The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

4 March 2017

9:00 AM

4 March 2017

9:00 AM

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who heads Operation Hydrant, the police investigation of ‘non-recent’ child abuse cases, now says that paedophiles who view images of child abuse should not be prosecuted, because police cannot cope with the numbers involved. Mr Bailey is wedded to the doctrine that someone who says he is an abuse victim must automatically be believed. The result, said Sir Richard Henriques in his scathing report on Operation Midland, is that the criminal justice system totters: ‘Chief Constable Bailey’s argument ignores the consequences of false terminology.’ Another consequence is that the child abuse statistics, unchecked, explode. Mr Bailey will not admit his error and so, in order to prevent police collapse, decides to excuse a huge category of paedophiles.

The great Oscars mix-up could have been worse. If the true winner had been La La Land, and Moonlight had mistakenly been declared victorious by Faye Dunaway, rather than the other way round, the ensuing argument would have provoked the second American Civil War.

I never expected to be writing the following, since Michael Gove is, to me, one of the few heroic figures in modern politics. But he did write a very strange column in the Times last week, inciting the government to ‘Put VAT on school fees and soak the rich’. He seems to be outraged that what he calls ‘the education of the children of plutocrats and oligarchs’ is a charitable activity. Private schools get rate rebates, VAT exemptions and free uniforms, weapons etc. for their cadet forces, he says. This is ‘egregious state support’. He also mocks the many bursaries provided by public schools, on the grounds that these have ‘left behind’ all those who do not receive them. That last argument, of course, undermines almost every charity, since few can benefit all who might be eligible. As for Mr Gove’s outburst against government-subsidised cadet uniforms, would he go back to the days when army officers had to buy their commissions? The government subsidises cadet forces because it wants suitable recruits. If one can judge by the large memorials to the dead of two world wars to be found in all public schools, it has found them useful for this purpose. But at the heart of Michael Gove’s argument is a statist, unconservative view of society. Charity is much older than any of the taxes about which he writes. The English law recognises education and religion as charitable activities. They are public goods. They do not cease to be so whenever a recipient is well off. If churches, being charitable, have tax advantages, it would be unjust that, say, St Peter’s, Eaton Square, should not receive them because its congregation is rich. The advantages bestowed are for all and so those who enjoy them need not be means-tested. The statist world-view looks at independent institutions and says ‘Why are they escaping tax?’ The conservative world-view says: ‘Independent institutions are excellent vehicles for social good: how can the government justify adding to their burdens?’ I realise that ‘the big society’ is now out of fashion and that the Old Etonian David Cameron was beastly to Mr Gove, but undermining the whole edifice upon which charity is based is too high a price for private revenge. Perhaps Mr Gove hopes Theresa May will be attracted by his argument and invite him back into the cabinet. She should have him there, but on his merits, not because he is pretending to have a chip on his shoulder.

Lord Heseltine has been denounced because he says he will vote against the government over Brexit in the House of Lords. It seems terrifically unfair. Has there ever been an occasion, in his long political career, when he has not been in favour of British membership of the EU (or EEC)? Why should he change now, aged 83, from that honourably held, spiritedly asserted, if wrong, position? Can’t a few Europhiles, in the mirror-image of John Major’s Eurosceptic ‘bastards’, be bastards too? The only inconsistency in Hezza’s last stand is that this is the one time in his half-century stance on Europe when he has asserted the right of Parliament to decide anything.

Congratulations to the Daily Mail for exposing the unpleasant methods by which TV Licensing’s staff make people pay their television licence fees. Capita, the company that does the dirty work for the BBC, encourages its employees to use ‘ruthless and underhand tactics’ to collect the money, says the Mail. The paper offers painful examples of the victims — ‘RAF man with dementia, mum in a women’s refuge’. It could have added ‘veteran Spectator columnist’, since these activities were first exposed on this page in 2006, when I got fed up with being pursued by Capita to buy a TV licence for a flat without a television. The Mail correctly identifies the unpleasant incentive system, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Indeed, it unwittingly compounds the problem by referring to the licence-fee collectors as ‘officials’. They are not officials, but it is central to their bluff that people think they are. The power of the threatening letters which TV Licensing sends (I have received more than 100 and never answered any of them) lies in their implicit threat that they have legal force. They do not. You do not have to open your door to an ‘enforcement officer’ or answer any of his questions. He is just a private-sector bully of the sort the BBC would expose if it were not (indirectly) paying him.

My thanks to a correspondent, Mr John Huntriss, who takes up my point [Notes, 18 February] about ‘the noise of the waterpipes’ in Psalm 42. He draws on various scholars to suggest that this translation, in the Book of Common Prayer, far from being odd, is specific. Look at the context, he says. The preceding verse speaks of ‘the land of Jordan, and the little hill of Hermon’. The ‘waterpipes’, hazard Mr Huntriss and his authorities, who include Pope John Paul II, are particular cataracts of the upper Jordan, echoing to one another.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments