Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Article excerpt

A friend of mine, a very busy man who knew that I had retired and had little to do except meet deadlines, asked me recently to help him find a flat for rent in a distant part of the country.

It was part of the convenience of modern life that information about agents in the area should have been immediately accessible to me at the touch of a few keys on a keyboard. Shortly thereafter, however, a rather less pleasant aspect of modernity made itself manifest: most of the agents charged their callers for calling them.

No doubt some will applaud this as evidence of the entrepreneurial spirit that has seized the whole nation. But it seems to me that this misses something about the modern British spirit. At first, I could not quite put my finger on what it was that it missed, and then it came to me in a flash of inspiration, in the shape of a single word that is not much heard nowadays, perhaps because it is too near the bone: spiv.

It is not easy to define spivvery but, like kitsch, it is not difficult to recognise. One definition I found of a spiv is 'a person without employment who makes money by various dubious schemes, goes about smartly dressed and having a good time'.

Naturally enough, this definition made me think at once of Mr Blair. Does it not fit him very neatly? Was not the sight of a former British prime minister taking a lot of money for speaking briefly at a Chinese sales meeting for expensive luxury houses confirmation strong as proofs of holy writ?

But let us not descend to the merely personal; rather, let us ascend to the altogether higher plane of sociological, political, economic and historical generalisation. …

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