Alex Massie

26 January 2008

Among the many pleasures of The Spectator – greatly improved under Matthew D’Ancona’s watch – few are greater than Charles Moore’s weekly column. Having edited the Speccie himself Mr Moore knows how to write a notebook-style column. Ranging over acres and acres of ground – an archive of the column is here – it’s classic Toryism of the finest sort. Some recent snippets of common sense, wry humour and insight. Proof of the column’s excellence is that one need not agree with it to appreciate it.

For instance:

The working week began with what the press call ‘Blue Monday’, the day in January when all the worst things about being alive  — post-Christmas credit card bills, the dreariness of work, foul weather etc. — combine. It lived up to its billing, with the slump in the stock market, and wind and rain. I went for a walk. There were no colours but grey-green and brown, and almost no sign of life. Even the snipe that normally flourish in our marshy field seemed to have fled. I found this absence of redeeming features cheering. Looking back on previous recessions, I realise that I have enjoyed them, even when they hurt me personally. Recessions are moments of truth, which human nature needs after the lies that always go with a boom. The best way to deal with bad weather is to go out in it.

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And this:

Through all the apparent banality of campaign speeches, politicians do, in fact, convey a message about themselves. There is a vital distinction between candidates who, mentally, face outwards and those who face inwards. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair all faced outwards: they instinctively wanted to communicate with voters, just as good actors or good preachers wish to reach their audiences. Although she may well win the Democratic nomination because of her standing with the party establishment, Hillary Clinton is a politician who faces inwards. She says she ‘found her voice’ in New Hampshire, but what does her voice say? One of her stated reasons why she should be the Democratic candidate is the need to resist the ‘Republican attack machine’ (shades of the ‘vast, right-wing conspiracy’ she identified years before). No doubt that machine is strong and frightening, but surely it is not an issue for voters. Inside her head, it seems, is a constant battle with political enemies, not a conversation with the American people. The British equivalent, with this brooding inwardness verging on paranoia, is Gordon Brown. It is not a good model of leadership.

And one more:

Responding to a recent statement by Harriet Harman about her difficulties over donations, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, told the Commons that her remarks had been ‘charming’. This will have surprised most of those who listened to Ms Harman, but in fact Sir Peter was using a convention which, until I heard him, I thought had died out. Just as MPs who were regular soldiers are referred to as ‘gallant’ in the House, and MPs who are also QCs are called ‘learned’, and MPs who have courtesy titles are (or were) called ‘noble’, so the speeches of women MPs used automatically to be characterised as ‘charming’. The word sometimes sounded strained but, when you think about it, it is no more so than the word ‘honourable’ or, also in the parliamentary context, the word ‘friend’. Is it time for an epithet for those who have followed the profession of spin-doctor — ‘eloquent’?

He also has an excellent long-running war (and obsession) with the TV licensing authorities.

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