Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

We are all being asked by the government what should be cut. I bet the British people will take part happily. Contrary to what you read in the papers, cutting is great fun. One serious contribution is already being offered by Paul Goodman, the excellent former MP for Wycombe, who stood down at the last election. Mr Goodman's argument, in a new paper for Policy Exchange called 'What do we want MPs to be?', is the counter intuitive but correct one that the new restrictions on MPs' earnings are against the public good. Once they depend on payment from the state, and are forced to account for all their time not spent on the state's business, they cease to represent the variety of interests in this country and become simply second-rate civil servants. Freeze their pay, stop their pensions, says Mr Goodman, and let them fend for themselves instead. If they do so, they will represent those who elect them more faithfully. They will be part of the Big Society, not of big government.

Mikhail Gorbachev was in London last week, and I went to a dinner for him.

It was held in the Jerusalem Chamber in the Deanery of Westminster Abbey. As I entered, a waiter said, 'Please go straight through to the reception.' I suddenly found myself in the Abbey itself, with a glass of champagne in my hand. In a chair beside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sat Lady Thatcher, flanked by the hosts, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev, and looking, even by her high standards, beautifully dressed. She had come to meet Mr Gorbachev, but it turned out that he was too ill to attend. After a bit, she walked gradually out of the Abbey, meeting the other guests as she passed. I watched her greet first a pretty Russian girl, heavily pregnant and looking about 17, who appeared to be wearing nothing but a long white shirt; second, Vanessa Redgrave (the two exchanged easy courtesies as if no politics had ever existed); and finally, Boris Johnson, who came shambling hastily in, just as Lady Thatcher moved, slow and stately, out. It was surreal, like an actualised game of Consequences. Dinners where the main guest is absent are becoming the thing. The state banquet for the Pope in September will be held in Lancaster House, but Benedict XVI, who likes to go to bed early, will not be there.

One of my dinner companions was a young businesswoman and philanthropist who told me she was from Bombay. I remarked that she didn't call it Mumbai. 'Oh no, ' she said, 'no Indian does.

It is a word used solely in conversation with foreigners.' She confirmed [see discussion of this in Spectator's Notes 13 December 2008] that the switch of official name from Bombay to Mumbai was the result of anti Muslim Hindu agitation in the 1980s led by the charismatic Balasaheb Thackeray.

Thackeray's sectarian Mumbai-Jumbo led to a rash of these name-changes - Madras becoming Chennai, Calcutta being re-spelt to sound less English - ignored by most Indians, but uncritically accepted by the outside world.

On Tuesday, I had lunch in Bexhill with Jean Melville Brown, or 'Miss Brown' as I still think of her. For 30 years, she owned and ran the kindergarten where I received my first education, in Battle, Sussex. The fact that it no longer exists can be guessed from its name, Gay Bowers. Miss Brown taught us to high standards, and was particularly noted for her ability to get her pupils reading. …

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