2 July 2005
The Spectator was established in 1828, and is the oldest continuously published magazine in the
English language. The Spectator’s taste for controversy, however, remains undiminished. There is no
party line to which The Spectator’s writers are bound - originality of thought and elegance of expression are the
sole editorial constraints.
The trial issue contains a “Thought Crime Special” with articles from Melanie Phillips,
“I think, therefore I’m guilty”; Christopher Booker writes about
“Scientists in hiding; the demonisation of academics who question the consensus”; Alan Rusbridger explores
“How to stifle the press” and how England’s libel laws make it easy.
UK politics come under scrutiny from
James Forsyth, Brendan O’Neill ponders if teenagers could ever be
“Drunk and orderly”; while
Tom Hollander writes his diary and
James Delingpole says
eat local organic food if you like, but don’t kid yourself that it’s ‘green’.
The Spectator’s regular arts coverage includes
1. James Forsyth: revealed – how the government plans to reduce Britain’s dependence on China
There is now a conscious choice in government to diminish the UK’s reliance on China wherever possible, even if it means paying more, says James Forsyth. This aim of reducing economic dependence on China will, at first, take three forms. The first is to make sure Britain is not reliant on China for any essential imports, medical or otherwise. Second, there will be a toughening up of the rules on foreign takeovers to try to stop Chinese firms — nearly all of which are, in reality, arms of the Chinese state — from buying up vital British intellectual property. The third aim is to stop ‘using Chinese cash to plug gaps’. So what of the UK’s future regarding Huawei 5G? Downing Street now describes its previous Huawei decision as a ‘legacy issue’. This is just as well: had Boris Johnson sought to proceed with the Huawei 5G deal he might have lost a vote in parliament, such is the depth of feeling in the party. One of Johnson’s closest political allies says: ‘The original plan is dead. It is only a matter of how they configure the shift.’ The choice now is between a time limit for the use of Huawei kit in 5G infrastructure, or no role at all for the Chinese company — with ‘sentiment shifting to the harder position’. The original decision to go with Huawei was because there was no firm from a democratic country that could do the job as quickly or cheaply. The government is now very keen to get democratic nations to co-operate on these big tech challenges. A new alliance is envisaged by the UK: the D10 group. This would be made up of the G7 democracies, plus Australia, South Korea and India. One Johnson confidant argues that ‘done right it creates a plausible alternative for developing nations’ that rely on Chinese tech know-how. Currently, China is expanding its influence in Africa by offering to help build cheap but modern communications infrastructure. The democratic world needs a co-ordinated counter-offer.
2. Katy Balls: it’s not only Cummings whose fate is at stake
When the cabinet met by conference call on Monday, three ministers spoke in support of Dominic Cummings: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel. ‘Their sentiments were not universally shared,’ writes Katy Balls. ‘But many critics of Cummings now think that, having dug in so deeply, the Prime Minister has to keep his man.’ To need to fight this much for an aide is bad enough, but to fight and lose would be devastating. The revelations about the Dominic Cummings trip to Durham has provided Boris Johnson’s critics with their biggest chance yet at destabilising the Prime Minister’s operation. This is not about the fate of one adviser, but about the authority of the PM and the viability of his government. For Johnson, Cummings is much more important than an average cabinet minister. Whether or not Cummings stays in post, some disgruntled cabinet ministers see an opportunity to change the power balance to their advantage. ‘We need to stop treating him as some high prophet rather than an adviser,’ says one. That Johnson would become so reliant on any individual has triggered alarm with many Tory MPs. ‘It’s crystallised people’s sense that we are not handling this crisis right,’ says a moderate Conservative MP. ‘A lot of people are openly saying: can Boris Johnson do this?’
3. Anthony Horowitz: the Cummings road trip debacle is my last straw
‘I can’t remember the day I realised Santa Claus wasn’t real but I will never forget the moment I lost my belief in the Conservative party,’ writes Anthony Horowitz in this week’s diary column. ‘It happened very recently — this morning, in fact. It was an odd day anyway which began with my reading an email from Mary Wakefield, inviting me to write this diary, even as she was appearing on my TV screen: an unnerving experience. Should I accept? Should I pretend that I’m ignorant of the biggest news story of the moment?’ He was appalled to watch Grant Shapps’s defence of Dominic Cummings on Marr: ‘What is the word for it when the entire country sees what is obviously true but is repeatedly told that it isn’t? And when the person telling you doesn’t really care? Shamelessness. That’s what the government now seems to promote.’
4. Dr Max Pemberton: the NHS does not deserve applause
I’m embarrassed every Thursday when people clap for NHS workers at 8 p.m., writes Dr Max Pemberton — at the moment, the NHS is letting down ‘thousands upon thousands of patients’. Since the pandemic hit, entire services have been shut down, people waiting for surgery on tumours have been sat at home, and the poorest and most vulnerable left without care. Meanwhile, the Nightingale Hospitals sit empty. It seems we’ve been unable to accept the strain on resources wasn’t as extreme as expected. As a result, thousands will die the more lockdown drags on.
5. Dr John Lee: we have no idea how many ‘Covid deaths’ were actually Covid
How many Covid deaths are actually caused by Covid? It’s a question that no one really knows the answer to, writes Dr John Lee. Pathologists have been dismayed at rule changes which mean that we’ve missed vital opportunities to understand and fight the disease. Normally two doctors have to certify a death. With Covid, only one is needed, and they are not required to have met the patient. In care homes, even non-medical staff are being asked to decide whether someone has died of the disease. This is not just an academic concern. In normal times, autopsy studies show discrepancies between actual findings and clinical diagnosis in up to a third of cases. Until we have more information and data, we may never fully understand how this disease works.
6. The Spectator: it’s time to restore liberty and end police-enforced lockdown
Who occupies the post of chief adviser to the prime minister is not generally an issue of great interest to the public. That Dominic Cummings has come to dominate the news for several days shows that people are genuinely aggrieved that when they have made personal sacrifices to conform to the ‘stay at home’ edict, a man who helped devise those rules appears not to have done the same. Had the government’s message been ‘use your discretion’ there would be no scandal. This is one of the many problems of police-enforced lockdown, a draconian tool that has inflicted grave social, educational and economic damage. It could well prove to be a price worth paying if this really was the only way of getting the virus under control. But we are now in a far better position to judge the effectiveness of lockdown than we were at the start of the pandemic. The Swedes, who rejected Professor Neil Ferguson’s advice from the start, have found that coronavirus was never growing as fast as the Imperial model calculated. The Norwegians have also done the sums. They found that the virus had not grown as quickly as Imperial had estimated. Camilla Stoltenberg, head of Norway’s Public Health Institute, says the country could ‘have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts by not locking down — and instead, keeping open, but with infection control measures’. It is brave for Norway officials to admit that lockdown was a mistake, but if a second wave of Covid is in the future then governments need to be brutally honest about which policies worked and which did not. It could well be that, as the Prime Minister likes to say, hundreds of thousands would have died without lockdown. If so, he can show us the data and make his case. But it could also be that lockdown will prove no more useful in Britain than it was in Norway. If so, we ought to be told. It is time to restore liberty and move to a voluntary system. The country is ready to be trusted. The question is whether the Prime Minister feels ready to trust us.