The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s notes

23 September 2017

9:00 AM

23 September 2017

9:00 AM

Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), is an honourable man. When he publicly rebuked Boris Johnson for his use of the famous £350 million figure about our weekly EU contribution, I am sure he was statistically, not party-politically motivated. But two points occur. The first is that Sir David was, arguably, mistaken. He thinks Boris said that, after Brexit, Britain would have £350 million a week more to spend. He didn’t. He said ‘we will take back control of roughly £350 million a week’. This is correct. So long as we are in the EU, that £350 million a week is out of our control, because even our rebate, which forms part of that figure, is EU-dependent. When we leave, it will all be under our control. Sir David’s reaction came too fast. The UKSA had already attacked the £350 million figure when first used by the Leave campaign in the referendum. Is it in a grudge match with anyone who answers back?

Which leads to my second point. Never a week goes by without a senior politician using a statistic controversially. This is part of the adversarial character of politics. If a public official comments on one such remark, one naturally asks why he ignores others. Why attack Boris alone? People begin to doubt his neutrality. Looking at the authority’s record since Sir David became its chairman in March, I see that it has rebuked only one other politician — complaining to Amber Rudd about a misleading leak of immigration figures. Is it credible that Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell or numerous Remainers have brandished no figures which do not add up? As Treasury private secretary to Mrs Thatcher (and a very helpful witness for me in my biography of her), Sir David had painful experience in the ‘shadowing the Deutschmark’ saga of how hard it is to disentangle the economic and statistical aspects of the European issue from its politics, so it should give him pause. The schoolmasterly role of UKSA is part of a bad trend in modern governance which sets officials in judgment over our elected rulers. The intention is to uphold higher standards. The effect is to impose rule by a bureaucratic establishment which we, the voters, have no opportunity to kick out and which — not coincidentally — is full of Remain supporters. In an interview with the magazine Civil Service World in June, Sir David said, of the £350 million: ‘I thought it was clear that the Brexiteers didn’t mind about the number so long as there was focus on it.’ No doubt this is his sincere belief, but on this most divisive subject, such words will not be seen as impartial.

On Tuesday, for the first — and undoubtedly last — time in my life, I found myself mounting the platform at the Liberal Democrat conference. This was because my father, Richard Moore, was receiving a richly deserved award there. He is 85, so I was assisting him up the steps in Bournemouth. Part of his distinguished service to his party consists in the fact — surely unique in human history — that he has attended every Liberal annual conference since 1953: these shows have taken up a year of his life. He told me that he spoke at the first one he attended, in Llandudno, in favour of what was then referred to as the Schuman Plan, the embryo of what is now the European Union. It is sad for him that Britain will leave the EU more than 65 years later. No doubt my euroscepticism is partly attributable to delayed teenage rebellion, but the funny thing is that my father and I have extremely similar views about the importance of European civilisation: we just disagree about how best to uphold it. It was touching that the audience recognised his integrity and commitment. What nice people — quite unsuitable for politics.

What is this? ‘2017. It’s 50 years since the Summer of Love and the same number since I was born. Perhaps I was touched by the extraordinary moment I was born into, because my life has been coloured by all sorts of love from the start. My passionate parents set the tone, dripping in love for each other…my sister… my loud-laughing friends…And then there are the lovers… that I have walked beside and hold tightly in my heart. Love. I celebrate it, practise it, mourn it, and fight for it.’ Then the subject shifts: ‘But my appreciation and experience of this most delicious of topics, is dwarfed by Shakespeare’s understanding of love. My mind spins when I imagine how his life must have been: how hard he worked, how far he travelled, how dark and scary the landscape he lived in was. If I close my eyes and propel my imagination back in time, I hear the tectonic plates of the planet creak. I see the ground opening up and Shakespeare clambering out of a deep crack in the earth’s surface, dusty, desperate and gasping for air… then, with the clarity of clear water, he sings from the earth he was born… Pre Freud, pre therapy, pre equality or civil rights, he asked all the big questions. “What a piece of work is a man?” And my! I love him for it! And in this light I shout the same question into the Thames breeze.’

The above outpouring is by Emma Rice, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. It is less than 50 per cent of her programme notes on a new play at the Globe — part of her ‘Summer of Love’ season — called Boudica, which she only mentions in her final paragraph. In dusty, desperate, gasping Shakespeare’s original, the line Rice loves him for is not actually a question. It is Hamlet’s exclamation. Luckily, she won’t spend much longer shouting it half-comprehendingly into the Thames breeze, because the Globe’s board realised their mistake in appointing someone who knew Shakespeare so little. She leaves the job in the spring. The search for novelty in the arts, from which she benefited, is undoubtedly necessary, but it does often produce what Dr Johnson (speaking, in fact, of Cymbeline) called ‘unresisting imbecility’.

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