Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

You cannot blame Lord Turner, the Chairman of the Financial Services Authority, for defending the bonuses paid to his employees. He is new to the job and must work with his team. But when he said this week, 'If you are saying we should now cut the bonuses, you are saying we should cut their pay by 15 per cent', he was inviting the reaction he did not intend. Yes, that is, now you mention it, what we are saying. The FSA failed to do the most important job assigned to it. Therefore, broadly speaking, its staff should not only not get bonuses, but should get less money than before. It is a point so simple that it seems to elude the intellectual giants who preside over our financial system.

As with most government preannouncements, it is impossible to tell whether the latest -- aired on Panorama -- is true. The documentary reported that the government is worried that its programme for tackling violent extremism in practice favours extremist types, and wants to change it. We will not find out what, if any, remedial measures the government is taking until some time next month. So the Conservatives were right to sound a note of caution in their reaction. They were wrong, though, to play it both ways. Their main spokesman, Baroness Neville-Jones, sensibly emphasised the need to tackle the extremist ideology which lies behind violent extremism. But her understrapper, Baroness Varsi, said: 'It has taken centuries to guarantee religious freedom in our country and we must not let the government destroy it.' How would it destroy religious freedom to withdraw government funding from Islamist extremists?

Lady Varsi seems to be almost the echo of the Labour Muslim peer, Lord Ahmed, whose love of religious freedom is strictly one-sided.

Like millions of people, I enjoyed the film Slumdog Millionaire. It cleverly locks in the viewer's sympathies and fulfils Wilkie Collins's rule: 'Make 'em laugh. Make 'em cry. Make 'em wait.' Afterwards, though, I felt a little used. The film has the Four Weddings and a Funeral trick of being secretly more clichéd and consumerist than its surface wit suggests -- how tacky and improbable, for instance, to have the two brothers becoming guides at the Taj Mahal, hundreds of miles from their native Bombay. And just as Four Weddings slips in a propagandist pro-gay message, so Slumdog Millionaire is a semi-concealed liberation movie for Indian Muslims, who are presented as being persecuted. The hero is hit by police for refusing to recognise the picture of the Hindu Gandhi on banknotes. There have certainly been attacks on Muslims in Bombay over the years, but it is irritating to reflect that no commercial director would dare do the same thing the other way round, and make a film about Hindus who are being picked on by Muslims. Finally, what is the moral? In Four Weddings, it is quite obvious that Hugh Grant should have gone through with it and married Duckface (Anna Chancellor), who is anyway far more beautiful than the heroine he skives off with. In Slumdog Millionaire, there is a comparable final flaw: is it really a good thing that he wins the money? Why are we expected to believe that it will bring him happiness?

This week, I went to Girton College, Cambridge, to speak in memory of a several times great-aunt of mine, Barbara Bodichon, who was co-founder of the college.

Barbara was a painter, writer, feminist (a prime mover in the Married Woman's Property Act), anti-slaver, and friend of George Eliot. …

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