Prince Charles, protests at St Paul's and Samoa's missing dayby / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
A ballgown and cape belonging to the late Elizabeth Taylor on display at Christie’s in London. The collection of Taylor’s clothes will be auctioned in New York during December
The prospect of more Scottish devolution has prompted a new surge in English nationalism at Westminster. The chairman of the Campaign for an English Parliament (CEP), Eddie Bone, has met with some 20 MPs since September. CEP is officially a cross-party organisation, and enjoys the support of both Frank Field and Lord Glasman of Labour. But its closest contacts are with the Conservatives. Those at CEP say that they (and any Tory MPs who express an interest) are coming under intense pressure from “the very top”—Cameron’s office—to drop the cause.
Prospect understands that Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, is one Tory supporter. David Davis, already a focus of rebellion against Cameron, is said to favour an English parliament and Alan Duncan, the international development minister, has suggested there should never again be a Scottish prime minister in Downing Street. But will the Tories be outflanked on this? Angry at what it sees as pressure from Conservative high command, CEP has begun working with Ukip, the strongly Eurosceptic party which, Prospect has learned, is soon to adopt the policy of backing an English parliament. Meanwhile, Bone says he has access to a database of potential supporters running into “the hundreds of thousands.”
The growing campaign worries Conservative HQ because there is a tactical case for separation. Tories know that they would win general elections much more easily without Scotland: even when the Tories lost the 2005 election, they won the most votes in England.
The following year, Michael Portillo, the liberal, “modernising” forerunner to Cameron, revealed the thinking in some sections of the party, when he said in under-noticed comments to the BBC’s Andrew Neil: “From the point of political advantage, the Conservatives have a better chance of being in government if Scotland is not part of the affair.” Pressed on this point, he added: “You are continuing to assume the Union is sacrosanct. That is not an assumption I make any more.”
Prince Charles and St Paul’s
Does Prince Charles privately support the forced eviction of the anti-capitalist protesters at St Paul’s? Senior church officials have told Prospect that the conservative-minded Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, boasted of the support of the Prince of Wales in wanting the camp removed, before Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, intervened. Bishop Chartres is an old friend of Charles and, according to the Mail, “his spiritual mentor.” The pair met at Cambridge, and Bishop Chartres, who is a confidant of Princes William and Harry too, delivered the sermon at the royal wedding in April. A spokeswoman for Clarence House neither confirmed nor denied the claim about Prince Charles’s views, telling Prospect: “The prince hasn’t commented on this matter, nor has he any plans to do so.”
What would Jesus do?’
Overheard near the placards proclaiming “What would Jesus do?” at St Paul’s—a weary vicar, talking to a correspondent for the Church Times, said: “We’ve spent decades trying to get the words ‘what would Jesus do?’ in the newspapers, and now protesters have managed it while the Church is worrying about health and safety.”
David Miliband was riding the Northern Line back to Camden recently, after visiting Birmingham as part of his tour of universities to promote his pet project, the “Movement for Change.” Jenni Marsh, a fellow passenger, got chatting to the former foreign secretary. After some general conversation she cut to the chase. “Will you run for Labour leader?” she asked. “You never know what’s going to happen,” replied David. “There isn’t a vacancy at the moment.”
How a country loses a day
Samoa (population: 180,000) has come up with a novel way of boosting its economy in these tough times. On 29th December, time in the Pacific-island state—which is situated approximately halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii—will leap forward by a day. Samoa will achieve this disorientating feat by switching to the west side of the international date line, in order to make it easier to conduct business with Australia and New Zealand, with which trade is growing rapidly. At present, Samoa is 21 hours behind Sydney. From 29th December, it will move its clocks to three hours ahead, losing a day in the process. The change comes 119 years after Samoa moved in the opposite direction.
Goodhart: worse than the BNP?
After making a BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme on “the new black politics,” David Goodhart, Prospect’s editor at large, was accused by Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, of being “more dangerous than Nick Griffin.” Goodhart was charged with operating a “divide and rule” policy by getting black politicians and intellectuals to disagree with each other. “Simon’s reaction was a bit extreme, but I’m sure he didn’t really mean it,” says Goodhart.
Make or break for Huhne
Vicky Pryce, the economist and estranged wife of Chris Huhne, the cabinet minister, recently floated the idea of becoming an MP on BBC radio. Some might say finding a safe Lib Dem seat is a tough ask thanks to the trials of the coalition. But it is clear the party wants to help. She is close friends with many in high command, as was clear when she was escorted round the October conference like royalty. “I could make or break Chris,” she recently told a friend.
Foreign Press Awards
Three Prospect articles have been shortlisted for the 2011 Foreign Press Awards: John Kay’s “A good crisis gone to waste” (September), for Financial/Economic Story of the Year; Sam Knight’s “Lot 800: the Bainbridge vase” (May), for Arts & Culture Story of the Year; and Jack Shenker’s “Exodus” (December 2010), about the people of Karakalpakstan, for Environment Story of the Year.
One to watch
On paper, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the first female Danish prime minister, seems an unlikely ally in Europe for David Cameron. In September, she ended a decade of centre-right rule in Denmark by campaigning on a leftist platform of increased tax and spend to tackle the economic crisis, and said she would not join other European countries by jumping “on the austerity bandwagon.” She is also married to Neil and Glenys Kinnock’s son, Stephen.
She remains relatively unknown internationally—the Wall Street Journal recently called her “he”—although she briefly grabbed the world’s attention when Silvio Berlusconi appeared to be caught eyeing her derrière at October’s EU summit in Brussels. But she led the charge against the Greek plan for a referendum on the eurozone crisis, arguing it would lead to EU-wide “insecurity.” Denmark secured an opt-out from the euro in 1992, and rejected the currency in a referendum in 2000. The country’s position res-cues Britain from isolation in seeking to influence the EU while retaining its own currency—and this will be of increasing impor-tance as the eurozone moves towards greater union [see Peter Mandelson, p16].
But on tax, immigration and many other issues there is a gulf between her and Cameron, so both countries will need to work hard to maintain the close UK-Denmark relationship developed under Tony Blair.
Thorning-Schmidt has been dubbed “Gucci Helle” by critics who say she dresses too fashionably for the head of a “workers’ party.” But she hit back at one heckler, with the retort: “We can’t all look like shit.”