Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

On Monday I read that Gordon Brown was about to launch a '£500 billion bank gamble'. By the time you read this, he may have done so, but it is quite possible that few will have noticed, or cared.

These colossal expenditures or promises of expenditures or of possibilities of expenditure have become the same as most government initiatives under New Labour -- designed for the headline, and then reannounced from time to time. They are like the victories in the permanent war between the super-powers constantly trumpeted in Nineteen Eighty-Four -- apparently enormous, but semi-fictional.

To understand what is happening, one must remember that, as in a real war, the main participants are permanently exhausted. How could they possibly remember what they decided last week, or have time to implement much of it? One of the most able civil servants trying to sort everything out is Tom Scholar, the Treasury man who handles the 'tripartite' (Bank, Treasury, FSA) arrangement. On a recent Monday, I gather, he had agreed to dine with his parents. He was kept late at work, of course, and then turned up in jeans.

'Oh, ' they said, 'why did you bother to go home and change?' 'I didn't, ' he explained, 'I haven't left the office since Saturday.'

The government always tells us that it is doing everything for the sake of 'hard-working families'. This is extremely annoying, for two reasons. First, what about lazy families? Why should they be ignored?

They may well be nicer to their children than the hard-working ones. Second, the credit crunch has exposed the fact that hard work has not been the way to wealth in the past 15 years. People in the West have got richer mostly because of risk. They took the risk to borrow heavily against their houses and were rewarded, until last year, by a huge increase in their value. Work, beyond that required to pay the interest, had nothing to do with it. The problem turned out to be that the borrowers tended not to think of this as risk at all, but as something intrinsic to the nature of property. Now, thanks to Gordon Brown and the banks, they will have to be very hardworking indeed to survive.

Jacques Séguéla, a confidant of President Nicolas Sarkozy, says that if a man does not wear a Rolex watch by the time he is 50, he is a failure. I am 52, and unfortunately never knew this until now, so it is too late. But perhaps I intuited that I would never make it, because a long time ago I stopped wearing any sort of watch. I tended to break or lose them. Worse, I allowed myself to be dominated by them.

If you do not have a watch, you worry less.

And when you are outdoors in daylight, you can work out the time by the position of the sun and the nature of the light. I have tried to refine this, and can now guess the time within 15 minutes of accuracy, which is all right for most purposes. I note that, despite his Rolex, Sarkozy managed to be 13 minutes late for the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Armistice [see Notes, 22 November] last year.

President Mitterrand, by the way, never wore a watch. Was France worse governed?

It is interesting that even Amnesty International decided that Hamas, as well as Israel, had been committing 'war crimes'. This briefly presented a problem for the BBC, since it had to dilute its preference for covering of all the evils committed by Israel. …

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