The Spectator's Notes

Carrying cash is becoming a minority occupation like smoking

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

The BBC reported on Tuesday that the proposed closure of Honda’s plant at Swindon was largely caused by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. The collapse of ‘just-in-time’ procedures would do for the factory, it said. That’s odd, I thought as I listened: why would you close a whole factory because of something that might very well not happen? Why not wait five more weeks and find out whether or not it will? Sure enough, a few hours later, Honda’s vice-president for Europe said that ‘It’s not a Brexit-related issue for us, it [the decision to close] is being made on … global-related changes.’ Since the entire nature of our departure from the EU is being shaped by the obsessive fears for the car industry of Philip Hammond and Greg Clark, it is surely time for some fuller reporting about how manifold, global and mostly un-Brexitish its problems actually are.

Where will these nice Independent Groupies end up? If the SDP example applies, they will wander through the political wilderness, some of them coming to rest in existing parties. All the following were in the SDP. Mr Clark (see above) is a Tory cabinet minister. Danny Finkelstein is a Tory peer, excellent journalist and wordsmith to David Cameron. Andrew Cooper, the political strategist, is the Conservative Baron Cooper of Windrush. Adair Turner is a crossbencher peer with a quiverful of business and pro-bono positions. Sir Vince Cable is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. They are all likeable, friendly, able and successful men. Yet all of them have a ‘non-tribal’, EU-centred approach which ultimately makes them honourably ineligible for the struggle of British politics. I suspect the same will go for the ‘Magnificent Seven’ (plus one), as they flee Jeremy Corbyn but fail to find the promised land. As for the three defecting Tories, perhaps they will just go round in a circle.

Charles Farr has just died untimely, aged 59. He was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and had held many other posts in relation to security and counter-terrorism. He was very brilliant, passionately committed to his work, and had an admirable, old-fashioned ruthlessness against this country’s enemies learnt in the Fort (MI6’s hideaway) at the feet of the generation who had done secret work in the second world war and the early Cold War. In two important respects, however, he held doctrines which are not right for the Islamist threat which we face in this country today. The first was to work with our old colonial model. This combined a tough readiness to crush terrorists by force with a desire to appease the purveyors of extremist ideas. This ‘take me to your leader’ approach, no matter how vile the leader was, worked well in far-flung lands where the British were not responsible for the polity that might eventually arise, but were trying simply to keep order and defend their own interests. It does not work in Britain now, however, when the enemy is so often within. When some of our fellow citizens are trying to subvert our country (and lure in the more vulnerable of our young fellow citizens in the process), it is not just a question — to use Farr’s own phrase — of getting ‘the crocodiles nearest the boat’. It is also a matter of identifying and impeding the channels of terrible ideas — ‘Prevent’ as well as ‘Pursue’. The second respect where Farr was on the wrong track related to the first. He had something approaching contempt for elected politicians, regarding the subject of security as a priesthood belonging to people like himself. When David Cameron, as prime minister, made a powerful speech in Munich about the dangerous radicalisation of some Muslim communities, Farr dismissed his intervention as ‘not policy, merely prime ministerial aspiration’ and was determined to make sure that aspiration was all it ever would be. Yet the alienation of sections of our own population cannot be solved by pro-consular divide-and-rule. It is a fundamental question for those we choose to govern us.

Recently I sold a horse to a friend. He kindly sent me a receipt, which he had filled in according to a template demanded by his bank, Santander. Under ‘payment purpose’, he had typed ‘House or large purchase’. I wondered if ‘House’ were a misprint for ‘Horse’, and also queried whether the payment could be described as ‘large’. No: the bank apparently insists on coding everything so that, as my friend puts it, ‘they can irritate you with weird pie charts of your spending patterns’. So ‘House or large purchase’ was the ‘correct’ classification to use. Hard to see how the charts can tell anyone much if house = horse. Data collection is now such a vast industry that no one seems to have time to ask which data are worth collecting.

Banks are also trying to change our ways. Our own recently wrote to tell us that it will no longer send us cheque books unless we positively demand them. And now a battle is beginning to close down cash machines. It is reported that there are none at all in Stoke; and when I accosted an ATM in St James’s this week, it flashed up a message saying it would close in three days’ time. I suppose this is because having cash is becoming like smoking — a slightly furtive and discreditable minority occupation. We tap, so far fewer machines are needed. It makes me uneasy. In theory, there is no more reason to trust coin and notes than any other form of money sponsored by government, but I do like the fact that cash is just that, rather than yet another data-miner keeping tabs on its possessors for reasons of bureaucratic intrusion or commercial gain. It is still the case that all US dollar bills ever issued by the Fed remain legal tender, whereas sterling notes are constantly being cancelled and replaced. If cash no longer reigns here, perhaps the dollar can be our king over the water. Perhaps I should go and buy lots of greenbacks against the day when Huawei or someone siphons off our entire computerised wealth.

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