Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The newspapers are turning up the heat on government proposals to raise capital gains tax from 18 to 40 per cent. From powerful business factions to starving pensioners, howls of outrage echo across the pages. A success, then, for the coalition: getting the newspapers to do the scaremongering for you is a very efficient way of gauging public opinion.

The only way the ancients could do this was in secret. The greatest sculptor of the Greek world, Pheidias, needing the reassurance of public approval, hid (we are told) in his studio and listened to the comments. In AD 16, Germanicus, the popular adopted son of the Roman emperor Tiberius, was on campaign in Germany. Wishing to test his troops' readiness for battle, he dressed himself in an animal skin and, like Henry V before Agincourt, wandered among his soldiers to ascertain morale. Tacitus reports that he heard nothing but praise for himself and a determination that 'the treacherous, treaty-breaking enemy must be offered up to vengeance and to glory'. They were.

But how serious will the CGT outcry become? In Rome, threats to the corn supply always brought the crowds out. …

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