living history lesson

When I was a lobby journalist, I never went to the State Opening of Parliament. I much regret it, because when I finally went this week, as a peer, there was no Queen. The printed programme on our seats described itself as ‘The ceremonial to be observed at the Opening of Parliament by Her Majesty The Queen’, but in fact the Prince of Wales stood, or rather, sat in, because of his mother’s ‘mobility issues’. He read well, sticking to her understanding that to give any expressiveness to the Queen’s Speech would be to verge on constitutional impropriety. Imagine how inappropriate it would have been, for example, if the phrase

Richard Needham takes a businesslike attitude to the Troubles

This memoir from Sir Richard Needham, 6th Earl of Kilmorey, businessman and former Northern Ireland minister, has a frank opening: ‘I came from a family of barely solvent aristocrats, who distrusted trade and despised politics. For some inexplicable reason, however, I had always been fascinated by both.’ Although generations of Needhams before him had ‘uneventful’ military careers, at 15 Richard decided upon an alternative plan: ‘I would first make some money, and then enter politics and change the world.’ What follows is the tale of how that scheme played out. The literary quality of political diaries can be hit and miss; but Needham is a skilled storyteller, who can deftly

The boys who never grow up: Sad Little Men, by Richard Beard, reviewed

I can’t recall reading an angrier book than this. Richard Beard has written what I hope for his sake is a cathartic denunciation of the private boarding school system, and his rage is on two fronts. The first is how being sent away at the age of eight damaged and twisted him and just about everyone else who experienced the same; the second is about what these damaged children as adults have done to the country. He pays special attention to the Prime Minister and his predecessor but one. I suspect that The Spectator has quite a few readers who went to boarding school, and who even think the government

Will Knowland, Eton and the problem with the teaching misconduct panel

When Eton master Will Knowland was sacked last year over anti-feminist views contained in a YouTube video which he refused to take down, alumni and others rightly called out Eton’s small-mindedness and intellectual conformism. If the best-endowed schools in the land can’t stomach unorthodox opinion, what hope for UK education generally? They were, of course, entirely right. But there is a further, more serious, side to the story. This week’s widely-welcomed victory by Knowland is not the end of the matter. Eton, as it was required to do when dismissing a teacher for gross misconduct, had reported the circumstances to the professional body for teachers, the Teaching Regulation Agency. The TRA was

How do we stop the next David Cameron?

One of the enduring charms of British politics is how slight the pecuniary rewards are for taking up the job of prime minister. American presidents can look forward to stonking great advances on their memoirs. (Barack and Michelle Obama received a joint up-front payment of £47 million from Crown publishing group.) They claim rock-star appearance fees in exchange for a few platitudes to sandalled Silicon Valley execs. (Bill and Hillary Clinton raked in £110 million in speaking fees between 2001 and 2015.) A stint in the White House boosted George H W Bush’s net worth by 475 per cent and Richard Nixon’s by 650 per cent, pocket change compared to

Winchester College and the sad demise of all-boys boarding schools

There are just four remaining all-boys boarding schools in the UK. From September, there will be three: Winchester College has announced that it will start taking girls in the sixth-form. Girls will join the sixth-form as day pupils in a 50-50 split and are expected to be offered boarding places from 2024. Some have said that it’s about time schools like Winchester got with the times. In fact, for Wkyehamists like me, this announcement which breaks a legacy going back 640 years is a great pity. The all-boys boarding education that Winchester College offers has stood the test of time and it continues to flourish in all areas. Yet by opting to become co-educational,

Why I was sacked from Eton

One of the things I’ll miss about teaching at Eton is the ever-present threat of an ironic riposte from one of the boys. ‘Cheer up,’ I told one who looked un-enthused by Milton in my first week at the school, nine years ago. ‘Two hundred years ago, you’d have been down a mine!’ ‘Sir,’ he replied deadpan, ‘we’d have owned the mines.’ The class erupted in self–deprecating laughter. I’d arrived. It was the boys themselves who suggested and named the YouTube channel Knowland Knows, which has since got me summarily dismissed. The axe fell swiftly after I asked why a video entitled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’ (originally intended as half of

Quentin Letts: The unstoppable rise of June Sarpong

Eton’s free-speech rumpus must surely become a David Hare play, Goodbye Mr Had-Yer-Chips, starring Jeremy Irons as the headmaster and Maxine Peake as the staff member who sneaks on the English beak teaching non-feminist critical thought. Like most attempts at suppression, Eton’s will be counter-productive. Teenage boys adore political martyrdom. Eton’s top man, Simon Henderson, looks a very poor version of John Rae but he may have done us a favour by turning a generation of Etonians into tingling sceptics of wokery. In this season for miracles, the rise of June Sarpong continues: she has been made a trustee of the Donmar Warehouse, that London theatre attended by City snoots

Letters: Eton is failing to protect freedom of speech

Eton mess Sir: As much as I am a great admirer of Charles Moore, as a former Eton master and head of the Perspectives lecture series (over which Will Knowland has been dismissed), I must disagree with his analysis (‘The Spectator’s Notes’, 5 December). The format of the lecture series is designed for individual speakers to defend an academic point of view on a controversial topic, which is then discussed in class. Perhaps Mr Knowland’s lecture contained certain errors, but that should not have constituted a reason to discipline him. The initial decision not to allow the lecture to be used was lamentable. The headmaster has the right to exert

Eton was right to sack teacher Will Knowland

Last week Eton College made the controversial decision to sack an English teacher after he refused to take down his YouTube video entitled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’. In the 30-minute lecture, Will Knowland argues that the patriarchy results from biological differences rather than social constructs and that the system benefits women. Eton’s decision is not, as many people would argue, an attack on free speech and fundamental liberties. It is an attack on foolishness. If Knowland’s intention had been to encourage healthy academic debate, then there are many other outlets he could have chosen: an assembly, a debate, or one of his English lessons. Putting up a YouTube video in which

Charles Moore

In defence of Eton’s headmaster

My inbox is crowded with messages from Old Etonians attacking Simon Henderson, the headmaster of Eton. They are furious that he sacked a master, Will Knowland, for putting on YouTube his talk to boys about masculinity, and then refusing to take it down. As one complainant puts it: ‘Eton and Woke are both four-letter words, but they should have nothing in common beyond that.’ I agree, but the case is more complicated. In disciplinary questions, one must ask: ‘What else could the boss have done?’ Suppose I, when a newspaper editor, had told a staff journalist that he could not publish an article he had submitted, yet he went ahead

Toby Young

The battle for Eton’s soul

When trying to get my head around the row that has engulfed Eton College in the past two weeks I keep getting sidetracked by the comic details. Like the fact that the headmaster, Simon Henderson, is nicknamed ‘trendy Hendy’ on account of his mission to transform Eton into a modern, progressive institution. By all accounts, he has set about trying to cleanse the school of its ‘toxic’ traditions with the zeal of a captain in the Red Guards, promising to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum, recruiting the creator of the Everyday Sexism blog to lecture the staff on the gender pay gap and, at one point, proposing to scrap Eton’s famous uniform.

Helena Morrissey: my manifesto for the next govenor of the Bank of England

The start of term at Oxford University is bittersweet for the close-knit Morrisseys; we have just ‘lost’ three offspring to their undergraduate studies. Dropping them off at their colleges (Wadham, Christ Church and Keble, with another Morrissey at All Souls), my husband Richard and I felt a little wistful as well as proud. Every year we observe the striking diversity of the students in every sense bar one: they all seem very clever. Oxford is getting something right — broadening accessibility by contextualising offers, while unashamedly sticking to high standards. This is helping it maintain its crown as Britain’s highest-ranked university, one of four in the global top ten (the

#AbolishEton is the perfect advert for private school

Until half past eight yesterday morning I was a little concerned for the future of private schools. They haven’t helped themselves by offering only a premium product, replete with Olympic-sized swimming pools, drama centres and other fripperies – ignoring demand from parents who could afford £5000 a year. Moreover, some state schools have improved hugely in recent years, undermining the case for sending your kids private. But then I heard Holly Rigby, co-ordinator for a movement called Labour Against Private Schools – or #AbolishEton, as it tags itself on Twitter – on the Today programme. Independent schools could not have hoped for a better recruiting sergeant. As well as being a

Eton embraces identity politics

‘Repeat after me, gentlemen: “Thank you for not letting me into your Oxbridge college because I belong to the wrong social class and I have been too well taught.’’ ’ I do hope they include this catechism in the new ‘gratitude’ lessons that they’re about to introduce at Eton. They should do because it’s true. Across the country, private school parents who have scrimped and saved about £40,000 a year for fees are increasingly finding that their sacrifice is being rewarded by near-automatic Oxbridge rejection for their blameless offspring. And who is speaking out against this class war-driven injustice? Almost no one. Which is why Anthony Wallersteiner, headmaster of Stowe,

The Spectator’s Notes | 17 April 2019

This week, the Wolfson History Prize announced its shortlist. It is always worth drawing attention to, precisely because it is not attention-seeking. Neither ‘woke’ nor stuffy, the prize is simply interested in serious history. This year’s list of six ranges in terms of subject from birds in the ancient world and building Anglo-Saxon England, through maritime London in the age of Cook and Nelson, to Queen Victoria and India (a love affair in which the two never met), Oscar Wilde, and the quest for justice after Nazi persecutions. It being Holy Week, I am wondering what would happen if all the four Gospels were on the Wolfson shortlist. Obviously they

Old school ties can’t last forever

Deplore it or revere it, you cannot but respect the private school industry’s wart-like survival in modern Britain. Has any other institution outlived its confidently predicted demise so robustly and for quite so long? It is getting on for 80 years since the liberal establishment turned against its own educational system. And yet the crusty old monster clings to Britain’s public face, now prettied up with the fittings and facilities of five-star hotels while offering one well-trained teacher for every 8.6 children. An anachronism of the 19th century has been revitalised in the 21st, thanks to brilliant advertising by Harry Potter and the injection of zillions of Russian and Asian

Justine Greening is wrong to pick on Eton

The former education secretary, Justine Greening, has urged firms to discriminate against applicants from Eton on the grounds that it is easier to get good A level grades if you’ve been to Eton rather than a comprehensive. There are several odd things about her statement. First, why single out Eton? In terms of A level passes at grade A* or A, Eton is 12th in the independent school league table, behind Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s and City of London School for Girls, among others. Cardiff Sixth Form College is top, with 91.9 per cent of its students gaining A* or A in their A levels last year. I guess urging