Don’t be too hard on the poor bankers, or our hard-working criminals. They’re all doing their bit to help the economy
✒You probably haven’t read them but there’s been a rash of articles in the papers arguing that we should stop being beastly to the bankers. All right, there are a few bad apples but they do vital work for the economy. If they relocated to the Cayman Islands, we’d all be living in penury. That’s the gist. It’s a fair point. And it also applies to another all too frequently vilified group: Britain’s criminals.
It’s easy to let the unacceptable actions of a few – pulling out toenails to make people hand over pin numbers, gassing guards etc – colour our judgment. But in Britain we have the finest criminals in the world. By liberating vast sums of money that would otherwise lie fallow in banks or under old ladies’ mattresses, they increase demand and help kickstart the recovery. It’s a form of quantitative easing. Criminals employ many people in highly skilled jobs, such as safebreaking, computer hacking and personal security. If those jobs went abroad, we would all be losers. And every time they steal a car, another car rolls off the production line in Swindon or Sunderland. So let us show a bit of respect.
✒I bumped into Boris Johnson at the Spectator party. I asked him if he wasn’t embarrassed that the highly successful London bike rental scheme was sponsored by Barclays. Apparently not. He said solemnly: “If they give me another £50m, I will change my name to Barclays Johnson.”
✒A lot of Tory MPs are muttering about David Cameron’s failure to solicit their views. Because he doesn’t spend time with them, their protests, rebellions and glum mutterings come as a terrible surprise, causing him to make another screeching U-turn, as he did on the Europe referendum.
I was chatting about this to Chris Moncrieff, retired doyen of the parliamentary press gallery. He reminded me of a story about Ted Heath, who if anything was even more distant. Peter Walker, an adviser, told him he ought to spend more time talking to the troops, rather than simply laying down the law.
So he was delighted when he went into the tea room and found the prime minister in conversation with a backbencher. Walking past, he heard Heath say: “You do realise that your speech yesterday was absolutely dreadful…”
✒On Monday I went to the memorial service for Jack Ashley, the Labour MP who was deaf for 25 years but who didn’t let it slow him down at all. Jack worked with incredible energy for the disabled, of whom plenty turned out, including probably dozens of thalidomide victims, for whom he fought ferociously against the Distillers Company, alongside Harry Evans of the Sunday Times.
Jack (he was the father of our columnist Jackie Ashley) applied to Cambridge, and explained that he had left school at 14 without taking any exams. He had read only two books since then. When they looked surprised, he said: “That’s why I want to come here – to read all the books I’ve missed,” or words to that effect. Caius College took him in, and he became president of the union. He was an atheist, but as someone said: “If he was wrong, then next to the stairway to heaven there’s now a ramp.”
✒We drove up to Derbyshire last weekend so I could speak at the excellent Ashbourne festival. Driving with a radio becomes more surreal these days. You’re listening to Radio 4, or PopMaster on the Ken Bruce show, perhaps a talking book. Suddenly you’re interrupted by someone on local radio banging on about a burst pipe in Milton Keynes, or something stranger. On Saturday we heard that there was “very slow traffic near Goodwood, owing to the Festival of Speed.”
We stopped for an excellent lunch in the garden of the Three Horseshoes at Breedon on the Hill. The hill is a limestone outcrop, topped by a fort and an ancient church. It can be seen from miles away; it’s rather like the Dordogne.
There’s a tiny stone lock-up at the foot of the hill, which was used into Victorian times for drunks, petty criminals and stray cattle – I don’t suppose they bothered cleaning the place before shoving in the people. But it is a pleasing reminder that some parts of this country are still unwrecked.
✒On Sunday we decided to visit Chatsworth. Our host in Ashbourne, an architect, told us not to waste our time. Haddon Hall, about five miles away, was far more interesting. And he was right. It’s a gorgeous moated manor house, which is not only beautiful and beguiling, but also staffed by amazingly friendly people. In many of these places they won’t let you take pictures. At Haddon Hall, one of the attendants offered to take ours.
It’s fortified against a siege that never happened. Now even the buttresses are covered in roses. You expect to see a sign saying: “Welcome invaders! While you’re with us, don’t forget to visit our restaurant with a wide selection of home-cooked dishes. And do take time to look in our well-stocked gift shop!”
Chatsworth, by contrast, is a gigantic money-maker. It even looks slightly like an old-fashioned cash register. I did some sums, and I don’t see how a family of four could get out – if they had a snack lunch, a guided tour of the house and a trip to the gift shop – for less than £100. It’s spectacular, the maze is fun, but you do feel that it is basically a well-oiled machine for opening your wallet.
The fashion these days seems to be for the owners to put their picture on the front of the leaflet, with a message welcoming you to their lovely home. I might make one myself.
“Hello, I’m Simon Hoggart, and my wife and I are delighted that you have chosen to visit us today. Your family ticket will cost nothing, and our award-winning lunch will be free. Please enjoy our home. The unisex toilet is on the first floor …”
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