The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore: What would we call what's left of the country if Scotland leaves? Obviously Former UK (FUK) won't do...

Plus: Boris's stand on equality prepares him for leadership; I am so excited to be related to a high priestess of Isis

7 December 2013

9:00 AM

7 December 2013

9:00 AM

Boris Johnson’s Margaret Thatcher Lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies attracted attention for its remarks about IQ, but the media ignored its central thesis. The speech is against equality, eloquently so. I date the mental collapse of the Conservatives from the moment in 1995 when Labour’s newish leader, Tony Blair, jumped up in Parliament and asked the Prime Minister, John Major, whether he accepted it ‘as a responsibility of government to reduce inequality’. Mr Major’s simple answer was ‘Yes’. It shut Mr Blair up that afternoon, but it gave him the advantage ever after. If both parties say government must create equality then the one which promotes more state spending and interference will always look the more convincing. A conservative has to refuse the premise of the question, and talk about what people can achieve by their own talents if only the government will let them. Words like opportunity, freedom and personal responsibility provide the keys. Margaret Thatcher knew this, and stated it early in her leadership, in a speech in New York in September 1975: ‘The pursuit of equality itself is a mirage… Let our children grow tall, and some taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so.’ Boris is occupying the right ground for his eventual leadership bid.

Public Concern at Work, which describes itself as ‘the whistle-blowing charity’, wants the government to adopt its Code of Practice. The idea is to give whistle-blowers complete protection. I suppose almost everyone will agree with it. Who is going to argue that people should be punished for reporting wrongdoing? That idea is crisply rejected in the common-law principle ‘There is no confidence in iniquity’. And yet the code makes me uneasy, because it does not properly address the reality of life at work. The metaphor of blowing a whistle comes from the role of the referee in football. People working in an organisation are not referees. They are participants. They have a dog in the fight and — sometimes — a chip on their shoulder. Yes, they can be unfairly victimised, but they can also behave unfairly themselves. If you do not like someone, or wish to take someone’s job, you will be tempted to denounce that person as sexist, racist, bullying, drunk etc. Similarly, if you are an ally of someone who is doing something wrong, you will not normally expose that person as you would an enemy. Although it is not right to cover up evil, it often is sensible to make allowances for the weaknesses and even the vices of colleagues for the general good of the organisation. This is a complicated moral problem which has no legislative solution. I wish the people trying to frame these rules would admit it.

In Whitehall, there is a phrase for the entity which would be left if Scotland were to vote Yes to independence next year. The acronym is rUK, which stands for ‘the rest of the United Kingdom’. This device of referring to a country’s altered state in its name has a precedent. After Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, it could only prevent Greece from blocking its UN entry by being admitted as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Obviously, it would be embarrassing for the Former UK (FUK) to highlight its initials, but the nomenclature is a real problem. The reduced entity could not accurately be called Great Britain, and ‘The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’ is also inaccurate (since there is no Welsh or Northern Irish kingdom united with that of England). We are getting into a pickle.

Last week, the Daily Telegraph carried an extensive obituary of Olivia Robertson, who was ‘co-founder, high-priestess and hierophant’ of the Fellowship of Isis, which operates from her family’s castle in Ireland. When young, Olivia was visited by various visions, including one by the goddess Isis (‘She seemed a cross between a queen, a ballet dancer and a gym mistress’). These convinced her that God was female. The same idea seized her brother Lawrence, who as a result resigned his Anglican orders and — so it was alleged in our family — went round churches knocking the beards off images of Jesus. The two founded the Fellowship of Isis (FOI), which is well worth googling. My late godmother, Barbara Pryor, was Olivia’s sister, married to my extremely rationalist cousin, Matthew Pryor. I don’t think that she was a Fellow of Isis, but she certainly had spiritual leanings and used to send me books about Buddhism. Anyway, although FOI offers ‘democratic, equal and spiritual dignity for all members’, its top offices seem to stay in the family. Olivia had no children, and so she is succeeded by her niece, Matthew and Barbara’s daughter, Cressida Pryor, whose very non-FOI brother, Francis, is a famous archaeologist on television. I have never before been related to a high-priestess, so I feel excited. Besides, what appeared cranky is now almost mainstream Anglican doctrine. Olivia made her ‘transition to spirit’ (died) just before the Church of Ireland consecrated the first woman bishop in the British Isles, and it is now almost commonplace to hear God described as a woman from the pulpit. What FOI calls ‘the wider Goddess community’ is on the march.

In three out of the last four quarters, my telephone has been cut off by BT. I find friends who have been similarly treated. We are, technically, in the wrong, because we have been late paying our bill. It is nevertheless sharp practice. Typically, only one bill arrives, with no reminder. Given erratic posts, the bill sometimes reaches us less than three weeks before the cut-off date. Is it reasonable that what is, after all, a utility can be so quickly withdrawn? Think of the outcry if electricity, gas or water were cut off like that. When you pay up, you are charged £7.50 for reconnection. I wonder what an old person, housebound perhaps and with no access to another telephone would do, or a home-based business totally dependent on a working line. No provider in a genuinely competitive market would dare behave like this.

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  • astroturf

    Interesting last paragraph, since BT is usually held up as the paragon of successful privatisation in the UK. Was it wrong, then?

  • Zeus

    Going by Yugoslavia becoming Serbia & Montenegro then quickly becoming just Serbia, I would also avoid England & Wales as the replacement name for the successor states of the fUK.

  • Guest

    The Home Counties?

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    It will be still be the United Kingdom, but of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    • Zeus

      The kingdom of England is England, Wales and NI. How can you have a united Kingdom of 1? We all know that Scotland will kick out the Windsors as soon as Betty dies – who wants a foreign head of state?

    • Nohourwastedinthesaddle

      I can see it now at the airports:


  • Bonkim

    Condensed United Kingdom

  • Nohourwastedinthesaddle

    Interesting about FOI and also that Francis Pryor (who knew?) is in any way connected with it, however unwittingly/unwillingly.

    With respect, it must be a highly disorganized household if you repeatedly are late paying bills. Why not enroll in direct debit or ‘autopay’? Saves a stamp, saves writing out a cheque, saves envelopes and time, and you never have to worry about whether your payment arrived — or when. You can go away from home and not have to make arrangements for payment. It is all much easier. You can get paper statements (in advance) telling you the amounts, and you can even (at least in America) have an e-notice sent to your e-mail instead of a paper one. Best of all, you will never be late again and your phone will stay connected. I recommend it.

  • Orakel

    We will break up into smaller kingdoms: Northistan, Southistan, Wessex and Województwo.

  • bill lathum

    Given the present state of Britain, FUK is only too appropriate!