The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s Notes: Who’d be a diplomat now?

Also: international sporting bodies; TV Licensing; drinks before dinner; Norman Moore

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

The other day, a friend told me, he had been chatting to an old friend of his who has spent his life in diplomacy and international relations. The man, who will quite soon retire, has had a successful career, but he was full of gloom. Essentially, he said, the entire system of international relations has now been working very badly for 20 years, having worked much better in the previous 50 or so. No one — particularly no one in the West — can see a way through this, but the chancelleries and ministers are reluctant to confront this sad truth, and so a pointless merry-go-round of international conferences, bodies and negotiations consumes the energies of those foolish enough to stay in the game. My friend’s friend now longs to do something which actually helps actual people. I suspect that this disillusionment is not unusual, nor unjustified. No one knows how to concert the affairs of the world today. I am just old enough to remember a similar feeling in the 1970s, but at that time the remedy — a remoralisation of the West — was possible and, indeed, was administered. Is there a remedy now? I don’t know, but one would not advise an able young person to join the Foreign Office, the European Commission or the United Nations.

Why are international sports bodies inveterately corrupt? Could part of the answer be that they have very few women on them? I am not saying that women are intrinsically better people than men, but they are less likely to be members of the mental club which instinctively lets your mates do whatever they want.

Faithful readers of this column will know that I do not have a television licence for my flat in London, because I do not have a television. As a result, I receive a couple of letters a month demanding that I prove my innocence, which I never answer because I do not see why I should. Indeed, they normally remain unopened. This week, however, I received one in a window envelope. Through the window, I could see the calendar for November and the 24th of the month circled in red. ‘We’re giving you ten days to get correctly licensed’, it said, and implied that if I did not do so it would send an ‘Enforcement Officer’ after me to start a ‘full investigation’. Such messages are wrong, and may be well be illegal. TV Licensing is not a public authority, and therefore has no power of enforcement, so Steve Latham, the enforcement manager, who sent the letter, is falsely titled. It also libels all bona fide non-television owners to whom it sends this message because it implies we are cheats. I think I shall invent an authority called something like ‘Keeping Kids Safe’, and write to Mr Latham saying that he has ten days to prove he is not a paedophile. If we do not hear from him, we shall send Tom Watson MP to break his door down.

Kingsley Amis used to say that one of the two worst phrases in the English language was ‘Shall we go straight in?’ (The other was ‘Red or white?’) Increasingly, I find myself feeling it is one of the best. Why is it considered a good thing to sit, or — much worse — stand, for a long time drinking when there is food to be had? I yearn to eat as soon as a meal is in the offing; and when I say ‘eat’, I do not mean peanuts and canapes, but actual, plentiful food, sitting down with a knife and fork at a table. Until this happens, I cannot sustain a conversation for long and will either drink too much while waiting or, attempting self-discipline, stick to water and stare austerely at my merry companions. Even the leisurely study of menus in restaurants which some people go in for is painful: I find myself calculating the number of minutes they will take to decide, add to it the number of minutes taken to prepare and deliver the food, and then realise that nothing might pass my lips for the next 40 minutes. I believe that, in Victorian society, the gong went, everyone assembled in the drawing-room for five minutes, without a drink, and went in to dine. Was it the invention of cocktails which made it all go wrong?

At my dear uncle Norman Moore’s funeral in Dorset last week, my sister read out a poem by John Clare called ‘Emmonsails Heath in Winter’. Clare describes how ‘coy bumbarrels, twenty in a drove, / Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain/ And hang on little twigs and start again.’ Bumbarrels are long-tailed tits. How, as children, we would have giggled at the word; but of course the word ‘tit’ also made us gasp with delight at hearing grown-ups say something which, in other contexts, was impermissibly ‘rude’. The Observer’s Book of Birds, presumably worried by this, was always careful to refer to a tit as a ‘titmouse’, which I believe is correct, but never used in real life. In those more prudish days, huge tension entered public occasions if any naughty innuendo could be picked up from a word, as it does nowadays over anything that might be considered racist. At Norman’s funeral we sang ‘In the bleak midwinter’, including the verse with the phrase ‘a breastful of milk’. When I was a child, this was usually omitted as being risqué. I remember that once, in our village carol service, it was included: the congregation was too embarrassed to sing it and muttered and mumbled instead. Autres temps, autres moeurs.

On Monday night, I arrived in Bath to make a speech. It was raining and I didn’t know where I was going. A man who had also got off the train saw my perplexity and kindly walked with me the quarter of an hour to my destination, even though it was out of his way. As we chatted, I discovered he was the chief executive of the Nationwide, the only large building society which never demutualised. Maybe I am being unfair, but I suspect the chief executives of our big banks would not have gone to the same trouble.

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  • Donafugata

    Last February I decided not to renew my licence even though I do have a TV. Several threatening letters later I wrote to say that Freeview programmes were not to my taste and I used the TV to watch my DVD collection.

    I added that I did not wish to support the BBC because of their choice of head of religious broadcasting.

    They have since left me alone.

    • blandings

      They’ll be back – it’s all automated.
      It’s best to ignore them.
      If they do come to your door, then treat them as you would any other lowlife: Refuse them entry and don’t answer their questions.

      • davidshort10

        They don’t have a right to entry. Just close the door.

  • Mike Buchanan

    Charles, I much enjoyed your biographies of Mrs Thatcher, and I’ve just taken out a subscription for the Spectator. Your piece was the first I opened, and one paragraph made me splutter my Earl Grey over my computer keyboard:

    “Why are international sports bodies inveterately corrupt? Could part of the answer be that they have very few women on them? I am not saying that women are intrinsically better people than men, but they are less likely to be members of the mental club which instinctively lets your mates do whatever they want.”

    In the immortal words of John McEnroe, ‘You cannot be serious!’ With rare exceptions – the estimable Mrs T being one, of course – women demonstrate a strong in-group preference in positions of power, appointing and promoting women ahead of more capable men. The issue of gender-related in-group preferencing is explored in depth in Steve Moxon’s ‘The Woman Racket’ (2008). Men show little if any in-group preferencing. The ‘glass ceiling’ was always a feminist myth.

    One of the first things Nicola Sturgeon did as First Minister in Scotland was make her cabinet gender balanced. She’s now pressing for the boards of public bodies in Scotland to be the same. Meritocracy has gone out of the window.

    I worked as a consultant for the Conservative party from 2006-8, but resigned my party membership in 2009 when Dave announced his intention to introduce all-women shortlists for prosepctive parliamentary candidates. One in three of his ministers are women, although only one in five Tory MPs are women. Experienced and talented men have been denied cabinet positions, some of them given to talentless feminists (the word ‘talentless’ is superfulous, to be fair) such as Nicky Morgan, Minister for Women and Equalities (why does such a post EXIST in a Conservative government in 2015?!!!) and Education Secretary. A sickening combination of roles, given how far men and boys have fallen behind women and girls in the education system. We know from a FOI response that her department has not the slightest interest in rectifying that situation.

    In 2012 I presented evidence to House of Commons and House of Lords inquiries, pointing MPs and peers to longitudinal studies demonstrating a causal link between increasing female representation on corporate boards, and financial decline. A link to our briefing paper on the matter is here:

    The government has bullied FTSE100 companies into doubling the proportion of women on their boards since 2011 (from 12.5% to 25%), and is now bullying FTSE350 companies into having a third of their directors of the female persuasion by 2020. It’s an assault on a foundation stone of capitalism, the freedom of companies to appoint directors as they see fit.

    Mike Buchanan

    Party leader


    (and the women who love them)


    • Fabian_Solutions

      ROFLMAO. More meninist delusions. Why can’t you accept the fact that male privilege is on its way out – just like your old-fashioned beliefs?

      • mrnotms

        Yes, let’s hope ‘male privilege’ is indeed ‘on its way out’

        • mrnotms

          Fabian_Solutions, you seem to have ‘Liked’ a contradiction to your assertion. Have a proper look at the picture; you might learn something.

          • anonuk

            Maybe it’s a sign of the real nature of her “solutions”. You could call it her Final Solution of the Male Problem.

      • blandings

        How quaint, I didn’t know kiddies still did that.
        Do you chew the carpet whilst you’re at it?.

    • Feminist_Fighter

      “Meritocracy has gone out of the window.”

      Why do meninists always assume that meritocracy means a male majority?

      • Fabian_Solutions

        It’s funny how Mr. Buchanan fails to name a single one of the “experienced and talented men” being cruelly denied a Cabinet place by the evil feminists.


        • blandings

          What about them?
          Does it make you feel all grown up when adults reply to you, little honey-bunny?
          How sweet!

      • Mike Buchanan

        Feminist_Fighter, are you so ignorant of the men’s human rights movement, that you don’t realise no MRAs (Men’s Rights Advocates) of any consequence globally self-identify as ‘meninists’? The inference from the term ‘meninist’, that MRAs are seeking to develop a male alternative to feminism, is so ridiculous, it’s laughable. It’s a projection on the part of feminists, women whose IQs are on a par with particularly dim fruit bats.

        I shall apply the same policy to you that I apply to Fabian_Delusions and other gormless feminists, and not reply to your silly comments any more.

        A link to our Gormless Feminist of the Month award winners is here

        A link to our Lying Feminist of the Month award winners is here Sophie Walker, leader of the risible Women’s Equality party, was the latest winner of the award. Sandy Toxic, the party’s spokeswoman from the outset, won two of the awards in the space of just three months.

        Have a nice day.

      • blandings

        “Why do meninists always assume that meritocracy means a male majority?”

        Come now little fabian, it’s Masculinists, surely

    • Fabian_Solutions

      “given how far men and boys have fallen behind women and girls in the education system”

      No, you’re wrong there. Boys still outnumber girls in subjects such as maths, physics, engineering and computer science, all of which lead on to well-paid jobs and careers. Girls are still discouraged from pursuing STEM careers and taking so-called “boys’ subjects” at A-level.

      We are missing out as a society on thousands of potential female physicists, mathematicians, engineers and computer scientists. Women are 51% of the population – our talent needs to be utilized.

      • 1Gandydancer

        “Girls are still discouraged from pursuing STEM careers and taking so-called “boys’ subjects” at A-level.”

        By whom? If they could cut it in these subjects they’d be guaranteed preferential treatment. But it seems the normal curves for talent in these areas are not shaped the same, or centered the same, for men and women. Things that are different are different. Surprise!

        • Jeffrey Vernon

          I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Girls and boys take chemistry A level in equal numbers; chemistry is not in the least ‘fluffy’, and boys outperform girls by only a fraction of 1%. It’s harder to compare other subjects, because although girls often do better than boys (for example in Further Maths, Computing and especially in Physics), they’re taking the paper in smaller numbers. The normal curve argument is not very persuasive.

          • 1Gandydancer

            Men and women are different . Witness: Chess. And crime. And idiocy. And significant professional chemists don’t come from the middle of the distribution, so the smallness of the difference in the central point of the distribution curves is obviously irrelevant. Saying “it’s not very persuasive” isn’t very persuasive. It’s cant in the teeth of the evidence.

          • Jeffrey Vernon

            I was writing about performance at A level. There is no difference to speak of between girls’ and boys’ grades in chemistry; boys are not succeeding as chemists because of higher averages. If girls wanted to do chem at university they could, but I think girls realise that careers in science are i) scant and ii) unrewarding. Most job-match websites don’t even show science as a job category.

          • 1Gandydancer

            And I’ve already pointed out that mere competence at A level has very little to do with the ability to be a scientist. For that you have to be a lot further out on the distribution. The numbers are correspondingly small, hence your observation about job-match websites. Grades aren’t the issue. Unusual talent is the issue. And for that the thickness of the tails is critical to the ratios.

          • Jeffrey Vernon

            Still and all, the boys with their chemistry A level scores go on to be scientists. Since the girls’ scores are identical, why do they not continue?

          • 1Gandydancer

            The scores are not identical. shows 9.8% of males getting A*, 8.3% of females doing so. The percentile cutoff in talent for actually becoming a professional scientific chemist may be considerably higher than 90% (A* is not good enough, particularly to the extent it may reflect gender differences in grinding), and if the fat tail hypothesis is true the female ratio of male to female talent at that point could be quite high.

      • Mike Buchanan

        Fabian_Delusions, good evening. You may recall I declined to respond to your silly comments on The Conservative Woman website before the fine ladies running the site banned you from from posting more nonsense in their comment streams. My policy towards you applies to this website too, and all other websites.

        Have a nice day.

        • Fabian_Solutions

          Insults are all you’ve got.

          • Mike Buchanan
          • blandings

            “Insults are all you’ve got.”
            That’s still more than you can muster though isn’t it?

      • Jeffrey Vernon

        Actually, science sucks as a career; whether in the public or private sector, a PhD is the entry level qualification for a researcher (i.e. someone who wants to do science rather than regulate or interfere with other people doing it), and you hit a pay ceiling after about 7 years. It’s quite a low ceiling at that. Engineering, maths and computing graduates have better prospects; but lawyers and managers and administrators can earn a very comfortable living, and girls (as well as boys) can get into these fields without doing hard sums. I think that girls are simply following the money – they realistically see no great advantage in studying tech subjects, and in fact pay for women in their 20s exceeds that of men.

      • 9sqn

        They are. Maths, physics engineering etc. aren’t the be all and end all. Woman are greatly over-represented in medicine when compared to men. Stop the whining.

        • Fabian_Solutions

          But women still make up a minority of surgeons and hospital consultants. We need more women in senior positions in medicine.

    • Mr B J Mann

      “The government has bullied FTSE100 companies into doubling the proportion of women on their boards since 2011 (from 12.5% to 25%), and is now bullying FTSE350 companies into having a third of their directors of the female persuasion by 2020.”

      But what is the ratio of women to men employed by FTSE companies, and of full time female employees?!?

      Two thirds of public sector organisation employees are women.

  • Captain Dryland

    Write to TV Licensing and tell them you have written to your MP charging their management team with dereliction of duty, in that they are always threatening to send inspectors round, and always claiming to have detector vans ‘in your area’ and so on, but no-one ever turns up. Clearly, if TV Licensing suspect one of using a television illegally, and is the body responsible for making sure these breaches of the law are punished, then the management should be sacked or fined for failing to properly investigate all the suspected breaches it so often writes to citizens about. I have told them that if they wish to waste money sending busloads of inspectors to my unlicensed house, they are welcome to do so.

    • DaHitman

      No just ignore them

      • hobspawn

        Ignoring them is not very public spirited. I prefer to waste as much of their time as possible, not just for sport, but also to relieve from risk of prosecution unknown others who, unlike me, do have televisions yet justly refuse to pay.

  • davidshort10

    In Swallows and Amazons, there is a character called Titty. We had to read out aloud at my primary school. I was chosen by the hateful Miss James every time a passage containing Titty was mentioned. In those days, you were not allowed to laugh in school. But we did. And we, only they boys, were sent to be caned as a result to the even more hateful Miss Harrison, the headmistress. I content myself with dancing on their imaginary graves, but oooh if I ever found their real ones…..

    • mumble

      I conjectured that “Titty” was a contraction of “Laetitia”, hence pronounced “Tishy”, but eventually discovered that it comes from a gruesome children’s tale, of the kind that produces traumatised adults, called “Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse”, so it unfortunately sounds like it looks.

  • davidshort10

    With the price of housing in London now, only people with private incomes and fortunes could afford to be civil servants.

  • seangrainger

    Mr M The Bath bit is a good story but doesn’t hold water does it? Despite no telly you must have access to Google Maps. Or there is always the cab rank. But good on Mr Beale.

  • mumble

    I am in the same position as Mr. Moore as regards having no television and no television license, but not as regards being unresponsive.

    However, I have nevertheless received a lawyer’s letter from a debt-collection agency, from a “Do not reply” e-mail address, stating outrageously that “It is common cause” that I have been unresponsive. I do not have any idea how to deal with this short of resorting to sending lawyer’s letters myself.

    A friend, who also has no television, continues to pay her licence fee as it’s easier than trying to terminate it.

  • mumble

    Some of the UN’s peripheral specialist agencies, such as UNESCO and WHO, do some good in the world: it is the suppurating centre that is the problem.

    There is an assumption that the UN has power and the will to wield it to do good, but no evidence. It just provides salary cheques for an astonishing number of people in whose interests it remains to maintain the fiction.