The Spectator's Notes

The grand names on Huawei’s payroll

20 June 2020

9:00 AM

20 June 2020

9:00 AM

Why is it wrong, some ask, for senior British businessmen, former civil servants etc to work for Huawei UK? After all, it is a major company which needs business experience and advice here. Even now, despite the government’s apparent U-turn, it is not certain it will be excluded from our 5G contracts. Surely the answer is that if a director were to explain frankly to the public how Huawei works, he would have to admit that — whatever its formal ownership structure — it is controlled by and furthers the aims of the Chinese Communist party regime. He would also have to concede that these aims have now become hostile to British and western interests. Ren Zhengfei, the boss, expresses himself in belligerent terms. Yet the chairman, Lord Browne, and directors such as Sir Andrew Cahn, the former head of UK Trade and Investment, and Sir Mike Rake, former president of the Confederation of British Industry, try to deflect all this. Sir Ken Olisa is another board member but, as Lord Lieutenant of London, he is also the representative of the Queen. Is he not conflicted? Sir Simon Fraser, as head of the Foreign Office, was the most senior civil servant in charge of British interests abroad. Retired, he is paid at Flint Global to advance Chinese ones (via Huawei) here. So is his business partner, Ed Richards. As chief executive of the communications regulator, Ofcom, Mr Richards had to uphold its code, which includes human rights (especially freedom of expression), fairness, ‘due impartiality and due accuracy’, privacy, religion etc. He must know that China fails on all these counts, yet he takes the Huawei money. The only cheering thought is that China, misled by its traditional respect for age, has appointed the wrong people. Almost every one of its grand names is an elderly Remainer, unlikely to open the right doors in post-Brexit Britain.

If it seems priggish to condemn these distinguished representatives of our ancien regime as unethical, we can at least call them unwise. Not enough attention has been paid to the initials TSMC. They stand for the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, on which Huawei is dependent for the high-end chips it needs for its 5G work. Last month, TSMC was told by the United States that it could supply America or China, but not both. The company chose America. Huawei’s 5G path is blocked. In a few months’ time, Huawei may no longer see the point of paying six-figure sums to Lord B and his attendant knights.

Behind the cowardice and hypocrisy which many institutions are showing as they give obeisance to Black Lives Matter about any connection with the slave trade lies a dread word — reparations. Activists seek to claim actual financial liabilities payable to existing human beings for alleged, centuries-old wrongs. The institutions — Oxbridge colleges, for example — are terrified. They hope to deflect attention by babbling about ‘decolonising’ the curriculum and by ‘taking the knee’. Glasgow University promised last year to pay £20 million. It won’t work. Those who grovel will be made to grovel much, much more.

Jesus College, Cambridge, has tried to handle these matters quietly. One of its greatest benefactors was Tobias Rustat, a royalist who bravely assisted the escape of the future King Charles II. He remained a courtier to the restored king and made a great deal of money out of the Royal African Company (the slavery link). A devout bachelor philanthropist, he gave money to St John’s College, Oxford, Chelsea Hospital (for which he commissioned Grinling Gibbons’s statue of the king), St Paul’s Cathedral and above all to Jesus, his father’s college. Until recently, Rustat had a portrait by Kneller in the Senior Combination Room, and a series of lectures and a great summer feast in his name. Now these have been despatched down the Cantabridgian equivalent of Orwell’s memory hole. The chapel’s fine Rustat monument, probably by Gibbons, might be harder to jettison, unless our heritage laws are purified to remove protection from anyone we now decide was wicked. I notice, however, that the college website’s detailed account of the chapel’s art works omits the Rustat memorial. His name is still on Jesus’s ‘donor wall’, along with such luminaries as Jessica Sainsbury and Peter Frankopan, but I bet he won’t stay there much longer. Some will approve the college’s persecution of a long-dead benefactor who cannot answer back. Others might feel its attention would be better directed at the money it takes from totalitarian China today and the power that China exerts in return.

It is said you learn a lot about yourself during the lockdown. What I have learnt is that I possess 101 shirts of the type loosely described as ‘Jermyn Street’. Making this audit last week, I was slightly shocked. Was I really so extravagant? Does my collection rival Imelda Marcos’s array of shoes? No, I console myself: every shirt has been worn — often, often. It is an accumulation, averaging about three new shirts a year, plus some inherited from my father. Many date back to the 20th century. A few may even have met Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister, and had lunch with Diana, Princess of Wales or Jeffrey Bernard (who died in the same week in 1997). These shirts imitate patterns of human life. When they are young and fresh, they get out and have fun. They are seen in society, often in the company of a tie. As their collars fray, they retreat to rural life, and potter about. I remember buying my first good-quality shirt, from a sale in New & Lingwood, in King’s Parade, Cambridge, in about 1978. It cost £5, and made me feel grown-up. The subsequent scores of shirts are my old friends — even the ones which display regrettable lapses of taste. Unlike old friends, they almost never die. I only wish I had recorded which I wore when in my life-journey, as Mrs T did with her dresses.

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