The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore's notes: Peston and co would have done more Co-op digging if the Tories had been involved

Plus: The PCC finds against the Guardian; Mrs T to a T; my book as a drug haul; this is your pilot Prince William speaking

23 November 2013

9:00 AM

23 November 2013

9:00 AM

There has naturally been plenty of unfavourable comment on how the Revd Paul Flowers, the ‘crystal Methodist’, was allowed by the Financial Services Authority to become chairman of the Co-op Bank. But the story does not reflect very well on the media either. If you look at Robert Peston’s BBC blog on the subject, for instance, there is a lot of ‘I am told’ and ‘according to the Manchester Evening News’. Is there no one in the BBC’s enormous staff who could have done a bit of work years ago on the Revd Mr Flowers? Isn’t it even more extraordinary that the media did not pick up Mr Flowers’s ignorant testimony earlier this month to the Treasury select committee until it was drawn to their attention on Sunday after he was exposed by the Mail on Sunday for buying illegal drugs? It seems truer than ever that the only way to ensure no one notices you is to say something publicly within the Palace of Westminster. Like Falkirk and Grangemouth (see last week’s Notes), this is a story about the inner workings of the Labour movement. It is grimy in its details. It may even require leaving London and going somewhere in the north to discover the facts. I suppose that is too much to ask. But if it had been a story about Tory corruption of a bank, I feel Mr Peston and co would have been in more of a hurry to find out about it.

As the Warsaw Climate Change Conference meets, it is becoming apparent that bolder, freer countries are undermining the principles which green visionaries wish to inflict upon the world. Japan is allowing itself more carbon emissions, pleading the effects of Fukushima. Canada and the new government in Australia are ceasing to make more than perfunctory obeisance to the god of global warming. This leaves countries like Britain terribly exposed. David Cameron can see that his endorsement early in his leadership of ever-higher energy bills is an election-losing mechanism brilliantly targeted at poorer voters, but he feels he cannot say so. His fixed-term parliament act means that he must spend the next 18 months watching competitiveness leave our shores, heading both east and west.

Lady Antonia Fraser tells me that she gave my biography of Margaret Thatcher as a birthday present to her son Damian. She posted it to him in Mexico, where he lives. For a very long time, however, it did not arrive. It turned out that the book’s considerable weight had attracted the attention of the Mexican customs officials, who suspected it of containing drugs, and submitted it to intimate body searches. I feel bucked by the idea that anyone could have thought my book might have a street value of $1 million.

The relationship between the Queen and Mrs Thatcher is one of inexhaustible public interest. I am constantly being asked about it. It is wrongly and unconvincingly presented in a scene in the immensely popular The Audience. Last week, I went to see Handbagged, an entire play devoted to the subject, at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. It is boring, inaccurate and self-righteous, and has an irritating device by which both the Queen and Mrs Thatcher have alter egos, so characters call Q, T, Liz and Mags mill about confusingly on stage. The play is remarkable, however, for the fact Fenella Woolgar, who acts Mags, gives the first really convincing stage representation of Mrs T. She captures her unusual way of speaking in which words were generally pronounced with great clarity but occasionally swallowed in the desire to increase their productivity. She also conveys the genuine femininity, which others, preoccupied by conveying harshness, neglect. As Meryl Streep has also shown, some actresses are well capable of interesting themselves in the reality of Margaret Thatcher rather than the cardboard cutout on which to hang dreary political points. Oh for more dramatists of whom one could say the same.

The whole fascination of the Queen as a dramatic subject depends on the fact that she does not directly speak her mind. As soon as dramatists forget this, and put into her mouth what they would like her thoughts to be, all humour, tension and believability perish as though they had never been.

This column recently complained (19 October) that the government’s pretence of taking press regulation out of politics by using the device of Royal Charter has the unintended effect of dragging the monarchy into politics. This week, the Press Complaints Commission found against the Guardian (a fact I could not find recorded in the print version the following day). The paper had claimed that the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, was unsuitable to be ‘one of the final arbiters of press regulation’ since he had tried to suppress John Pilger when he alleged that Geidt had assisted the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the late 1980s. There were two flaws to this story. The first is that, as even the famously truth-challenged Pilger had to acknowledge in open court in 1991, Geidt had nothing whatever to do with helping the Khmer Rouge. The second was that, in his present job, he has nothing whatever to do with press regulation.

The Netherlands, which I recently visited, is perhaps the only country whose monarchy is as popular as ours. What the Dutch monarch can do politically is even more curtailed than our own, which may explain why the new King, Willem-Alexander, is still an airline pilot. His Majesty puts in the hours required to maintain his licence by flying KLM Cityhopper’s Fokker 70s. For this purpose, he works under one of his least known titles, ‘W.A. van Buren’. It shows how calm and sensible the Dutch are that this can happen. Imagine if the Duke of Cambridge took his turn in the BA cockpit, disguised as William Carrickfergus. How the twerpy snappers, the stag-party drunks, the Tweeters and Facebookers, the Islamist terrorists, and the representatives of my own dear trade would start creating in-flight turbulence.

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  • James Strong

    ‘I feel’, you say, that Robert Peston would have done more if Tories had been involved.
    It’s a free country, you can ‘feel’ what you like.
    I hope your readers are astute enought to know that what you’ feel’ is not evidence of anything other than what you ‘feel’.
    I have never taken any drugs that are illegal in the UK. I don’t ‘feel’, I know, that Cameron, for all his silly point scoring at PMQs yesterday, won’t say the same thing.
    I ‘feel’ that if a senior Labour figure obfuscated on this matter you’d go after him.

  • mikewaller

    I am really getting rather tired of CM’s almost pathological mono-vision. I shall never forget his column several years ago when things were coming to a boil in Greece. In one paragraph he was baying for the head of some harmless civil servant whose mildly amusing list of places the then Pope might like to go to NOT, whilst just two paragraphs further on he was regaling us with the “funny” joke he played on his holiday companion and a Greek shopkeeper by telling the terrified latter that the former was a member of the IMF delegation. Then, last week,it was “international put the boot in the BBC” day” which gets a re-airing above. I would make two point: first, my wife had just returned from Michigan and no sooner had she spoken to the air-hostess than a fellow passenger, hearing her English accent, started into paeans of praise about the BBC output they receive over there. This ranged through drama, comedy and documentaries; and guess what was singled out for especial praise? The BBC news and website. Nor did the exchange comprise praise alone; the whole conversation was interlaced with the most extreme excoriation of most of America’s own media offerings, particularly its heavily compromised news services. Yet dear old CM wants to dump the former in favour a UK version of the latter. Shame on him and all who think like him, including the media baron, David Dimbleby.

    Second, regarding his nonsense about the Co-op bank, only the willfully purblind can not see what has gone on there. Churchill’s remark about no more thinking that the guns of Singapore could not fire inland than that a battleship would be built without a bottom” applies. There we had the boring 100+ year old, caring, sharing, Co-op Bank which seems never to have been in serious trouble and which sailed through the 2008 crisis without trouble. So who would even conceive of the possibility that the guy in overall charge (who has now quite properly resigned) would make a creature like Flowers Bank Chairman? As sensible answer is nobody who did not know Flowers for what he was, the idea that the BBC should have picked it up is frankly laughable. Indeed it would be far more reasonable to ask why Matt Ridley’s many friends at the Spectator did not pick up the sheer insanity of his strategy at Northern Rock well in advance of that organisation’s catastrophic failure. Perhaps they were too dazzled by his noble antecedents.

    One final point. I am usually opposed to ad hominem attacks but in CH’s case I will make an exception. I suspect that his catholic upbringing has totally shaped his world view. Thus at some deep level, High Toryism equates to the true faith, the left with those misguided protestants who in these enlightened days have to be tolerated to some degree, whereas those liberal smart-arses who cannot keep their noses out of things, are fit only for the flames!

  • David Lindsay

    A cocaine addict with a predilection for prostitutes is rather closer to the top of British finance than Paul Flowers (whom Ed Miliband has met only once, and whom Ed Balls has never met) ever was, or was ever going to be. Any chance of some inquiry into that?

    • First L

      Ed Balls has met Flowers on more than one occasion.

      • David Lindsay

        I find it many things, but not surprising, that when the courtier papers went looking for drugs and prostitution hand in glove with party political connections in high finance, allegedly the only example has turned out to have been at the Co-op. As the young people used to say, “Yeah, right!”

        Still, after a week of Paul Flowers, Labour’s poll lead is still the size that the Conservatives’ would need to be if they were to secure an overall majority of one.

        Now, how about some investigation into The Reverend The Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, Anglican clergyman in good standing (whereas the Methodists have suspended Flowers indefinitely), Minister of State for Trade and Investment (whereas Ed Miliband has met Flowers only once, while Ed Balls has never met him), and already the former when he was Chairman of HSBC and it was laundering money for the drug cartels of Mexico and Colombia?

        • First L

          I’ve got a Bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. A bargain at only $10,000.

  • The_greyhound

    So Mr Moore expects the BBC to investigate a bogus gay drug-abusing bungling incompetent Labourite?

    They’re much more likely to recruit him.