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: can Boris Johnson rewire the British government?
Boris Johnson is attempting to do something past leaders have thought to be impossible: to rewire the whole system. The belief in No. 10 is that the British administrative state is deeply flawed, writes James Forsyth, but nevertheless it is relying on government, of a reformed kind, to deliver the changes it believes are crucial to this country’s future prosperity. So what will a rewired government look like? At the heart of the project are changes to the cabinet office. The departure of Sir Mark Sedwill as cabinet secretary and national security adviser is just the start. There will be limits to this revolution: Sedwill’s replacement will be a current or former permanent secretary. But this matters less, because the role of the cabinet secretary is about to change significantly. In the new disposition, the cabinet secretary’s most important role will be as head of the civil service. Meanwhile, the new No. 10 permanent secretary Simon Case will take on an expanded role in this new system. The domestic policy secretariat, which resolves disputes between government departments, will report to him. This team will have embedded in it something akin to Tony Blair’s delivery unit. Its role will be to chase policy across Whitehall, ensuring that there is follow-through on the government’s commitments. At the same time, the national security secretariat will report to David Frost, the new national security adviser. Thanks to the Covid crisis, ministers now accept that the state really does need reforming — that it has failed its stress test. Relying on the effectiveness of government is an uncomfortable place for any centre-right administration to be. But this is where Boris Johnson’s Conservatives find themselves. His future is dependent on his ability to make government work better.
2. Katy Balls: how Keir Starmer has already shaped Labour
For the first time in 13 years, the public, when polled, think a Labour leader would make the best prime minister, says Katy Balls. Starmer has reorganised the Labour machine, made PMQs a contest again and replaced Corbynites with his own supporters. His recent clash with Rebecca Long-Bailey shows that he means it when he says he wants to tackle anti-Semitism, but it also shows the value placed on party discipline. Her departure led to a mini revolt of Corbynites — who demanded a meeting with Starmer to call for her to be reinstated. With that request quickly refused, the fallout has revealed the new balance of power in the party. ‘The fact that John McDonnell was reduced to sharing an online petition to get Becky back in tells you everything about how ineffectual they now are,’ says an unashamed Blairite. There are those in government who are starting to get worried. ‘[Starmer]’s a grown-up and he has a serious team around him,’ sighs a senior government figure, looking ahead to the next election. ‘When you are 15 years into government, the other side just need someone who is competent, someone who is not a total Marxist.’ Until recently, that looked like a tall order for the Labour party. Not anymore.
3. Paul Mason: the left-wing case for Keir Starmer
The Labour Together election review makes grim reading, writes Paul Mason in this week’s diary. ‘Unless Labour can take back a large part of Scotland, it needs a swing in England so large that it takes Jacob Rees-Mogg’s seat in Somerset.’ Keir Starmer’s approach is to try to unite a culturally divided working-class base around a radical economic offer that is ‘credible and morally essential’. The departure of Rebecca Long-Bailey was a disaster ‘for my wing of the left, who want to play a constructive role in Starmer’s project’. She refused a direct order so had to go — but it looks like bad party management. ‘It’s a taste of what’s to come. Large parts of the left don’t yet realise how different the party has to look and sound to win back power, even while being committed to radical economic change.
4. Sohrab Ahmari: America is not in the middle of a leftist revolution
The current political unrest in America is not a Marxist revolution, writes Sohrab Ahmari, it is in fact a reactionary putsch against populism and Donald Trump. Does anyone believe that the American establishment – Walmart, Facebook, Amazon and Ivy League Universities – would back Black Lives Matter if the movement genuinely threatened its material interests? Instead, the recent protests, riots and iconoclasm needs to be seen through the prism of class. The goal isn’t redistributive justice of the kind the old left championed, but to move the battleground to procedure and politically correct conversations about race, gender and sexuality favoured by the professional classes and which working-class people struggle with. ‘The neoliberal class has now built a repressive new mechanism for staying at the top and keeping the oils down.’
5. Douglas Murray: the money-spinning power of white fragility
Of all the people who have made cash in the past few months, few can have raked it in like Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, writes Douglas Murray. DiAngelo’s view that all white people are racist even seems to have permeated the UK NHS. Douglas has been leaked a letter from the CEO of a Birmingham NHS Trust, who believes she is ‘culpable’ and ‘complicit’ in racism and wants her employees to ask BAME people ‘how are you?’ and ‘really listen’ to what they say. Which raises the question of what she was doing before now. This view that society is intrinsically racist and everything must be understood through the lens of colour may be well-intentioned, but it could lead to its own ‘racialist hell’.
6. James Ball: why Britain was so ill-prepared for a pandemic
In October, two countries were held up as the most prepared to tackle public health emergencies and emerging diseases: the UK and the United States. So where did it all go wrong, asks James Ball. The blame may lie with the UK’s pandemic flu plan, which was acclaimed internationally after the 2009 swine flu outbreak, and so remained at the core of the UK’s strategy even as novel coronaviruses such as Sars and Mers began to spread. The plan, James says, suffered from lack of imagination and attention. PHE never contemplated that France might seize its emergency PPE orders. We failed to understand that people would alter their behaviour as a disease spread. Lockdown, as a tool, was never even considered. And no one on the national stage seemed to care about care homes. In the end, the UK’s plan for a disaster contained no plans for disasters and left our politicians without a guide. That’s probably worth keeping in mind: how many emergency plans are sitting around in Whitehall that might fall apart on contact with reality as well?